The Problem with B-Roll

My shoe suddenly comes loose in the hallway. I leave it – turning back would only slow me down. I swerve right to avoid an oncoming tape cart but trip over my now-exposed loose sock and fall face-first into an opening door. I gather myself and amidst calls of, “Are you okay?” and “Oh my Lord!”, and scramble to pick up the dropped tapes. I hobble like the wind up a metal staircase, round two corners and burst into the “tape pit” (a.k.a control room).

Twenty seconds later those tapes played live on air. I had done my job; I had delivered the b-roll on time, and my work that day was done. I pulled up my sock and picked up my rogue shoe as I made my way back to my edit suite. This was just one episode in one day among many similar days, when I regretted not wearing running shoes. Hush Puppies do not breathe well.

For two months in the summer of 2006 I worked as a tape producer for the now-defunct CBC News: Tonight, which ran on Newsworld as a summer replacement for The Hour.

I will always have affection for my time at Tonight. It was a small show with a small staff and a small budget. It was there that I was introduced to the art of producing b-roll, which I soon learned was more of a physical test of endurance than a skill-craft. Most of my days were spent trolling the hallways between the tape library, the satellite feed room, and my edit suite in search of footage that could be cobbled together as b-roll.

From the time the show’s lineup is more or less finalized and b-roll requests are made to tape producers, to the time when the b-roll finally goes to air, it is a mad dash to find tapes, pick shots, cut together b-roll, output the b-roll to a tape, fill out information in a computer database and deliver the tape to the control room. Each of these steps must be followed for every piece of b-roll that’s produced, whether it is fifteen seconds of visuals for a quick voice-over or multiple tapes worth of b-roll for a long interview that covers many topics.

JAYSON GO is in the final year of his Masters of Journalism degree at the University of British Columbia. Originally from Cebu City, the Philippines, Go has worked for CBC as an associate producer and has also interned as a researcher for Global National with Kevin Newman. In 2006 he was one of eight student journalists chosen from across Canada for the Joan Donaldson Newsworld Scholarship. He holds a BA in Anthropology and Political Science from UBC. His academic papers have been published in the UBC Journal of Political Studies and the Southern Maine Review.

While many may dismiss the production of b-roll as straightforward busywork, there’s more to it. Production of b-roll and the choices tape producers are forced to make can get dicey when time runs out.

(Full disclosure: my work with CBC Newsworld inspired the argument that I present. However, it should in no way reflect on any of CBC Newsworld’s programs or employees.)

Defining B-Roll

For the uninitiated, b-roll, or cover footage, refers to secondary images that appear onscreen during interviews, voice-over segments, “coming-up” bumpers, and the like. When Larry King interviews Bill Clinton, and footage appears of Clinton playing the saxophone on Asenio Hall in 1992, that is b-roll. When Peter Mansbridge says that “Stephen Harper met with George Bush at the Whitehouse today,” and footage of the event is played over the voice track, that is b-roll. When a news anchor says, “After the break we’ll take a look at Toronto’s new smoking ban,” while smokers appear on your screen – you got it, b-roll.

B-roll is all about making what’s being presented visually interesting.

I like to think that there are two types of b-roll that news networks use for live television: let’s call one “objective b-roll” and the other “subjective b-roll.” The difference between the two boils down to whether the tape producer has a choice over the footage sought.

Objective b-roll is time-sensitive, specific footage. When the story is, “Hugo Chavez visits an ailing Fidel Castro,” the b-roll shows the specific event. No other encounter between the two can be shown. Objective b-roll is often quite critical in telling the story. It isn’t enough to simply say that, “John Mark Carr arrived in Boulder, Colorado today.” News shows have to show him walking down the jetway, escorted by guards and surrounded by photographers.

Objective b-roll is harder to procure. Usually sent in through satellite feeds, it can often only be found on one tape and is highly sought after within a network. This is especially the case at a place like CBC Newsworld, where the network is divided up into separate and distinct “fiefdoms.” When footage for a leading story comes in, it’s first-come-first-served.

Subjective b-roll is different. It isn’t tied to any specific footage, so the tape producer has a choice in what to edit together as b-roll. For example, a story about the oppression of women in Iran could have footage of Iranian women hanging laundry, or being arrested for having her face exposed, or even young girls covered from head-to-toe in black. With this type of b-roll, the tape producer must be subjective and, to an extent, make ethical judgments about how particular images fit within a story.

Objective b-roll isn’t always new footage. In August when former hockey agent David Frost was charged with sexual exploitation, almost every CBC News show scrambled for the one tape with footage of Frost: a mere 15-second clip and a mug shot. But it was a necessary accompaniment to the story.

That August day I ran around the CBC building chasing the tape until I finally tracked it down. As soon as I had it, calls started coming in from people asking whether they could have it once I was done.

This happened a lot when I worked at Newsworld, due in large measure to the fact that three major programs – CBC News: Tonight, CBC News: The National, and CBC News Morning, which produced their b-roll at night – all needed b-roll at about the same time. I suspect that any network that has a stable of news programs faces similar problems.

Poorly produced or poorly chosen b-roll is almost always an indication that the tape producer was rushed.

The Problem with B-Roll

Two types of malfeasance can occur as a result of rushing b-roll, the first done unwittingly due to oversight, and the second done deliberately and ethically irresponsibly.

An example of oversight is misinterpreting a b-roll request or interview question. When discussing “the comeback of nuclear industry” you might run b-roll of Kim Jong Il or Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, when in fact you should have found stock footage of nuclear power plants. These accidental mistakes are the most noticeable but also the most forgivable.

Because objective b-roll is often tied to lead stories, (1) footage is highly sought after within a network, and (2) it must be finished on time at the risk of ruining, postponing, or worst, dropping, a top story.

It is precisely because subjective b-roll is given a lower priority that it is subject to error. With objective b-roll there’s an iron-clad understanding of what’s needed, so rushing it isn’t much of a concern. Subjective b-roll, on the other hand, requires judgments and reasoning, so logically it shouldn’t be done last or at the last-minute. Rushing subjective b-roll can create problems due to human discretion.

In these situations, viewers may be seeing inaccurate b-roll. Locations, for example, are not often distinguishable. Streets in one city look like other street in other cities. Mountains in one country look like mountains in other countries. When time runs out and there needs to be b-roll for “Summer fun on the West Coast,” a producer might be tempted to use footage of a beach in Toronto, if the tape is handy and there’s little chance he’ll be found out. If he decides to do this, when that tape is archived, it will forever bear the tag “Vancouver beach,” and anyone who uses it to produce b-roll in the future will have no reason to assume it isn’t.

The process of producing b-roll is not amenable to deep, contemplative thought or sober, deliberative reasoning. There are no codes of conduct or principled guidelines to follow, because thinking on your feet means thinking with your gut. The problem with b-roll, as it relates to live news programming, is that it can so easily lead to breaches of ethical conduct and ethical principles of truth-telling, accurate representation and honesty.

In an environment where b-roll is thought to be absolutely essential to a live news broadcast, tape producers must deliver (often literally; a la Joan Cusack in Broadcast News) their orders on time every time. Faced with this pressure, tape producers are often forced to make snap ethical decisions that hedge the line between doing the job “right” and getting the job done. “Getting the job done” is often intimately tied to how one is perceived as a worker or even whether one stays as worker. In the end, it’s much more impressive to look like a miracle worker.

Q&A with Mark Latham

This year at the University of British Columbia, student elections were advertised and covered by the voter-funded media (VFM) initiative, billed as ‘the first of its kind in the world.’ Participants in the contest promoted the election, sought to improve the quality of media coverage, and, by extension, to imporve the quality of the democratic process.

The driving force behind VFM was Mark Latham, who was an economist and businessman until his retirement in 1995. For ten years Latham, the founder of Votermedia.org, tried to sell his idea of a voter-funded media to the corporate world. They didn’t buy.

In 2006, Latham applied his idea to democratic institutions instead. He gave $8000 to the Alma Mater Society election coordinators to distribute among “winners” of media coverage. The cash, said Latham, was an incentive for media to fight voter apathy in the student elections, and, in larger future elections, corruption.

Thirteen participants entered the contest this past January to win one of Latham’s prizes. While some participants relied on comedy and popularity to attract voters, others offered serious coverage.

The competition successfully increased coverage for the AMS elections, but it caused controversy as well. UBC’s campus publication, The Ubyssey, published several articles addressing concerns about conflicts of interest within VFM and criticizing some of its rules. The Ubyssey faced increased competition for readership during Latham’s project.

In an election-time interview, Latham talked about the logic behind his project and some of its most important aspects.

Your expertise is mostly in business. How did you become interested in the media?

I’m a media consumer and an economist. I looked at voting and information in corporate societies, starting off with voting of shares, so I have studied the media and gone to a lot of conferences where people talked about representation in the media. My knowledge of the media comes from there. I also read quite a few books about the media, including Journalism in the New Millennium (edited by former UBC Journalism School director Donna Logan).

How would you describe the VFM initiative?

It’s a way of informing the voters and encouraging the government to do a better job on behalf of the voters. It informs the voters better by letting them allocate money to the media. It gives the media a better incentive than they have now to serve the voter’s interests, especially their interest in voting and knowing who they vote for. In this case, I donated $8000. In the long run, the voters themselves should fund it. For a journalist, a voter-funded budget could mean having budget for more in-depth stories.

Might it lead to people voting for a media they already know – usually a media that is already doing well?

In the short run, yes. In the long run, it encourages new media to come in and build a reputation. If it runs again and again, it will build strength, because it creates a new funding source. It creates a new incentive to provide something more. Here, even some individuals who have a reputation on campus for having a particular insight might be advantaged.

A student election seems different than a municipal or federal election. Why have you chosen UBC?

I feel UBC is perfect. It’s big enough, but small enough. It has a lot of the problems of a democracy; students are disconnected, for instance, which is exactly the problem I’m trying to solve. It’s also small enough so I can afford it, and it’s a community with a wide range of views. You have a school of journalism, so there’s a pool of journalists, and there’s also an academic interest in there. The other really big advantage is the age of the voters. People in their twenties want to change the world. I found there was quite an openness to this new idea. No, I can’t really think of a better place.

In an essay you published about the VFM, you wrote the economic structure of the media was a cause of voter apathy. Could you develop that thought for me?

Voters don’t have an incentive to pay the media. Even though, as a group, we vote for better information, as an individual, I would personally not pay money from my pocket to buy information, because I would be helping the community, not myself. The media tend to serve more sensationalism, fashion, etc. than information, because they get funding from advertising and commercials. A lot of subjects that require a lot of time and energy won’t attract a lot of viewers or readers. To caricature me [as a representative of the public] – I want to spend most of my year looking at Britney Spears. Before an election, I want to spend 15 minutes that are boring to make sure I can cast my vote, because I know that it matters. We really need this information that is totally boring, but we only want to spend 15 minutes looking at it. I want to increase that coverage.

Are you afraid of conflicts of interests on the VFM? [Some of the VFM contestants were also involved in the AMS council.]

I designed the basic idea, but I don’t set the rules. I thought a lot about that – the VFM is all about conflicts of interest and reducing them. I think VFM will police itself. People digging up conflicts of interest are about the best protection we have. Therefore, my design says even electoral candidates can have their own media outlet. I do care about conflicts of interest, but the best protection is having other media monitor it.

So more coverage is better coverage?

If you have well-motivated candidates, yes. It would be a better protection than having the government control the media.

How would you feel if a joke candidate wins?

Of course I’d like my donated money to go for something that helped the voters. But even if some money is wasted that way, I think it will be a success if there’s a substantial amount of positive, successful coverage and a small amount of that joke stuff. If all the money were going to joke media, I would consider it a failure. I forecast that they would vote for helpful media, but I might be wrong. Nobody knows what’s going to happen, that’s why it’s so interesting. My hope is that it’s going to be successful and people will say that this was useful for UBC voters. But overall, I think it is working, we have got a better coverage than we’ve ever had so far.

Climate Change and the Media

Although the North American mainstream media has recently jumped on the green bandwagon, its coverage of climate change has been lambasted for contributing to a culture of doubt and debate by covering an issue of fact as one of opinion.

Journalists often covered climate change stories using a traditional notion of objectivity – by giving equal weight to the views of the contrarians and the believers. But this practice meant that journalists continued to tell both sides of the story, even when there was no legitimate scientific “other side” to tell.

During UBC’s Celebrate Research week, the UBC School of Journalism and the DeSmogBlog.com hosted a panel discussion on media treatment of the climate-change issue entitled “The State of the Media on Climate Change.”

The panel was comprised of some of the best-known journalists, editors, academics and activists following the issue.

Panelists included Hadi Dowlatabadi, UBC Professor Institute for Resources, Environment and Sustainability; Chris Mooney, Washington correspondent for Seed Magazine and author of The New York Times bestseller, The Republican War on Science; Ross Gelbspan, Pulitzer Prize winning editor and author of the groundbreaking book The Heat is On; Kirk LaPointe, Managing Editor of the Vancouver Sun; and Jim Hoggan, president of James Hoggan & Associates and founder of DeSmogBlog.com

Throughout the presenters’ five-minute presentations and the discussion afterward, a consensus emerged – that journalists have contributed, willingly or unwillingly, to fogging and fueling the debate on climate change.

Jim Hoggan, a self-proclaimed “PR guy” explained to the audience the function of PR and spin. He told the story of S. Fred Singer, who some might remember from his previous efforts to allay public fears about the dangers of secondhand smoke, who became a spokesperson for big oil and climate change contrarians. Singer’s ability to get his views published and cast doubt on climate change, he said, is a perfect example of how the journalistic commitment to balance can be manipulated by spinsters, despite their pursuit of balance.

Ross Gelbspan highlighted the differences in the climate change coverage between the mainstream media and scientific journals. “Why is it that in a study of over 1,000 peer reviewed articles on climate change, not one refuted its occurrence or that humans contributed to it, yet the mainstream media still presents the issue as if it is contested,” he asked.

SUNNY FREEMAN

HADI DOWLATABADI

CHRIS MOONEY

ROSS GELBSPAN

Hadi Dowlatabadi founded offsetters.ca to provide travelers with a way to pay to offset their carbon emissions. Dowlatabadi, like many of the other panelists, highlighted the sensationalist nature of the mainstream media by referencing the exorbitant amount of coverage of Britney Spears shaving her head and the controversy over Anna Nicole Smith’s death.

“What are the media’s priorities? Like scientists, it is to turn a profit, meaning that neither the scientists nor the media are completely objective in their self-interested pursuits,” he said.

Chris Moonely elaborated on the sensationalist drive in the media.

“During the week the IPCC report was released, it was one of the top issues in the media, according to Pew’s statistics. However, the week after it had fallen off the agenda, replaced with coverage of the Super Bowl and Anna Nicole Smith’s death,” he said.

This sensationalist drive produces a drive in journalism toward covering conflict and controversy because they get ratings and coverage of more long-term issues suffers as a result.

Kirk LaPointe anticipated being the “human piñata,” because he was the only representative of mainstream media in the panel group. And that is exactly how the audience treated him. Although he acknowledged that the media had done the issue a disservice in its previous coverage, he expressed his hope that the media have a renewed opportunity to earn respect for its coverage over the coming decades.

“I think mainstream news organizations are finally starting to get it, thanks to a tipping point in 2006 fueled by coverage of extreme weather, Al Gore’s movie ‘An Inconvenient Truth’ and the nomination of Stephane Dion,” he said.

While the panelists and the audience disagreed about certain aspects of the media’s role in the climate change debate, they agreed on one front – that the media’s commitment to balance has obfuscated their climate change coverage, and that the mainstream media need to play a more responsible role in covering climate change by asking tough questions and verifying the answers instead of clinging to the journalistic standard of balance.

When sorry seems to be the hardest word to print

The 21st century has heralded the advent of countless new journalism ethics societies, codes and vows. Ombudspersons have become fixtures in the newsroom; public apologies have become a mainstay in big papers that publish big errors. Or have they? A recent accountability failure by the New York Times requires concerned journalists to demand whether newsrooms are truly taking responsibility for all they print.

On April 24, a panel of five Indonesian judges acquitted American gold producer Newmont Gold Corp. and its president director, Richard Ness, of charges regarding environmental degradation in an Indonesian bay. The verdict was decisive, and the judges minced no words in calling the prosecution’s case “weak” and their evidence “flawed because prosecutors had used conflicting evidence, gathered unscientifically. Much of it was provided by the NGO advocates who had begun pushing to have the mine closed even before it opened.

In its coverage, the New York Times quoted the judges, recognizing the law had spoken. The Times was less forthcoming with the verdict the paper itself had laid down a year and a half prior. Times reporter Jane Perlez wrote a damning series about the goldmine that ran on page one and swept the globe. Beginning on September 8, 2004 (the same day the World Health Organization issued a report declaring the bay in question clear of mercury pollution), Perlez asserted that fish had died off and villagers had been sick since the mine opened. Perlez’s medical sources were a visiting coral paleontologist and a public health lecturer.

She rejected several doctors’ accounts of villager health. The villagers she quoted had been traveling the world with anti-mining NGOs since 2002 and earlier. For most of her claims in the article’s top 15 paragraphs, she cited no one at all. As for Newmont’s representatives and scientists, she spoke with them but failed to quote them. The indisputable conclusion readers drew from her accounts was that an American colossus was ruining the lives and livelihoods of defenseless villagers.

The story is credited with urging Indonesian authorities to arrest five Newmont employees, holding them for 32 days, uncharged, while reports came pouring in from international organizations, local universities, and government scientists indicating that the bay was clean and the villagers were suffering from very basic symptoms of poor nutrition, bad hygiene, and allergies. These reports were occasionally covered by the Times, but never on A-1. The trial’s verdict made page A-8 last month.

So, the Times never came clean on its initial faulty reports about the Newmont case. But, surely Perlez herself was scolded. Perhaps a slap on the wrist?

To the contrary, Perlez was recently promoted to the New York Times London bureau, where she continues to write A-1 stories. On May 2, she scored a front-page slot for a story on an immigration “loophole” for Britons of Pakistani descent, citing American officials with concerns over the number of terror plots involving Britons of Pakistani descent. Because British people with Pakistani parents are, by law, British, they need no visa to enter the United States. But, Perlez does not explain how this is a loophole at all – by all accounts, this is not a loophole so much as a guarantee of equal citizenship rights for all British citizens, regardless of their descent.

I have not seen a public apology from the New York Times for quite some time. Not for the faulty Newmont story in 2004, and not for the racist “loophole” story from this week. If this is allowed in 21st century accountability, we need rework our definitions. Talk is cheap they say, but it comes with a high price when readers are held in such low regard that they don’t merit apologies for such slights.

Conflict Sensitive Journalism in Practice

Conflict Sensitive Journalism in Practice

by Ross Howard, October 2005

The case for conflict sensitive journalism
The basics of conflict sensitive journalism
Examples and sources
Institutions and non-governmental organizations active in conflict sensitive
journalism

The case for conflict sensitive journalism

One doesn’t have to be a war correspondent to recognize that journalism and news media can incite violent conflict. In 1994, Radio Milles Collines in Rwanda incited genocide by employing metaphors and hate speech. Serbian state broadcasting during the 1995 and 1999 Balkan conflicts is almost equally infamous. Incompetent journalism and partisan news management can generate misinformation which inflames xenophobia, ethnic hatred, class warfare and violent conflict in almost any fragile state. The anti-Thai violence in Cambodia in 2003, triggered entirely by partisan media, is a more recent example. Radio Netherlands’ website on counteracting hate media indicates that hate radio is currently operating on five continents.

Less recognized, however, is the potential for journalism to influence conflict resolution. And less resolved is whether it should play that role. Is there such a thing as conflict-sensitive journalism? (To be clear, journalism here means reporting that seeks international standards of media reliability such as accuracy, impartiality or fair balance, and social responsibility.)

Although unremarked in the daily grind of news and in journalism education, the reality is that reliable journalism indeed contributes to conflict reduction. It is automatic or innate.

Reliable reporting, and responsibly written editorials and opinion, do things such as establish communication among disputant parties, correct misperceptions and identify underlying interests and offering solutions. The media provides an emotional outlet. It can offer solutions, and build confidence.

As Robert Karl Manoff of the Centre for War, Peace and the Media at New York University notes [1]: the regular journalistic activities are precisely the activities which professional conflict mediators conduct. Johannes Botes [2] at George Mason University similarly describes the parallels between the roles of professional journalists and professional conflict resolvers, such as diplomats and truce facilitators. Journalists and mediators both remain independent of the parties to a conflict. They share similar positions, functions and even attitudes. Of course, there are differences, such as journalists’ instinct for exposing anything secret.

As researchers Hannes Bauman and Melissa Siebert put it, in observing reporting on South Africa’s Truce and Reconciliation process in the 1990s, “journalists mediate conflict whether they intend to or not.” In other words, as journalists, when we do our jobs well, we do more than we think.

It is time to think about it more.

ROSS HOWARD is a Canadian journalist and consultant specializing in media development in conflict-stressed states and emerging democracies. He is president of the journalism development consortium Media & Democracy Group, a journalism faculty member of Langara College in Vancouver, and a freelance writer. He has trained journalists and conducted media assessments in countries including Sri Lanka, Cambodia, Nepal, Rwanda, and Burundi.

Howard is co-editor of The Power of Media (European Centre for Conflict Prevention); author of Conflict Sensitive Journalism, a handbook (IMPACS/International Media Support-Denmark), and An Operational Framework for Media and Peacebuilding (IMPACS-CIDA), and Media & Elections, a handbook, (IMS-IMPACS, and Gender, Conflic t& Journalism (forthcoming: UNESCO/NPI), and Radio Talkshows for Peacebuilding: A Guide (forthcoming: Search for Common Ground).

He is an award-winning former Senior Correspondent for The Globe and Mail newspaper and a former CTV Television editor. He has presented analyses on media and conflict/ democratization in Europe, Asia and North America. Ross Howard currently lives in Vancouver. Email: ross_howard@telus.net

Conventional journalism training and development generally contains little or no reference to the wisdom of five decades of academic and professional study of conflict. Conflict analysis theory and skills are still not considered mainstream journalism prerequisites or practices.

However, at least in fragile and post-war states, some professional journalism developers are now broadening that mainstream. Their approach includes specifically recognizing what most cripples these stressed states, which is violent conflict. Often termed conflict-sensitive journalism, this training retains core journalism values and skills. But it includes an introduction to conflict analysis: the concept of conflict and most common causes, the forms of violence by which conflict is played out, and some insight into techniques of resolution. (See below, The basics of conflict sensitive journalism.) And in some cases it goes further, into interesting unconventional practices.

At the very least, these added capabilities create better story selection and much more insightful writing and broadcasting. At best, they substantially expand a stressed community’s dialogue and possibly offer glimpses of common ground.
Organizations within the $100-million-per-year journalism development sector, such as the London-based Institute for War and Peace Reporting (IWPR), US-based Internews, the Panos network, International Media Support, IMPACS, Media&Democracy Group in Canada and others now frequently include conflict sensitization modules within their programs in dozens of conflict-stressed countries. There is a nascent literature [3], and links to practitioners and conflict resolution organizations. As Robert Karl Manoff of the Centre for War, Peace and the Media at New York University notes, the regular journalistic activities are precisely the activities which professional conflict mediators conduct.

But Siebert and Bauman in South Africa in 1990 also argued that journalists should go beyond simply recognizing the roots of violence and their unintended roles as mediators. They argued journalists should consciously help manage conflict rather than exacerbate it, as was done by journalists selecting the right stories from South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation process to affirm the value of reconciliation.

Individually, many journalists will acknowledge a humanistic or moral willingness to reduce violence. When a CBC reporter recently seized a lighter from a gasoline-soaked protestor about to immolate himself at an Ottawa embassy, most colleagues justified it with references to putting human life ahead of just another protest story.

But applying that moral impulse as a collective or workplace obligation for journalists rarely wins endorsement from Western media professionals. [Interestingly, at the Carnegie Commission’s 2002 roundtable, “Journalists Covering Conflict: Norms of Conduct [4],” the strongest defense of moral obligation came from European reporters who had covered the Balkans conflict and ethnic cleansing, and from Jay Rosen, the American journalist-academic who leads the core-journalism restoration movement in the US.]

Nonetheless, as Jannie Botes reports in the IWPR book, Regional Media in Conflict [5], some journalists in the new South Africa walk a tightrope between ethical obligations to report without self-censorship, and social responsibility to avoid inflammatory or hate speech. Traditional journalists might remain wary of going beyond observing and reporting. But a newer generation raised on anti-apartheid experiences argue the media has a responsibility in reconciling groups in conflict.

Similarly, trainers and advisors working for CECORE in Uganda, Search for Common Ground in Central Africa, Panos in The Great Lakes region of Africa, and Internews in both Indonesia and in the Ferghanna Valley of Central Asia, have devised training to address violent conflict through journalism, rather than merely report it. In the Philippines and Indonesia, journalism which includes deliberately calming or conciliatory news is now competing with the conventional sensational fare, especially in rural communities, inspired by trainers from Internews, IREX and other large training organizations.

British journalist Jake Lynch is a leading proponent of deliberate media engagement in seeking peace [6]. With co-author Annabel McGoldrick, Lynch calls for journalists to address “their responsibility for the influence their coverage is likely to exert on what happens next.” His “workable ethic of responsibility” includes no specific imperative for news judgement, he says, but he also argues that “the choices [of influential news] we make will be based on what we actually want to happen – that is to say, peace.”

Sandra Melone and George Terzis of the European Centre for Conflict Prevention similarly argue that journalism should ensure balanced reporting but “cannot be neutral towards peace.” But neutrality is an old journalism code-word for objectivity, which itself has been replaced by words like impartial and fair. So do we sacrifice an essential journalistic core value, in moving to conflict-sensitive reporting? Probably not. But what about so-called peace journalism? Does it cross the line into advocacy? It’s debatable. But surprisingly few professionals in Western media seem prepared to debate conflict coverage at a time when sensationalistic and trivial reporting deserves new examination for its contribution to polarized, ill-informed and frightened communities.

However, some media development organizations go beyond debate and are making their intentions much clearer. They see and use journalistic techniques as a tool for transforming attitudes, promoting reconciliation and reducing conflict in war-torn countries. Organizations such as Search For Common Ground have pioneered intended-outcome programming, which uses news and entertaining broadcasting to change behaviour. Radio broadcasts such as soap operas, comedies, music shows and call-in shows can present information which helps break down stereotypes, exchanges viewpoints dispassionately, dispels myths and seeks commonalities in communities desperate for any media alternative to hate radio or state propaganda.

But is it journalism? By conventional definitions, no. Granted, the specialists at Search for Common Ground insist that they remain committed to essential elements of accuracy and responsibility in the information they provide. Certainly their material does not resemble propaganda, which relies on misinformation. And it is highly relevant to local situations, moreso than mere body-count news reporting.

Ultimately, as Francis Rolt of Search for Common Ground puts it [7] , organizations and individuals working in conflict zones have been blinded too long by these old arguments about whether journalism techniques should be used for conflict resolution. The media, in many forms, can be more than just news, Rolt argues, and can contribute to peace-building in many ways.

Footnotes
1. Manoff, Robert Karl: Role Plays. Track Two, Vol. 7 No. 4, December 1998.
2. Rubenstein et al: Frameworks for Interpreting Conflict, a Handbook for Journalists. Institute for Conflict Analysis and Resolution, George Mason University, 1994;
3. The Power of Media, A handbook for peacebuilders. European Centre for Conflict Prevention. Utrecht., 2002
4. Carnegie Commission on Preventing Deadly Conflict, final report, New York, 1999.
5. Botes, Johannes, Regional Media in Conflict, Case Studies in War Reporting. Institute for War and Peace Reporting, London, 2000.
6. McGoldrick, Annabel and Lynch, Jake, Peace Journalism, in Reporting The World. Also available at www.transcend.org
7. Rolt, Francis et al, The Power of Media, A handbook for peacebuilders, European Centre for Conflict Prevention, Utrecht, 2003

The basics of conflict sensitive journalism

The relationship between journalism and conflict is a curious one. Although conflict – be it political, social or military – is a primary focus, often to the point of obsession for conventional journalism, most journalists know surprisingly little about it. There is, in most journalism training and practice, precious little familiarity with conflict as a social process. The consequence can be a reporting style that feeds on and repeats the worst stereotypes, the drama and the immediacy of conflict, and fuels their ignition into violence.

Journalism trainers and media developers in fragile or emerging states have increasingly recognized that conventional training is insufficient in preparing journalists in such places to report on what is often seen and described as intractable conflict and inevitable violence. Something additional to conventional standards such as accuracy, and skills such as interviewing and editing, is needed to overcome the legacies of authoritarian government, corruption, poverty and an absence of media diversity, editorial independence and a media-supportive legal infrastructure.

What has emerged is an expanded concept of journalism development, a sort of professionalism-plus approach, sometimes called conflict-sensitive journalism. It involves stressing the core values of professional reporting, plus sensitizing journalists to their innate potential as unintended mediators in conflicted societies, and introducing them to a rudimentary analysis of conflict. It argues that journalism which repeats simplistic or stereotyped claims about violence without seeking deeper explanations will mislead citizens into believing violence is the only recourse in all conflicts.

Conflict sensitive journalism can inject context, an appreciation for root causes, and a new capacity to seek and analyze possible solutions, to the otherwise daily repeating of violent incidents as news. At best, when reported reliably, these elements can alter a community’s handling of its own conflicts.

Essential elements of rudimentary conflict analysis for journalists often include these points:

• Almost all conflict emerges from a handful of causes, most notably inadequately shared resources such as food or housing, no communication between disputants, unresolved grievances and unevenly distributed power. Conflict turns violent when no common ground or shared interest can be established.
• Violence can emerge in several forms, including cultural practices such as widely-practiced hate speech and racial (or religious or gender) discrimination. The violence can also be institutionalized by legally sanctioned racism, sexism, colonialism, nepotism and corruption.
• Conflict almost inevitably ends because of one-party dominance, withdrawal and irresolution, compromise, or real transformation of a dispute into a shared solution. Journalists play some of the roles of a mediator, providing resources – information – to communities to resolve conflict. Successful resolution almost invariably requires an expanded number of interests with new interests, trade-offs and alternatives.
• Journalism risks being manipulated by narrow interests and unchallenged mythologies, especially from traditional elites. A basic analysis of a conflict broadens journalists’ insights, perspectives and sources of information, which produces more diverse stories.
• In acknowledging their innate capacity as mediators, and applying basic conflict analysis, conflict-sensitive journalists apply more rigorous scrutiny to the words and images they apply in their reporting:

• Avoiding emotional and imprecise words such as massacre and genocide, terrorist, fanatic and extremist. Call people what they call themselves. Avoid words like devastated, tragic and terrorized.
• Defining conflicts as multi-faceted, and seeking commonalities as well as points of disagreement among disputants, and seeking alternative perspectives and solutions to the conflict.
• Attributing claims and allegations, and avoiding unsubstantiated descriptions as facts.
• Avoiding the unjustified use of racial or cultural identities in stories and the exclusion of gender diversity in seeking perspectives and comment.

Training courses and modules for conflict sensitive reporting often provide examples of how traditional reporting describes a violent event, without verifying information or not going beyond bare facts, and using unnecessarily vivid and emotional words such as massacre. In contrast, a conflict-sensitive report would report what is known and give less emphasis to unverifiable claims. It would ensure both sides are included in the report, and it would include people who condemn the violence and offer solutions. It would not blame the conflict on ethnicity and would not repeatedly identify the combatants or victims only by their ethnic identity, if there are deeper underlying causes of the conflict.

Essentially, conflict-sensitive journalism is a reiteration of the elemental principles of professional reporting with added response to the situation of unskilled media workers accustomed to severe constraints, in environments prone to violent conflict. Conflict-sensitivity, however, need not be unique to emerging democracies’ media professionals. It is equally relevant to media coverage of any Western community’s strife.

Examples and Sources
The vast majority of specific examples of conflict-sensitivity training are contained within short or long-term international initiatives to advance media development as an element of conflict resolution and post-conflict democratization. Most initiatives are delivered by NGOs and consultancies.

• International Media Support (Denmark) presented a series of conflict-sensitive reporting workshops and seminars for journalists in Sri Lanka in 2002 following declaration of a truce in the country’s extended civil war. The program was designed to address highly unreliable and partisan reporting which was rapidly eroding public confidence in the truce, by media narrowly representing single viewpoints in the conflict.

• Search for Common Ground (USA) presented a week-long training course in Burundi in professional and conflict-sensitive reporting for radio producers and reporters from Central and East African countries which have experienced intense conflict, in 2003.

• International Media Support (Denmark) developed, in collaboration with local partner, The Nepal Press Institute, a program of conflict sensitive training for for journalists from traditionally highly politicized and competitive media outlets, who worked as teams to produce major non-partisan reports on significant national issues for simultaneous countrywide distribution in Nepal in 2003-2004.

• Internews (USA) initiated training for more than 200 radio and print journalists in handling conflict issues in their communities – to move beyond “body count journalism” –in recognition of the massively expanded but unprofessional media’s opportunity to play a pivotal role in de-escalating conflict in Indonesia in 2002-2003.

• Internationally-supported Medios para la Paz (Media for Peace) has operated in Colombia since 1997 to address the difficulties of reliable reporting in the midst of violent conflict. Its activities include media professionals’ support and training based on the premise that media coverage can exacerbate a conflict or help reduce it. Much of its work focuses on reporting that can have a positive impact on efforts to achieve peace.

• Search for Common Ground, a US-based conflict resolution organization, presented a 10-day workshop in 2005 for senior radio talk show hosts from 20 African countries to consider techniques of broadcasting likely to retain and better inform audiences without exploiting conflict issues in their communities. A handbook on conflict-sensitive talk-radio was produced for international use.

Thailand Breast Slap

It is being stated about Thailand breast slapping issue that recently the Thailand government has initiated this program which eventually will be helpful in encouraging those women or girls that are in favor to adopt breast slapping techniques. This technique actually helps to increase normal size of girls or women’s breast up to their desire.

Further reports about Thailand breast slapping are claiming that actually the fact is well realized by Thailand government that natural as well as valuable resources of women definitely increase their beauty and therefore this beauty is being tried to conserve by the Thailand government. Therefore the only reason is above mentioned fact about promoting or supporting this technique for Thailand women by the government.

Therefore the government of Thailand has successfully as well as intentional launched Thailand breast slapping program just in intention to encourage women who are in intention or in favor to use this latest technique to increase or enhance their natural resources’ beauty by increasing their sizes instead of adopting the previous infamous technique of breast implants which actually uses silicone for the purpose.

Now Thailand breast slapping program is being adopted by dozens of Thailand women which actually is backed or supported by their local Thailand government just to get their breast sizes increased intentionally to be looked or gorgeous even more than they currently look. Khemmikka Na Sonkhla is notorious recognized Thai beautician who actually is main person behind this breast slapping technique introduction in Thailand. Currently this beautician is also using this technique in intention to increase her breast size.

The Death of the Reader

Somewhere out there, the people who thought up Craigslist are sitting pretty. It’s no secret that the independent, interactive online services site dealt a blow to the lucrative classified ads sections of many major daily newspapers, sending the business into a tailspin, scrambling to restructure and stay relevant.

This phenomenon has created a niche market for companies like The American Press Institute. The “old, monolithic newspaper model is in disruption,” they say, knowing that they are tapping into a psychography of businesses that are reacting to sustained losses of both revenue and readership, and are trying to figure out how to recover. The newspaper business is, after all, a business.

API has come up with a proposed solution called “Newspaper Next.” It’s a workshop led by Marketing Director Elaine Clisham that tours major urban beats and university campuses preaching a premise that would send chills down the spine of any journalist with a spark of creative fervour left.

AMANDA STUTT is a graduate student at the UBC School of Journalism. She completed a B.A. in English Literature and Sociology. Her writing has appeared in the Ubyssey, The Seed and the Tyee. She specializes in investigative and human- interest journalism.
“Your vision needs to be: Connect local customers with local businesses…developing products for people who have decided, for whatever reason, not to read,” said Clisham told leading local editors at a recent seminar at the University of British Columbia co-hosted by the UBC School of Journalism.

Instead of figuring out why core readers aren’t reading anymore, API proposes a shift in the critical mindset: Don’t worry about the reader — focus instead on the consumer.

Other, more interactive forms of media such as Google, Wikipedia, Netflix, and the like are thriving, and have largely replaced hardcopy daily newspapers for advertising and reference materials. Clisham referred to these sites as ‘disruptive innovators’ to the old newspaper model, and offered tips on how to stay competitive.

The “new” way is that news is not enough; rather, “we need to be everything you need to live in this community…We used to be the dominant source of information in our community… and we aren’t reaching as many people anymore,” Clisham said.

API’s biggest success model is The Desert Sun, a 22,000 daily circulation paper in Palm Springs, California. Clisham called The Desert Sun a good case study “because they were focused on organizational structure…in terms of building new audience, they’ve figured out the whole database thing very well.”

Steve Silberman, executive editor of The Desert Sun spoke at the seminar via a videotaped interview. “I was thinking too much about the reader and not enough about the consumer,” he said, explaining how implementing Newspaper Next’s model of restructuring worked for his newspaper.

Any mention of how to address public scepticism that may have turned readers’ eyes in other directions was conspicuously absent, but the point was not lost on some audience members.

Kirk LaPointe, managing editor of the Vancouver Sun said, “the core question for a lot of us still seems to be in the newsrooms, which we really refer to as the high-end quality of our business…Are we covering too much, and uncovering too little?”

LaPointe is concerned about dipping into a “finite talent pool” of investigative journalists, and the hazards of placing too much emphasis on feedback to a market.

“We will not have the resources to break ground and investigate matters that raise public awareness and mobilize their interest and passion…You can’t take your eye off the ball,” he said. “We are coming from a model where, it’s not that we didn’t ask people what they wanted, we thought that part of the beauty of journalism was that we could, in fact, create a market for something. That you could lead the public experience and raise their awareness”.

But Chisholm maintained that newspapers no longer have the ability to create a market. “For better or worse, those days are over,” she responded, reiterating that the newspaper business must focus instead on tapping into “what the consumer wants.”

“No journalist…can survive in this media environment without understanding how business works and how a journalism organization can make money,” said Clisham. “We’re focused on the future and how to pay for that journalism.”

She agreed there is a strong market for investigative journalism, but rather than addressing ways to get the reader engaged in that journalism she asked, “how do we engage people who might not pick up the paper but still need access to information?”

Chisholm advised newspapers to nuance and digitalize the local telephone directory, tapping into consumers’ unmet needs — such as late night pizza-cravings. She suggested an online service directory with entertainment options and advertisements for “low-end pizza restaurants.”

“Local information [that is] easily accessible is a huge resource for building local audiences,” she said. “We need to get out of the mindset of creating content, and into the mindset of creating a platform.”

Clisham emphasized focusing energy on putting out “light versions of daily newspapers.” Examples of this model in Vancouver are 24hrs and the youth-oriented online Dose. “Circulation” will become “distribution” said Clisham, referring to the guy who stands on the street corner handing out newspapers to passers-by.

At the end of the day, critical ethical questions resonate. What has happened to the readers? Spending the morning coffee or transit commute immersed in a hardcopy of the local daily is rapidly becoming a vanquished pastime. So why aren’t readers reading anymore?

These questions have broad societal implications that Newspaper Next failed to address. Should the dominant paradigm in journalism shift from a focus on conveying messages to the reader and creating a market for consciousness-raising to a model that focuses on advertising products and services to a consumer? It’s these questions that haunt the sparsely populated hallways of the world of investigative journalism, and that anyone concerned with the future of newspapers should be asking.

Could a news war between America and Iran become a physical war?

Fox News says Iran should be bombed. This doesn’t surprise me, given that channel’s track record in Iraq. What worries me, however, is that the hawkish channel has just begun saying that its drumbeat for war is a mere reflection of public opinion, and not studio war mongering.

Based on a recent poll by the channel, most Americans believe Iran’s nuclear program is for military purposes. Furthermore, more voters would rather see the United States take a tougher line with Iran than a softer diplomatic path. “A tougher line” is a euphemistic term for war.

But is its evidence really “documented”? I have gone through its recent poll and found a few interesting points. The timing of this poll is highly questionable; even the network’s website admits that the poll’s coincidence with “all the controversy over the Iranian president’s visit to New York may have somewhat inflated feelings about Iran”. The same poll at any other time could produce a less war-supportive result.

Fox then asked if the viewers thought “al-Qaeda or Iran pose the greatest threat to the safety of the United States today”. The answers suggest that al-Qaeda is envisaged as twice the threat as that of Iran. The milder anti-Iranian result, however, is not reflected in the channel’s analysis, which still insists on Iran’s clear and present danger.

The most elusive question posed in the poll is whether the visiting Iranian president Mahmood Ahmadinejad’s intention to visit Ground Zero was to honor the victims or the terrorists who killed them. Regardless of what the real intention might have been, how can any intention like that ever be discovered, much less polled?

Furthermore, the majority of those asked said they thought Iran’s uranium enrichment program was for military purposes and not producing electricity. However, that falls short of suggesting the viewers voted for a US bombing of Iran.

We can hardly hold Fox News responsible for a war that has not yet happened. Whether or not the Bush administration will go to war with Iran is still uncertain. But what is certain is that the channel has practically raised the possibility of a military encounter with Iran, simply because its anti-Iranian antagonism spoken on behalf of the US people and government is believed and taken seriously by the players at the other end of the game: Iranians.

Thanks to its ability to arouse anti-American sentiments, Fox News is now the most quoted American political source among the hard-line Iranian media including the state-run radio and television and the pro-government dailies, which are scrutinizing every single minute of its programs in search of vilifications of Iran.

Iranian state-run radio and television news have referred to Fox News (which they call “the official organ of the Pentagon”) 94 times in the past two months as compared to 75 and 32 times for Reuters and CNN in the same period respectively. And while the latter two have, in more than 70 percent of the cases, been referred to for news other than the US-Iranian standoff, Fox News has been quoted or mentioned for vilifying Iran in each and every one of those 94 cases.

The pro-government daily, Iran, has meanwhile reported on the network’s provocative language more than other Iranian newspapers. Each time Fox News is quoted with reference to a US confrontation with the Islamic republic, the morning daily has run up to five articles slamming the United States in the same edition, on average a five-fold increase in its daily anti-American rhetoric.

Interestingly, the daily seems to be hardening its tone in proportion to the tone and intensity of Fox News’s anti-Iranian reporting. In its editorial one day after President Ahmadinejad’s speech at Columbia University, Fox News was buzzing with anti-Iranian sentiment, while Iran likened the standoff to “a battle which will eventually result in a bloody American defeat.” Such an explicit reference to war by an Iranian medium is still rare, but the rhetoric is increasing as Fox’s does. It was about this time in the lead-up to the Iraq war when the other American networks started following Fox’s lead; now it seems to be Iranian media that are following the network’s style.

Spreading mutual hatred at this pace will undoubtedly contribute to more tensions between the United States and Iran. A sentence from Thomas Schelling’s wonderful cold war era book, Arms and Influence, written in 1966, illuminates the present situation: “The threat of war has always been somewhere underneath international diplomacy, but for Americans [and I would dare add Iranians] it is now much nearer the surface.”

At this precarious point in history, both Iranian and American media would do well to reflect on how their reporting draws the threat of war to the surface.

Offensive Journalism Fuels Facebook Advocacy

So you’ve been offended by a journalist.

Maybe it was Mark Steyn’s assertion that Islam is taking over the world that got to you. Or Ezra Levant’s reprinting of the Muhammad cartoons. Or perhaps you simply disagree with Terry Milewski’s portrayal of the Indo-Canadian community.

What’s your next step?

One option that’s become increasingly popular is filing a human rights complaint. Steyn has had such complaints lobbied against him in both Ontario and British Columbia. Ditto for Levant in Alberta.

Another means of recourse for the offended party is a civil suit. After Milewski’s Samosa Politics aired on CBC’s The National, the network was hit with a $110 million lawsuit by the World Sikh Organization. The WSO alleged the piece had slandered not only its reputation but also the reputation of the Sikh community as a whole.

A CRTC complaint, if applicable, is a third option. The Canadian regulator prohibits licensees from broadcasting “any abusive comment that, when taken in context, tends to or is likely to expose an individual or a group or class of individuals to hatred or contempt on the basis of race, national or ethnic origin, colour, religion, sex, sexual orientation, age or mental or physical disability.”

There are letters to the editor. There are letters to your MLA. And there’s always heading down to an organization’s official headquarters for an impromptu protest.

But one response to offensive journalism that’s gained a lot of steam in recent years is online advocacy journalism.

The most famous example might well be the Killian documents that led to Dan Rather’s departure from CBS. On September 8, 2004, in a segment on 60 Minutes Wednesday, Rather told the story of President George W. Bush’s preferential treatment when he was a member of the Texas Air National Guard. Supporting the story was a series of memos purported to be from Bush’s commander, the late Lieutenant Colonel Jerry Killian.

A number of online right-wing advocates, from influential bloggers to their anonymous readers, were convinced that the papers were forgeries filled with lies. These people set about proving as much, pointing to the fact that one of the fonts used in the memos didn’t even exist when the documents were said to have originated. Others recreated the exact papers in Microsoft Word with little to no effort.

While CBS originally disputed the claims – former network executive Jonathan Klein went so far as to dismiss the advocates as “a guy sitting in his living room in his pajamas writing” with no credibility – the network soon realized its documents couldn’t be verified and admitted its mistake. The advocates had won.

While much has been made of this victory for the bloggers, a new attempt at online advocacy journalism – one gaining in popularity by the hour – has been largely ignored. I’m talking, of course, about Facebook.

Facebook is, in its own words, “a social utility that connects you with the people around you.” It boasts more than 70 million active members and the social networking site generates the fifth-most traffic of any webpage in the world.

Any Facebook user can create a group and the site currently hosts more than six million of them. The topics range from the popular 1990s television show Saved by the Bell to the writings of Tolstoy to the starvation of children in developing countries. And whenever an event of any consequence takes place, a Facebook group expressing a viewpoint on that event surfaces within a few hours, at most.

If we use Mr. Webster’s traditional definition of journalism, Facebook groups certainly don’t fit. “The collecting and editing of news for presentation through the media” implies a level of preparedness and professionalism that these groups generally lack. An obligation to truth and loyalty to citizens – two elements Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel identify as critical to journalism – are also not inherent.

But if we look at Facebook groups as advocacy journalism, as “journalism that advocates a cause or expresses a viewpoint,” often through non-objective means, then the idea isn’t quite so far-fetched. Facebook groups often attempt the same grassroots muckraking as advocacy journalists.

Offensive journalism is a real factor in the rapid creation of these online groups. Someone somewhere sees or hears a report they take offense to. Before long, a Facebook group is born.

“Mark Steyn is a waste of the printed page…”

“Ezra Levant is a moron.”

“CBC SLANDERS SIKHS AND THE SIKH COMMUNITY.”

These are just three of the groups that are dedicated to the journalists mentioned in the very beginning of this piece. The titles are undoubtedly aggressive, as is each group’s overall message.

But just as offensive journalism spurs advocates on one side of the debate, it frequently advocates on the other side of that same debate. Both Steyn and Levant, insulted in the aforementioned groups, are heralded in others dedicated to preserving free speech.

“Defend Free Speech in Canada – The Case of Mark Steyn” has almost 1,000 members. Its creator writes that he started the group “to raise awareness about the chilling effects on free speech the human rights complaints against author and columnist Mark Steyn will have.”

“Support Free Speech; Support Ezra Levant” has over 1,100 members of its own. Its administrator established the group to not only defend Levant, but also to “reinforce the idea that [Canada is] a country that supports the freedom of speech, freedom of thought and freedom of expression.”

Facebook’s official stance has been somewhat mixed. Its policy on the creation of potentially slanderous groups comes across as airtight, at least at first.

“Note: groups that attack a specific person or group of people (e.g. racist, sexist, or other hate groups) will not be tolerated. Creating such a group will result in immediate termination of your Facebook account.”

The website offers a “report” feature that lets users flag inflammatory material but Facebook has proven slow to react to these reports and even slower to delete said material. Thousands of groups that violate the company’s terms litter its site, popping up at a rate that makes them difficult to sufficiently police.

While professional media watchdogs, such as the liberal Media Matters or the conservative Media Research Center, must choose their words carefully because they can be held accountable for them, the same simply isn’t true of Facebook advocates. The harshest penalty for most of these individuals is having their account temporarily deactivated. As a result, Facebook has become a haven for anti-journalism and anti-journalist attacks that are arguably, and ironically, offensive.

But is anyone taking these groups seriously? Not so much at the moment.

With blogs, there was a feeling-out period that lasted for several years. While they were read as early as the mid-1990s, blogs weren’t particularly well-respected at the time. Early variations tended to be either glorified rants or public diaries.

It wasn’t until 2002 that blogs gained even an ounce of respect as a means of advocacy journalism. On December 5 of that year, then Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott attended a party honoring former presidential candidate, Strom Thurmond. Lott told those in attendance that if Thurmond, who was a strong supporter of racial segregation, had been elected president, the United States “wouldn’t have had all these problems over the years.”

Bloggers, offended not only by Lott’s comments but also by the mainstream media’s unwillingness to run with the story, let their feelings be known. The advocates forced Lott to resign two weeks later. While the Killian documents brought blogging to the spotlight for many, it was the Lott incident that opened the door in the first place.

Facebook groups need a similar rallying point. Too many represent what blogging did in its early stages: journalism run amok.

In 2000, Sue Careless, a member of the Canadian Association of Journalists and a supporter of advocacy journalism, was invited to speak at the CAJ’s panel in Halifax. Careless supplied a set of rules for advocacy journalists to follow. Among her most important were:

1) “If you only spout slogans and cliches, and rant and rave, then you are not doing honest journalism. You need to articulate complex issues clearly and carefully.”

2) “Can a journalist have a declared bias and still practice journalism in a professional manner? Yes. In fact you may be seen as even more credible if your perspective is acknowledged up front.”

3) “A journalist writing for the advocacy press should practice the same skills as any journalist. You don’t fabricate or falsify.”

4) “If you are covering a protest and a demonstrator hits a police officer or shouts profanities, you are obliged as a journalist to report those facts, embarrassing though they may be to a cause you personally support.”

5) “A good journalist must play devil’s advocate. You must argue against your own convictions. In an interview, you still have to ask the hard questions of possible heroes, the tough questions even of the people you admire.”

Most of us are able to immediately identify a blog that meets these five tenets. But a Facebook group? It’s not quite as easy.

While Facebook advocacy can be a response to offensive journalism, it cannot yet be identified as advocacy journalism. The groups and the messages just aren’t refined enough. Too many are about settling scores rather than providing the relevant facts. Given the ease with which Facebook allows its members to create these groups, it might be quite some time before this is no longer the case.

And that might actually be to the benefit of journalists everywhere. As long as these groups continue to make their points through insults and irrationality, journalists will not have to ask the tough questions on why the groups are being established in the first place. Whether or not the disputed works are truly offensive remains an issue for another day because Facebook has yet to prove itself as worthy of such discussion.

Journalism Ethics

Welcome to Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen, your one-stop source for tracking and analyzing ethical issues in your city or around the world. This is the public face of the new Center for Journalism Ethics in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen will keep you updated on ethical issues in the news, while providing informed analysis on issues, as well as book reviews and interviews with leading figures in journalism. You will access a host of resources, from background discussions on the nature and history of journalism ethics to codes of practice and links to ethics experts.

The aim of the site is to support the mission of the Center for Journalism Ethics – to advance the ethical standards and practices of democratic journalism through discussion, research, teaching, professional outreach, and newsroom partnerships. The center is a voice for journalistic integrity, a forum for informed debate, and an incubator for new ideas and practices.

This site is the main vehicle for the center’s first annual ethics conference, “The Future of Ethical Journalism,” April 30-May 1, 2009. Information on the conference, registration, and logistics are provided on this home page. For those who can’t attend, the conference will be streamed live to this site on May 1. Conference coverage will include live blogs of the sessions and post-conference analysis.

Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen seeks to be truly global, inviting reports and analysis from around the world. The ViSalus center is interested in collaborations and partnerships with other groups within and without the United States. For example, “Journalism Ethics for the Global Citizen” will become the ethics web site for The Canadian Journalism Project, a cross-Canada initiative to support quality journalism, on its portal at www.j-source.ca/english_new/

The center and its web site encourages other schools of journalism, and its students, to collaborate on projects and to contribute material. For example, this site is linked to the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, Canada, at www.journalism.ubc.ca

I invite you to enjoy and use the site for your media courses, your journalistic work, or for your own information as a member of the public. There has never been a more impotent time for all citizens to examine and debate the ethics of journalism, locally, nationally and globally.