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Media Ethics Resources Available via YouTube Channel

Living Media Ethics shares video resources that help students write, create and showcase their values in digital products, procuring top internships and media positions.

Visit this site to access instructional videos about:

Writing Concisely, Accurately and Visually. You will learn how modern languages (German, English, Mandarin) inform the composition process. You’ll also become acquainted with rhetorical terms from creative nonfiction that will make your writing stand out in print or on the web.

Displaying Your Own Ethical Heraldry. If you do not have familial heraldry or, perhaps, would revise the one associated with your surname, you can create your own moral motto and display your personal iconic imagery to help you remember the importance of ethical values at home, school and work.

Creating a Digital Portfolio with Ethics Tab. Any student vying for an internship or first media job should have a digital portfolio. If you add a personal code of ethics, aligned with your profession or dream job, you convey your work ethic as well as your skill sets. This video helps you assemble that WordPress portfolio, step-by-step.

View Sample Digital Portfolios. This video showcases various web pages of student portfolios at Iowa State University media ethics classes. You will find outstanding samples in advertising, journalism (all platforms) and public relations. Students include links to their portfolios on resumes and in social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.).

More resources will be added to this channel in the Fall.

Living Media Ethics is published by Routledge/Taylor & Francis. If you teach media ethics and would like to view a sample copy, visit this link for more information.

Clipped Tweets Foster Stereotypes in Viral Political Age

Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) remarks to the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR)–“Some people did something”–reminds us yet again how clipped remarks out of context can foster stereotypes, even when a speech attempts to dispel them in the Muslim community.  What can media and practitioners do to recognize and minimize fallout?

The Washington Post video above and its coverage of Omar’s March 23rd speech at a CAIR banquet illustrates how a tweet–in and of itself, a “clipped” platform allowing only 280 characters– can ignite viral and inflammatory reactions across platforms, ultimately risking safety of an elected U.S. representative.

The Post article and fact-check discusses the danger of clipped remarks that eventually led to tens of thousands of retweets and likes, prompting Brian Kilmeade of “Fox and Friends” to state: “You have to wonder if she’s an American first.”

Here is the paragraph upon which tweets were based, with an error on Omar’s part about the founding of CAIR (1994, not after 9/11):

“Here’s the truth. For far too long we have lived with the discomfort of being a second-class citizen and, frankly, I’m tired of it, and every single Muslim in this country should be tired of it. CAIR was founded after 9/11 because they recognized that some people did something and that all of us were starting to lose access to our civil liberties. So you can’t just say that today someone is looking at me strange and that I am trying to make myself look pleasant. You have to say that this person is looking at me strange, I am not comfortable with it, and I am going to talk to them and ask them why. Because that is the right you have.”

Omar spokesperson Jeremy Slevin later acknowledged that the Congresswoman erred and meant to state that CAIR doubled in size after the 9/11 attacks. That error illustrates that facts are important in political communication just as they are in journalism.

The media and social media attention to the clipped remarks intensified when President Donald Trump tweeted “WE WILL NEVER FORGET!”

That prompted House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to consult with the Sergeant at Arms to ensure that Omar’s safety is assessed because of threats to her and her family, according to CNN and other news reports.

The escalating situation is a reminder that Twitter, in particular, is rife with stereotypes and that journalists and public relations practitioners have an ethical obligation to depict situations accurately and be proactively as soon as stereotypes go viral.

A recent “reverse stereotype” study showed that the gender, age and political orientation can be discerned by a big data sample of a person’s text-language use on Twitter (no photos, videos, etc.):

  • Gender: 76% of the guesses were correct.
  • Age: 69% predicted ‘younger than 24 vs. older than 24’ correctly
  • Political orientation: 82% judged liberal vs. conservative correctly.

The study also showed that big data was of no help ascertaining the educational level of users, with only “45.5% judged correctly out of three choices—no bachelor’s degree, bachelor’s degree, and advanced degree.”

To be sure, people of all educational levels are capable of using stereotypical speech.

Living Media Ethics has a chapter on stereotypes with advice for advertisers, journalists and PR practitioners. Here’s an excerpt that includes content about resisting stereotypes adapted from guidelines by the Center for Integration and Improvement of Journalism:

  • Apply consistent guidelines when identifying people by race, sex, social class or other such category. Are the terms considered offensive? Ask individual sources how they wish to be identified and also consult with a supervisor, if appropriate.
  • Strive to present an accurate and full report to your readers, viewers, listeners, clients and customers.
  • Don’t overemphasize issues. For example, overemphasizing crime can perpetuate stereotypes, especially if minorities are depicted as the perpetrators.
  • Do cover a variety of stories about minorities, not just those related to race, and depict or quote minorities in non-race related photographs, advertisements, illustrations and campaigns.
  • Find out how issues affect different segments of society.
  • Expand your contact lists. Include minorities who can provide authoritative opinions for a variety of subjects.

Detective to Discuss Case of Subway Pitchman Jared Fogle

Indiana State Police Detective Kevin Getz, a former journalism student of Living Media Ethics author Michael Bugeja, will visit classes at Iowa State University on Wednesday to discuss his role in the 2015 arrest of Subway pitchman Jared Fogle on child pornography charges.

Indiana State Police Detective Kevin Getz will present a case study to Iowa State students in Media Ethics and in Technology and Social Change, exploring investigative methods and forensic analysis in the arrest of former Subway spokesman Jared Fogle and former Jared Foundation Executive Director Russell Taylor.

Getz will discuss details of the arrest, including how he and other authorities prevented additional crimes that led to the rescue of 14 children.

In 2014, Getz was contacted by a woman whom Taylor had befriended, sharing text messages with her containing disturbing sexual content. The woman decided to contact authorities when Taylor asked if he could send her child pornography.

Based on those messages, Getz and other authorities arrested Taylor who was sentenced to 27 years in prison.

That arrest eventually led Getz and authorities to Fogle, sentenced to 15 years in prison on charges associated with child pornography and sexual conduct involving minors.

Living Media Ethics contains sections on the concept of justice and the media’s role in informing society about crimes against children and others. Here’s an excerpt about the importance of justice as the highest philosophical goal of culture and community:

Justice is the byproduct of the fairness process. When performed impartially, the end result of fairness restores balance, makes things whole, sets things right. Many philosophers, not to mention media professionals, believe that life is unfair; truth, relative; and objectivity, impossible. But they still embrace justice whose roots trace back to Aristotle who professed that justice was the preeminent objective for humankind because our cultures and communities are inherently social.

Living Media Ethics also includes content on how corporate practitioners deal with crisis management, such as Subway had to contend with in the aftermath of Fogle’s arrest. The book advises spokespersons to exercise objectivity in learning facts of a crisis and to consider fairness to all parties in any public response.

Detective Getz will discuss how journalists and Subway corporate headquarters dealt with the Fogle affair.

Getz is a 1990 graduate of Ohio University’s Scripps School of Journalism. He joined the Indiana State Police in 1993. He also served in the Criminal Investigation Division before his current assignment with the Indiana Crimes Against Children Unit. Getz and his wife Deborah have three children, Elizabeth, Thomas and Katie. Thomas Getz is a sophomore studying civil engineering at Iowa State.

Iowa State Alumna to Describe Experience Covering Execution

Danielle Ferguson, Sioux Falls Argus Leader reporter, will return to campus April 1 to relate her experience as a pool reporter covering the execution last year of Rodney Berget. She is pictured here (left/center with phone) as student editor upon being informed the Iowa State Daily was named “best in the country” in the 2015 Mark of Excellence competition.

Danielle Ferguson was a senior at McCook Central High School in Salem, S.D., in 2011 when Rodney Berget was implicated in the fatal beating of prison guard Ronald Johnson at the South Dakota State Penitentiary. Berget at the time was serving a life sentence for attempted murder and kidnapping. He and a fellow inmate, Eric Robert, failed in their escape attempt. Robert was executed in 2012.

By Oct. 29, 2018, Ferguson already had graduated Iowa State’s Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication, working for two years as a crime reporter for the Sioux Falls Argus Leader.

In this account, published in the Argus Leader, Ferguson describes her demeanor as media witness covering the execution of 56-year-old Berget:

I’m not here to tell you about my individual thoughts on the death penalty or the justice system. My objective is to share my experience of what happened to give you a look into the process. Journalists as “pool reporters” have a unique responsibility in executions. We must serve as witnesses for the public and rest of the media.  … I was aware of my role and prepared to carry it out.

To prepare for her visit, students in Iowa State’s Media Ethics class were asked to read up on capital punishment and to view these charts from the fact sheet provided by the Death Penalty Information Center.

This chart documents the number of executions in the United States since 1976 when the death penalty was reinstated after a four-year hiatus during which the U.S. Supreme Court commuted death sentences to life imprisonment.

This chart documents the race of those executed and the race of victims in death penalty cases.

The Information Center also reports that some 160 people have been exonerated since 1973 because of new evidence in their cases. Between 1973-1999, that represented about three exonerations per year. Between 2000-2011, the average rose to five exonerations per year.

The Center publishes other statistics associated with capital punishment, including the methods used since 1976:

  • 1316 Lethal Injection
  • 160 Electrocution
  • 11 Gas Chamber
  • 3 Hanging
  • 3 Firing Squad

As of 2017, 53 women were on death row, less than 2% of that demographic, with 16 executed since 1976.

Living Media Ethics advises reporters and editors on coverage of executions. Reporters are expected to mask their emotions, although some have cried or become nauseated. Some suffered short-term psychological trauma.

Reporters who serve as media witnesses should follow these guidelines, drawn from several online sources:

    • Fill notebooks with everything, no matter how insignificant it seems. Details in execution stories are important for the public to know.
    • Don’t forget to mention key points in your execution story: the crime, the victim, the victim’s family and the trial. The murder may have taken place 10 or 15 years earlier. Track everyone down before the execution.
    • Record family and victim reactions during the execution.
    • You will have to tell others, as a source, what you witnessed as pool reporter.
    • Ask for downtime after the coverage. If you need counseling, get it.

The Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma notes that young journalists like Ferguson “will often encounter violence among their first reporting experiences,” risking  Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder lasting a month or more.

The U.S. Department of Veteran Affairs has posted an article titled “Journalists and PTSD,” noting the assumption that “journalists are not permanently impacted by the events they cover” and that they are “somehow immune to the reverberating impact of the human suffering they witness.” The article also challenges the convention that reporters “would be thought of as weak and less capable than his or her colleagues” if they acknowledged their emotions in covering events such as executions.

The article cites research about coping behaviors, including seeking help, writing about the experience, accepting support from other journalists and taking advantage of resources offered by the Dart Center.

Investigative journalism sheds light on Boeing MAX 8 crashes

Over-reliance on technology and questionable FAA oversight were linked to two crashes that killed more than 300 people. The second crash occurred 11 days after the Seattle Times questioned Boeing about safety flaws.


Technology was not only suspect in the failure of two Boeing 737 MAX 8 aircraft; it also played a role in pilot training.

In the “Today” video above, pilots reportedly received training in a 56-minute online iPad lesson about an aircraft whose faulty software also was suspected in causing the crashes of the Lion Air in October and Ethiopian Airlines earlier this month.

Worse, some pilots were not informed about certain safety software systems installed on their planes. According to Politico, U.S. pilots had complained at least five times about controlling the aircraft during critical stages of flight.

A particular distressing factor in the two crashes concerned additional safety features that required a pricey upgrade in airlines purchasing the MAX 8, according to the New York Times: “As the pilots of the doomed Boeing jets in Ethiopia and Indonesia fought to control their planes, they lacked two notable safety features in their cockpits. One reason: Boeing charged extra for them.”

The Times noted that upgrades typically do not involve safety–more bathrooms, for instance; in the aftermath of the crashes, Boeing will not charge extra for one of those features, in an attempt to get the MAX 8 airborne again.

Eleven days before the second crash, Seattle Times reporter Dominic Gates had informed Boeing about questions concerning the power of the flight control system, designed to push the nose of the aircraft down to avert a stall. He had also learned a system reset function that could override a pilot’s response, causing the plane’s nose to keep pushing downward.

His investigative report also disclosed failed oversight by the Federal Aviation Administration:

The FAA, citing lack of funding and resources, has over the years delegated increasing authority to Boeing to take on more of the work of certifying the safety of its own airplanes.

His report illustrates the importance of fact-based journalism in a case where common sense–a distinctly human trait–was overridden by machines. This applies not only to inadequate online training, especially on tablets with insistent pinging and notifications, but also to the FAA that allowed the MAX 8 to fly after the Ethiopian Airlines crash.

One aircraft falling from the skies might have gotten the FAA’s attention; a second similar craft doing the exact same thing–pilots struggling to aright their jet–should have set off alarms.

Nevertheless, the FAA initially didn’t act after countries around the globe had grounded the MAX 8 after the second crash. This might have occurred because the Administration is “data-driven” and data from the black box of the Ethiopian Airlines crash was not immediately available.

In an interview with NPR, Peter Goelz, former managing director of the National Transportation Safety Board, said “the FAA has really prided itself on being a data-driven organization, that they don’t make ad hoc decisions” on “anecdotal evidence.” He added, the FAA has “a close working and regulatory relationship with Boeing.”

That relationship may be too close. Last week the FBI opened a criminal investigation into the certification of the Boeing 737 MAX 8.

Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) has sections on the influence of technology on perception as well as the importance of investigative journalism in holding government and business accountable.

That’s precisely what the Seattle Times did in its Boeing investigation.


UPDATE: Smollett charges dropped amid calls to investigate prosecutor’s office

Indictments against Jussie Smollett have been dismissed. Chicago police and mayor  insist Smollett perpetuated a hoax. In light of this continuing saga, how should media cover hate and hoaxes? Living Ethics presents some guidelines.

On March 8, a grand jury delivered 16 felony indictments against “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett in an alleged hate-crime hoax involving two men who purportedly beat the actor while making homophobic and racial slurs. On Tuesday, the prosecutor dropped all charges stating it reviewed the case, considered his volunteer service and took into account that Smollett was willing to forfeit his $10,000 bond.

The Chicago Police Union is calling for a federal investigation into whether State Attorney Kim Foxx was involved in the decision to dismiss charges. CNN used an open records request that revealed a friend of the Smollett family, attorney Tina Tchen, former chief of staff for first lady Michelle Obama and a lawyer, contacted Foxx last month.

Smollett, an African-American gay man, told police in late January that two men put a noose on his neck and doused him with liquid, claiming he was in “MAGA country,” a reference to President Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan, according to the New York Times.

Smollett used the occasion of the dropped charges to continue to affirm his innocence, claiming he was exonerated.

For weeks now, the media have covered this case, emphasizing the hoax rather than the harm of hate crimes, which have risen 17 percent in the past year.

To balance coverage in the aftermath of the Smollett case, journalists should:

  1. Add content in hoax reports about the damage such lies do to legitimate causes involving diversity, identity, inclusion and equity.
  2. Document wasted resources on hoaxes and where those funds might have gone to deal with legitimate community concerns.
  3. Report safety concerns sparked by hate crimes and hoaxes, following up on any related incidents or protests. 
  4. Provide updates on hate crime statistics, including localized stories about any uptick or downturn.
  5. Craft human-interest and multimedia stories to highlight the harm of hate and courage of hate’s survivors and families.
  6. Investigate organizations, affiliations and people perpetuating hate as well as efforts to confront such groups and individuals.
  7. Cover court cases in which offenders have been charged with such crimes, following up on indictments, appeals and verdicts.
  8. Do service journalism about resources for and legal rights of survivors of hate crimes.
  9. Cover schools and universities that support or neglect issues associated with diversity, identity, inclusion and equity along with publicizing resources and pertinent policies.
  10. Continue efforts to diversify newsrooms as well as access coverage for and service to under-represented groups.

These tips will become more important in weeks to come as the Smollett saga intensifies with court appearances.

The case against Smolett went viral when Eddie Johnson, Chicago police chief, held a news conference criticizing the actor. Johnson also referenced the news media, wishing families of gun violence received that much attention:

“Why would anyone, especially an African American man, use the symbolism of a noose to make false accusations? How could someone look at the hatred and suffering associated with that symbol and see an opportunity to manipulate that symbol to further his own public profile? … I only hope the truth about what happened receives the same amount of attention the hoax did.”

Johnson’s wish was granted. News of the hoax has been intense with Smollett’s attorneys proclaiming his innocence. Now with 16 new indictments for disorderly conduct, coverage will escalate, competing with reports about China tariffs, North Korea negotiations, Mexican border walls and the Mueller investigation about Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Even more concerning, the news media may not fully balance the record with reports about hate crimes, especially race-related ones and attacks on the LGBTQ+ community.

Hate crimes continue to rise, according to the FBI’s latest report, with 8,493 offenses, including spikes associated with race and sexual orientation, upon which Smollett based his report to police. Crimes against African-Americans and gay men led both categories.

Living Media Ethics (Routledge 2019) dedicates a chapter to bias and identity. Here’s the abstract:

BIAS: Recognize and Resist It   

This chapter inquires whether you are actually acknowledging diversity in your online and interpersonal activities. Statistics are presented showing that the United States is becoming increasingly diverse. Even so, advertising, journalism and public relations may not be realizing those population trends in news coverage and campaigns. Experts and professionals from across platforms share personal accounts that concern the specter of bias in newsrooms, agencies and organizations. As in other chapters, the history of media bias is recounted, including proactive documents such as the 1947 Hutchins and 1968 Kerner reports. Methods to diversify mass communications and create inclusive content are cited along with challenges of doing so. In that respect, stereotypes are explored extensively, with recommendations to identify and resist them. End-of-chapter personal and communal journal exercises probe lessons and truths that you may have learned—for better or worse about diversity—at home, school and work.

This website will provide updates as occasion arises concerning hoaxes and hate crimes and balanced coverage thereof.

Zuckerberg Resurrects Value of Privacy: Silly Us, We Thought It Was Dead

In 1999, CEO Scott McNealy of Sun Microsystems prophesied the future with this quote: “You have zero privacy anyway. Get over it.” Facebook CEO has tried to get under and around privacy, earning billions in the process. Now he wants to resurrect it, potentially threatening news media business models.


Mark Zuckerberg plans to integrate Facebook, Instagram, WhatsApp and Messenger so that users can text each other across those platforms, creating a “digital living room” whose chief attribute would be privacy.

In a lengthy blog post, Zuckerberg wrote:

As I think about the future of the internet, I believe a privacy-focused communications platform will become even more important than today’s open platforms. Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.

He laid out this vision:

  • Private interactions. People should have simple, intimate places where they have clear control over who can communicate with them and confidence that no one else can access what they share.
  • Encryption. People’s private communications should be secure. End-to-end encryption prevents anyone — including us — from seeing what people share on our services.
  • Reducing Permanence. People should be comfortable being themselves, and should not have to worry about what they share coming back to hurt them later. So we won’t keep messages or stories around for longer than necessary to deliver the service or longer than people want them.
  • Safety. People should expect that we will do everything we can to keep them safe on our services within the limits of what’s possible in an encrypted service.
  • Interoperability. People should be able to use any of our apps to reach their friends, and they should be able to communicate across networks easily and securely.
  • Secure data storage. People should expect that we won’t store sensitive data in countries with weak records on human rights like privacy and freedom of expression in order to protect data from being improperly accessed.

The New York Times analyzed these functions, noting that they were proposed following years of privacy invasion and scandal.

Foreign agents from countries like Russia have used Facebook to publish disinformation, in an attempt to sway elections. Some communities have used Facebook Groups to strengthen ideologies around issues such as anti-vaccination. And firms have harvested the material that people openly shared for all manner of purposes, including targeting advertising and creating voter profiles.

The Columbia Journalism Review speculated on a motive for Zuckerberg resurrecting privacy as a core value, questioning whether “hateful or violent content will soon appear in private rather than public messages,” meaning the company no longer would be liable in any privacy-invasion litigation. “The latter question has already come up in India, where much of the violence driven by WhatsApp has been fueled by messages posted in private groups.”

The magazine also noted that these new steps to secure privacy for users might impact journalism, affecting distribution of news and data-mining through social media, a continuous Facebook surveillance and selling feature. That threatens ad revenue, especially since media business models have been built around Facebook’s algorithms.

Living Media Ethics has long advocated that Facebook pay subsidies to the news industry because its users disseminate content without adequate payment or subscription.

The new edition (Routledge, 2019) also blames Facebook for disseminating fake news as avidly as fact-based journalism, threatening democracy because fewer people cipher real from fabricated reports. Here’s an excerpt:

Social media, especially Facebook, has become the primary disseminator of false news reports, prompting the company and to partner in an attempt to flag fabricated “news.” The initiative was triggered by false news during the 2016 presidential campaign.[1] recommends that reporters and viewers consider the source of information, read content carefully before jumping to conclusions, and verify the reputation of the author or group disseminating stories.

FactCheck cites these warning signs:

  • Did a reader or viewer send you a tip and social media link based on a bias that you both may share or that your media outlet has supported in the past?
  • Is the headline or title of a report sensationalized with content about what might occur hypothetically if a sequence of events takes place?
  •  Is the content of an alleged news report undated or based on events that might have happened in the past, falsely depicted as happening in the present?