Digital technology changes journalism ethics

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Kelly McBride

By Greg Braxton
2013 SFJ Diversity Fellow

ST. PETERSBURG, FLA — Ethics have always been a hallmark of journalism. But the advance of digital technology within newsroom is fueling an ethics revolution.

That was the message behind the session, “Ethics In a Digital Age,” officiated by Kelly McBride, a Poynter Institute faculty member specializing in media ethics.

“Journalism ethics will change,” McBride said during a spirited address during the Society for Features Journalism conference at the institute.

Although independence has been held as one of the pillars of journalism, readers now are valuing transparency over independence, said McBride.

“When we are transparent, then we have the trust that is crucial in a relationship with the audience,” she said. “We have to show people why they should believe, we have to communicate why we are trustworthy.”

It won’t be easy, she said. In the age of Twitter and Facebook, McBride said “it will take years to adopt this habit.”

McBride referenced a 2010 Chicago Tribune photo during a lightning storm when bolts are shown striking the Trump Tower and the Sears building simultaneously. Many who saw the picture thought it was doctored or altered. “People don’t believe stuff now unless you show them why they should believe,” she said.

In the new atmosphere, McBride stressed several principles: Like before, Journalists should seek truth and report it as fully as possible. But now, instead of acting independently, journalists should strive to show how reporting was done, and why people should believe it. She also said that journalists should acknowledge mistakes and errors quickly.

She added that journalists should engage readers in interaction and communication so that more trust is established.

Greg Braxton is a staff writer at the Los Angeles Times. He is one of the 2013 Penny Bender Fuchs Diversity Fellows.

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