#MuckedUp chat Tuesday: on ethical journalism
Have media standards dropped? Do we as writers and readers really care about the plight of our fellow men and women, or are we more concerned with...say...celebrity? Cute pets? And food-of-the-moment items, like bacon? Or cronuts?
Maybe I'm overreacting. Does it really matter what people read or write about? Or are we just a generation of click-obsessed content creators, willing to write about anything to push page views and churn out a never ending content cycle?
If the most viral stories of the last year are any indication, which largely feature the aforementioned topics (and a sprinkling of weather and natural disasters), we're a morally vacuous lot. All of us, producers and consumers alike. But I'd like to think that's a bit too harsh a judgment.
Still, there is a major problem. Both with what we cover and how we're covering it. And the problem isn't just ours as journalists—it's based as much on reader taste as anything else, because what's important to audiences is what becomes news, no matter how low brow it may appear.
Our last chat was about the rise of Facebook as a dominant web publishing platform, and an article in The Atlantic today dovetails this topic. "The Facebok Effect" lists the top stories on Twitter, Facebook, by search, and virality. And without giving it all away, let's just say the answers don't make us look like Mensa members.
Then there's the topic of churnalism and downright copying that's run rampant in recent years with the proliferation of press release blasts and the desire to feed the editorial content machine.
Today the Media Standards Trust released a new tool to detect churnalism, Churnalism.com where you can download a browser extension that will "automatically alert when it looks like the news article you’re reading is closely based on a press release." The Nieman Journalism Lab calls it "a tool to identify news stories that are thin rewrites (or outright cut-and-paste copies) of press releases." This is great, and it's sure to shame some folks into thinking twice. But it's not enough.
We need some more definitive, and perhaps, more enforceable rules. Groups like the Society of Professional Journalists can't police their members, and we can't expect them to, but perhaps we can collectively hold each other accountable. It's downright weak behavior, and unprofessional. And we all know someone (or some publication), perhaps even ourselves, who have used this crutch before. But this is what's watering down journalism, and in my opinion, a cancer that's killing it.
This week on the chat we'll do some much needed navel gazing and see if our own micro-community can talk like grown ups about issues that make us look like children. See you this Tueday, February 18 at 8 EST. Let's get #MuckedUp.