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George McQuade III

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January 25th, 2013 - 01:14 AM

George McQuade III

Journalists tackle “Ethics in a Digital Space

This article first appeared as, "Journalists tackle Ethics in a Digital Space" (
on Technorati

Many TV, radio and newspaper journalists have been bombarded by sensitive postings in the comment sections below their articles Online. Social media has prompted stations like NBCLA to adopt a policy to handle negative comments and potentially libelous statements
registered on news distribution sites.

The Burbank, NBC Network owned and operated station sponsored the media workshop, "Ethics in a Digital Space, early this month (Jan. 16, 2013), The Society of Professional Journalists, LA Chapter event attracted about 50 newsroom editors with lots of questions.
�Often can happen when you�re dealing with Social Media harassment, there�s a tendency to have a gut reaction and a panic response that can get you in trouble,� explained Olsen Ebright, Social Media manager, NBCLA, who talked about "Social Media Policies Online�, which has been adopted by management �When a user attacks anyone or subject Online, we prefer to take the debate or agitated person offline to continue the conversation.�
Ebright says just having that Social Media �Playbook and steps to go through when someone when harassment and comments have gone too far, the policy sets the tone to handle everything professional and in calm way.�

�If there are profanities or personal attacks we delete those comments,� he said. �And sometimes we will post a little note to the visitors, �Hey guys lets clean it up.��

Negative comments aren�t the only issues discussed. Other issues focused on fact checking and corrections in breaking news.
Megan Garvey, assistant managing editor for digital, reminded SPJ LA members that during the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, the media got the suspect name wrong, but it went viral on Social Media networks. There were other examples put up on an overhead projector. �We leave the original story up, but we feel it is necessary to post a correction at as soon as possible, she said.�

Other sensitive issues in the digital newsrooms that managers and writers face are fake press releases or images sent to newsrooms by a viewer�s and reader�s cell phone. Managing Editor Jonathan Lloyd showed an example of how a flood victim photo had been touched up. He said, �It was not an easy catch, except the level of flood waters surrounding people trapped in the water didn�t match the shoreline flooding water level. It didn�t look right and a closer examination proved it,� he said pointing it out on an overhead project.

�One of the major challenges we have is vetting information from outside sources,� Lloyd said. �Everyone has a way to supply us with information. Some of the information is very alluring when it comes to the immediacy of it and the spectacle of it, especially if they�re sending us an image. There are challenges of how we verify the information by outside sources, which may not be trained journalists, too,� explained Lloyd.
Lloyd notes that NBCLA editors deal with these new digital issues similar to the way they�ve done it before in traditional times. �We use the same instincts, the same methods and skills we�ve always relied on as journalists, whether we�re dealing with digital space or something outside of the digital space.�

As for celebrities breaking news or contributing to news stories, Lloyd said, �Very few stories we produce are generated by celebrities, but if there�s story that impacts our viewers, we try to verify the facts before it airs.
NBC LA�s Digital News Anchor Mikahlo Medina agrees that the advancement of technology and Social Media have presented journalists with a whole new set of ethical issues.

�Dealing with Social Media, dealing with digital issues as a one man band and how to aggregate information from users into your story are some of the challenges,� said Mekahlo Medina.

�I think a lot of people want accuracy. No one wants to read a story, and then five minutes later find out it was not right or that police grabbed the wrong suspect, he said�

Asked if it is getting any better? He responded this way:
�I think it�s a work in progress and as journalists dive into Social Media and the digital space they�re realizing that they have to take extra steps in confirming and going forward with different sources or different stories they�re reporting on,� Medina said.

What are your observations? Agree or disagree? Please feel free to comment on your observations, because I may include them in my next post, Thx!
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