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Journalism Ethics

Arkansas Business Editor Raises Questions About Disclosures in KFSM Story

kfsm logoThe editor of Arkansas Business has penned an open letter to Rick Bagley, the news director at KFSM, the CBS affiliate in Fort Smith, Ark. At issue: a lengthy piece on the station’s website raising questions about the qualifications of the recently-appointed director of the University of Arkansas’ Center for Ethics in Journalism.

The editor, Gwen Moritz, says the article should have included a disclosure: it was written by KFSM managing editor Larry Henry, whose mother-in-law is a professor at the school who supported a different candidate for the job. Moritz exchanged several emails with Henry about the piece; in the open letter, she said Henry “insulted me personally and professionally and even offered some choice words for my husband for good measure.”

Moritz also reveals Henry has applied for jobs in the university’s journalism department twice, once as recently as last year. A Jim Romenesko reader points out when comments on the KFSM website started questioning some of the story’s problems, “the comments were mysteriously turned off.”

“If I were their news director, I would consider whether they are qualified to practice journalism at all,” Moritz writes in her letter to Bagley: Read more

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NYT: Undercover Reports on School Security Raise Ethical Questions

kirkwood_hsUsing the recent school scare caused by a reporter at KSDK as an example, The New York Times looks at the “broader questions about the ethical and practical implications” of undercover reporting on school security:

Jen Wilton, who has two sons at the [St. Louis] school, said she was frightened when one of them texted to tell her about the lockdown. The news station had crossed the line, she said. “They certainly didn’t do me any service,” she said. “I have a few more gray hairs because of it, and it terrified my kids and a lot of other kids.”

Critics say these kinds of undercover efforts do not provide an accurate portrait of school safety, and question whether they serve any public good. Some journalists question whether the news organizations become too much a part of the story, and whether it is dangerous for reporters to wander into schools now that students and staff are often on heightened alert. Read more

Here’s How the Hartford Stations Are Handling the Release of the Newtown 911 Tapes

US-CRIME-SCHOOL SHOOTING-FILESHartford-New Haven stations are being cautious about broadcasting the audio from the Sandy Hook Elementary school shooting 911 tapes, which were released at 2pmET today after a lengthy court battle.

CBS affiliate WFSB, which said earlier this week it would honor Newtown’s request to stay away on the first anniversary of the shooting, announced on Facebook it would not air the audio of the 911 calls. Same for NBC owned WVIT, which is consistent with the policy NBC News has announced.

“As part of NBC Connecticut’s commitment to treat every story with care and compassion, we have decided NOT to air the 911 calls,” WVIT wrote on Facebook. “Our team of reporters will carefully review them after they are released, but we will not play the recordings on air.”

On the noon newscast today, ABC affiliate WTNH said they plan to “select only non-graphic portions of the tapes for broadcast,” noting anyone who wants to hear the full 911 audio can go to the station’s website.

Fox affiliate WTIC had reporter Louisa Muller describe the 911 calls and also played short clips on its newscasts.

School Board Blames KELO Reporting Error for Pledge of Allegiance Controversy

kelo pledge reportSchool board members in Sioux Falls, S.D. are blaming a reporting error by CBS affiliate KELO for sparking national controversy on the role of the Pledge of Allegiance in public schools, according to the Argus Leader:

Some board members and their families say they’ve received threats after a Nov. 12 vote that requires middle schools to recite the Pledge daily. A group of veterans wanted the district to make it mandatory in high schools as well, and national media coverage of the issue has brought a flurry of complaints.

[...] Board members blamed what they called a misleading news story by KELO-TV as the original source of misinformation; the news station, which did not cover the meeting in person, reported that the board had voted to end the practice of saying the Pledge in high school. KELO corrected the headline and its story, but some board members say they took too long to do so.

The school board did vote unanimously not to require high school students to take the Pledge of Allegiance, but contrary to KELO’s report, the vote upheld the current policy, which has been in place since the 1970s.

The president of the school board told KELO that board members are “getting bombarded with calls and emails … from people who think we took it out of the high school.” As NewsBlues notes, KELO reported on the subsequent firestorm without noting that its own reporting had played a part in the outrage.

The school board vote has received national attention from Fox News, the Blaze and the Associated Press. [h/t NewsBlues]

Court Rules WTMJ Did Not Violate Bus Driver’s Privacy With On-Camera Confrontation

WTMJ_BusDriver_Koebel

A state appeals court has ruled that WTMJ, the NBC affiliate in Milwaukee, did not violate a school bus driver’s privacy when investigative reporter Robert Koebel confronted her on-camera about a past prostitution conviction.

The report, which aired in April of last year, was an investigative report about about Milwaukee school bus drivers who had criminal records. The station obtained the information through an open-records request and then used police reports to identify people who had been convicted of a crime. After the report aired, the bus driver, Melissa Dumas, was fired. She sued Koebel and WTMJ’s parent company, Journal Communications, alleging invasion of privacy.

According to the Associated Press, a lower court ruled that the bus driver’s conviction was public record and WTMJ’s report was protected under the first amendment. The appeals court upheld the decision, saying that the information was “undoubtedly embarrassing” but also a “matter of public concern.”

Should WUSA Have Aired Footage of Crew Attack?

bye_wusa_304After WUSA reporter Bruce Johnson and photographer Danielle Gill were attacked covering a home invasion earlier this week, the CBS affiliate aired reported on the incident. Noting that the woman in the video has not yet been identified — and therefore could have been one of the victims of the home invasion –The Washington Post wonders if the story should have aired at all:

Johnson says he doesn’t know the identity of the woman who attacked him or the circumstances that led her to the townhouse in which D.C. police said four armed men held eight people hostage and assaulted three of them. Neither does his boss, WUSA news director Fred D’Ambrosi.

Which leaves open the question: Was the woman one of the victims? Considering that most media organizations won’t identify survivors of violent crimes, out of concern for their privacy and safety, did TV crews cross a line in recording her and airing the footage?

[...] “If the definition of news is something unusual happening, this was certainly something unusual,” D’Ambrosi said. Read more

WTMJ Apologizes For Report Alleging Police Misconduct

wtmj_surveillance_304Five months after a sensationalized promo for a Sweeps story, Milwaukee NBC affiliate WTMJ has apologized to a police officer featured in the promo.

WTMJ promoted an “explosive I-team investigation months in the making” by showing surveillance video of police officer Matthew Knight at an ATM with a man. The promo copy reads: “A Milwaukee police officer taking a man’s cash out of an ATM. Then walking off with that cash in hand. What’s really going on? The Milwaukee police department has some explaining to do.” (Video of the promo is after the jump.)

The police officer in the surveillance video was cleared of wrongdoing in March, two months before WTMJ aired the story. The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel‘s Duane Dudek reports that during Tuesday’s 5 pm newscast, anchor Mike Jacobs read the following statement:

We strive for accuracy in our reporting. But despite our best efforts, when we do get a story wrong, we owe it to you to stand corrected. Earlier this year, our reporting and promotion of a story involving Matthew Knight, a Milwaukee police officer, left the wrong impression that Officer Knight was involved in inappropriate or wrongful behavior. He was not. Read more

Website Aims to Shame South Florida Reporters by Publishing Personal Info

A website that is geared to “exposing deadbeats to the world” has turned its sights on reporters in South Florida.

The site, deadbeatlink.com, has posted the names and personal information of reporters, both print and broadcast, who don’t meet its journalistic standards. Included on the list are reporters for West Palm Beach CBS affiliate WPEC.

For example, when you click on the link for WPEC reporter Benjamin Becker, deadbeatlink.com shows his personal info, including his address and gives a short explanation of why he’s being targeted,

Benjamin Ruttenberg Becker is a reporter for WPEC Channel 12 in West Palm Beach. As journalists, the staff of the WPEC have chosen to ignore select political figures in Palm Beach County, turning their heads while their agencies run rampant with corruption, ranging in crimes of moral turpitude, stealing from tax payers to even committing murder.They cover things up in their own industry; if a member of the media commits rape, they are dismissed quietly and it is ignored by the rest of the media, deemed not worthy of news.

The video above was posted to Vimeo by Jose Lambiet of Gossip Extra. He was sent the video after asking the group behind the site, in his words, “what’s up?” In it, the group says journalism is supposed to be a watchdog of the government. The people behind the website obviously think that’s not happening and promise to list a new news organization every week. Read more

Should TV News Have On-Air Fact Checkers?

controlroom_304x200On the heels of CBS News and NBC News misidentifying the Navy Yard shooter, USA Today‘s Rem Rieder argues television news should take a cue from ESPN’s “Pardon the Interruption” and employ on-air fact checkers:

Television has never been very good at pointing out its errors. Newspapers generally have corrections sections. Many news websites will not only correct mistakes in copy, they will also note that the original version was incorrect. But TV news has been a laggard when it comes to setting the record straight.

And the idea of pointing out the mistakes on the program where they took place is perfect for the digital age. While newspapers have to wait until the following day to run their corrections, websites can and should fix mistakes as soon as they’re discovered.

As [ESPN's Tony] Kornheiser says, “If you get something wrong, you ought to correct it right on the spot.” After all, if you don’t, others will. When news outlets make mistakes, particularly on high-profile stories, you can be sure that many readers and viewers will take to Twitter to point them out.

WLNE Takes ‘Appropriate Internal Action’ After Publishing Story With Factual Errors, Improper Attribution

Providence ABC affiliate WLNE has retracted a story about health violations at local restaurants after the station “mistakenly misconstrued some of the facts” and failed to give a local website credit for its reporting, WLNE general manager Chris Tzianabos tells TVSpy.

GoLocalProv.com reported Friday on restaurants in the Providence area with the highest number of health violations. The piece reported on citations at restaurants across the region and included a slideshow of the top 25 restaurants with the highest number of violations.

In WLNE’s story on the health violations, which included no attribution to GoLocalProv, the station reported “25 of the city’s restaurants have health violations.” For the original article, GoLocalProv inspected data from the past three years and found the number of restaurants with violations was more than twice that. WLNE also reported that a restaurant called Il Fornello had 7 violations, which was the fewest in the region. GoLocalProv said “there were numerous restaurants in the city that had less than 7 violations.”

“GoLocalProv invested time, energy and money to develop a public interest investigative story that reported on the health violations in Providence restaurants. We were extremely careful with reporting the data. ABC6 plagiarized the story,” Josh Fenton, CEO and co-founder of GoLocalProv.com’s parent company, said in a statement. “Even worse, in their haste to rewrite the story, it contained statements that are incorrect.”

The story has been removed from the WLNE website.

“ABC6 posted a story on abc6.com late Friday evening on a Department of Health report on health violations of local restaurants which inappropriately included facts from a GoLocalProv.com article. In addition to failing to give GoLocalProv.com proper credit, ABC6 mistakenly misconstrued some of the facts. We regret our mistake and we have taken appropriate internal action,” Tzianabos told TVSpy.

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