Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Are you an ethical journalist?

One of the most important assets of a journalist is their reputation. Therefore it is very important that journalists adhere to their range of rights and responsibilities in order to behave ethically and instill the public's trust. However, journalists come under pressure by many important groups in society, which may affect their ability and judgment in acting morally and ethically.
Click here to view this picture online and for more information about the pressures facing journalists

The thing is, journalists have no legal rights beyond those of an ordinary citizen (Pearson, in Tapsall & Varley, 2008, p. 199). However, they are sometimes awarded some special privileges such as access to court documents, withholding the name of a source, etc. Yet, we are given these privileges with the "proviso" that they are not abused and that we continue to perform our roles as journalists responsibly (Pearson, 2008, p. 200). If we abuse these privileges and perform irresponsibly, we will ultimately have an issue with the law and with our accountability and reputation as journalists. With this, comes the idea that no one will buy our papers, hence, we will find it increasingly difficult to find employers. The 'public interest' expression comes into this debate quite interestingly. Differentiate between what is really in the public interest and what the public may be interested in, and there shouldn't be a problem. It's when these lines are blurred that tension may arise. 

It is also important for journalists, especially us, budding young hopefuls, to make themselves familiar with certain terms applicable to these ideas. For example, 'sub judice', meaning 'under a judge, and referring to interfering with an individual's right to a fair trial, Freedom of information (FOI) legislation (to learn more about FOI click here) and Defamation law (to view more click here) (Pearson, 2008, p. 200-211).

For any young journalists, like ourselves, moving into the industry, it might be a good idea to quickly watch this clip, which points out some of the major ethical areas young journalists may struggle with in the future. 


Kenyan, A. & Majoribanks, T. 2007. Responsible Journalism: Defamation Law and News Production in Australia, The US and The UK, accessed 23rd September 2010,

Tapsall, S. & Varley, C.  2008. 'A Question of Legality', Journalism: Theory in Practice, Chap. 13, Oxford University Press: Melbourne.

The Australian Press Council. 2004. 'The urgent need for reform of Freedom of Information in Australia',
The Right to Know Conference, accessed 23rd September 2010,
The News Manual. 2008. 'Pressures on Journalists', The News Manual, Chap. 58, accessed 23rd September 2010,

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Journalism student recognises bad 'Apple' PR

'Leave us alone', Apple chief Jobs tells journalism student

Posted: September 20, 2010

Apple chief executive Steve Jobs has reportedly come out swinging against a journalism student in an email exchange during which she sought comment from Apple, telling her to "leave [Apple] alone". Gawker reported that Long Island University senior Chelsea Kate Isaacs, 22, emailed Jobs late last week with a complaint that Apple's public relations department was not responding to requests for comment about a project she was working on.

"I humbly ask why Apple is so wonderfully attentive to the needs of students ... and yet, ironically, the Media Relations Department fails to answer any of my questions which are, as I have repeatedly told them, essential to my academic performance," Isaacs said.

Jobs replied promptly to her email with this brief remark: "Our goals do not include helping you get a good grade. Sorry."

But it did not end there. Isaacs wasn't happy with the response, so she fired off another email.

"I never said that your goal should be to 'help me get a good grade'. Rather, I politely asked why your media relations team does not respond to emails, which, consequently, decreases my chances of getting a good grade.

"But, forget about my individual situation; what about common courtesy, in general – if you get a message from a client or customer, as an employee, isn't it your job to return the call? That's what I always thought. But I guess that's not one of your goals."

To which Jobs replied: "Nope. We have over 300 million users and we can't respond to their requests unless they involve a problem of some kind. Sorry."

Presumably fuming, Isaacs fired back another email to Jobs, saying she was indeed an Apple customer and that she did have a problem: she needed answers that only Apple's media team could provide.

"Now, can they kindly respond to my request (my polite and friendly voice can be heard in the first five or 10 messages in their inbox). Please, I am on deadline," she said.

The final reply from Jobs came back and it was a curt: "Please leave us alone."

"Under no circumstances should a person who runs a company speak to a customer that way," Isaacs told Gawker. "I'm just enraged and I want people to know this was done."

This website requested comment from Apple's Australian public relations spokeswoman, Fiona Martin, and Jobs himself about 1pm today. At the time of publication no response had arrived. US blog Tech Crunch remained sceptical about the exchange and questioned its authenticity, saying it appeared Isaacs was at the centre of "some shady internet fame seeking business", pointing to this online post.

Sourced from the Sydney Morning Herald Website

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

PR and Journalism: Friends with benefits?

So, here’s the tough question: are modern journalists just victims of public relations piracy? Does the influence of pr in modern journalism affect journalists’ ability to present the ‘truth’ and ability to be objective?

What we do know is that modern journalists are caught between two extremes: the public’s skeptical perception of journalism “don’t let the facts get in the way of a good story” and the MEAA Code of Ethics’, “respect for truth and the public’s right to information are fundamental principles of journalism” (Tickle, 2008, cited in Tapsall & Varley). But can journalists actually tell the ‘absolute truth’? Is there such a thing as ‘complete objectivity’? What impact do PR practitioners have on these utopian-like ideals?
First, the number of PR practitioners outweighs the number of journalists in Australia. This is a fact. Approximately 80% of news stories are repackaged from other sources, namely press releases. This is also a fact. But does this really mean that journalism is being hijacked by PR? Are journalists doing a deal with the devil by working with PR practitioners? 

Honestly, I don't think so. Journalists have a responsibility to report the 'truth' and we need to acknowledge that media releases only act as an idea for a story, not as a ready-made news story and the facts need to be checked before we even begin to treat them as one. Having said that, I think journalists can benefit a great deal from the practice of public relations. We all have pages to fill and time slots to cover and if public relations can provide viable story ideas, why should we argue? Remembering that is only the story ideas.Not the whole stories themselves. And of course, it's not a one way street. Public Relations practitioners need journalists just as much. They want the exposure, the coverage and the publicity. They want to generate an understanding and relationship from their work, for their clients. If they can provide the foundations for the story, the talent, the footage and quotes, why shouldn't we take advantage of that? It's all about giving a little and taking a little. Having a good relationship with a few PR Practitioners will only help make your job easier.

Well, that's my opinion anyway. What do you think?


Black paPR Report. 2009. PR/Publicity Friends with Benefits, accessed 15th September 2010,

Digital Journal. 2010. Study: 80% of news stories are repackaged from other sources, accessed 15th September 2010,

Tapsall, S. & Varley, C. 2008. Journalism: Theory in Practice, chap. 6. & 7. Oxford University Press: Victoria.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

Privacy vs. The Public Interest

What does ‘in the public interest’ even mean?

And what about ‘privacy’?

Journalists too often come under fire for publishing questionable material relating to these to terms. But do we even know what they mean? And if we do, can we tell the difference between what is alright to report on and what is not?

Kieran (1997) points out “the notion of the private delineates a sphere within which we are free to be intimate with others and pursue goals and interests we have without being subject to the public gaze” (cited in Tapsall & Varley, 2008). So, when we think of privacy we think intrusion, embarrassing private facts, and publication of false information or exploitation of someone’s name or personal information without that person’s permission. Most people will acknowledge these common understandings of privacy. So, why is there such an issue with this in the media?

Mainly because there is very little legislation for journalists to protect private matters. There are too many exemptions and loopholes for the media in current legislation, which means the media are perhaps less concerned and less aware of this issue. Even the MEAA’s Code of Ethics, has nothing binding for journalists to adhere to these practices.

But, if we take our role seriously as journalists and as the 'fourth estate', don't we have the responsibility to the public to produce credible news, which we can justify as being 'in the public interest'? We have a priveleged position in society to inform the public, but we must not take this for granted simply for interesting gossip or titilation.

The main point it: the public interest, and what the public is interested in are two different things. We need to recognise this and consider the ramifications before publishing anything questionable in the eye of the public.


Research Journalism. 2010. MEAA Code of Ethics, accessed 10th September 2010,

 Tapsall, S. & Varley, C. 2008. 'Public Interest, Private Lives', Journalism: Theory in Practice, chap. 12, Oxford University Press: Victoria. 

Monday, September 6, 2010

The transformation of news, courtesy of social media

View article

Quality journalism and a 21st century ABC

I found this opinion piece by The Drum's Mark Scott, quite interesting in relation to my studies, it is quite a long piece so I have not posted the whole thing but the complete article can be found on ABC's The Drum's website...

"...The 2010 election campaign was the journalistic gift that just keeps on giving.

I had intended to draft these remarks once the result was known. But remembering that I was speaking at the Melbourne Writers' Festival rather than Improv Night at the Comedy Festival, I couldn't wait for the white smoke. This election has changed how we think of 'politics as usual' in this country. It has also triggered significant debate about the practice of political reporting. And I can't let the opportunity of this speech go by without wading into these murky waters.

So let me make some muddied observations about the campaign and how it was handled by the fourth estate and then make some tentative suggestions about implications for the media and the nature of news coverage.
Then - following the proud traditions of these events - it will be time for questions, where you can tear into me. The toughest Senate Estimates sessions are merely training for encounters like this.

I want to break with the curmudgeons who talked about a boring election campaign, saved only by a thrilling election night and the epic drama that followed.

The long-standing, predictable narrative train of the election, predestined when the Government soared 20 points ahead in the polls, was derailed in the dead of a Canberra winter's night.

Now, for the first time since 1993, we had two new leaders in the top jobs fighting their first election. The most inexperienced Prime Minister to ever face an election. A dangerously honest Opposition Leader with - to use Annabel Crabb's memorable phrase - a truth parrot squawking on his shoulder. Polls in flux, strategies in disarray. An electorate polarised, idiosyncratic, unpredictable. And important matters in play: the economy, the environment, national infrastructure. A nation at war.
Rare ingredients for journalists and journalism. A remarkable opportunity to use old tools and new tools to bring the story to the Australian people.

A few days into the campaign, the ABC launched its long-awaited 24-hour news channel. While Sky had been on air for 15 years and has increasingly focused on live events and reporting from Canberra, with ABC News 24 we created a news channel that was an option for all Australian homes, not just the 30 per cent with pay TV.

The mixed model of public and commercial news services has served Australia well for over 60 years - and will serve us well in the age of 24 hour news as well. Competition, despite the protestations of the monopolists, has been to the advantage of both audiences and practitioners. Sky, for example, greeted our arrival by winning more money from its owners and putting that to good use. They had a strong campaign - as did ABC News 24.

Modern campaigns are a political version of The Truman Show. Keep the channel on and you know what I mean. He's on a bike. She's on a train. He's running with kids. She's eating a cake. He's making a speech. She's holding a doorstop. He's looking cranky. She's looking tired. Where is he now? Why's she wearing that hat? She drinks Guinness. He drinks shandies! If he had done it in week two rather than on the final day, Abbott's liking for a shandy made with light beer could have killed him in those Western Sydney marginals.

Campaigns always had these features. But now everyone can see it. Outsiders became insiders. And now we have the truncated news cycle: which advances stories and then responses and then generates further iterations throughout the day, rather than simply setting up the evening news and tomorrow's papers.
It exacerbates the phenomenon. The politicians always seem on. And we see now what only the journos once saw: the politicians are scripted - they say the same things over and over again. Less variation in response means fewer choices for journalists to report on something you don't want. The old maxims taught to politicians apply more than ever:

"Just when you are sick of saying it, people are beginning to hear it for the first time."

"Don't answer the question they ask, answer the question you wanted them to ask."

"Don't change the argument, change the audience."

And the journalists are shunted and controlled and frustrated and increasingly sick and tired.
It might be more controlled, there might be more events, things might be more closely scripted - but this is modern campaigning. It is just that we can all see it now, live, around the clock. Every press conference, every speech, every photo op, and in the background, every nodding local candidate.

It may be refined, but it is not new. There have long been books written about this stuff: pioneered by Teddy White with The Making of the President 1960. But now we can all see how political campaigning is done - and like seeing the law or sausages being made - it's not always an edifying experience.
But it is important. The scrutiny, the performance under pressure, the way questions are answered and avoided, unexpected events are dealt with, managing the tiredness, the frustration, the disappointments - this is part of the political crucible our leaders must endure. Attention must be paid to this. There needs to be a bus, journalists need to be on it. Asking questions, waiting for the unexpected, watching it all and reporting back.
This was, after all, one of the great achievements of Tony Abbott in the campaign. The most mercurial of performers, disastrous in 2007, prone to erratic bursts, turning in such a disciplined performance. After a shaky start, he reminded me of a marathon runner, clocking five-minute miles, mile after mile. That consistency allowed people the opportunity to rethink him and what he might offer. Just as the lack of consistency from the Prime Minister, the articulated shift from the programmed to the real, caused people to rethink their view of her also.

Another great political classic of the past was The Boys on the Bus by Timothy Crouse - about the journalists covering the 1972 presidential campaign. Well now we know all about the 2010 bus. Journalists tweeting their frustrations, snap commentaries, collective fury. Live crosses back and forth - to the news channels, to local radio. The journalists add to the colour of the campaign.

Off the bus, senior journalists sit back, read, watch, review, dig and come to judgement. The field of reference is so limited on the bus it is hard to see the broader field - so many of the big guns simply don't climb on board. What was significant here was how senior journalists would break stories - good old fashioned scoops - that would set another agenda for reporters to follow up on the bus - a different one from the one prepared by the parties for their daily policy announcement.

Chris Uhlmann on the young political staffer sitting in on top level defence meetings. Lenore Taylor and her scoop on Treasury's costings of the Coalition's proposals. Laurie Oakes on the Prime Minister's reluctance to embrace parental leave. Phillip Adams, at 10 o'clock at night on Radio National, getting the former prime minister to break his silence. Stories that dominated every press conference for days after - reporters on the road following up the lead that every editor wanted to advance.

And while there has been some discussion over whether there was an over fixation on these issues, I would simply argue that at any time, in any campaign, they are great scoops - delivered the way any great journalist delivers a scoop: authoritatively, mysteriously. A reflection of experience, credibility and contacts cultivated for just this moment..."

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