Author: Michael Bugeja

VIDEO: Reporter Arrests (Cameras, Constitution, Consequences)

This presentation discusses the disturbing trend of reporter arrests during George Floyd-related protests, focusing on how the camera has caused a power shift in the authority of police and the practice of journalism.

Goals of the presentation:

  • To show how cameras have documented social ills in society.
  • To review reporter arrests in recent George Floyd protests.
  • To cite legal ramifications associated with constitutional rights: freedom of press and assembly, unreasonable searches and seizures, and due process.
  • To document how cameras and wireless technology have caused a power shift in society affecting authority of police and practice of journalism.
  • To make recommendations (a) for curricular changes in general education and (b) for reporters covering protests.


What makes a journalist — the person or the device?

By Michael Bugeja Iowa Capital Dispatch

Demonstrators stand in front law enforcement who are holding a perimeter during protest on June 1, 2020 in downtown Washington, DC. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Reporter arrests and assaults continue to rise during ongoing George Floyd protests with more than 300 violations of First Amendment rights, according to U.S. Press Freedom Tracker.

Incidents have been captured on video. This compilation includes the blinding in one eye of freelance photographer Linda Tirado.

Des Moines Register reporters Andrea Sahouri and Katie Akin also were assaulted and arrested, according to Editor Carol Hunter. Akin said “I’m press” or “I’m with the Des Moines Register” 17 times in about 30 seconds.

It didn’t help.

Huffington Post reporter Christopher Mathias was arrested covering the protest in New York. Here’s a partial transcript:

Mathias: “Can you look at my press pass? I’m a journalist. You’re arresting a journalist right now.”

Officer: “Then you should’ve gotten out of my way.

Mathias: “I did get out of your way, you ran past me. Can you please get my phone? It’s right there. Please get my phone.”

Officer: “Shut the f**k up. Get him out of here, let’s go.”

In video after video, police focus as much on the cellphone as on the person holding the device.

Technology changes media history. We have a new chapter.

In 2013, Detroit Free Press photographer Mandi Wright covered the arrest of a suspect on a public street. An officer tells her to stop taping on her iPhone. She identifies herself as a member of the press but the officer says, “I don’t care who you are” and confiscates the phone.

Wright and the officer tussle over the phone, and he arrests her. Upon release, she discovered the memory card of her phone was missing.

Outcry was huge.

The professional photographer’s blog, PDNPulse, wrote that the police had “a public relations mess on its hands” violating Wright’s First Amendment rights. It also noted “the Detroit police department has apologized to the paper’s editors, and promised to issue a directive reminding officers that they can’t interfere with anyone videotaping them in public.”

Wright still works for the Free Press and was among journalists in Detroit covering a protest when police opened up on them with tear gas and rubber bullets. A projectile struck a bystander.

A new normal is being established. Increasingly, reporters may be fair game for assaults and arrests even if they identify themselves documenting history as it happens.

The issue seems more about how history is being documented, on camera, than by whom, raising the question about what makes a journalist: the person or the device?

In 2013 when Wright was arrested, the iPhone 5 was a sixth generation cellphone with a 1.3Ghz processor with 1 GB of Ram. Its main feature was an 8 megapixel camera that was 40% faster than its predecessors.

Those features pale compared with the 2020 iPhone 11 Pro Max’s 12-megapixel ultra-wide angle, wide angle, and telephoto lens capability. It excels in live broadcast with a processor and neural engine delivering more than 1 trillion operations per second.

In other words, it can capture just about anything within a 120-degree field of view. And you can buy one for about $1,000.

Some 80% of Americans have cellphones, and 45% of those are iPhones, with its popular demographic being users ages 18-34.

Those users have in pockets a device whose main purpose is a telephone but that functions as telegraph (messaging), radio station (audio), television station (video), blogging (newspaper), live streaming (film crew) and multimedia (all of the above).

The cellphone, in particular, the iPhone, empowers citizens as well as journalists to document what happens in the street, classroom, boardroom — any room or physical space.

Increasingly, citizens tape police arrests that purportedly violate human rights as well as constitutional safeguards.

Citizens have First Amendment rights just as journalists do, and violations thereof can be actionable in federal court pursuant to 42 U.S. Code § 1983, which protects against “deprivation of any rights, privileges, or immunities secured by the Constitution.”

One class action suit already has been filed in Minnesota. Lead plaintiff Jared Goyette reportedly told police he was a member of the press covering protests but was shot in the face with a rubber bullet.

“Without journalists there, police or other people in power can feel a sense of impunity that no one will see what’s happening anyway,” Goyette says. “Everyone needs to know people are watching.”

And the camera enables that.

Reporters are trained to document rather than doctor content, especially video and photographs. They typically have a bachelor’s degree heavily weighted in the liberal arts and sciences and skills classes involving mastery of equipment. Most important, they study media law and ethics.

Reporters also are held to professional standards and face termination and litigation themselves if they intentionally mislead the public or fabricate information.

Education is key in the debate about reporter arrests, and police need some now about free press and assembly rights.

Reporters and citizens whose cellphones are confiscated should inform police that they do not consent to searches of the device on grounds of Fourth Amendment freedom from incidental seizures.

In the past, beauty was said to be in the eye of the beholder. For better or worse, media history now is in the lens of the holder.

Technology’s role in journalism protest arrests: How phones have changed things

Technology played a major role in gutting media outlets. Further, the public used to rely on reporters to cover spot news, but the cellphone enabled everyone to do the same.

Moral absolutes: Where do you draw the personal and political line?

By Michael Bugeja, June 1, 2020 

Former first lady Eleanor Roosevelt meets with contralto singer Marian Anderson in Japan. (Photo credit: Franklin D. Roosevelt Presidential Library/NARA)

Before the coronavirus dominated the news, politics did, with Democratic presidential candidates promising (among other things) free college tuition, debt relief, comprehensive health care, gun control, climate restoration and $1,000 a month universal income.

President Trump was less specific. He promised to keep America great.

Rival Joe Biden promised to resurrect American norms. That may prove to be the biggest challenge. Like Trump, though, Biden is vague on specifics.

So what are ethical norms?

One philosophical view involves “moral absolutism.” Those who profess it claim that some actions are inherently right or wrong. Moreover, they maintain, you’d have a hard time in any country finding a theorist who disavowed these ethical tenets.

Philosopher Christina Hoff Sommers wrote about them in a 1991 article titled “Teaching the Virtues”:

It is wrong to mistreat a child.

It is wrong to humiliate a person.

It is wrong to torment an animal.

It is wrong to think only of yourself.

It is wrong to steal.

It is wrong to lie.

It is right to keep promises.

It is right to be considerate and respectful of others.

It is right to be charitable and generous.

American history is based on moral absolutism, beginning with the founders’ famous slogan: no taxation without representation. We fought a revolution over that precept.

Abraham Lincoln believed in moral absolutes, too, concerning the dissolution of the Union, something he would not abide. Although he abhorred slavery in his personal ethic, the atrocities of the Civil War eventually pinged his conscience. He wrote the executive order otherwise known as the Emancipation Proclamation and played a key role in the passage of the 13th Amendment banning slavery.

First Lady Eleanor Roosevelt (1884-1962) condemned discrimination in U.S. society. Like Lincoln, she “led from a place of right and wrong, of moral absolutes, whether it was speaking out for the rights of women, or against racial segregation in America,” writes Sophia A. Nelson in her book, “E Pluribus One: Reclaiming Our Founders Vision for a United America.”

Nelson notes that Mrs. Roosevelt was viewed as a woman with immense moral courage. Her detractors saw her as a traitor to her privileged class. “Whatever the criticism,” Nelson states, “she never shrank back. She was determined to live her life on her own terms, and she did.”

Mrs. Roosevelt upheld moral ideals on several occasions. Perhaps her greatest accomplishment concerned her role in establishing the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The preamble of that historic document states that “disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind.”

Last month the George Floyd video outraged the conscience of the world.

Murder defendant and fired officer Derek Chauvin pinned Floyd to the street with his knee as Floyd uttered these heart-wrenching last words: “I can’t breathe. Don’t kill me. Mama! They’re going to kill me.”

Chauvin kept his knee on Floyd’s neck for nearly nine minutes, including two minutes and 53 seconds after Floyd lost consciousness.

The act was barbarous. From an ethical standpoint, the three fired officers who assisted Chauvin also were guilty. They, too, heard Floyd’s forsaken pleas but they did not intervene.

Minneapolis Police Chief Medaria Arradondo said the three were complicit and should be charged. He called the killing a “violation of humanity” and referenced moral absolutes in an interview with CNN.

“The killing of Mr. Floyd was an absolute truth that it was wrong.”

Eleanor Roosevelt advocated intervention in the wake of moral wrongdoing.

Case in point: African American contralto opera singer Marian Anderson performed at the White House in 1935. Soon after, Howard University petitioned the Daughters of the American Revolution (DAR) to book its Washington, D.C., auditorium, Constitution Hall, for an Easter weekend concert.

But there was a problem. Donors to DAR said only whites could perform on stage, and the organization denied the request to use the Hall for an Anderson concert.

Eleanor Roosevelt interceded. You can read about the entire incident here.

She sent a telegram to Howard University: “I regret extremely that Washington is to be deprived of hearing Marion Anderson a great artist.” She also resigned from DAR, writing:

“I am in complete disagreement with the attitude taken in refusing Constitution Hall to a great artist. You have set an example which seems to me unfortunate, and I feel obliged to send in to you my resignation. You had an opportunity to lead in an enlightened way and it seems to me that your organization has failed.”

Her moral absolutism required further action. Mrs. Roosevelt promoted an outdoor concert for Anderson at the Lincoln Memorial. More than 75,000 people attended. The audience was appropriately diverse. The performance also was broadcast on the radio.

What violations of your moral code would incite you to act as Eleanor Roosevelt did in the wake of unfairness or discrimination? What are your personal moral absolutes? What would you subtract or add to the Christina Hoff Sommers’ list cited earlier?

For instance, would you tolerate racism in a partner? Infidelity? Domestic or sexual violence? No?

Let’s press the issue. Would you tolerate the same in a political candidate … if that candidate also promised you something you desperately wanted?

We might want to assess the role of moral absolutes before casting votes in the November election.

INTERNSHIPS AND HARASSMENT: A Follow-Up about Avenues of Redress

Download the full article without fee: Internships and Harassment Followup

In the July 11, 2018 edition, The Department Chair outlined possible avenues of redress for unpaid interns caught between Titles VII and IX, both of which provide protection in cases of sexual harassment and other forms of discrimination.

This is a follow-up concerning what the faculty at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, Iowa State University, did after publication of that article.

First, some background: Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits companies from discriminating against employees on the basis of sex, race, color, national origin, and religion; Title IX of the Education Amendments Act of 1972 prohibits discrimination based on sex/gender (including sexual misconduct) against any person in an educational program receiving federal financial assistance.

To claim Title VII rights, a person must be an employee. Unpaid interns do not have that status.

If an unpaid internship is part of a university sponsored program, Title IX rights are limited, based on the location of the harassment. For example, the university would not have the right or obligation to take certain actions on the premises of a third-party provider. But depending on evidence, the institution can reasonably investigate claims of discrimination by a student and take responsible steps to prevent further discrimination. Typically, that would entail terminating the internship in question and banning future ones at that company until appropriate action was taken to remedy infractions.

As such, professional disciplines requiring or recommending internships have an obligation to inform students about legal limitations of unpaid positions. For starters, as soon as any incident occurs, they should report it to their faculty adviser or internship coordinator who in turn have an obligation to inform the appropriate campus officials. Further, departments sponsoring internships should understand that they, too, have an obligation to respond if they learn of a potential discrimination, generally by involving the equal opportunity or the general counsel’s offices.

Typically, there is no academic standard regarding student internships. Some students rely on departmental providers to secure off-campus internships; other students find internships themselves. Some internships are done without credit; others, for 1-6 or more credit hours. Some students receive letter grades upon completion of internships; others are graded on pass/fail or not at all. Some departments require internships for graduation; others merely recommend internships that never appeal on transcripts. Some departments ask faculty or staff to monitor interns away from campus; others leave them on their own.

One thing, however, should be considered: Is the internship paid or unpaid?

To be sure, unpaid interns may receive stipends from a department or other source as a legitimate part of their educational program. However, if any funds are related to and in exchange for work, then it is a wage and the intern is an employee.

Paid interns usually are covered by the company’s harassment policies, which vary. Those students are considered employees because they draw a salary. Most providers are bound legally by Title VII.

Currently, federal courts are determining the status of unpaid interns, with respect to sex discrimination and again, including sexual misconduct. In Jane Doe v. Mercy Catholic Medical Center, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals disagreed with decisions from the Fifth and Seventh Circuit Courts of Appeals, which have held that Title VII “provides the exclusive remedy for employees alleging discrimination on the basis of sex in federally funded educational institutions,” according to the National Law Review (Francis 2017). The Third Circuit stated that “Title IX provides an alternative remedy to address such claims of discrimination” because the internship experience is educational.

Only a handful of states have passed nondiscrimination legislation to protect unpaid internships. They include Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, California, Connecticut, and the District of Columbia.


Title IX requires schools to take steps to prevent and remedy sex‐ and gender‐based harassment, including sexual violence that occurs within its educational programs and activities. Registered students can take advantage of these resources; but interns working off campus in other cities, states or countries are at a disadvantage if an alleged harasser is not an employee or agent of the educational institution.

After the 2018 article appeared in The Department Chair, the Greenlee School appointed a subcommittee to investigate what we could do to mitigate risk of unpaid internships. Internships here are required for advertising, journalism and public relations majors as part of the School’s capstone experience. Students work with faculty and staff advisers monitoring a paid or unpaid position providing at least 400 hours overseen by a properly credentialed supervisor.

The Greenlee subcommittee accessed case law and explored tenets of The Fair Labor Standards Act (Fact Sheet #71), which requires “for-profit” employers to pay employees. For-profit companies that offer unpaid internships are judged against the FLSA “primary beneficiary test.” The courts use the following factors to determine who benefits most from the relationship, the intern or the business:

  1. The training is similar to what the student would receive in an educational setting.
  2. The internship benefits the student and not the company.
  3. The intern is properly supervised.
  4. The intern’s duties do not replace those of a regular employee.
  5. The employer enjoys no advantage from the work of the intern; in fact, that work actually may impede operations.
  6. The employer does not promise a job at the end of the internship.
  7. The employer and the intern both acknowledge that no wages will be paid for time spent in the internship.

The Greenlee subcommittee also found that very few universities were addressing concerns about unpaid internships or alerting their students about risk. One exception is Clemson’s Student Enrichment program in the College of Business, which has posted a comprehensive public notice: Know Your RIGHTS About Unpaid Internships With For-Profit Companies

It includes sections on worker’s compensation, noting that employees injured on the job can receive benefits for healthcare bills and loss of pay. “However, if an unpaid intern were to get hurt on the job, the company would not be required to pay any damages to the unpaid intern since they do not meet the official definition of an employee.”

Its section on discrimination informs students that they cannot sue for sexual harassment if they are performing duties in an unpaid internship.

Clemson’s notice includes this “Bottom Line” recommendation: “If you want to ensure you have rights at the internship workplace, be certain the internship is PAID. You are paying for the course through your tuition dollars.”

The Greenlee subcommittee recommended that we inform our students about their rights in paid and unpaid internships. Additionally, we wanted our internship providers to know that we take sex-based discrimination and misconduct seriously. As such, we worked with our University Counsel’s office to come up with a policy putting providers on record about our concerns.

We are sharing a copy of our policy in the sidebar to this article. Feel free to use or adapt the policy at your institution: Greenlee Internship Program _ Organizational Expectations

Policy statement and agreement for company/organization to sign

The Greenlee School of Journalism and Mass Communication appreciates businesses and organizations that select our students for internships. With respect to the partnership with the university to offer internship opportunities, there comes a joint responsibility to keep students free from discrimination and harassment in the workplace.

Internship experiences are extended with the understanding that professional employment practices will be followed. Compliance with federal, state, and local laws, as well as Iowa State University’s policy is a prerequisite for student internships and the university reserves the right to suspend services without notice if it determines, in its own discretion, that such standards are not being met. Iowa State University is committed to assuring that its programs are free from prohibited discrimination and harassment based upon race, ethnicity, sex, pregnancy, color, religion, national origin, physical or mental disability, age, marital status, sexual orientation, gender identity, genetic information, status as a U.S. veteran, or any other status protected by university policy or applicable local, state, or federal law.

Iowa State University is also committed to assuring that its programs are free from prohibited sexual harassment and sexual misconduct as defined by applicable local, state, or federal law and in accordance with Iowa State University policy. The university reserves the right to suspend services without notice if it determines, in its own discretion, that a student or students are being subjected to sexual harassment and/or that your company has failed to take prompt remedial measures in response to allegations of sexual harassment and/or sexual misconduct.


Bugeja, Michael. 2018. Internships and Harassment: Avenues of Redress between Titles VII and IX. The Department Chair, July 11.

Francis, Simone R. D. 2017. “Third Circuit Finds Title IX Provides a Remedy for Sex Discrimination in Fully Funded Educational Institutions.” National Law Review, March 23.‐circuit‐finds‐title‐ix‐provides‐remedy‐sex‐discrimination‐fully‐funded.

No author. 2018. Fact Sheet #71: Internship Programs Under The Fair Labor Standards Act. U.S. Department of Labor. January.

No author. No date. Know Your RIGHTS About Unpaid Internships with For-Profit Companies.  Clemson’s Student Enrichment program, College of Business.

Create Your Own Ethical Heraldry! Download Template

ethical heraldry.jpg


Read this article in Media Ethics Magazine:

Download this template: Click here for ethical heraldry PowerPoint template. Use this to create your own heraldry. (You can use another program, if you wish, as long as you can save as a jpeg.)

Create your own ethical coat of arms. Follow instructions on the template. Design it with images that represent your true identity, heritage, culture or beliefs. Choose a motto that represents who you are or aspire to be. Make it your own private shield. Make it art. Live it.

Share your heraldry and ethical heritage: You can use this as your own personal or professional insignia. Iowa State media ethics students share it on their portfolios and social media like LinkedIn.

Three Categories of Racial Profile Images

Three types of photographs–illustration, portraiture and documentary–are used to depict racial profiling. In this post we’ll analyze several photos to ascertain what category of photojournalism was used to represent content. Then we’ll discuss the ethics of such use.

In the video above, the Columbia School of Journalism used data science to gather evidence of law enforcement identifying people of color as white so as not to be accused of profiling. This investigation sets the stage for the discussion of a sensitive topic and the various types of photos used to depict it.

The chart below depicts three types of photos–documentary, portraiture and illustration.


This category is a rendition or facsimile of reality–an event, topic, incident or person(s)–composed with art, graphics, set-up images, rehearsed scenes, montages or a combination of design elements to showcase content. Book covers typically use illustrations, in this case, to represent a work about racial profiling by author Alison Marie Behnke.

CNN used this montage for a report on racial profiling


As the term indicates, this genre of photography captures the face–and, yes, profile–of a person. Do not confuse this type of photo with a headshot used to identify a person in a news release, employee badge, passport, driver’s license and so forth. Portraiture is a serious attempt to capture a feeling, mood or character trait–in the same manner that a title or headline does in an article–to imbue content with another layer of meaning. Portraiture can have elements of illustration to depict a scheduled event or of documentary to set the stage for content to follow.

Here is a portrait of Dr. Eric Dyson, sociology professor at Georgetown University, to showcase a talk at Hanover College about racial profiling.

In the file photo below, the San Diego Tribune captured this portrait of a woman attending a racial profiling city hall meeting. Note: Technically, this was a documentary photo that was used as portraiture, showcasing the utility of this kind of shot. 

Racial profiling was the subject of this San Diego city council committee hearing in 2014.


A documentary photo depicts action as in an incident, spot news or other unrehearsed snippet of reality which, when viewed by itself, represents the story.

Some documentary photos have elements of illustration if the event is planned, as in a protest or parade. (The prototype of a planned or staged event is a donor handing a check to a charity.) Here is an example from AP photographer Seth Wenig in Boston at a march to highlight the issue of racial profiling. The march was planned with Rev. Al Sharpton at the forefront.

Some documentary shots have elements of portraiture as in this example by MSNBC photographer Zun Lee of Michael Brown’s mother at a memorial in Ferguson for her shooting-victim son.

Lesley McSpadden, Michael Brown’s mother, visits her son’s memorial at the Canfield Green Apartment complex in Ferguson on Oct. 10, 2014. The memorial burned down on Sep. 23 but was rebuilt immediately.

Documentary also captures events or incidents as they happen, as in this photo of stop and frisk by Pearl Gable for the Wall Street Journal.

Ethics in Three Genres


The ethics of photos depicting sensitive or controversial topics, such as racial profiling, requires us first to understand the specific categories and their uses. Errors happen when photographers set up photos as in an illustration but then pass them off as documentary.  Even a slight alteration can result in firing offense. In the photo below, a Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer deleted a video camera and replaced it with terrain. The Associated Press discovered the alternation and ended its relationship with him.

Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer banned by AP after photo alteration

Documentary photos can be used as illustration or portraiture, depending on the shot. These photos are meant to depict the world as it really is. That is why any alternation is suspect.

An infamous use of a documentary photo involved this shot of fans at the Wisconsin football game.


Because documentary photos can be used as illustrations, the University of Wisconsin decided to alter this and add the image of an African-American student, Diallo Shabazz, and to its catalog cover:


Shabazz sued the university, asking for millions to be used to recruit students of color. You can read about it here.


Portraiture involves several layers of ethics. The person depicted needs to know how the photo is to be used and, often, has to sign a permission contract if the portrait is used for commercial gain. Nothing is as potentially embarrassing in portraiture as identifying the person by the wrong name, as happened with Noor Tagouri in Vogue. In the photo below, Tagouri (right), a 24-year-old Libyan-American journalist, was misidentified by an editor as Pakistani actress Noor Bukhari, 36.


Of all the genres of photography, the one with the biggest potential for misinterpretation is illustration, primarily because the creation often reflects the values of the designer. In this widely criticized illustration in the now-defunct magazine, Mademoiselle, the cutline reads: “A person’s worst nightmare–getting brutally mugged–and left to fend for yourself.” The setup shows two men of color, often maligned as criminals, in what many labeled a damaging stereotypical depiction.


Unique Genre

Finally a word about a distinct category of photography: arrest photos. In the KXAN video at the start of this post, this illustration–a compilation of persons identified as white in police mugshots–was used to represent the Columbia School of Journalism investigation.

Mugshots are a combination of portraiture (as the person’s headshot is being taken) and documentary (as the person is being booked for a crime). As such, this illustration montage cover has elements of all three genres.

Keep in mind that mugshots often have been used stereotypically to depict African-Americans. Studies show that mugshots are used more often for black suspects than white suspects. The extent of the stereotype was so great that EJ Brown created an art display titled Perception of Complexion’s “Mugshot Series” featuring graduation shots of black men holding police identification boards with their majors.

Think Like a Journalist: How to tell real from fake news

Originally published in 2009 in News Trust, a non-profit news network. Updated March 2020.

People who care about truth differentiate between journalism and media. Journalists report, produce, design and edit news. Media disseminates content via digital technology (i.e. tweets, posts, blogs, video apps, websites, etc.). Reporters and editors adhere to ethical standards. Social media does not.

Journalists have one core responsibility, thanks to America’s founders, especially Ben Franklin, James Madison and Thomas Jefferson: Inform citizens so that they can make intelligent choices in the voting booth. When voters no longer believe what they read, view or hear, they get the governments they deserve. Founders affirmed this tenet in the First Amendment:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

We have a choice, not only in the voting booth, but also what we decide to believe and share on social media. We can embrace lies, exaggerations, half-truths and falsehood, or subscribe (pay something) to access fact-based reports.

According to Forbes magazine, trustworthy outlets include The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, BBC, The Economist, The New Yorker, Associated Press, Reuters, Foreign Affairs, The Atlantic and Politico.

By reviewing this pamphlet, you’ll begin to think like a journalist. That’s the first step in restoring truth at home, school and work. You’ll distinguish news from opinion, become familiar with journalism principles and ethics, and sharpen your critical judgment.

Start by viewing this 2016 video (still relevant today) with NBC-affiliate anchor Dan Winters, WHOtv, and Michael Bugeja. (Note: Dr. Bugeja’s title now is distinguished professor of journalism; he no longer directs the Greenlee School.)

The Four Defining Traits (“Four Ds”) of Journalism

The best way to learn news literacy is to think like a journalist.

Reporters have distinct traits that either led them to the profession or that they developed while doing journalism.

The “Four Ds”–defining tenets–exemplify these qualities:

  1. Doubt — a healthy skepticism that questions what you hear, view or read.
  2. Detect — a “nose for news” and relentless pursuit of facts and accuracy. 
  3. Discern — a priority for fairness, balance and objectivity in reporting.
  4. Demand — a focus on free access to information and First Amendment principles.

Doubt — Don’t automatically believe everything you view, hear or see.

If you have studied or practiced journalism, you’re probably reading this to see where, if at all, this guide goes astray. That’s part of a journalist’s profile—a healthy skepticism that questions everything, including issues in which they fervently believe.

Reporters who lack skepticism are easily hoaxed or manipulated. A hoax is a bogus story meant to embarrass the journalist and his or her media outlet. The popular phrase for hoax is “fake news.”

There is nothing new about fake news. Media manipulation has existed since Colonial times in America. The new element, however, is the decline of fact-based journalism to balance the impact of fake news and the omnipresent prevalence of social media, which treats each post according to the platform’s algorithms. As such, we are inundated with false reports.

On what do fake news and hoaxes depend? Answer: Your deeply held beliefs, convictions, fears and desires.

Think about something in which you passionately believe—the truth about climate change, pro-life vs. pro-choice, liberals vs. conservatives—and then imagine a tipster confirming your worst suspicions.

A non-journalist might take the bait, praising the font of fake news; however, a seasoned reporter would interrogate the source knowing how dissemination of false information not only undermines his or her credibility, but that of the entire media outlet.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • Do I seek information or affirmation?
  • Are my beliefs, convictions, fears or desires coloring how I see a topic?
  • What is the difference between skepticism and pessimism?

Detect — Relentlessly pursue the truth to discover the “big picture.”

Journalists have a “nose for news.” They hunt down stories. They follow up on all tips and leads. They are relentless when pursuing the truth.

Reporters share a lot of character traits with detectives who assemble a puzzle piece by piece, or fact by fact, until they see the “big picture.”

Reporters also pursue sources as detectives pursue suspects, giving them their day in court—the court of public opinion, that is.

Of course, not all sources are suspects. Those who aren’t should be expert witnesses because they are either authorities on a topic or have experienced an event first-hand.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • How can I use the Internet like a detective in verifying assertions?
  • What is the difference between verification in news and assertion in a post?
  • Does the public have a right to know the news that affects or afflicts them?

Discern — Think critically to find a fair balance.

Journalists think critically. They often tell sources that they will contact them again with more questions about a topic or event.

Meanwhile, they are discerning how to balance a story so that it is fair to all parties. They want their stories to be balanced so that their reports are as objective as possible.

Let’s define those terms:

  • Fairness means making sure all viewpoints are included in a story. Reporters discern which viewpoints are more important than others in conveying the truth about a topic or event. If some facts detract from that truth, or are unfair, ethical journalists leave them out or call them out, correcting misstatements.
  • Balance doesn’t mean getting two equal sides of a story. It means discerning which side is more accurate and then gathering facts to make that case by detecting motives of sources and getting expert opinion to support or refute them.
  • Objectivity means seeing the world as it is, not as the reporter or reader would like it to be.  Reporters discern whether they have any biases that might taint a story and, if so, how they might adjust for that when filing a report.

Did you know that the Columbia Journalism Review prefers Dr. Bugeja’s definition of objectivity above others?

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • How do I feel when viewing news that omits a viewpoint or hypes another?
  • Is the news or opinion politically or personally motivated, slanting truth to manipulate rather than inform?
  • When I see a “hole” in a story missing viewpoints or sources how can I fill it with facts using online resources?

Demand — Uphold and protect the free flow of information.

The best reporters make demands—on themselves and others.

The most basic demand is for freedom of information. Reporters believe if taxpayers fund a project or function, citizens should have access to details and documents. They believe that when elected politicians meet, the public should be informed in advance, an agenda should be provided, minutes should be taken, and time for public testimony allotted.

You don’t need to be a journalist to file a freedom of information request. Click here to see the process.

Journalists demand that their and citizens’ Constitutional rights are protected, especially the five freedoms of the First Amendment: speech, press, religion, petition and assembly.

The best journalists demand high ethical standards in their own work and in that of others associated with such topics as:

  • Plagiarism (passing off someone else’s work as their own). Invention (fabricating data and quotations in a story). Both are firing offenses in journalism. Not so in social media.
  • Good taste (deleting offensive language, slurs and stereotypes from reports). Editors spend hours on some reports, deciding what to disseminate. Not so in social media.
  • Conflicts of interest (reporting on issues for personal gain). Another firing offense in journalism. Not so in social media.
  • The common good (doing the least harm). Editors decide what to share to protect innocent others. Not so in social media.

To think like a journalist, ask yourself:

  • What are the rights in the Bill of Rights?
  • How does freedom of information ensure transparency?
  • What role do media ethics play in ensuring quality journalism?

News vs. Opinion

Now that you are thinking like a journalist, one more thing to keep in mind is the difference between news and opinion:

  • News  informs. Opinion persuades.
  • News is based on multiple  viewpoints. Opinion is based on singular viewpoints.
  • News believes the facts speak for themselves. Opinion believes informed arguments do.
  • News is objective and impersonal. Opinion is subjective and personal.

News formats include:

  • News Report — disseminating facts the public needs to know.
  • News Analysis — interpreting issues and events objectively and impersonally.
  • Special Report — focusing in-depth on an issue, newsmaker or event.
  • Breaking News — covering news events as they happen.
  • Investigative Reporting — disclosing data, documents, and testimony.
  • Poll — surveying the public about issues, newsmakers, attitudes and events.

Opinion formats include:

  • Opinion — a stance about an issue, newsmaker or event.
  • Editorial — the voice of an entire publication, such as a newspaper or television station.
  • Interview — questions and answers featuring a newsmaker or source.
  • Speech — spoken remarks by a newsmaker or source.
  • Comment — statement or post about issues, newsmakers, attitudes and events.

Remember to think like a journalist — so you can make more informed decisions as a citizen. Call out false statements or information on social media and direct friends and family to a trusted news source. Consider learning more about journalism and technology so that you can be a conscientious news consumer.

Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of journalism at Iowa State University of Science and Technology, is the author of Living Media Ethics (Routledge/Taylor & Francis) and Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine (Oxford Univ. Press)

Easy ethics, hard choices

Former president John Quincy Adams. (Submitted photo)

By MICHAEL BUGEJA, Copyright 2020 Iowa Capital Dispatch

Few things in life come with clear, concise and reliable instructions.

Babies do not; they arrive without warning, and you need a library to raise them. Instructions change with each generation. All self-help genres — how to marry, divorce, get well, get rich, get smart, eat better, stay fit — require new editions.

That is not the case with ethics. Want to live them? Here’s how:

  • Distinguish between good and bad, outcomes over which we have little control, versus right and wrong, choices over which we have much control.
  • Foresee short-term versus long-term consequences before making choices.
  • Accept responsibilities for choices, no matter if the outcome is good or bad.
  • See the world as it is rather than through personal filters of self-interest, ego or fear.
  • Apply only as much power as needed to resolve a challenge without creating greater problems or harm to innocent others.

The instructions are ancient. They come from on high, as in the Delphi oracle — where Apollo’s minions gave self-help — and on low, in Plato’s cave. The sages knew them in Asia, Africa and the Americas.

If you live by these instructions, you become a “superior” human being, at least according to the Chinese philosopher Confucius (551-479 BC): “The superior man understands what is right; the inferior man understands what will sell.”

Kind of resonates today, huh?

Perhaps no American leader understood ethics more than John Quincy Adams, sixth president of the United States and son of President John Adams. He tried to do the right thing, promoting human rights, fighting slavery, avoiding war, and affirming natural law — life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

His motto was: “Always vote for principle, though you may vote alone.” So of course he was a one-time president (1825-29).

Nevertheless, he continued his public service as a member of the House of Representatives where he served from 1831 until his death in 1848.

His greatest moment did not happen in the White House but in 1841 as a defense attorney in the Supreme Court. It involved an international incident that ended up on the U.S. shore. Case law here was still evolving, and this one involved slavery.

According to the 1840 census, the U.S. population was 17,069,453, including 2,487,355 slaves, or almost 15% of the country.

Odds were against him.

Some 53 kidnapped Africans on the Spanish slave ship Amistad broke free and killed some crew members, demanding to be returned to their homeland. The crew instead took them to New England, where they were taken into custody.

Adams argued on behalf of the Africans in United States v. The Amistad. He based his defense on the concept of right and wrong. The Africans’ rebellion was justified, he stated, because they had a natural right to be free. They fought for liberty just as Americans did in the Revolution.

According to the court transcript, Adams said:

“When the Amistad first came within the territorial jurisdiction of the United States, acts of violence had passed between the two parties, the Spaniards and Africans on board of her, but on which side these acts were lawless, on which side were the oppressors, was a question of right and wrong.”

And he won the case.

Adams foresaw the civil war before any of his contemporaries. He knew that doing the right thing could end in bad outcomes. In his inaugural address, he acknowledged the challenge of embracing “a Constitution founded upon the republican principle of equal rights,” human rights, justice, “the purity” of elections and “inviolate” freedoms of the press and religious affiliation.

We confront those very issues to this day.

Ethics are easy when nothing is at stake. So much is at stake in the current political environment, including student debt, health care costs, poverty, race relations, climate change, drug addiction, global trade, immigration and budget deficits.

Elected officials may know right from wrong but too often make easy choices in their own self-interest, ignoring long-term consequences and blaming their opponents when outcomes are bad. In doing so, they create greater problems.

That is old news.

We may not be able to solve our continuing problems to everyone’s satisfaction. But we do have instructions on how to do that, if not by our collective vote than by our choices at home, school and work.

We have to live our ethics every day, or they lapse and we relapse. Responsibility takes effort. There are always consequences and new problems. “Try and fail,” John Quincy Adams said, “but don’t fail to try.”

That’s all we can ask of ourselves and our loved ones.

(Michael Bugeja is the author of “Living Media Ethics” and “Interpersonal Divide in the Age of the Machine.”  He is a regular contributor to Iowa Capital Dispatch and is writing a series of columns on the topic of “Living Ethics.”)

Deadly Censorship: China and Coronavirus

Whistlerblower physician Li Wenliang who warned the world about the deadly coronavirus and was punished by police for spreading rumors, died of the disease in Wuhan Central Hospital. He was hailed a hero on the mircoblogging site Weibo, which carried the hashtag #IWantFreedomOfSpeech (now banned). His case shows the dangers of a world without journalism.

In the wake of his death, The Guardian reported “outrage and frustration felt across China over the initial cover-up of the deadly virus.” Some 1.5 billion Weibo users alone expressed their anger and grief on how Dr. Li had been treated.

According to the Guardian, Li was one of eight people detained for spreading rumors about the dangerous disease, with “the fates of the other seven, also believed to be medical professionals,” still unknown.

Government censorship not only silences truth but also often counters with propaganda and misinformation to minimize the impact on policy and national image. An example occurred with the 1986 meltdown of the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in then Soviet Ukraine, which threatened all of Europe. To this day, the death toll from the meltdown has yet to be disclosed but has been estimated between 4,000 and 27,000 people.

The New York Times has reported that China had 20,438 confirmed cases of the disease as of early February. During the SARS outbreak, at this time, it had 5,327 cases.

A pandemic risks the lives of thousands.

Conversely, a free press saves lives. Censorship kills, as history has shown us from Chernobyl to coronavirus. Worse, in the absence of journalism, social media spreads misinformation that scientists have difficulty addressing or correcting. That has led to the term “infodemic,” prompting the World Health Organization to work with tech companies to minimize falsehoods about the coronavirus and other diseases.