While the revelations in Bob Wordward’s new book about President Trump have dominated front pages of newspapers across the country this week, they have also prompted a raging debate among journalists about Wordward’s decision to withhold many of Trump’s most sensational comments for the book, rather than report them immediately. The journalism ethics involved are complicated and well worth a discussion. The strongest summary I’ve read to date comes from Erik Wemple’s blog. You’ll find it here.
Nondisclosure agreements are becoming increasingly common, with many employers now requiring all workers to sign them, not just top executives. And that is beginning to make a lot of people uneasy, myself included.
Back in 2002 I was tapped somewhat unexpectedly to teach a graduate level course in journalism ethics. On the first day, I was interrupted by a twenty-something student who attacked the syllabus, complaining that traditional journalism ethics had little relevance now that the Internet was taking over the media.
I was too dumbfounded to offer a good answer, but if I had kept the student’s name, I’d gladly send him a copy of The New Ethics of Journalism by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with contributions from many of the sharpest minds in journalism today.
This is a very important book about a very important subject, and just as journalism is no longer the provenance of professionals, this book ought to be studied by everyone who uses any form of social media to share or receive information.
On Aug. 1, the Eagle-Tribune, a daily newspaper in North Andover, Massachusetts, took a courageous step. It stopped allowing users to comment anonymously on its Web site.
In a column announcing the decision, Executive Editor Al White said that while he understood that some people were unable to comment freely under their own names, allowing anonymity created bigger problems. “Too many used the feature to spew vitriol, bigotry, obscenity, cheap shots and juvenile taunts, no matter how hard we worked to keep the conversation civil.”
The following question about how to handle a soldier’s sexual orientation in an obituary was recently posed on a writers’ listserve to which I subscribe. It provoked such a heated discussion that the moderator had to shut off debate. It’s worth another look here.
The Janesville Gazette, a Wisconsin newspaper, set off quite a furor when it published a list of “problem drinkers” distributed by the Janesville police to bar owners with a warning that those named shouldn’t be served. The police did not intend for the list to be made public, and the newspaper’s decision prompted a debate about the ethics of the actions by both the police and the newspaper.