Journalism ethics – transparency is key // week 8

Do the pillars of journalism such as accuracy, impartiality and accountability still have a place in the digital era?

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In a QUT online journalism lecture, Kellie Riordan from the ABC spoke about how legacy media and digital natives approach ethical standards in the digital age.

Kellie  says digital media allows for transparency in addition to, not in place of, impartiality. Digital media provides new ways for ethical standards to be upheld.

Content is flattened out through the online medium. Therefore, it can be difficult for readers to distinguish between opinion pieces and news features. In a newspaper these articles would be clearly labelled in particular sections, but online these stories are presented at the same level.

Thus comes the ethical dilemma of advertising posts.

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Advertising is a main form of revenue for online news websites and there is no shame in this. In a LastWeekTonight TV segment which can be viewed below, host John Oliver spoke about native advertising in the media. In the video TimeInc CEO Joseph A Ripp said, “as long as it’s clearly marked, as long as the consumer knows the difference between what is editorial and what is native, I don’t see any problem with it at all”. John Oliver went on to state that, “it is a problem though, because the consumer cannot tell the difference”.

Kellie says the issue arises when organisations do not signpost which articles are sponsored and which are not. “A lot of the time people are looking at content that is sponsored or paid for and are thinking it’s genuine journalism and I think that’s problematic,” she said.

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Source: Twitter.

Kellie says a great example of an organisation which effectively signposts it’s advertisements is Quartz.

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Screenshot of a Quartz article which clearly signposts the advertisement.

Unlike traditional newspaper giant The New York Times, Quartz places advertising and genuine journalism together but clearly signposts the sponsored post.“Quartz ads appear in the editorial stream, not as banner ads or pop ups,” says Kellie. Clearly labelling advertising posts at the beginning of online articles eliminates any potential ethical dilemmas. Kellie says pure objectivity is not as important as transparency – being honest with the reader.

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Screenshot of a Quartz article which shows effective labelling of the sponsored content and also the sponsored content appearing in the editorial stream.

Kellie says hyperlinking is an important aspect of journalism in the 21st century. “Actually linking to your sources, that is the practice of journalism,” she said. “That is what we did even before the internet by attributing information to sources.”

Kellie says she hopes journalist’s in the digital era uphold ethical standards. “I would like to hope that the next 100 years in journalism isn’t some kind of race to the bottom where just anything goes,” she said. “I’d like to think organisations even in the internet era, even in the 21st century, where things are changing quickly, that we still have some standards about publishing things that are true. I don’t think that’s too much to ask.”

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