Journalism News Theory & Ethics: Critical Thinking – Week 13 Answers

1. Should reporters tell interviewees all the ways the interview may be used?

From a personal perspective I believe that this depends on the context of the situation and the nature of the story you are writing. For example, during my short time as a journalist so far, the people I have interviewed and articles I have written have not been of a nature where I need to explain to the interviewee everything I plan to do with the article. I will give them a brief background on the angle of the story and why I wish to interview them but I do not go into details describing that I plan to produce different packages using different forms of media.

For example, when I interviewed the Paralympian Will Bayley about getting the call up to the GB Paralympic team I did not feel it was necessary to tell him that I planned to produce a radio package using clips from our chat and that I also planned to produce a print article which included the transcript from the interview in full. This was the same case for when I interviewed professional tennis players at the Aegon Open. As they deal with the press day in day out due to their media requirements I think that there is no reason for me to bore them with the unnecessary details of how I plan to use their interview.

Looking at the other side of the coin I can definitely see that in certain circumstances where you would feel the need to tell the interviewee how you plan to use the interview. An example of this could be if you were interviewing a sexual assault victim who has opened up to you and told you their story they will naturally feel vulnerable and may insist on knowing how you plan on using the interview. The same could go for when covering any distressing stories and although I have not covered a story of such nature yet I would be likely to tell the interviewee the ways I planned to use the interview.

Another reason where full disclosure of an interview intention is not always the most effective idea is by using Ken Auletta as an example. He conducted a series of interviews for The New Yorker with some of the most powerful people in the American film and television industry, people like Rupert Murdoch, Oliver Stone, Michael Eisner, Deborah Winger, Steven Seagal, Michael Ovitz and David Geffen (Auletta, 1997). He asked them ‘What Won’t You Do?’, these unexpected questions can prompt more effective and more engaging answers and dialogue from a viewer or readers perspective. (Auletta, 1997: 70–3) (1). I can definitely see the advantages of this method as cited in Putting theory to practice, Journalism, but as I mentioned earlier it all depends on the context of the type of interview which you are conducting. 

2. How should we handle the biases of sources and avoid skewing the range of viewpoints?

It is always important to produce balance when writing a story or creating a news package, giving both sides of the story if applicable, as it is extremely important to get your facts correct and not just report information from one source which may be inaccurate. For example, as we discussed in seminar this week, if in theory there was a shooting on Bournemouth University’s campus and the students you interviewed said that the shooter was a student who ‘had some personal problems, including a relationship breakup and that “he has got to be mentally ill”. You would have to be very careful selecting the information you report, as these sources may be speculating and any written could create a false impression of the student.

As cited in ‘Putting theory to practice, Journalism’, Bird suggests that “a tabloid story is ‘accurate’ if it faithfully reports what was said or written by sources. By this standard much of what is written in tabloids can be claimed to be ‘exceptionally accurate’ – including, one might add, the testimony of experts on alien abductions.” (Bird, 1990: 378) (1) This is interesting as it is hard to argue against this if they are just reporting what they have been told by their sources, it all comes down to how much they trust the source. That being said, it is the journalists working for the tabloid newspapers job to provide balance to their stories by including the other side of the story from another source if they wish the story to be seen as being ‘exceptionally accurate’.

It is important as a journalist to recognise and filter information you have received from a source to avoid reporting inaccurate information, but that does not necessarily mean we should remove all bias from our articles. Bias can serve to create narrative texture or make a story understandable. It could be argued that removing all bias from a story would remove the humanity from the story.

3. What do fairness and balance mean in the journalistic context?

 In a journalistic context, balance centres around providing both sides of the story in order to be seen as being impartial. Fairness is used to demonstrate that a journalist should strive for accuracy and truth in reporting, and therefore not attempting to slant and manipulate a story to draw a conclusion which satisfies certain readers.

Fishman and Tuchman argue that students of journalism are not taught well enough about applying fairness and balance in their articles. “What is missing from this craft-based approach is a clear understanding that news production is, in fact, the convergence of theory and practice, and that any attempt to provide fair, balanced and accurate depictions of events involves much more than a simple presentation of ‘the facts’. Students are taught a way of seeing and presenting the world without fully understanding the reasons why they are employing a particular method or the impact that the tools they utilize have on the depictions they render.” (Fishman, 1980: 134; Tuchman, 1978: 179). (1) This is suggesting that many students let the facts shape the entire story without thinking about the impact they may have in terms of potentially creating a one-sided story.

Entman believes that if journalists were taught to understand the difference between including scattered oppositional facts and challenging a dominant frame then they would produce more balanced news reports. Like Tuchman, he feels that there is too much control at the top which manipulates the stories to lose their fairness and balance. As cited in T’oward clarification of a fractured paradigm’, Entman says; “Journalists may follow the rules for ‘objective’ reporting and yet convey a dominant framing of the news text that prevents most audience members from making a balanced assessment of a situation. Now, because they lack a common understanding of framing, journalists frequently allow the most skilful media manipulators to impose their dominant frames on the news.” (Entman, 1989; Entman & Page, in press; Entman & Projecki, 1993). (2)

Many argue that journalists never achieve complete balance and fairness in their reporting as news coverage often focuses on the representations of the voices of those who are most powerful. But if certain organisations openly admit and acknowledge that they lean to a particular political or social point of view then they may not necessarily feel ethically obliged to represent multiple perspectives. Journalists should strive to achieve fairness and balance in their articles as they act in the public interest and therefore should not knowingly mislead and deceive them without valid justification.

References

(1) Skinner, D., Gasher, M. J. and Compton, J., 2001. Putting theory to practice. Journalism, 2 (3), 341–360.

(2) Entman, R. M., 1993. Framing: Toward clarification of a fractured paradigm. Journal of Communication, 43 (4), 51–58.

 

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