Thursday, May 07, 2015

Ethical Issues Rasied By Electronic Media - Part 2

At the Alaska Press Club Conference two weeks ago, I hosted a breakout session to talk about ethical issues raised by electronic media.  I did a brief post outlining the issues I had in mind before we met.  The breakout session was small.  It was during lunch and the other session was on the open meetings law.  I'm going to jot down my notes here before I forget them. 

We had a diverse group - a small town online newspaper publisher, a free lance photographer, a blogger (me), and two broadcast folks.

We started with me giving an overview of the topic and then we added some other interesting twists.

The basic issue is how is/will the nature of electronic media open new and troubling issues?  And how should we address them?

1.  Changing History

Here are a few issues we discussed here:

A.     Changing Names of News Outlets.  The previous post began with my concern that an Anchorage Daily News article I found from 2011, was under the banner of Alaska Dispatch News.  The Dispatch didn't buy the Daily News until 2014.  While on the surface, not a significant issue, it symbolizes the problem of retroactively changing things.

Rather than leave pre-Dispatch articles under a Daily News banner, it now looks like the Dispatch has always been the paper in Anchorage.  With fewer and fewer libraries keeping hard copies of newspapers and journals, we are vulnerable to having the past altered like this.   For historians and other academics citing sources based on changed names of newspapers, there will be lots of errors and misleading historical references.  People will think, from the website and the citations based on it, that the Dispatch has been around for much longer than it has.  And the Anchorage Daily News' existence will be extinguished.  That does change the history of Anchorage and of the evolution of media in Alaska.

B.  The Potential Loss of Archives.  Steve Heimal related in our session how tapes of his shows had been given to the state archives (I think that was where), but they had given them to someplace else.  He was scrambling to find out where they ended up and if they would be publicly available or even survive at all.  Of course, the internet makes preserving audio archives far easier and more accessible to the public than what existed before.  But what gets saved and what disappears?  This brought up the question,  "What happens if the Dispatch goes belly-up and doesn't sell, who would keep up the website?  With libraries cutting costs by going digital, all the history recorded in the newspaper would vanish.

C.  Simply Changing History.  Once a newspaper is printed and ends up in the library's archives, it's preserved.  Someone could steal it or cut out parts, but a reader would know something was missing.  With online archives, what's to stop someone from going back and changing the story?  It could be to make the author look better (such as getting rid of a prediction that turned out wrong).  It could also involve getting rid of other news that  over time has become politically or economically compromising.   The recent Anchorage mayoral election involved two audio tapes that were alluded to but 'missing' and then appeared in ways that were intended to hurt opposition candidates. Web-caching exists, but doesn't seem to be universal, and many people don't know how to use it. 

D.  Editing Mistakes.   The Alaska Press Club contest rules say:
"All entries must be submitted as they were published or broadcast."
I know on my blog I can easily go back and make whatever changes I want.  And after talking to others, both bloggers and traditional media, it's clear they do too.  But there don't seem to be any clear rules for how to do this, no common guidelines for what is reasonable and what's not.  It doesn't make sense to me to leave up typos or even graceless prose when I can easily fix them.  So I've come up with my own rules.  Transparency is the underlying principle:  If people know about the changes, what was erased and what was added, then it's ok.
Rule 1:  If it is a minor grammatical or spelling correction that doesn't affect the content, then I can change it and not mark the change.  In the session someone mentioned a time factor - you can fix it within the first 24 hours that way.  He said that was practice at his station, but not a written policy. Not marking the change isn't intended to hide it, but it just gets messy with a lot of little notes about this and that.
Rule 2:  If the change is substantive, then I have to strikeout the old  [and bracket the new].  I try to note when the update was made, but I haven't been consistent unless I'm adding totally new information.   Changes can come from comments to the post, new developments, or just rereading a post and realizing there is an error.

Again, transparency is critical - letting the reader know what you are doing, and if it's not obvious, why. 

2.  Other Issues

We had a photographer in our session and he raised the issues of digital doctoring of photos.  Photographers have always enhanced their pictures in the dark room, but new technologies allow for making it possible to blatantly lie with photos.  Again, I try to always mention when a picture has been changed - more than cropping, contrast, and exposure.  And if I significantly change the look with contrast or exposure I'll mention that too.  But when I mentioned I've added someone to a picture - just to get them all in - the group was pretty down on that.  Even when I said I tell readers exactly what I've done and why.  (I think I may have done it once. Not even sure of that.)  And I've taken to posting pictures that are chopped up with some aspects more prominently featured. Often these are nature pictures.  For example see the last picture on this post.  No one is being fooled here.  The photographer in our group cited a well known (he said, I didn't know him) photographer who basically said that with current technology making it easier for everyone to take technically great pictures, it was necessary for 'photographers' to go further, to enhance the craft.  I think I'm in that camp, but again, transparency is required. 


These are a few things our session thought the Alaska Press Club should consider.

1.  Check out what others are doing on this. People I've talked to say things are changing so fast they haven't developed policies. For example,  Management of Electronic and Digital Media  By Alan Albarran has a section on ethics, but it doesn't seem to deal specifically with these issues.  It's more general and follows a legal ethics model of defining obligations to different constituencies. But I'm sure someone, somewhere is addressing this.  I just haven't found it or talked to anyone else up on these issues. 

2.  Change the Alaska Press Club contest rules to reflect the reality of online media being changed.  For example - what is the original story at the Alaska Dispatch News?  The first go at the story online.  The printed version that comes out later?  The updated online stories which get edited as the story unfolds?  I'm sure the rules were written before this was common.  It's time to revise the rules to reflect reality and have everyone competing by the same rules.

3.  Consider developing standards for archiving the news.  What kinds of protections can be put in place to prevent changes in old stories and to alert readers to the changes when they happen?  For example, I think the Alaska Dispatch News should either revert old Anchorage Daily News heading on stories or at the very least have a prominent note that says, "This was published originally in the Anchorage Daily News."

When I search journals through the library online indexes, I usually get - it seems - to the original website of the journal.  Separate backup sites or other ways of story data should be found.  This one is bigger than just the Alaska Press Club.

4.  Develop standards for changing stories after the fact and supporting efforts to preserving original work as it was published.  How and when is it ok to do this?  How should readers be notified?  Are there time limits? 

For preserving the original work, Web-caching already exists, but I'm not sure how comprehensive or organized it is.

That's all I have for now on this - some notes. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments will be reviewed, not for content (except ads), but for style. Comments with personal insults, rambling tirades, and significant repetition will be deleted. Ads disguised as comments, unless closely related to the post and of value to readers (my call) will be deleted. Click here to learn to put links in your comment.