Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Shattered Glass (2)

Please respond to question #2 on p. 166 of our text. Your response should be posted by noon on Wednesday.


Meg said...

The reason that Glass was fired was because it was found out that he had fabricated at least some part of all of the twenty six stories he had written. If it turned out that everything Glass did report was true, then I don't think he would necessarily be criticized for unethical reporting. Yes, he did report on some interesting topics such as the "Spring Breakdown" and "Monica Sells" but if they were to be true, then I think the more unethical part is the actual stories rather than who is reporting them. Would they be the most appropriate and newsworthy stories? No. However, as long as they were true Glass would be ethical in that he did his job and reported the facts and truth about the stories.
I think whether or not there's a problem with "entertaining journalism" definitely depends on the situation. There's a time and a place for those "entertainment stories". I think as long as the magazines or shows or wherever people are getting these news stories from, aren't really credible sources, then the issue of reporting false information becomes less important. For example, The National Inquirer or another tabloid type of magazine is a rather less than credible news source so when a report comes about from one of those magazines, I think people are less likely to be upset when it turns out that the story wasn't true after all. However with a more credible magazine like TIME or Newsweek, many people would be upset if a story in there turned out to be false. People want a place where they can get their real, newsworthy information and trust that what they read is true. If people want to read "entertainment stories" then they know where to go to get that as well. There are different audiences that go for each of these types of magazines. The different reporting that goes on definitely depends on who you work for and how credible you are as a magazine. Then that depends on whether or not people will get upset if one of your stories is actually false.

Howie Good said...

does any journalism to be worthy of the name -- entertainment journalism, fashion journalism, sports journalism, political journalism -- have to reach a minimum threshold of truth? if it doesn't, isn't just fiction or fabrication?

And if people use the media today more for entertainment and escape than for becoming informed on significant issues, then isn't the truthfulness of entertainment and similar news not a minor matter? People spend attention, time, and money on such stuff, after all.

I'd also reiterate the point I made in class -- because significant news is so poorly rendered, perhaps people seek comfort from confusion and chaos in simpler matters of entertainment.

Last, Brad & Angelina are suing a British tab for alleging they're splitting up. So even in gutter journalism, truth matters.

Kim Dubin said...

Supposing everything Glass said was true, I don't think he would be looked at negatively in the public eye for his reporting. If he was doing the job the right and ethical way, he shouldn't be looked down upon. If Journalism that is meant to be only for entertainment purposes I would feel that it wouldn't be true. These days it is like people only put the news out if something dramatic is happening. If the truth that they are reporting is something happy, it sometimes won't be in the paper. For this day and age, the break ups, the cheaters, the scandals and all other dramas is what hits the papers, magazines and TV's.
Depending on the kind of news outlet you work for might take part, like if you worked for ETV compared to Ch 2 news...they are very different kind of programming and reporting and have different audiences for the most part. People watch the entertainment news to get away from their own problems. I mean what makes people so interested in Brad and Jennifer's divorce, or his and Angelina's split? It is these stories that allow some people to see hey maybe I'm not the only one going through something. So if it isn't truthfulness, it is definitely truthiness. These people watching such things want to believe that what they are hearing about these celebrities is true, and that's why they should make sure once it is published it is the truth and not fiction.

Kim Plummer said...

If everything Glass wrote was true I guess it would have been more ethical because he wouldn’t be breaking the first code of journalism to seek truth and report it. But I think Glass’ motivation for writing the stories still would have been the same, he wanted people to think better of him. And, that is not ethical according to the Code of Ethics. Not only are journalists supposed to seek the truth and report on that, they’re also supposed to act independently, free of any other obligation (like wanting people to think better of you) and should be bound by the public’s right to know.

It seems like Glass should have stayed out of journalism altogether, like he was in it for the wrong reasons. He probably should have just gone into fiction writing, but maybe his stories wouldn’t have been that interesting if people knew they were fake…

For the most part, I don’t really have a problem with journalism that is entertaining or “snarky.” Sometimes, it seems we need it. I mean, afterall, this word “truthiness” that we’re throwing around the classroom and are posting back and forth on the blog comes from Stephen Colbert.

But I think it’s key to remember that just because journalism is entertaining, doesn’t mean it can be untrue. Truth is the foundation of journalism, whether it’s sports, hard news, fashion or entertainment.

I think news outlets and intended audiences factor largely into the appropriateness of entertainment in journalism. Viewers who come to Comedy Central to see Colbert or John Stewart expect “infotainment,” they’re watching because they like the satire. But, if the NYTimes starting covering this Brangelina nonsense on their front page every morning, they’re readers would be a little disgruntled, to say the least.

Readers and viewers, however it is they consume their news, go to specific sources because that’s how they like to read their news, whatever type of news it is they want. But, I think the one thing that connects all news is that it rests and relies on the truth.

Kim Plummer said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
KHutchinson said...

From what I understand of the situation, If Glass had been writing and publishing stories that were true, there would not have been an issue. The entire problem was that Glass was fabricating not only stories, but sources, and going as far as making a fake mistakes and a fake website to back up his story is just too much.
The audacity of this man, not only lying outright in his stories, but manipulating his co-workers, and the public, is astonishing. Had he not lied about sources, and fabricated stories, it seems his articles would have been on the up and up.
When it comes to reporting, and journalism, personally I’m not quite sure where to draw the line when it comes to being snarky or a bit deceitful. I guess overall I’d take that utilitarian viewpoint, saying that if it takes a bit of deception to overall get REAL facts to expose a REAL issue, then it is in the interest of the greater good, and I would argue that it is alright.
The question asks if it matters what kind of publication you’re working for. If someone picks up the latest People magazine, I honestly don’t believe that they are taking each word for truth. Everyone knows it’s all elaboration, or speculation. People don’t read that to get the hard and important news that they know they can rely on.
However, should you pick up the New York Times, it’s usually the thought that anything read should be able to be taken for face value. I’m not saying that people should believe anything that read, however the NYT should be trust able. People magazine? Not so much.

Howie Good said...

try to think about the issues in the context of what we're discussing (and, i hope, learning) in class -- that is, i'm making a big deal about truthfulness and professionalism (and the integral connection between the two) for a reason. don't tell me what is; tell me what should be. don't revert to the ideas you bright into this class; try to let some of the things you've heard so far, and possibly reflected upon after, influence your thinking. this class isn't about what's on the test. it's about how you think and act (and how you think about how you and others act).

is snarky an ethical attitude? toward others? public issues? life? the world?

Chelsea LaDue said...

Glass was fired because his stories were fabricated. Had he told the whole truth in his stories, even though they were snarky, I believe they would have been ethical.
I definitely think it all depends on the audience. There is a time and place when it is ok to write snarky stories. It all depends on the intended audience. If someone wrote a snarky story for The New York Times it would not be taken as well as if it were written for, say, Blender Magazine, or Cosmopolitan Magazine. Last semester I took Feature Writing and Journalism 2 at the same time. For my final story for each class I handed in the same story that I wrote about the nude models on campus who posed for art classes. My professor for Journalism 2 thought it was hilarious, enticing, and not to toot my own horn, but amazing. My professor for Feature writing, however, thought it was inappropriate, and she told me it would never be published in any publication.
I think that just because a story is entertaining, doesn't mean it was untrue or fabricated. Even when dealing with entertainment news, I think truth matters. Tabloid magazines get into a lot of trouble because they don't always report the truth. Like professor Good said, Brad and Angelina are suing a British tabloid not telling the truth.

MBachmann said...

Ethical reporting would be "seeking the truth and reporting it". So yes if what Glass had written was all true he would not have been fired and there really would not have been an issue. I dont think it is right for any type of journalism to be fabricated because it is breaking the code of ethics. Many journalists for "People" or "Entertainment" purposely try and find "facts" to write about celebrities because so many others find it interesting but it is not right for them to fabricate anything, or even not tell the whole truth. As Professor Good stated, Brad and Angelina are suing because of false information. I do not think there is anything wrong with journalism that is entertaining, but it is wrong for those journalists to lie and spread rumors about celebrities. In the chapter Shattered Glass, Sissela Bok made a good point. "The whole truth is out of reach, but this fact has very little to do with our choices about whether to lie or to speak honestly, about what to say and what to hold back. Those choices are especially important in journalism, in which individuals regularly make decisions reflecting either a commitment toward truth or toward other principles-such as hunger for a good story or desire for career advancement." It's sad thinking that people know the "whole truth is out of reach" or that journalists need to choose between a good story or good principles. As shown in the article Glass choice a good story and because of it he was fired.

Victoria said...

If what Glass had reported was true, nothing he wrote would have been unethical. Although he was known for his sensational stories, I do not believe there is anything unethical about the stories he wrote. Although he was trying to gain fame by publishing these entertaining stories, he acquired an audience and just reported what those people would want to read.

Some may argue that his stories were not fit for the New Republic. But if everything reported was facts then I do not think I would consider that unethical. Before it was revealed that Glass embellished his stories, he was praised for his articles. Maybe no one questioned his ethics because he made such a name for himself, and brought readers to the magazine. I still don't think what he was doing was unethical, but perhaps the fact that he was praised for these stories raises a question of how ethical the paper is.

Lindsey said...

If everything that Glass wrote was true then it is ethical. Everyone loves an entertaining story that’s what the society wants to hear, entertaining news but also true. If you work for a news outlet like sports magazine, the intended audience would usually be people that want to hear the real facts about sports that has currently been going on. People that are usual readers of a magazine keep reading it because it’s entertaining so whatever your interest is no matter what, it’s entertaining. Journalists don’t have to lie about a subject to get people to read it because if that’s their topic of interest they’re going to read it anyway. People that read the Wall Street Journal want to hear about the stocks and want the whole truth. Since that’s their source for news they don’t want to get the wrong story. These people depend on news to give them real information and if their interested, the idea of entertainment is already their.

The only thing that could be wrong with a journalist to make something entertaining would have to do with the fact into getting a new audience. Since these people don’t really read this then the journalist could alter the news a little to get it to be more entertaining. People love to be entertained and if they aren’t interested in a subject and the medium needs more readers then tweaking the story is going to be their decision.

Howie Good said...

is truth the only criterion for publishing a story? What if truth invades privacy? Or is sensationalistic? Or purveys blood and violence and other people's suffering?

Anonymous said...

The reason that Glass was fired was because he made up most of the facts in at least twenty six stories he wrote and reported to be true. If Glass had not fabricated so much of his stories and reported on the truth, then what he would have done would have been more ethical. Even though some of the stories he covered would have been drastically different, if he was reporting the truth the stories would have been ethical. Journalism that is entertainment or "snarky" is still journalism that a wide audience is often interested in, but it is not the most serious reporting that you can do. Entertainment reporting is not unethical or wrong and if you work for an entertainment magazine or an entertainment news program, than the entertainment news is exactly what your audience is looking for. If the intended audience reads your articles looking for entertainment news there is nothing wrong with that type of reporting and in this day and age entertainment news is what most people are interested in and want to hear about because we are so celebrity obsessed. Many times entertainment news comes up in more traditional news outlets because so many people today are interested in that kind of news.

Maxim Alter said...

Personally, even if all of Glass' stories were the absolute truth, I would have found some of them to be in poor taste. I mean come on, Monica Lewinsky sex novelties. Really? I understand that journalists want to give their readers entertaining news and the public want to be spoon fed tantalizing stories of that nature, but at times I feel as though certain things don't need to be news stories. However, as tasteless as a story like that could be, he wouldn't be breaking any law if it were true. With the existence of the first amendment and Monica Lewinsky's public figure status, almost anything is on the table.

Would I call it ethical journalism? That's a tough call for me. If he is reporting a fact then there is some part of me that has to say yes. But there is another part of me that wonders, is that really all it takes to be ethical? Just reporting the truth? I feel like there is more to being a moral and ethical person besides telling the truth. It obviously isn't illegal for journalism to be "snarky," but sometimes I do feel like journalists can take it too far for the sake of readership. I definitely think it depends on your audience and news outlet as well. An article in Hustler or Playboy magazine is going to follow different rules then an article in the Washington Post. So obviously there is a time and a place for articles like Monica Lewinsky and her sex novelties.

Maxim Alter said...

Just another quick comment.

I really want to hammer in the fact that I believe it takes a lot more than just telling the truth to be ethical. How would some of you feel if you were a public figure and some of your most personal secrets were reported to mass audiences? How would you feel about the journalist that did it? Especially when this journalist did it legally and is telling the truth.

I personally wouldn't find that person to be ethical.

Sarah Boalt said...

Glass was fired for fabricating his stories. Had these stories been true, they would have been considered ethical stories. However, for a more serious publication, the nature of his entertaining stories are a bit of an ethical issue. When writing for a more serious and trustworthy publication, a true story that could have a negative impact on someone's life ad be taken more seriously since it is from that publication. If the entertaining news had been published in a less trustworthy, but more "fun" publication, it would reach a different audience and have a much different impact.

I think that it's true that certain types of stories are meant for certain publications. A more trusted publication could look like they're trying to create sensationalism through stories they publish that would normally be published in People. It is important to consider the publication's image before publishing this stories because publishing these sensationalistic stories could start to tarnish its good image with its avid readers. There is nothing wrong with entertaining news, but you always need to have the publication and what they stand for in mind.

Howie Good said...

i'm going to suggest that there is, in fact, something potentially wrong with entertaining news. . . a public addicted to it is likely to be shallow, materialistic, easily deluded, and ignorant of the true values of life. . . and a media system that caters to such a public to the detriment of public education and enlightenment endangers democracy and all the blessings that come with it.

DevonP said...

If Glass had not fabricated the stories and had reliable sources then technically there would be no problem with his stories. However, would people really benefit from the stories he told? Probably not. And that speaks to a bigger issue in todays media, reporting on celebrities that in all reality don't affect any of us personally. So, if you are a person with good morals, you probably won't report on Monica Lewinski sex toys. But if you are in the business to make money, and you see that people are rushing to the magazine racks to read this story, that will motivate you to publish ridiculous stories, even if they are true. I agree there should be way less focus on entertainment and sports journalism, and more focus on "important" issues. However I still think that there should be some sort of journalism that covers all aspects of society, even if it is just for entertainment purposes. It should be dialed back 10 fold though, but I don't think it will happen because of the money it makes today.

J.Rodriguez said...

I would have to agree with what everyone is saying, Glass wouldn't be looked down upon if what he had reported was true because he would have then been doing his job; seeking and reporting the TRUTH. I also agree with meg on where she says how if the stories were true, then the more unethical part would be the stories themself instead of the person reporting them.
I personally don't feel like there is anything wrong with journalism that is entertaining, but I feel like the line between true stories and entertaining stories are very thin. A lot of journalist tend to twist or bend the truth of a story to make it seem more "juicy" so that's when the story becomes false. I feel like a story will be entertaining if its truly entertaining, it doesn't really matter what news outlet you work for. This is where the bending of the truth comes into play, it is up to the reporter or journalist to decide if he/she will report the story he/she got.

J.Rodriguez said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Allison said...

If everything that Glass reported was true and had verified sources to back him up, than there should be no ethical issue. The topics of his stories were a bit gossipy and serve under the title "entertainment Journalism". Many people consider gossip magazines and tabloids to be garbage, but they do sell. I find there's nothing wrong with entertaining journalism, and i who doesn't want to read something light-hearted every once in a while. I do agree that the stories about celebrities and there scandals should be best left to appropriate publications. People read the National Enquirer to get a good laugh, it is not a publication that is taken seriously and that's what they're known for. Alien babies and Bat Boy are stories covered by the Enquirer and are obvious fabrications, but the magazine is still in business. If Bat Boy was on the front page of the NY Times, than the issue would be taken more seriously. Each news outlet has a certain amount of reliability, and with the more respectable publications comes more useful news and less gossip.

Howie Good said...

Let me try again. . . The reason Glass got away with his lies is because he lied for the "benefit" of the kind of entertaining or "sexy" stories that draw readers. . . The chapter makes this point repeatedly. . . Which, if you really think about it, suggests that entertaining stories may be ethically problematic -- not inherently wrong, but ethically troubling if they lure writers, editors, and readers into a kind of conspiracy against seriousness. I'm not saying entertainment doesn't have its place; I am saying the place shouldn't be at the front of the line.

KHutchinson said...

Snarkyness might not be ethical, but I said what I believe. It might make me unethical or morally vacant, whatever you' like to call it, but I don't believe that People magazine and the New York Times should be held to the same standard.
There is a difference in content. One should be delivering hard and accurate news that readers should be able to rely upon. This is the paper Glass was working for, and is why what he did was so wrong.
The other should be taken for face value. It's for entertainment purposes only not trustable because it's assumed by all to be false or fabricated.
I understand that from a completely ethical viewpoint that People magazine and it's reporters should be held to the same standards that the reporters are held to at national news papers, but I'm sorry, I cannot agree. If you want to say it's because I'm not absorbing the material, so be it, but as much as I hear about these ethical boundries we all must be tied to and responsible for at all times, I can't get on board.
Stories in E! and other tabloids may be snarky and may not be truthful, but they serve a purpose to some people. It's entertainment. People wouldn't go to a video store and rent a movie and take that for truth. Maybe what needs to happen is to publicize MORE that the tabloids are nothing but untruths and deceit, but if you look to stop all deceitful or misleading reporting, that means that these tabloids would need to disappear, and they not only make a lot of money and are a huge industry, but people also really enjoy.
I'm babbaling now.
I'll close by saying that maybe I'm NOT as ethical as I thought I was before this class. But maybe I'm ok with that.

eden rose said...

There are plenty of places to make stories up... like when you were in first grade or when you had to get out of trouble with your mom, journalism and the public is just NOT one of those places. "Suppose everything glass said was true", well number one we wouldn’t be using him as an example because he would be just another journalist, but I guess suppose everything he said was true then pending on if his writing of the “truth” is as exciting as his writing of deception then he would be looked at highly in the professional world, and if his stories were bad as soon as he lost his false flare then he would just be a regular writer. Personally I don’t care what kind of news you’re reporting but if your reporting some sort of information to another body of people just make it true. I understand the other side of this argument "it makes for a more entertaining or sexy story" then hate to break it to you but you’re in the wrong profession, be an actor on a soap opera channel make up all the sexy entertaining stories you want. People who deceive through journalism aren’t being ethical; there is no loophole, your lying and deceiving. The public is supposed to "trust" journalist to seek news and report it and this is obviously not always what is going on.

George Selby said...

Prof. Good, up on the top of this you said that truth matters even in gutter journalism, but I don’t agree. The truth never matters in those sorts of papers, unless someone sues them as Brad and Angelina did. It the lies were about something less interesting to the American public, the Israeli-Lebanon conflict for instance, then fabrications and deceptive headlines would go unchecked. Nobody gets offended, so it must be OK!
As for Glass, I think it would have been a stretch to call him a journalist even if he hadn’t made all that stuff up. It seemed like all his stories in questions were features, which as we mentioned in class might not be enough to claim journalism as a profession. He still would not have been doing his job professionally, so he still couldn’t be considered ethical.
Is there anything wrong with entertainment journalism? It’s hard to say no to this question, even though entertainment journalism in it’s purest form is harmless. What we call entertainment journalism today, however, is definitely screwed up. The problem is that we can’t tell the difference between the two. A lot of people learn everything about the world through the New York Post, for instance. The Post will place headlines regarding Tiger Woods right next to headlines regarding the war in Afghanistan. Another example (that really gets me) is Glen Beck, who somehow has convinced people that he is a newsman of some kind, when his show is clearly meant to be editorial. If people could consciously realize every time they looked at a news piece or news show whether it should be taken as entertainment or an accurate report of facts, then there would be no problem with entertainment journalism.
Evidence of this is that liberals in America watch John Stewart to get their newsertainment, while conservatives watch Bill O’Reily, and both of these men have been noted to be the most trusted men in news, while neither of them consider themselves to be journalists. New and entertainment news are the same thing now, so saying that entertainment journalism is unethical would be saying that all our current news media is unethical, and that’s what I’m saying.

pspengeman said...

I never really thought about the disadvantages of journalists and news that are motivated by entertainment or by other means; just because a journalist reports the truth (or the truth to his or her best ability) doesn't mean that it is ethical. Looking back on our class discussions about natural disasters like Katrina or Haiti... yes they report the truth at the given moment but then they stop reporting the truth, almost as if the world forgets these problems still exist. The journalists who originally reported the problems in Haiti or Katrina were reporting the truth, but it seemed that the shock value and appeal of something disastrous happening overshadowed the fact that their coverage was meant to help the people there. While they may have been reporting the truth their motivation was that of banking on a disaster.

So to bring it back to Glass, if his stories were "true" one could still make the argument that he was unethical. If you're using the truth to one-up yourself or a story that shouldn't be news. Just because a lot of people will find a story interesting doesn't mean its a good story. I just feel like celebrity news and other stories that television networks and newspapers waste time and space on would not be news if an ordinary person were in the same situation. We manifest news for ourselves and I think as a society we've distorted what qualifies as news and what does not.

Samantha said...

I think technically that if everything Glass had reported were true, it could be considered ethical reporting. In the broadest sense he would have sought out the truth and reported it to the public. However, I have read your comments and I see that you are trying to make us understand that entertaining news isn't always ethical news. I think that all depends on what kind of outlet you are writing for and how much entertainment you publish. For example, for a magazine like Entertainment Weekly, those kinds of stories are completely appropriate. The word entertainment is right in their name and that's what one expects to read when they pick up the magazine. They follow their own code of ethics that is geared toward entertaining the public. However, I think if a paper like the New York Times or the Washington Post suddenly decided that they wanted to publish as many entertaining stories as Entertainment Weekly then they are doing the public a disservice. Allegedly people read the newspaper to be informed about the nation or the world, and if they suddenly stopped publishing those stories because they weren't entertaining enough then I think that would be unethical.
Some may argue that all news has become too entertaining and it should all be straight, hard news. But I disagree. If we only read about the bad and serious things happening in the world, we would all be very depressed people. Instead I think it's good to break up the stories about war with a feel good feature story or one that makes you laugh. In a perfect world everyone would read the same amount of hard news as entertainment news. Unfortunately this is not always the case. That doesn't mean, however, that entertainment news doesn't have its place. Instead I think it would be unethical to not occasionally provide the public with something that entertains them instead of just informs them. There is truth to be sought in entertaining venues as well, and it is the journalists job to report it.

Howie Good said...

if one can't entertain the possibility that one's beliefs are incomplete or even fundamentally wrong, then one can't ever grow -- intellectually, emotionally, psychologically, morally. this goes for me as much as goes for anyone else. i don't have all the answers. i know i don't have all the answers. but i have questions. i keep asking them because they're the next best things to answers. or maybe even better than answers, as they keep us alert and alive, rather than allow us to become complacent and arrogant.

M.Blumenfeld said...

Unfortunately entertaining news is what keeps people watching. I don't mean that in the sense that the news anchors or media professionals are "rotting our minds" but in the sense that when you craft a message you must always keep the audience in mind so it may make an impact.
with this situation and what we see with most of the media today, no impact is made. Is it faulty journalism? Is it a lack of ethics on the part of the audience, ie. The American public?

I believe the relationship that Americans share with the media is symbiotic. The lack of ethics and virtues in American culture is a direct demonstration why the media is the way it is.

That is why we now have Fox reporting a 5 hr special on the snowstorm when they should be covering the newly sent troops to Afghanistan.

Andrew Limbong said...

If everything Glass printed was true, the unethical quality of his works still remains on his printed work, it doesn't move to his motives or reasons behind his words. Overly sensational writing (not done in an obviously mocking way) is harmful to society, to the people that watch/read it. I'm reminded of John Stewart's interview with Jim Kramer, the "Mad Money" guy, where Stewart essentially calls Kramer out for not taking his job seriously. All the yelling, and toys, and props, essentially dilute the importance of the things Kramer is involved in.

In a sense, if you don't take serious things seriously, therein lies an unethical minefield.

M.Blumenfeld said...

Did anyone see that report by the way? They interviewed a guy with a snow plow on his truck! I just don't get it.

LImpagliazzo said...

If the stories Glass wrote were true, then the situation would have been ethical. All the stories were fabricated, which makes the whole situation unethical. There isn't anything wrong with entertaining stories, but it does depend on your audience. If you're writing for the New York Times, a "snarky" story isn't what they're looking for. Glass was featured in Harper and Rolling Stone. I expect to be entertained in Rolling Stone. I personally have an addiction to stuff like US Weekly and E! They're all gossip, and you can't believe what they say, but if it is reported in People, that's a different story. People is an entertainment magazine, but they report the least fabricated stories.

JustinMcCarthy said...

If everything Glass wrote was true, I think his stories would be ethical. In my opinion, there is nothing wrong with journalism that is entertaining as long as it doesn't violate any ethical boundaries. His fabrication of his stories is what got him fired, not because they were "snarky."
Certainly, his stories would not be appropriate for every publication. It all depends on the audience.
I personally would love to read a story about a teenage hacker who demands a sports car and a lifetime subscription to Playboy (as long as it's true, that is). I wouldn't expect or really want to come across that story in the New York Times. But perhaps during my monthly flipping through GQ, that would be a good read.
I like the idea of entertaining journalism, but I definitely don't think it's something journalists should strive for. If a story is entertaining, let it be entertaining on its own. Don't try to make it out to be something it's not.
The entertainment value of Glass' stories was not the issue; the lack of ethics and the blatant fabrication was.

aDavis said...

The Glass situation really bothers me. In response to question two, I believe that his fabricated stories, had they actually been true, would still have been loved by the readers. But had he still retained the snarky, holier than thou, young innocence that everyone either loved or hated about him; that's the hang up for me. I think his reporting would have been more ethical, yet not fully.

His professionalism would still be lacking because of his attitude. He worked for a legitiate news organization, not TMZ where sarcasm, rumors, and poking fun at subjects is the norm and expected. I can't even say for sure if his writing and the way he went about gathering facts and sources would have been ethical. As we were talking about in class, journalists, just like any other profession, have expectations and standards to live up to in order to qualify as a professional in that field.

Would a doctor go to work in clown shoes and without knowing how to check blood pressure? No, because it is expected. In the same vain, journalists are expected to treat their topics with the right amount of professionalism. I agree with Kim Plummer in that Glass was not suited for journalism from the start. His motivations were wrong and even had his stories been true, he would just be treting his story subjects like his free ticket in. If Glass' stories were true the attitude in which he wrote them would be unethical. No matter the story, Glass should have approched the facts the same way, without his smarmy attitude. I believe if you go write about the story the way it was told and organize it to grab your audience, no excess is needed. But Glass felt otherwise and journalism like that just leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Honestly, I wasn't sure I had fully understood the whole point of journalists being in the same category as doctors in terms of professionalism, but it's true, how could a talented high school writer provide us with our news? Journalism isn't just an open door profession where you can try it out for a few days and if you don't like it leave.

Having an attitude and falsifying titles to grab readers attention is widely accepted in today's tabloid culture, and that's unnerving to me. Even though rumors are accepted as truth in some stories, tis mindset still leaks out into all of journalism, making people like Glass able to believe this is ethical in any way. But I sadly cannot see how that aspect of entertainment journalism can be changed. It's integrated in that line of work.

KHutchinson said...

It's not that I don't see the unethical standpoint to tabloids. Of course I see that it's an invasion of privacy, and I don't condone the constant badgering of celebrities and the unforgiving demeanor that the press in that area use. I do see this, and I don't agree with it.
At the same time however I can't renounce an entire field of journalists. I don't think that makes me arrogant or complacent. At some point I do believe that a celebrity chooses to sacrifice a certain degree of privacy when they sign on to become an A list celebrity.
Maybe there is something ethically wrong with tabloid culture but I don't think that the entire industry should be removed or shunned, because at the end of the day it doesn't make people the slightest bit...I don't know. Would you call it happy? Keeps them entertained and takes their minds off perhaps some of their burdens? Maybe we don't deserve that in such a slighted fashion, but maybe that's what the entire Hollywood industry is based upon. Most people aren't interested in the underlying text to the witty script or the cinematic beauty to the scenes. There are those people, yet still there are those who only go to the movies to get their minds off of real life for a moment. That's where the tabloids come in I guess. People really don't take them to be 100% fact to be relied upon under any circumstances.
But you're right. If it comes at the expense of people making sure that they're well informed on important matters then I guess it's not that worth it. Even as I say that I'm doubting myself, and slightly eating my words. I get the concept, I do, I just can't seem to latch on and dig in.

Howie Good said...

All I ask of all of you is that you be willing to consider the ideas and perspectives I introduce. I don't agree with them all either, but they are worth contemplating, because it is in that contemplation that we grow -- that we avoid the pitfalls of tabloidism.

Julia said...

If the stories Glass fabricated were real he would, unfortunately, probably still be a very “sought-after reporter.” People have lost trust in many outlets of news due to unethical events and scandals, such as the incident involving Glass. His snarky and entertaining way of writing is something people crave; it provides an escape. This is a problem. Because of people like Glass, the media is now seen as a form of entertainment instead of a source of information and enlightenment. So where, then, do the public turn for information. They don’t. They tune out and become ignorant on the issues that matter and tune into whether or not so-and-so is broken up or not. Of course audience does matter. People don’t turn to Rolling Stone or Spin for the latest updates on the war. But when the subscriptions to the entertainment magazines far out-weigh the people who are looking for real news, something is wrong. Ideally, the public would be able to have both entertainment and real ethical reporting, with a distinct line that doesn’t muddy up the issues being reported.

Chanel Arias said...

If Glass's stories were true, they would still remain ethical in a sense that they are honest, but at the same time, using "snarky" remarks can portray a story to be less serious than it actually is. By incorporating a "snarky" style, such as Glass's, proves that the journalist cares more about getting their name out, instead of getting the story out. The style one chooses to report through journalism, entirely depends on the news outlet as well. If one were reading from the New York Times, they would expect a certain sophistication to the way a story is told. Compared to if someone were reading Sports Illustrated, where it's main purpose is entertainment. Therefore, there is only something wrong with journalism if the style does not match the outlet, and the codes of ethics that are followed.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates

The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.

Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.