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Monday, December 17, 2007

Unfettered "Mainstream Journalism" Much Riskier Than Citizen Journalism

David Hazinski writes that citizen journalists should be monitored and regulated and says "Major news organizations" must create standards to substantiate citizen-contributed information and video, and ensure its accuracy and authenticity.
Mr.Hazinski writes:

Supporters of "citizen journalism" argue it provides independent, accurate, reliable information that the traditional media don't provide. While it has its place, the reality is it really isn't journalism at all, and it opens up information flow to the strong probability of fraud and abuse. The news industry should find some way to monitor and regulate this new trend.

The premise of citizen journalism is that regular people can now collect information and pictures with video cameras and cellphones, and distribute words and images over the Internet. Advocates argue that the acts of collecting and distributing makes these people "journalists." This is like saying someone who carries a scalpel is a "citizen surgeon" or someone who can read a law book is a "citizen lawyer." Tools are merely that. Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip.

The question should be, who will ensure than "traditional journalists" aka the mainstream media (MSM), adhere to their own code of ethics?

The Society of Professional Journalists states that the code of ethics are voluntarily embraced by thousands of writers, editors and other news professionals. The present version of the code was adopted by the 1996 SPJ National Convention, after months of study and debate among the Society's members.

The main titles are the Preamble, Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable.

Lets start with this from Mr. Hazinski "Education, skill and standards are really what make people into trusted professionals. Information without journalistic standards is called gossip."

One has to wonder if Mr. Hazinski has been keeping up with the news of his own counterparts in the media and whether they pass this test themselves.

For example, AP and Reuters, followed by MSNBC, AFP and dozens of other media outlets reported a story about 20 beheaded bodies found in Iraq back in late October, blasting the story across the world.

The problem?

There were no beheaded bodies and it was a blogger, a "citizen journalist" named Bob Owens, from Confederate Yankee, that followed up, did the fact checking that the MSM didn't bother to do and ultimately certain media outlets like AP and Reuters, days later, finally issued a correction, with far less fanfare than the original false story received.

The AP, via MSNBC's correction:

BAGHDAD - Reports of 20 beheaded bodies found south of Baghdad earlier this week were untrue and may have been fabricated by insurgents aiming to incite violence and revenge killings, the U.S. military said Saturday.

Reuters excuse was:

Verifying reports in Iraq is very hard for journalists, who have been systematically targeted by different militant groups and rely extensively on local sources for information.

Reporting a rumor as a news story and as a fact, then blasting it across the world, while their "corrections" are filled with excuses, seen by far less of the population, and leave the majority with the impression that the original story is true.

Back to those Journalistic Ethics, under the title of Seek Truth and Report It, the first caveat states "Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information."

Journalists should:

Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

Moving right along, another "citizen journalist" , Gateway Pundit, brings examples of 5 additional stories, in the last 6 weeks that have been proven wrong and shows us that Time never did issue a correction on their report of the beheaded bodies that never were.

The Be Accountable portion of the journalistic ethics clear states:

— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

Another example comes from TimesOnline which brought the news of some unwelcome surprises for BBC when its executive board gathered for one of their weekly meetings.

Much to the apparent surprise of Bennett and Abramsky, two experienced and highly respected corporation bureaucrats, a procession of contrite and nervous producers came forward to ’fess up. The public, it seemed, had been deceived with unnerving consistency, particularly over programmes with phone-in polls and competitions. And on the corporation’s most noble flagship enterprises, too. Comic Relief and Children in Need, for example.

“We just sat there absolutely stunned,” one executive board member told me, “shocked beyond belief. Nobody had any idea that this was going on on such a scale.”

Another clear violation of the journalistic code of ethics is to use photos that misrepresent the news.

— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

The Autonomist captured a picture provided by AFP with this caption:

" An elderly Iraqi woman shows two bullets which she says hit her
[emphasis added] following an early coalition forces raid in the predominantly Shiite Baghdad suburb of Sadr City."

As The Autonomist said "The only way those bullets hit her house was if someone threw them at her house.

You see, they've never been fired."

The examples go on and on and this would be a 10 page article if I were to list all of those that I have been writing about in the last year, so this will be enough for now to make my point.

Mr. Hazinski should worry more about regulating the tradition media because their stories are seen by more people and their reporting rumors as news is far more dangerous, such as, doctored photos by so-called professionals like, Adnan Hajj, the ex-Reuters photographer, and out right lies, (see The New Republic's Baghdad Diarist, Scott Thomas Beauchamp), where it took TNR 4 and half months and 14 pages of excuses before they admit that they could "not stand behind" the stories. It was milibloggers and the Weekly Standard that discovered those lies that were reported as truth.

It is the "traditional media" that over half the American public states it does not trust and rightly so and 47% of Europeans do not trust, according to Harris Interactive and Eurobarometer survey.

So when Mr. Harzinski speaks of standards, perhaps he should look within his own profession.

In a very good counter article to Hazinski's, Leonard Witt, owner of URL, felt obligated to respond to David Hazinski's opinion piece.

He makes the following points:

• 59 percent of print journalists who won Pulitzer Prizes never studied journalism;

• 58 percent of journalists awarded Nieman Fellowships never studied journalism, and;

• 51 percent of journalists awarded Knight Fellowships at Stanford University never studied journalism.

Considering that in every example listed above, it was a "citizen journalist" that did the work, fact checked, verified, debunked and, in some cases, forced the "traditional journalists" to issue corrections to their false stories.... Mr. Hazinski might have just opened a can of worms that he might end up preferring he didn't.

Unfettered "mainstream journalism" is far more riskier than citizen journalists and one has to wonder if Mr. Hazinski is simply worried that at the rate that citizen journalism is growing, perhaps the need for traditional media is lessening.

The Dinosaur media no longer has the market on truth, news and researching facts.

[Update from Miss Beth]:

I mentioned to Spree let's not forget Time Magazine's "esteemed" journalist Joe Klein and his "expose" of the Haditha "Massacre"--that, after extensive investigation, ruined lives of our Marines, a US Representative making false statements from the steps of Congress (Murtha's comments regarding the Marines were "cold blooded killers"--comments made prior to any completed investigation or trial, thus violating said Marines Constitutional rights to a fair trial and innocent until PROVEN guilty)--and now being sued for those statements AND one Marine's fate still hanging in the balance (Lt. Col. Chessani)-were proven WHOLLY UNTRUE. Time and Klein have yet to issue a retraction.