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Category Archives: Ethics

Grief porn overwhelming Jamaican public

The photo on the front of the Jamaican Gleaner was a shocking precursor to the inside, double-page spread.  A mother, gripped in agony at her son’s funeral, greeted the reading public that morning.

The memorial service played out inside the daily tabloid with full-color, up-close-and-personal photos that included the minister, the casket procession and more tear-streaked faces of family and friends. It was not what someone of an American readership would expect.

This funeral seemed to be a galvanizing moment for a nation that sports the fifth highest homicide rate in the world. Fourteen-year-old Nicholas Francis was stabbed to death in Mid-October over his cell phone in a very public display of a senseless murder. The media made its presence felt at every chance, both in print and on the airwaves, culminating now with his funeral.

As much as the people of Jamaica have grown weary of the violence, they have also shown an evaporating tolerance for the media’s portrayal of the violence and its aftermath, like this funeral. They’ve dubbed this gawking “grief porn.”

Why must the victims and the family be showcased on the pages of the paper? Why must every death be complete with blood pools and explicit details of the deaths? Why does the public need to be guaranteed that body bags and wailing family members are important parts of most story?

smith talk

Kiplinger Deputy Director Kevin Z. Smith speaks to an audience in Jamaica about the ethics of covering tragedy.

I spent four days in Jamaica at the request of the U.S. Department of State and the Jamaican Embassy to talk about the ethics of reporting on grief and tragedy. Admittedly, I’d never heard the term grief porn, but I understood immediately what it meant.

What I didn’t understand was why it was so prevalent in the Jamaican press. In America, we’ve come (for the most part) to understand that graphic images and salacious details of murder and mayhem serve little public good. It’s usually viewed as sensationalism.

The attitudes on this island are divided.

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New Technologies Focus of Ethics Week

With the start of national Journalism Ethics Week, now is a perfect time for a review of our professional standards. While ethics is a daily review and execution, the last week of April each year is the time we set aside to mark the importance ethics play in our profession. Ethics matter every day, in every story, so let’s recalibrate our efforts beginning this week.

This year’s theme is Emerging Ethics: Best Practices for New Technology. Good choice since journalists struggle most with how to apply ethics to new forms of journalism.

As a service to Kiplinger readers, I’m sharing some of the highlights from the Social Media Ethics presentation I update and share each April during Kiplinger Fellowship Week. And, I’m sharing a number of sites you should visit to deepen your understanding of standards via codes of ethics and statements of ethical principles.

Keep this in mind when engaging in social media ethics:

  • Social media wasn’t invented with journalists in mind. It was invented for ordinary people who treat information and news values in a much different manner than trained journalists.
  • Journalists took up social media so they could better engage audiences, develop sources for reporting, push news content into an easier and more widely used medium and dwell amongst the populace.
  • Was there ever any expectations that social media communities would conform to journalism standards?

Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.56.39 AMWhat journalists soon realized was the community ethical standard for sharing information and engagement didn’t meet their standards (verification, sourcing, balance and fairness and accuracy.) The question is, how would journalists respond?

What are reasonable expectations for social media journalism?

  • We will make sure the truth always triumphs.
  • We will minimize harm to others.
  • We will always act responsibly and professionally.
  • We will be accountable for our mistakes.
  • We will avoid conflicts foremost and then be transparent when we can’t avoid.
  • We will verify information we produce and take from other outlets/sources.
  • We will be fair in treatment, balanced reporting.
  • We will avoid stereotyping.

Questions worth asking in your newsrooms, from situational to overarching ethics:

  •  Would you tweet something you wouldn’t put into print or in a broadcast?
  • Does your sourcing standards for social media differ from traditional?
  • Is speed a factor in good reporting? Is being first important?
  • Is context and perspective important?
  • Does your competition drive your decisions?
  • Is privacy a greater, lesser concern?
  • Should social media operate under a different set of standards that reflect the community temperament and not journalism?
  • Is truth, independence, reducing harm and accountability still relevant? What else? What isn’t?
  • What becomes of journalism if we change ethical standard for social media purposes?
  • What are the obligations of journalists with regards to standards?

 Lastly, check out these helpful sites for codes of ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists, Online News AssociationAssociated Press Managing Editors, American Society of Newspaper Editors, National Press Photographers Association and Radio, Television, Digital News Association.






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Attack on candidate’s wife should trigger a media ethics check-up

Is Donald Trump setting up the media to investigate Republican presidential candidate Ted Cruz’s wife, Heidi, by suggesting she has a secret?

On Tuesday, Trump sent out a tweet and immediately pulled it back. In typical Trump fashion, he didn’t apologize. Later, he stirred the pot again by backing up the deleted tweet with taunting rhetoric.Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.39.15 AM

The tweet came after a political action group supporting Cruz ran an ad of Trump’s current wife, Melania, naked on a bed. The photo is 15 years old. The ad suggested that you wouldn’t want her as first lady.

“Be careful, Lyin’ Ted or I will spill the beans on your wife,” Trump retorted upon seeing the ad. Within seven seconds he deleted the tweet from public view, which is never the case since everything lives forever online. Trump knows that.

The response from Sen. Ted Cruz was immediate and direct:Screen Shot 2016-03-23 at 11.43.24 AM


Given this political campaign season and the way Trump has managed to manipulate the media into hanging on his every word, it sounded to me like he was baiting the media to take this story and go with it.

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Kiplinger Program takes digital training on the road


Kevin Smith, left, and Doug Haddix


With its hallmark Kiplinger Fellowship behind us, the program’s staff now steps into summer and ushers in the season of professional media conferences and conventions.

In the coming months, Director Doug Haddix and Deputy Director Kevin Smith will travel coast to coast and be in front of nearly 1,000 journalists, offering our quality brand of continuing education for professionals.

At the core of this travel is the mission of the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism: the professional development of journalists in digital and social media.

While the Kiplinger Fellowship garners the most attention, a large part of the Kiplinger brand is on display at various conferences around the nation. Working one session at a time, Kiplinger can boast by year’s end of being involved in training nearly 1,500 journalists.

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All journalism impacted by Williams’ story

I stood in class Wednesday morning and wrote two words on the dry board: ”Truth” and “Fairness.” I’ve done this time and time again over the many semesters I’ve taught college journalism.

“These two principles are what guide you,” I told the reporting class at Ohio State University. “More than anything, this is what the public expects of you. It’s what you owe them.Premiere Of "Frost/Nixon" - Arrivals

“You see,” I punched up the point, “when someone picks up the paper and reads your byline, sees you on TV, hears your voice on the radio or reviews your work online, they want to know two things: Are you telling them the truth and are you being fair in your presentation of the facts? That’s what makes you a commodity in journalism, it’s your integrity and the trust people put in you. Without your honesty and their trust you have nothing. Don’t let them down.”

Today, I walked back into the same classroom, in front of the same students and rewrote those same two words on the board.

“Sometimes real life serves as the best lab, the best teaching experience,” I started. “Today Brian Williams is asking himself if he can stand before millions or just one person and be believable and perceived as fair after the revelations involving his 2003 reporting from Iraq.”

Today is a bleak day for Williams, NBC and the journalism profession, not just for what he did or didn’t do, but because we all carry that same mantle of responsibility to truth and fairness. That starts at levels as high as NBC and trickles down to journalism students, catching everyone along the way.

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