Ethical Journalism Newsletter: August 21, 2015


Ethical News And Debates

Reporting Terrorism: How Reckless Media Can Make Matters Worse

The widespread publication of videos produced by terrorists and explicit reporting of extremist violence has troubled many people who worry that shock and awe coverage only adds to public fear and uncertainty. Now there’s evidence that media sensationalism is indeed spreading a toxic message which may help terrorists win their propaganda war.

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The difference between ‘fair’ and ‘balanced’

Balance is mathematical: If you include X, you must include negative-X. Fairness is harder. The media must be fair. (Read more on the Huffington Post)

Remembering the terrorism at Oak Creek

Three years ago last week, six Sikhs were gunned down by a white supremacist while praying at their house of worship in Oak Creek, Wisconsin. Yet the word “terrorism” was expressly absent from mainstream media characterizations of the shooting. The “T-word” is readily applied to brown people (who are “terrorists”) and black people (who are “thugs”), but rarely to whites exhibiting the same behavior. (Read more on The Open Society Foundations)

Five ways to improve environmental reporting

CJR talked with some of the leading experts in wildlife and conservation coverage to put together this (not comprehensive) guide for journalists tackling environmental reporting. (Read more on Columbia Journalism Review)

Communicating in disasters: 4 lessons learned

The necessity of communication and information in a crisis should no longer be in question. It is a basic survival instinct for all of us, in any emergency, to try to find out what to do next and where to seek help and safety. Yet we still have a lot to learn as recent experiences in Nepal and with the Ebola crisis have revealed. (Read more on Devex)


United Kingdom: The self-inflicted wounds that point to enemies within media

When it comes to describing the state of British journalism the best description I have found comes not from Britain at all, but an American, and the author George Saunders’ essay The Braindead Megaphone.

Saunders characterises the mass media as akin to a man who arrives at a civilised dinner party carrying a megaphone, and sets about using it to dominate the conversation. He writes:

“Megaphone guy is a storyteller, but his stories are not so good. Or rather, his stories are limited. His stories have not had time to gestate – they go out too fast and to too broad an audience.

Storytelling is a language rich enterprise, but megaphone guy does not have time to generate powerful language. The best stories proceed from a mysterious truth seeking impulse that narrative has when revised extensively; they are complex and baffling and ambiguous; they tend to make us slower to act, rather than quicker. They make us more humble, cause us to empathise with people we don’t know, because they help us imagine these people, and when we imagine them – if the story- telling is good enough – we imagine them as being, essentially, like us.

“If the story is poor, or has an agenda, if it has come out of a paucity of imagination or is rushed, we imagine these other people as essentially unlike us: unknowable, inscrutable, inconvertible.

“In surrendering our mass storytelling function to entities whose first priority is profit, we make a dangerous concession: ‘Tell us,’ we say in effect, ‘as much truth as you can, while still making money.’ This is not the same as asking: ‘Tell us the truth.’”

Read more of the EJN Report Untold Stories.