Case in Point: Crowdsourced News Tests Limits in Boston Bombings

Explosion at Boston marathon

With the Internet such an integral part of all of our lives, many ethical issues arise because of how unrestricted and virtually limitless the Internet is. One of these issues is citizen journalism. Citizen journalism can be a great thing, and can be reputable and well reported. But, it can also be extremely dangerous and cause issues when citizens, who think they know what they’re doing, “report” on things before they know all of the facts. People naturally want to be the first ones to know everything, and sometimes post things before finding out if it’s actually true. And the thing about the Internet is that once you post something, an unlimited amount of people can see it. It’s also never really gone even if you delete it.

Part of being a journalist is making sure that your sources are credible, and that you have the facts straight before you report on something. If you don’t, it can severely hurt your reputation and your credibility. “Citizen journalists,” or people Tweeting about events they witness don’t typically worry about this, and just post things as soon as they hear them. But, this can cause a snowball effect of misinformation and cause people to panic and react to things that aren’t even true. This can cause a huge problem in a crisis or during a big event. It can confuse police and security officials and cause major problems.

This is exactly what happened during the Boston Bombings, as described in the Case in Point in the “Harm” chapter. Bystanders and people in Boston were Tweeting things about the suspects and other details of the bombings that weren’t actually true. News stations even reported on things that people Tweeted that later ended up being disproved. This made the news stations look bad and lose some credibility. In the chaos, the stations seemed to be more interested in getting the newest story the fastest, instead of making sure their facts were straight.

Overall, citizen journalism can be extremely positive, and can help get the word out about important events in nontraditional ways. It’s quicker than traditional journalism, and typically has less of the biases that network news often has. But, it really can go wrong when people don’t think, or don’t know what they’re doing. One Tweet from a random person can get blown out of proportion, or misinterpreted, and before you know it it’s a huge mess.

Blog Post 2

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Sacks, D. O. (Producer), & Reitman, J. (Director). (April 14, 2006) Thank You for Smoking [Motion Picture]. USA: ContentFilm International.

Thank You for Smoking is a satirical comedy that follows the life of Big Tobacco lobbyist Nick Naylor. His main job is to report on the findings of Big Tobacco’s research on the link between tobacco and cancer. This “research” is funded almost solely by tobacco companies, and is basically their way of trying to prove that there’s no hard-fast scientific evidence of a correlation. Nick’s job is to spin this research in a way that paints Big Tobacco in a positive light.

The main ethical issue brought up in this film is the fact that Nick has to report on issues that aren’t actually true, and spin them in a way that people will believe. This really raises two issues, the first being that Big Tobacco is essentially lying to the public to get them to buy their product, and the second being that Nick has to lie for them and spin the truth. Nick does feel some remorse, mostly because of his 12-year-old son who looks up to him. But, Big Tobacco definitely isn’t remorseful at all. They are just doing whatever it takes to sell their products.From the tobacco farmers to cigarette manufacturers, there are literally thousands of people within an industry that want the public to stay in the dark about the dangers of their product, just so that they can make money. Although they may not technically be doing anything illegal, the fact that they aren’t being transparent is a huge ethical problem. Nick should probably feel more of a moral problem with his job than he does, but he does occasionally express some remorse. But, his job is literally to make the actual truth about tobacco sound less serious and dangerous, so that people don’t realize how bad it actually is for them. His entire job is clearly ethically corrupt, but for the most part he doesn’t seem to care because he gets a huge paycheck. At the end of the day, he clearly just doesn’t have as high of moral standards as other people.

Blog Post 1

According to the article by Cooper, one of Americans’ biggest concerns with the media is plummeting news credibility. With situations like the recent Brian Williams scandal, one can see why. Williams, a news anchor for NBC news, was recently caught for lying about being in a helicopter that was shot down in Iraq during the war. According to an article from the Washing Times, he now faces a 6-month suspension without pay while NBC looks into his past work to look for further discrepancies. When a famous news anchor like Brian Williams is caught in a blatant lie, it makes sense for people to become weary about what news anchors and the media will say just to get a good story. The news is supposed to be an outlet that tells the nation the facts about current events, not embellished stories.

Through my casual interviews I discovered that older people seem to have less skepticism about the media than younger people. The two older people I interviewed both felt that, although Brian Williams was definitely in the wrong, it doesn’t mean that he necessarily lied about other things, or shouldn’t be trusted in the future. The three people I interviewed that are my age feel that he should probably just be fired because he clearly isn’t trustworthy. One person pointed out that, if NBC lets Williams come back, it would probably make people lose trust in NBC as a news source in general. All three younger interviewees also expressed concerns about Williams’ prior work, and think that he has probably lied or embellished before but just hadn’t gotten caught yet.

The more situations like the Brian Williams scandal come to light, the more people are going to distrust the media. When huge news stations like NBC employ journalists and anchors that turn out to be untrustworthy, who’s to say smaller stations are telling the truth? National news stations are supposed to have the best fact checkers, and aren’t supposed to make mistakes. The fact that the news is supposed to be the most trustworthy form of media, but sometimes isn’t, also raises other issues. If people can’t trust the news, they definitely won’t trust the rest of the media that doesn’t have as big of an obligation to tell the truth. Journalism as an industry is built on truth telling and honesty, so it needs to live up to that if people are going to have trust in it.

My Philosopher: Aristotle

aristotleAristotle was born in 384 B.C.E., in a town in northern Greece called Stagira. He began studying philosophy under Plato in 367 in Athens. Although he was a good pupil, Aristotle didn’t agree with all of Plato’s teachings. After Plato died, Aristotle left Athens to tutor Alexander the Great. After Alexander conquered Athens, Aristotle returned to start his own school, the Lycuem. After Alexander the Great’s death, Athens rebelled. Because of his political affiliations, Aristotle’s life was in danger. To avoid being put to death, he fled Athens to the island of Euboea. He died shortly after, in 322 B.C.E. (Waggoner, 1996).

Although Aristotle is credited for his knowledge in multiple fields throughout his lifetime, he is extremely famous in the area of ethics. He considered ethics an attempt to find our personal “chief end.” Basically, this is happiness. But, happiness means many different things to many people. Aristotle believed that for anyone, happiness can’t be achieved through abstract concepts, but only through something that is practical and human, or stemming from human nature. It can only be achieved through “the active life of a rational being, or in a perfect realization and outworking of the true soul and self, continued throughout a lifetime” (“Aristotle,” n.d.).

Because happiness is a part of human nature, Aristotle explained this through an analysis of the human soul. He believed that the parts of a human soul are divided into rational and irrational parts. Three faculties make up these two parts. There is the calculative faculty, which is our intellectual virtue. Next is the appetitive faculty, which is our moral virtue. Last is the vegetative faculty, which is our nutritional virtue. Aristotle said that the irrational part of our soul is the part we share with animals, while the rational part is what makes us human. The vegetative faculty is irrational, and is said to be responsible for nutrition and growth. The appetitive faculty is both irrational and rational, because it is responsible for emotions and desires, which both humans and animals have. But, as humans we can control our emotions and desires. The calculative faculty is purely rational, and it is what makes us human. It’s responsible for our ability to reason logically and think critically (“Aristotle,” n.d.).

Aristotle believed that the only way to properly balance all of these things in order to reach one’s chief end, is through a principle that he called the Doctrine of the Mean. This doctrine states that one must look for a “proper intermediate point between extreme examples of excess or deficiency” (Plaisance, 2014). This basically means that, in any given ethical situation, it’s best to find the middle ground between the two extremes. For example, it’s ideal to be courageous. But, you should do this without giving into the vice of being overly courageous. At the same time, you don’t want to be cowardly because this isn’t beneficial either. It is best to find the “mean,” or the middle between two evils. By finding the mean in any situation, one can then flourish (Plaisance, 2014).

While Aristotle believed that there are certain ways to reach our chief end, and that the Doctrine of the Mean should be followed in order to do this, he also acknowledged the fact that we are all part of a community, and that these principles must be followed practically. Not every situation has a definitive answer, and there’s no exact, perfect middle ground between two vices. This is extremely important to understand in media ethics.

For example, if a journalist writes a story for a newspaper, gets it published, but then realizes a minor mistake, what should they do? Some would argue the only option would be for him to immediately get a retraction or a correction published in the next issue. Someone else could argue that the best option would be to inform his editor, and let the editor decide what to do. Another person might say that, since it was a minor issue that many people probably won’t even notice, it makes sense to just let it be and not bring any negative attention to the newspaper or the writer. In this situation, there’s no solution that is perfectly in between doing too much and doing too little. It’s a matter of perspective. This is why we have things like a code of ethics, to tell media professionals what to do in ethical situations like this one.

References

Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.). (n.d.) In Internet Encyclopedia of Philosophy. Retrieved from http://www.iep.utm.edu/aristotl/#H7

[Photo of Aristotle]. Retrieved from http://creativethinking.net/what-i-learned-about-creative-thinking-from-aristotle/#sthash.K6mqecat.dpbs

Plaisance, P.L. (2014). Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice. Thousand Oaks, California: SAGE Publication, Inc.

Waggoner, B. (1996). Aristotle (384 – 322 B.C.E.). Retrieved from http://www.ucmp.berkeley.edu/history/aristotle.html