Students in Professor Raymond McCaffrey’s Spring 2020 Ethics in Journalism class at the University of Arkansas met for the last time together in Kimpel Hall on March 12. As they followed instructions about plans to cease face-to-face meetings and go to online instruction, the students received an email from university officials officially announcing the move to remote learning.
In the weeks since then, the more than 30 students have spread out from one coast of the country to the other, from Maryland to California, some of them staying around Fayetteville while others have moved to be with friends, family and loved ones throughout Arkansas and in places such as Memphis, Dallas, Kansas City, and Norman.
They have felt the course of their lives changes with each passing day. Despite keeping track of the news coverage of the pandemic, they are consumed by the same questions as many Americans. Can they get the virus and not notice any symptoms? If they get the virus and recover, can they get it again? They worry about their parents, particularly those who might be susceptible to the harshest effects of the coronavirus because they have pre-existing health conditions.
And then there are the economic hardships facing their families – one student has already had a parent laid off from work. They worry about what that economic fallout might mean for them, especially the seniors who are planning to graduate soon and are looking for work in much more fragile job market.
One in four have had an internship or longer-term job fall through. They have seen the same happen to their friends. The ones who have found work are grateful because they see so many others around them who are struggling. Some see staying in school as a source of hope, knowing that they will have an opportunity to learn and hone the skills they will need for a new economy that has yet to reveal itself.
Despite a steady news diet that some agree has become excessive, certainty is not in great supply. Envisioning the future is a challenge. They would like there to be a sense that things are more under control. They would like things to get back to normal, though there is also a sense that that is not going to happen anytime soon, if at all. They wonder what the long-term changes will be in a culture that has changed so amazingly fast.
There is also a sense of appreciation for those who are on the front lines of the fight against the pandemic: not just the doctors and nurses and health-care workers, but the people who help produce the food they eat and put it on the grocery-store shelves where they shop. Might there be a move by more people to work for the greater good of society?
And, finally, they have considered journalism ethics in real-time, not just a subject outlined in their textbooks, and its importance in a democratic society in crisis.
Question of the day and Online Poll Results 04/28/20
Question of the Day:
For today’s poll, on polleverywhere.com, we will consider a very important area of journalism coverage during the global pandemic. How do you think journalists have done in terms of covering the pandemic in a way that they are showing sensitivity when interviewing those affected? (Sensitivity is important whether you are interviewing someone in-person, by phone, or other means. As usual, I will delve into this topic more fully in today’s virtual lecture.)
Here’s the question: As far as meeting journalism ethics standards that demand sensitivity when interviewing individuals directly affected by a breaking news story, I would give the overall news coverage of the global pandemic the following grade:
I think that as far as meeting ethical standards when interviewing individuals directly about the global pandemic, journalists are doing a good job. I feel as though their interview questions are sensitive to the people’s needs and they are getting their points across accurately.
I would give the overall coverage a rating of average. I personally haven’t seen any interviews that seem too prying. I have seen more interviews talking to nurses, which still needs to be delicate, but not as much with those who have lost family. Most news I have seen won’t even mention the name of those who are sick or died which I think is the correct case in this situation. This event is especially interesting because there is no one who isn’t in some way being affecting. Unlike a natural disaster or community crisis this event is relevant to everyone alive.
As far as meeting journalism ethics standards that demand sensitivity when interviewing individuals directly affected by a breaking news story, I would give the overall news coverage of the global pandemic the following grade: B+ because I think most people I’ve seen interviewed are happy and relieved their symptoms are over, not annoyed or frustrated by being interviewed. I feel like the majority of interviews I’ve seen online or on news channels have been uplifting and encouraging more than filled with negativity.
I believe as journalists we have an important responsibility to practice ethical standards in general, but especially in times such as these when the events going on in the world are possibly closer to home. It is important to protect the public’s right-to-know, but it is equally important to protect people’s privacy, especially in the case of medical situations. Medical records are one of the only exclusions to the Freedom of Information Act, which I feel gives patients the right to not want reporters to make their medical story public. I feel like the reporters that have been on the front lines telling the heartbreaking and triumphant stories of COVID-19 patients have done a great job of respecting their sources privacy while giving the public the information they deserve.
Katie Beth Nichols
In terms of covering the pandemic journalist have been generally sensitive when covering something like this. I think it is important for journalist to show sensitivity in a time like this because millions are being affected by it one way or another. Most of the interviews are being made via phone call and video calls. I find this interesting because now journalist have to be able to convey their sincerity and sensitivity over the phone or video. I think this pandemic can teach journalists how to show sensitivity even when they are not face to face with someone.
Online Poll Question:
For today’s poll, on polleverywhere.com, we will consider a very important area of journalism coverage during the global pandemic.
Here’s the question: As far as meeting journalism ethics standards that demand sensitivity when interviewing individuals directly affected by a breaking news story, I would give the overall news coverage of the global pandemic the following grade: Excellent, Good, Average, Below Average, or Failing.
Virtual Lecture from Professor McCaffrey: April 23, 2020
Today’s lecture will shift back to looking at the business side of journalism during the global pandemic. We will delve into the state of the journalism business for those hoping to enter the field.
As I mentioned in our poll question, we have seen how economic pressures have affected the industry, especially the part concentrated on producing local news. Hopefully, we have learned that journalists at least hypothetically stand a better chance of meeting ethical standards when they have the financial support to concentrate on their journalistic mission. And a crucial part of a healthy news industry involves being able to enlist new generations of journalists to join in that greater mission.
Here’s a link to some Poynter Institute stories about how journalists and journalism educators are responding to the economic developments that have resulted in a reduction in internships and jobs available for students.
The Poynter Institute is also offering a free online seminar for students and others looking for jobs and other opportunities in the business.
Here is a link to a Chronicle of Higher Education story about efforts to help students.
Here’s a report from one journalism school that is engaged in a novel response to supporting the journalism industry during the crisis.
The news business is not the only industry struggling. Here are some links to news stories about how the changing economy is affecting employment in other industries.
Summer Internships Won’t Be the Same This Year, The New York Times
For the Class of 2020, a Job-Eating Virus Recall the Great Recession by David Yaffe-Bellany and Jaclyn Peiser, The New York Times
College students’ future jobs take a big hit by Neal Rothchild, Axios
One can view these stories like ones about the virus itself. Stories that give us accurate and timely information might be alarming, but they can also help outline the formulation of a path to a better future.
Question of the Day and Online Poll Results 04/23/20
Question of the Day: For today’s poll, on polleverywhere.com, we will shift back to looking at the business side of journalism during the global pandemic. We have seen how economic pressures have affected the industry, especially the part concentrated on producing local news. And hopefully we have learned that journalists hypothetically stand a better chance of meeting ethical standards when they have the financial support to concentrate on their journalistic mission. A crucial part of that business is enlisting new generations of journalists to join in that greater mission.
Today’s lecture will delve into the state of the journalism business for those hoping to enter the field. This poll will seek to find out how our changing economy is affecting your search for a job or internship. For the purposes of this poll, I would like to hear about whatever job search you have been conducting: in journalism, advertising-public relations, or some other field. As always, I will be fielding extended comments by e-mail.
Here’s the question. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, my employment prospects have:
Since the onset of the virus, my employment prospects remain in the planning stages as I concentrate on completing school. This upcoming fall, I will be getting my master’s at the University of Arkansas, so I haven’t had too many employment prospects.
The coronavirus has hurt my job prospects economically. I was in the final rounds of an internship for this summer that was cancelled. I was extremely lucky however to receive a different internship offer. This internship is in the marketing and sales field and will be done almost entirely online. I was hoping to work the job I had last summer, being a ziplinee tour guide, again this summer, but they are currently closed because of the pandemic. I feel lucky to be able to make any money this summer even if I will lose some of the experience that an in-person internship would have given me. I am excited for my internship this summer and so glad I am able to do it remotely from Kansas as I have many friends who have lost their internships.
I think it is safe to say that every industry is being affected economically by the pandemic besides grocery stores and liquor stores. My internship this summer is at a summer camp and is unrelated to journalism. However, they still haven’t made a call as to whether camp is still happening or not. So as of now, I still have my internship, but who knows what will happen. As for a journalism job, I still haven’t received an offer for anything in the fall and my expectations are low of whether I will get a job or not. Stay tuned!
Earlier this semester, I got into the Journalism/Communications track of The Fund For American Studies. I would have taken a class at George Mason, stayed in the George Washington dorms, and been matched with an internship at an outlet in D.C. A few weeks ago, the program was moved to a virtual, remote one for obvious reasons. The internship director said he thought he could still find me a virtual internship with some outlet, but he wasn’t able to find me anything prior to the date by which I needed to decide whether to do the program or get a full refund. I decided I couldn’t risk not getting an internship at all after spending thousands in tuition and program fees just to take an online class I can’t even get credit for here. I realized that in these times, the more prudent thing for me to do would be to try and work for money this summer. I have been interviewed for another (paid) summer internship, but the outlet has no idea yet when they will be able to start it. All they know is that they will not be able to start in June.
I selected “Remained the same – I have a longer-term job lined up” because luckily I found a job since I’ve been home from school. I started applying and interviewing as soon as the pandemic became such a large concern nationwide and have found a job with an IT staffing company in Northwest Arkansas. To my benefit, most Northwest Arkansas companies need additional IT efforts currently since so much consuming is being done online. This makes my future company’s workload more than usual, causing them to need more manpower. I feel very grateful to have found a job with everything going on because I know a lot of people who are struggling to find something during this time.
The coronavirus has not only affected me in terms of prospective internships, it has also affected many of my friends. Most of my friends could not find internships and those who could were cancelled other than one of my friends, and hers was simply moved to online work. However, I believe that in such a special circumstance, this issue and inability to work in an internship capacity will not set us back in terms of job opportunities in the future. I believe it gives us as students time to develop and sharpen skills needed for the workforce, or to take classes needed for our majors, etc. I believe in the end things will work out for those of us in college, although we are not necessarily working with internships this year.
Katie Beth Nichols
Today’s poll hit home for me. I previously had five interviews for internships all across the country for this summer. Last summer I interned at KNWA/Fox24 in Fayetteville, and this was going to be my chance to see what it is like to be a journalist outside the state that I have lived my entire life. When the pandemic hit many of my prospects cancelled the programs before I even heard back. I am devastated and battling with how to continue my development without an internship this summer.
For today’s poll, on polleverywhere.com, we will shift back to looking at the business side of journalism during the global pandemic.
For the purposes of this poll, I would like to hear about whatever job search you have been conducting: in journalism, advertising-public relations, or some other field. As always, I will be fielding extended comments by e-mail.
Here’s the question. Since the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, my employment prospects have:
(A) Remained the same – I have an internship lined up
(B) Remained the same – I have a longer-term job lined up
(C) Changed – I have had an internship fall through
(D) Changed – I have had a longer-term job fall through
(E) Remained in flux – I have been unable to find an internship or long-term job
(F) Remained in the planning stages as I concentrate on completing school
Virtual Lecture from Professor McCaffrey: April 21, 2020
Looking for some good news? Sometimes reporters are asked by sources if the story that they are working on is going to be a positive or negative one. A polite answer might be that journalists don’t try to write good or bad stories, just fair and accurate ones.
By now, I hope you know what I mean by that. If we look at the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code, we are just trying to balance the mandate to “Seek Truth and Report It” with the need to “Minimize Harm.” Sometimes we can’t control whether the story is seen as good or bad; but we can work our best to make sure it is fair and accurate.
That is not to say that news outlets should not be conscious of producing a diverse mix of stories, especially while covering a serious and tragic global pandemic. You recently might have come across stories that have been inspiring: tales of people stepping forward to help others in large and small ways. Other stories might seem trivial by comparison, but they serve an important purpose as well: primers on how to make a protective mask or cut your own hair or decorate your home office before a video conference call. Some might view these stories as “good news,” though media outlets generally view them as part of a balanced report. (It’s why newspapers traditionally have sections devoted to subjects such as sports and entertainment.)
That said, the pandemic has brought with it a more conscious attempt to provide people with news that has been advertised as being explicitly “good.”
Take a look at this New York Times story about this trend.
Some mainstream news outlets have joined this effort. Are there ethical concerns about producing this kind of news? The Poynter Institute weighs in on the ramifications of this phenomenon.
What do you think about this trend? It’s the topic of today’s poll.