Ethics of disclosure

After the initial shock of Lara Logan’s brutal beating and sexual assault, another realization hit me: CBS was announcing that one of its own reporters had been raped …. not in a 60 Minutes special six months later, but within days after it happened. The Central Park jogger was silent for 14 years. Even Elizabeth Smart continues to be refered to as a kidnap victim rather than sexual assault victim nearly a decade later.

I want to hear from Logan herself before deciding whether CBS’s decision to report is solid. Once the dust settles, here’s what I want to know:

  • Was the decision to report on Logan’s rape made in the intensity of the moment? Good ethical decisions certainly can be, but how was Logan part of the discussion?
  • Was this a policy decision made in advance in case the horrible happened? If so, who participated in making that policy? Suggesting a policy might have been created is not a criticism. I just want to know if there is one and how it got there.
  • Chances unfortunately are high that Logan was not the only woman assaulted last week in Cairo. Certainly other Egyptian women may have been victims, as well as other members of news crews? What are their stories?
  • How will CBS support all the victims in its employ?

ProPublica reporter Kim Baker appauled Logan for breaking the female correspondent’s code of silence. She also fears that women may be pulled off international stories, even though men have been sexually assaulted, too.  The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at Columbia University has called for better strategies for media managers to support their staff members effectively after crises. As many as 86 percent of journalists have witnessed some kind of violent trauma and more than a quarter of war correspondents experience PTSD.

In the months ahead, Logan will tell her story. In the meantime, lots of people, including Nir Rosen, are going to try to capitalize on what happened to Logan. Nir Rosen mocked her in a bad tweet, then recanted to Anderson Cooper, and resigned his NYU fellowship. In his Salon piece, Rosen blames his bad judgement at least in part on his own trauma of covering the Middle East. That makes about as much sense as trying to blame Logan for the mob’s actions.

Rape is a personal assault to everything personal and private. How and when that information is shared can be a means to regaining dignity. I expect that Logan will reveal she supported CBS’ decision to report the sexual assault, and she even may have insisted that the news be released.  Other journalists victimized in the future may make the same choice, while some will want assault to remain private. Each should be given opportunity to decide for themselves.

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Me and Al … Jezeera

Turn on Al Jezeera’s live feed. Go ahead. Do you feel a bit hip, edgy, maybe cooler than your less media savvy friends? Don’t just follow AJEnglish; actually retweet an Al Jezeera story. Now how do you feel? Do you wonder what your friends will think or whether Homeland Security just flagged your Twitter account? Did you just condone terrorism?

By now you have discovered that while 220 million households in 100 countries can watch Al Jezeera on their television sets, you probably are going to have to watch it via YouTube. Yes, you can watch Al Jezeera on TV in Israel but you can’t in most American cities. U.S. cable network execs have that same nagging feeling you do when thinking about giving Al Jezeera some of your Twitter time: What will people think?

Just so you know, Al Jezeera has tech savvy citizen journalism programs in addition to boasting a host of international journalism awards. The organization even has a Demand Al Jezeera campaign that lets you send a plea to your local cable or satellite provider to bring the network to your television set. Watching Al Jezeera on your own time is one thing; outing yourself as an Al Jezeera fan is another.

Baltimore Sun’s David Zurawik put it best: Al Jezeera owned the Egypt coverage. Even CNN was following them. Every network may have captured the cheering crowds but Al Jezeera was the only one that gave us the music. Unfortunately, fear screams louder.

I put together a set of sample ledes on Egyptian coverage for my beginning reporting students this week. For just a moment, I hesitated about adding Al Jezeera. Would students question my integrity? Blast me in evaluations? The hesitation was just a pause rooted in what proved to be an unfounded fear. My students literally inhaled the Al Jezeera coverage when I showed them the YouTube stream and they wanted more. It was fresher, realer, more accessible. There wasn’t a wall or long shot between them and the events unfolding. The cameras were there with the people, letting my students be inside Cairo’s Tahrir Square. Yet, I could see that as much they as liked what they saw, some tensed when seeing the Arabic logo.

Juan Williams lost his NPR job after admitting on Fox News that he cringes when boarding an airplane with someone in Muslim “garb.” Having an African American commentator make such a statement left some viewers feeling validated in their fears, and others overwhelmed by the irony. Remember that President Obama said his grandmother was afraid of the black men she passed on the street, then he had to explain why he referred to her as a “typical white person” for feeling fear. No one is immune to fear or to over-generalizations.

The question remains whether Americans will choose, whether you will choose, to seek out social news networks based on fear and familiarity or on who can take you furthest into Tahrir Square.

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Micro-local meets HuffPost meets the World

Two big things happened in the last 24 hours: Google exec and internet activist Wael Ghonim tweeted that he’d been released from an Egyptian jail and Arianna Huffington announced a merger with AOL.

Google has created a spreadsheet to track missing journalists and Facebook pages were set up to try to find Ghonim. Google’s tweet signaled an international exhale: “Huge relief–Wael Ghonim has been released. Our love to him and his family.”

A few hours earlier, 12:01 a.m. to be exact, Huffington posted on her blog plans to sell HuffPost to AOL and explained lots of big ideas for the future. Dan Sabbagh of the Guardian noted that AOL may be trying to play ball with the proverbial big news boys and girls and get away from an internet dial-up revenue stream, all for a $315 million price tag. Despite a healthy dose of skepticism, I am more optimistic about the growth potential for HuffPost under AOL than I am for Murdoch’s The Daily. The reason simple: The Huffpost/AOL partnership is built on the values of interactivity and access.

Interactivity was a life-saver for Ghonim. He was released because of international support that was cast on a local level inside Egypt and simultaneously around the world. Ghonim told his story and the story of others, we passed it along on Facebook and Twitter, and then he thanked us back. We all rejoice.

Those same values give AOL the potential to take the HuffPost model to the back roads of everywhere with Patch.com and even to places without internet access through mobile up links. HuffPost is trying to reach distinct targets, including ethnic minority markets and even divorcees, and offers AOL significant gifts. We’ll see where this goes but taking micro-local to Huffpost to the world may also take solid ethical values to the bank.

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Multimedia ≠ Real Interactivity

Murdoch’s new product The Daily offers really cool multimedia projects but no web links, no contacts to the writers, no comments pages. Hey, it’s anti-Open Source and proud of it. So, we have a nationally targeted magazinish product that gives us all the multimedia we want without any interactivity.

Mashable calls The Daily a second-rate magazine, and notes that despite the hype, this product is not a good portal for breaking news. Here’s the ethical point: top-down-only media borders on arrogance. The Daily’s approach seems to say: “I, the journalist, know what you need to see and if I give you splashy enough toys then you will forget just how condescending I am being. Here, go play with this slide show.”

Sure, interactive reader comments include posts from folks who make inane claims, but that feedback also includes corrections and perspective …. and accuracy. Maybe crowdsourcing means writers filter through a flood of viewpoints, but that flood includes the real people impacted by events … and diversity. Those are just two interactive tools steeped in traditional journalism values. The Daily does offer 360 degree photos, infographics, creative maps and Twitter and Facebook posts. However, The Daily only lets users link to additional information within its own realm when clicking hot spots, and not to the web. Non-interactivity keeps the reader inside The Daily’s world as part of its financial model. No channel surfacing here. Despite Murdoch’s pledge to reinvent journalism, The Daily seems to be offering a 3D version of Newsweek. Maybe 3D will penatrate the news market just as it has films, but the advance of multimedia should not come at the expensive of interactivity. Why do we have an either/or proposition?

For all the new media bells and whistles, The Daily’s old media tendencies reduce the likelihood of its survival; the product only uploads once a day just like the old newspaper once landed on the front porch each morning. Nonetheless, The Daily model threatens Open Source news.

The actual media revolution will come when the innovative multimedia meets up with real interactivity and turns a profit. Interactivity by its nature must involve multimedia, but The Daily only proves that the inverse isn’t true. Multimedia offers great tools for news and storytelling. Interactivity is a value.

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Egypt’s Real Speech Problem

Severing internet and cell phone lines means Egypt took a frightening step in censorship: All speech was washed out, not just the political fire. This YouTube video went viral before the plug was pulled, but apparently users inside Egypt cannot see it now. Iran tried to stop information flow the Green Revolution riots, but the images already had gotten out. China just shut down key sites during the 20th anniversary of Tiananmen Square but let other traffic continue. Twitter had been a primary way to organize Cairo protests and YouTube carried images of violence, just as was true 18 months earlier in Tehran. Cairo protests are now being called “Egypt’s Tiananmen Square Moment.”

Sure Twitter carries celebrity gossip as well as messages for great political change, as company founders pointed in their blog call for free expression. That means ultimately these social networking portals are just that …. portals. The revolution is not about Twitter, Facebook, or YouTube. The revolution is about power, corruption, and human rights. Portals are not neutral entities because they are shaped by cultural forces. Regardless, they are the medium not the message. Eliminating the medium means eliminating all messages, all voices, all speech, from the banal to the divine, and the world has yet to express adequate outrage.

Iran was not able to operate fast enough to silence critics by shutting down key portals. Images of Neda Soltan’s murder on a Tehran side street traveled worldwide. It’s doubtful that Egypt’s attempt to shut down internet traffic will actually shutdown the protests. Al Jezzera continues to stream the demonstrations live. But Beijing still silences discussion about Tiananmen Square, more with fear than anything. Maggie Patterson of Duquesne University and I researched political social networking in Iran and China. When Google and China got into major clashes over government control last year, the company ran its search engine through Hong Kong, creating the opportunity for mainland Chinese to get information about everything from the 1989 massacre to Falun Gong. Few Chinese seemed aware of the possible access and those who were aware voiced fear of actually getting caught. Untold thousands died two decades ago in Beijing and the billion people most directly affected remain largely ignorant.

Let’s hope the Cairo protests do not actually become Egypt’s Tiananmen Square. Let’s hope that internet shutdowns do not become a copycat crime.

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HuffPost seeks Global Black audience

Arianna Huffington will expand her niche internet news sites to focus on African Americans, possibly as soon as March. The question is whether Global Black will become something like black Barbie, a plastic HuffPost body with painted skin.

Global Black is slated to be a co-creation between Huffington and BET co-founder Sheila Johnson. Derek Murphy, already a HuffPost senior vice president, will be chief operating officer.

Mercedes de Uriarte has argued for two decades, with little avail, for mainstream media to follow alternative media’s models in seeking out diverse audiences. After all, far more ethnic minorities actually read, watch, and listen to alternative media owned by people who look like them rather than news produced by people who do not. The reason is simple: news claiming to target the entire public most often only covers the dominant culture well.  Poynter’s Richard Prince complained mightily less than two weeks ago that online news organizations failed to share diversity numbers on their staffs, a vital statistic in monitoring minority recruitment and retention. Study after study shows that a more diverse staff helps, though does not guarantee, better coverage of minority communities.  Prince particularly lambasted the Huffington Post for its near mono-color editorial department.

Global Black promises to “focus on current events and cultural trends from a black perspective from across the globe,” according to its media release. Whether it will be truly global or more African American centered remains to be seen.

Either way, Global Black’s survival will depend on money and partnership. Huffington Post reported earning a profit last year and is bragging that revenue will triple by 2012. But other ventures led by media giants with great track records, notably Murdock’s The Daily, are facing delays in launch. For Global Black to actually post and be successful financially, Huffington must let Johnson, Murphy, and other black leaders shape the product into something distinctive. Making a site overly centered on the HuffPost dominant culture brand will create an ethically questionable and financially unprofitable product.

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MLK Connections

Perhaps the most important aspect of ethics is virtue: what kind of person do you want to be? How do you practice good habits to become that person? Today is the 25th anniversary of the MLK holiday. Here are some of the best examples online of honoring the virtues that Martin Luther King, Jr., encouraged:

  • MLK Day of Service: An amazing web site that allows you to identify volunteer opportunities in your community then share your stories.
  • Teaching Tolerance: The Southern Poverty Law Center site provides downloadable classroom materials and lessons. The free documentary Bullied explores how to stop gay bashing in middle and high schools.
  • Mashable links to YouTube reenactments of King’s speeches.
  • The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum provides interactive information in 12 languages.
  • Undocumented students find their voice and each other on Facebook at the Student Immigration Movement page.
  • Need help finding a cause to help make a difference in world. Set your priorities on the kind of organization you want to support financially with Jumo, created by Facebook’s co-founder. Be the change.
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