Deciding what to publish and what not to
In a day in age where the internet has a direct affect or influence on almost every American, people are saying and doing things that people 100-years-ago could never even dream of.
Journalists are forced to make important decisions regarding the content of their published work that could have wanted or unwanted outcomes. With every story they work on – from the smallest questionable details, such as the color shirt a person was wearing when arrested – to the decisions that must be made when faced with topics that are potentially harmful to their readership, from obscene quotes to the most controversial scandals.
When deciding whether or not to omit a statement or detail from a story whether it be online or print, certain personal and ethical standards must be established and followed. The media has a responsibility to report the news as it happens and the precise way it happens. While doing this they must also stay within the set personal and ethical standards established by the journalist and the publication. In addition to meeting these guidelines the entire publication or company, must keep the readers thoughts and position on the subject in mind.
With that said, when deciding whether something that has the potential to affect the reader or viewer is too obscene or harmful, the value of the said statement must be evaluated. In other words, it must be decided if who the speaker is and what they are saying has enough news value or is essential to the story. Generally, but not always, if the speaker is of a high position or importance, they should be quoted or portrayed accurately; using the exact words and actions in the story regardless if it is on print, online, photography, video or any other new multimedia outlet.
The Following scenarios will help illustrate the options journalists and their publications or umbrella companies have when faced with different a variety controversial stories with varying degrees of affect on the reader:
Scenario 1: Deb Woodell is a retired accountant in Glassboro, N.J., who wants to wear her own heirloom tap shoes to class at the new dance academy on High Street, but officials at the place say that the taps do not conform to current tap standards and will damage the floors. In response to being denied, Woodell sets up Occupy Dance Hall in front of the building in protest. When interviewed by your reporter, she rails against the establishment and says, in part, “These assholes wouldn’t know heirloom tap shoes from a hole in the ground.”
Scenario 2: When campaigning for president in 2000, George W. Bush was caught unawares by an open microphone, saying “There’s that asshole from the Times.”
Scenario 3: After leaving the Philadelphia 76ers over philosophical differences, Larry Brown quickly found work coaching the Detroit Pistons. Upon being questioned at a public news conference about why he left Philadelphia, he replied, “I got tired of coaching assholes.”
Looking at scenario 1, the subject is not of high position or national importance. Therefore, the quote, “These assholes wouldn’t know heirloom tap shoes from a hole in the ground,” should be omitted.
In its place the journalist should use a paraphrase or partial quote that accurately portrays the story without changing the message. For instance, in place of the quote the following paraphrase or something similar could be used – Woodell, in reaction to being denied the option of wearing her own heirloom tap shoes, said that the dance hall doesn’t know, “heirloom tap shoes from a hole in the ground.”
In this case removing part of the quote from print or online, does not affect the message or the story, therefore it is safe to remove.
However, in scenario 2 the situation and rules are different. Unlike Woodell who is just an average citizen in Glassboro, the subject in scenario 2 is the President of the United States, who holds the highest position and importance level in the nation. Therefore, it is critical to cover the story to the smallest detail, not only to ensure accuracy, but also to protect the publication from legal action.
Furthermore, since this is the President, what he says and does has the potential to directly affect every American. It is also the given right to voters if not all Americans to know their elected officials actions and statements.
With this said it is important not to rush printing the story just to be the first publication with the cover story centered on President bashing the NY Times. Instead check and recheck all of the facts and quotes and try to obtain additional primary sources. This is important because if you did not hear or see something firsthand, there is a possibility that the information may be fabricated or altered.
When evaluating the situation in scenario 3 one of the main factors in deciding whether to change or omit the quote is the publications location and target audience. Since the subject has strong influences in the both the Chicago and Philadelphia areas, as well as in sports, then any publication whether print or online, whose target audience is geared towards any of these characteristics should cover the story similar to the way the Presidents story was covered. This is not to say that the publication should be oblivious to the reader’s position and thoughts on the subject. They should however decide whether or not using the exact quote holds more news value than potential reader harm.
In this case the quote should be published because even though Larry Brown does not hold an important position, he is however, nationally recognized and important.
On the other hand, publications that do not have a target audience that is greatly influenced by the subject, like that of Philadelphia or sports publications, may still cover the story. However, it may be in their best interest to paraphrase, omit or partially use the quote.
In Addition, another aspect that should be addressed is the media’s various multimedia outlets such as online video or audio.
For instance, in any case where there may be supplemental video, audio or even photos to the story, omitting the quote or questioned actions from the published story, but not completely from the page is a safer option. For example, where the removed section was replace it with a link to the supplemental media that either includes the questioned quotes and actions or, explains or recaps them. This can be done by using either one of the subject’s representatives or the publication itself to produce the supplementary multimedia.
Lastly, by placing the linked material further down the page and having a warning at the beginning of the selected media, the publication can insure that only those who have read the story will knowingly explore any supplementary material.
Following both the personal and ethical standards established by both the publication and journalist, the decisions regarding a stories content or credibility should be able to be made without hesitation and concern.