Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Explanation of tragic events

Columbine. Virginia Tech. Amish school in Pennsylvania. Westroads Mall in Omaha. Chances are pretty high that each of these things reminds you of a very tragic event. In each case, at least one shooter went into a place of gathering, fired several gunshots killing many and then turned the gun on themselves. Each of these events came as a big surprise to people all over the United States. How could such a horrible thing happen in their small town? After this past weekend, we can add another name to that list: Ryan Schallenberger or Chesterfield, N.C. He never got the chance to carry out his plan however. When 10 lbs ammonium nitrate showed up at the teens home, his parents called police who then discovered the plan to place several bombs in the local high school. They also discovered a journal where the teen had written his plans for what he was calling a "Columbine follow-up."

So how do we explain these tragedies? It is easy to point fingers and blame all sorts of people. An unusual one to point the finger at though is the media. How does the media cause this pain and suffering? It might be a bit of a stretch, but I really do think they contribute to some of it. When these events occurred, the media went crazy with covering as much of it as they could. They interviewd anyone they could who was involved or maybe just knew someone who was involved. They flashed several pictures on the screen of the shooter(s). By giving so much attention to the shooters, I think it sometimes motivates others. It seems that very often the shooter is angry about how they were treated by others. They know that by committing this horrible act, their name will be remembered for a long time to come. For them, that can be a very gratifying feeling. I think it is important that the media let the public know what all happened, but maybe focus more on the victims and not giving so much attention to the criminal.

Monday, April 14, 2008

In response to my last blog...

While browsing through recent news articles online, I came across this article.

Really? Are we that desperate for a good show? After the whole Britney saga I would think that Dr. Phil and his staff would be super aware of how they are handling themselves. Bailing such a violent girl out of jail in order to book her on the show is out of line. I do not care that they have now cancelled the girl's appearance. There is a line between media and the law in terms of getting stories and I think Dr. Phil's team just stormed right over that line.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

When Enough is Enough!

I am assuming that by now, most of you have seen the video of the Florida teenager getting senselessly beat by other female students. It is a sickening video to watch. The girl is continually cornered and then kicked, jabbed by knees and punched repeatedly. The girls are screaming at each other but it is hard to make out what they are saying other than they are obviously using some very harsh and emotionally charged words. Now, I am not using this post to discuss whether or not the beating was ethical- I am hoping all would agree that it was not. Instead, I want to look at how the media handeled it.

I first saw the video on the CBS Early Show . I was appalled. I could not believe how much of it they were showing. The faces of all involved were blurred out, but you could hear the shouting in the background and see exactly what was happening to the victim. It was horrific. I saw updates about it throughout the day on CNN and then saw it again the next morning once again on CBS. The news anchors talked with the parents about what had happened and the normal questions of what might have led up to this. The girls recorded the entire incident for one reason. They were hoping to post it on YouTube. As I read an article on CNN's Web site about it, the following paragraphs really stuck out.

The suspects didn't have a chance to post the video online before police moved in and seized it, Judd said. The Sheriff's Department made it public, and it wound up on YouTube anyway. Judd recognizes the irony."In a perverted sense, we were feeding into exactly what the kids wanted," he said. "But according to Florida law, [the video] is public record, and it's going to be in the public domain whether we agree with that or not."

Well, there you have it. The video was supposed to go on YouTube, was [almost] stopped by police, until they themselves made it public. The thing really bothering me here is how the media has gone crazy with showing it. There isn't a hunt for the suspects that would give them a reason to play it so frequently. It was made public because it is dealing with a legal case. I just do not feel that the newsstations need to be playing as much of it and as frequently as they do.

One final side note. The CNN article referenced in this blog starts out: "Eight Florida teenagers -- six of them girls -- will be tried as adults..." Is it necessary that we point how many were girls? Had it been 6 boys and 2 girls would that have been mentioned? Would the story have even got this type of attention if it was all guys involved in the incident. Again, just a side note, but something to keep in mind.

Saturday, April 5, 2008

Failing Accuracy

Reporters have the responsibility of researching for their stories and gathering all the relevant facts related to their story. Sometimes a reporter may find what seems to be the most perfect piece of information to help form their story, but they still have to fact check that information. Is everything really true?

A recent article on Poynter.org discussed a story about the Los Angeles Times. It was recently discovered that one of their articles from a 1994 issue of the paper contained some misleading information. The story was about an attack on rapper Tupac Shakur.

" The LA Times Shakur article was challenged by The Smoking Gun Web site, which said the documents were not authentic and that the Times had fallen for a hoax perpetrated by an unsavory, unreliable source. "

I was surprised to see the date on this- 1994. First, there has been a substantial amount of time that has passed since the original article came out. I realize that sites like "The Smoking Gun" work to uncover things like this, but maybe their time could be more well spent on more current things. Second, I am interested how this article came to the LA Times. Today, the Internet is so prevelant in newsreporting that it is hard for me to remember that the Internet was not always there for people to use for research. Either way, no matter where reporters get their information from, they need to be sure to do some thorough fact checking. Not only as an ethical duty to their readers, but also for the company to spare them downfalls later on.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Sex for Sale

Advertisements come in many forms, from print, such as billboards, magazines, and newspapers, to broadcast, such as radio and TV. Advertisers have the very difficult task of influencing people to purchase a particular product, good, or service. There are many ways to go about getting people’s attention and attempting to influence them towards your product. I believe advertisers do have ethical decisions to deal with when producing these advertisements.
Bob Garfield, a weekly columnist for Advertising Age recently discussed an ad put out by Abercrombie and Fitch. This ad was put out to promote their new line of lingerie- Gilly Hicks-Sydney. Garfield wasn’t focusing on the actual product so much as the ad used to promote the product. The ad is a short video of teen girls and guys on a beach setting. The problem with the video- the actors are not wearing the lingerie they are advertising. You get a chance to see it as the naked teens play around clothesline where their missing articles of clothing are hanging. There are very few shots throughout the ad where the teens are actually wearing anything.

I viewed this ad and was shocked by what I saw. First off, I had to fill out a ‘consent form’ to prove I was 18, which should have been my first clue. When I returned to Garfield’s article online I read through the comments left by other readers. Many of them were disturbed as I was by the content. The following comment caught my attention the most: “One in four girl teens have a sexually transmitted disease according to a survey released this week. Some of these diseases kill. Don't we have a responsibility to our daughters to stop this trend in advertising? Fathers in the ad world take note.... –S R, NEW YORK, NY.” I don’t know that the fathers are the only ones to blame here. I really feel the media needs to be more aware of how they are portraying young women. They hold a lot of power, but need to be very aware of how they are using that power.

Saturday, March 22, 2008

Questionable advertising

There are few people who have not seen a political advertisement this year.  Way beyond a year in advance, presidential candidates started running ads to boost their popularity.  Some of these ads are basic and just show the candidate's stances on major issues.  As you approach the November elections, the purpose of the ads change.  Many of them become attack ads on other candidates in the same party.  A recent article on Poynter discussed a new form of these advertisements.  Barack Obama bought space on newspaper sites in the Ohio and Texas areas.  Some of those sites included Akron Beacon Journal and the Houston Chronicle.  The ads on these sites dropped down when you opened the newspaper's site.  The Poynter article asks questions about why the newspaper chose to run these ads.  Would it run ads like this on the front page of the newspaper? 

Personally, I am getting a little tired of all the political ads, as are many others.  We have been overwhelmed by these ads for too long and I have really just started tuning them out.  At this point I can't imagine a political ad makes that much of a difference.   

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Misleading Headlines

Even though many of us are on spring break, I am sure we have heard about the latest The New York Times story. We have moved on from John McCain to a new politician- Eliot Spitzer. Spitzer, who is currently serving as governor of New York, has been accused of being involved in a prostitution ring. Kelly McBride, Ethics Group Leader of Poynter.org, looks at this story in a different angle than most. Instead of trying to find the best source or digging up more details, McBride focuses on the headline. "The "prostitution ring" headline is misleading. The reporting so far suggests that Spitzer hired a prostitute who worked for an organized ring. No one is suggesting that Spitzer is somehow involved in running the ring or protecting it. A more precise headline would be more accurate," stated McBride. She worries that people will not look beyond the headline and therefore not understand what is actually occurring.

I agree with McBride. Journalists need to make sure what they are writing is not misleading. I understand that headlines can really grab a person's attention, but I think that is the main reason why journalists need to be so careful of what their headlines state. A very recent example of this is the John McCain story, also done by The New York Times. A misleading headline and poorly edited story lead to much confusion over what has happened. McBride also states the need for sources. Many of the reports had statements from 'anonymous sources.' When I see this I tend to question who this person really is, or if they even exist. After seeing so many journalists, writers, reporters, etc. getting caught up in plagiarising, it is hard to instantly believe a story that does not have actual named sources.

Saturday, March 1, 2008

The Truth?

Recently in class we have been discussing the need for truth in journalism. Journalists need to be sure that what they are reporting is the honest truth. I believe that this a very important thing for journalists to be aware of, but I do not think they are the only writers who need to be aware of it. Even authors of books need to be held accountable for what they write, specifically if they are writing what they label a memoir, or non-fiction story.

It was recently discovered that Misha Defonseca's book, "Misha: A Memoire of the Holocaust Year" is not what she had claimed it to be. Claims made my Defonseca in the book included things like "she found herself trapped in the Warsaw ghetto, killed a Nazi soldier in self-defense and was adopted by a pack of wolves that protected her." Her book became very popular in Belgium, even having a feature film created in France about it.

It seems like plagiarism and faulty "memoirs" are happening a little more frequently these days. I am sure a story about a lady reflecting on her travels across Europe with wolves during World War II would be very interesting, but don't we deserve the truth. So many people bought in to her story and she just kept on living the lie. So many people were negatively impacted by that war that it seems wrong to record such a drastic story as the truth. Another memoir turned falsification that occurred recently was that of "A Million Little Pieces" by author James Frey. His book was on Oprah's book club list before it was found out to have false information in it. I think that if these people really wanted to write non-fiction or memoirs, then they need to make sure they stick to the truth. They may have great stories, but by not sticking to them their book shifts to fiction. Even if it seems like the right decision at the time, they have to remember that somebody, someday will find out what they did.

Saturday, February 23, 2008


United Arab Emirates (UAE) recently discussed placing bans on social networking websites such as Facebook and MySpace. They would not ban the entire website, but would focus mainly on the part involving relationship statuses. "Sections of social networking websites including Facebook and Myspace, which encouraged dating would be banned under the new policy." Members of the UAE feel that these parts of the website go against their moral values.

This seems unusual to me just because it seems like such extreme censorship. Obviously things are different between here and the Middle East, but it is still hard to understand how a government can enforce these types of regulations.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Advertising- when the line is crossed

A recent article in Advertising Age discussed the Super Bowl and the many ads surrounding it. The ads play a large role in the Super Bowl every year. People look forward to seeing what advertisers have come up with and advertisers spend lots of time and money to impress their viewers.
A Bridgestone ad this year has received some extra attention. In this ad, a driver is twisting down a dark road. He is able to avoid a couple of obstacles like a deer and Alice Cooper. His last obstacle was Richard Simmons. Initially the driver acts as though he is going to speed up and hit Simmons, but swerves at the last second. Many found this commercial humorous, but there were others who felt it was sending a negative message.
Critics of this commercial believed it had a homophobic message. By displaying Simmons as a potential target for a car, they felt the commercial had the underlying message that annoying, flambouyant hyperactive men should be taken out.
I really did not see anything wrong with this ad. I saw it and laughed. I find Simmons to be very annoying and ridiculous. I had never associated him with being a homosexual though. I was very surprised to hear these accusations.
Since the Super Bowl, the ad has been pulled, being cited as being too offensive. I personally do not think that Bridgestone meant to be offensive in any way. I could see if critics were upset about the fact that a car sped up when it saw a person, but tying in the homophobic message to it is maybe reading into it a little too much. Advertisers have an extremely difficult job in trying to reach such a vast audience. As one website pointed out, Simmons did this ad out of his own free will. Maybe some critics need to remember that and calm down about the 'underlying' messages in commercials.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

"Upgrading" to Online

A recent news story from Madison, WI told of a 90-year-old newspaper. Capital Times has been in print for 90 years and currently has a circulation of around 17,000. This all sounds good, right? Well, so far, yes, but there is more to the story. After its many years of service to the community, Capital Times is suspending the daily printing of their newspaper.

On Thursday, newspaper publisher Clayton Frink said, "The paper will end its six-day a week publication and instead offer readers a tabloid-style insert in the Wisconsin State Journal twice weekly." Along with this, the newspaper hopes to focus more on "internet operations." This should be a very interesting switch for the newspaper, but unfortunately it will affect more than just the subscribers. The newspaper is predicting many layoffs and cuts in the staff. The number of needed employees will decrease through the process of changing from print to online versions of the newspaper.

To me, this is a very sad story. There is something special about getting a newspaper delivered to your home everyday. I am not a fan of the ink that comes off on my hands, but you can't give up the feel of the newspaper in your hands. Everything is laid out for you, all you have to do is flip through and choose which stories you want to read. I can carry the newspaper with me and cut out anything I might want to show to others.

I would love to talk to Keen about this topic. I am sure there are more newspapers than Capital Times who are struggling with this exact same issue. I am guessing that Keen would blame the Web 2.0 era for this event. For the first time, I might actually agree with him on something. People are turning to online sources for their news over the physical papers.

So, what is the ethical issue here? I think people need to be aware of what they are doing when they start switching to online versions of papers. Not only are the people at the actual newspaper being put out of a job. Think about all the delivery people. Moving deeper into the company, think about the people who repaired the press, ordered and delivered the supplies to keep the company running, and even the people who will no longer be receiving their daily papers. What if they do not have a computer (as shocking as it may be, I know people who still do not own a computer)? I am sure many newspapers will be dealing with situations like this in the next several decades. It will be interesting to see what they all choose to do.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Writers- please come back!

FOX Broadcasting Company has recently come up with a new show called The Moment of Truth. In this show, contestants are asked a series of questions before the show while they are hooked up to a polygraph machiene. The big thrill of the show comes when they are asked the same questions in front their spouses, family and friends. Their results are revealed. The questions get more personal and difficult to answer the further into the show they go. At any time the contestant can choose to stop and take the money they have earned so far but if they go through the entire series of questions, they win $500,000.

To me this show proves that networks are getting desperate for the writers stirke to end and have the writers return to work. I cannot believe that sharing very personal information about yourself on TV for money sounds like a good idea to anyone. I also cannot believe that the network promotes this type of a show. Aren't they afraid of a lawsuit? I am sure they have covered their butts and have the contestants sign all sorts of documents. To me the whole show just doesn't even seem ethical. Making a show out of people's very personal lives seems to be pushing the envelope. In Lippman's article he discusses two distince selves: the public and regal self (private and human). Are these people who are willingly going on this show following in the footsteps of Lippman, not really. Revealing your most personal secrets on national television is not keeping your private life seperate from your public life.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Privacy of the people

A recent story on CNN told of Circuit Judge John B. Hagler of Cleveland, Tennessee and his recent resignation. His resignation took place after an audiotape on which the judge recorded graphic personal fantasies was found. The tape was handed over to investigators by a past secretary. On the background of the tape the listerner can hear sounds from a person who sounds as though they are being tormented. The press have heard about the tape and are now asking that a copy be released to them. As the article states "the newspaper, The Associated Press and other news organizations had asked that the tape be released, but Hamilton County Chancery Court Judge Frank Brown ruled Thursday that it is not a public record and should be returned to Hagler. The judge justified this ruling by saying "private documents do not become public just because someone provides them to a law enforcement official."

The thing that gets me here is that the media thinks they need a copy of the tape. What would they do with it? I'm sure they would print stories about what was on the tape, stories that would be extremely embarrassing for the past judge. Would it be right for them to do this? I really do not think so. As Judge Brown said, the tape is a private thing. Judge Hagler did not record it for anything dealing with work. No matter how disturbing it may be, it does not necessarily mean that the press needs to report on it. What if they had at some point written a steamy novel on their laptop and it was later found and someone wanted to write a story about that? I wonder if they would feel the same way about private and personal property at that point. I understand it would all make a good newstory, but I don't know that it would be ethical to print it.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Drama of the Spears


Many of us are well aware of the drama that has been unfolding in the lives of the Spears family. 16 year-old JamieLynn is pregnant and Britney recently had a breakdown unlike any other Hollywood breakdown we have seen in the last several years. Britney was strapped up and hauled off to a hospital. Whether we really care about this drama or not, it is hitting the top of the news stories. In case this was not enough, Dr. Phil decided to step in and offer his two cents worth to the Spears family, specifically to Britney. As the article above shows, Dr. Phil was highly criticized for showing up at the hospital. Obviously we do not know all of the details surrounding his visit, but he does mention that he hoped to get some video and an interview which he then hoped to show on his weekday show, Dr. Phil.

There are so many issues going on with this ordeal, but one in particular deals with ethical issues. I am not talking about whether or not Dr. Phil should have gone to visit Britney. The ethical part of it goes beyond that. What if Dr. Phil had gotten an interview with Britney? What if he took those tapes and made a show out of them? As we all just witnessed, Britney is not very stable right now. I don't know that someone who is locking themselves in rooms with their children is the best person to do an interview with. I am sure that if Dr. Phil got the interview and did the show that he would see it as a great way to help others. But as the article also showed, not many people are in the same situation as Britney. Even if Britney had agreed to the interview, I think it would have been highly unethical for Dr. Phil to air the interview. When someone is that unstable I do not feel that they would be able to make a conscious decision to agree to being taped. Many people approve of Dr. Phil and take his shows very seriously. He has a huge responsibility to his audience to show them material that is apporpriate.