News and Entertainment: Ethical Dimensions

Guest Post by: Emma Petit, Student


Sometimes our generation has difficulty distinguishing the difference between hard news and entertainment news. Therefore, finding truth in reporting is becoming increasingly more difficult.

Major events today are not only covered by major sources of “hard news” such as CNN or ABC. We are exposed to information by other sources including infotainment channels and documentary films. Can we always expect to be presented with truth and facts? Sources outside the realm of hard news are not always held to the same ethical standards as traditional outlets. Therefore, the validation of facts and reporting accuracy standards are not necessarily existent at the same level.

The case of the Malaysian plane crash is an example of this widespread and controversial reporting of “facts” and “news”. The event was covered by numerous outlets, coming from many different perspectives. Each have very different motivations, goals, and loyalties when providing information.

The case of the Malaysian plane crash is an example of this widespread and controversial reporting of “facts” and “news”. The event was covered by numerous outlets, coming from many different perspectives. Each have very different motivations, goals, and loyalties when providing information.

G PetitHard news, for example, is concerned with giving accurate, up-to-date, factual information. CNN, Fox, ABC, and the New York Times (to name a few who covered the story) each reported in a similar manner. We knew the who, what, when, where, why, and how, after just a few minutes of reading or watching the coverage. When reporting on the missing flight, the audience was immediately presented with facts and relevant updates. We could keep up with the status of the search through these up-to-date reports.

Infotainment news channels, on the other hand, took on a different approach. Although “real” news exists as the basis for the information, it comes across as either satirical, entertaining, or amusing. Infotainment programs are coming under heavy criticism by some “fact seekers” as a result of this approach. Rather than making their number one aim to provide the facts, we are presented with more opinion oriented news. In the case of the missing Malaysian flight, many sources reported in a humorous light; even going as far as making jokes about the event. On the negative extreme, infotainment channels can been seen as unethical, biased in their reporting, and in violation of the journalistic code of ethics. Yet, with such high ratings and a large following, can they be blamed for they way they tell stories? After all, we are the ones making these channels popular.

Documentary films as news sources bring up another dimension of ethical debate. Is an intentionally dramatic portrayal of an event ethically acceptable as a form of news? In my opinion, documentaries as a means of
creating awareness for social issues is important and necessary. If the aim is to expose people to an event or issue, visual communication is often times the most effective way to spark interest and discussion. In the highly stimulated and image-dense world we live in today, we need to be entertained or told a story in a memorable way in order to keep information top-of-mind. Traditional news sources are falling behind in this realm. Documentary film makers have to keep in mind that, as a result of this trend, they must hold ethical standards in order to maintain their credibility as a form of news.

While there is still a line between hard news and infotainment, current media trends are blurring the distinction between the two. Entertainment and traditional news sources have undeniably been merging together in the past couple of years. We, as constant consumers of information, have to be even more aware where we can place our trust in obtaining information. Just as we expect media outlets to uphold their ethical standards and stay true to their loyalties, we too have to think critically and seek out the truth for ourselves. 

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Infotainment: Is it a Trustworthy Source?

Guest Post by: Olivia Underdah, Student.

In today’s media driven society we have a million options when it comes to where we get out information, but which ones can we truly trust?  Infotainment, or media that is works to both entertain and inform, is now a key aspect of our world allowing viewers to gain “information” in a new and exciting format.  The problem with infotainment is that it’s not a true news show, so the standards of accuracy and fact-checking are not necessarily in place.  So how reliable is the information you gain from these pseudo-news outlets?

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The entertainment aspect is most certainly present in shows like The Colbert Report or The Daily Show, and yes the clips they use are often excerpts from real news outlets, but the whole premise of the show is based upon satire.  Yet, this is still a main source of news for a significant amount of people; this is surely something worth noting.  This then poses a different question, should these types of shows have a more structured method when it comes to fact checking?  With so many people taking this information at face value maybe there should be a system of accuracy in place.

Then you get into shows such as Cops or America’s Most Wanted, which give us the idea that we are seeing real action unfold or helping in catching a criminal, which is not completely false, but their main purpose is to entertain and make money.  They blend the facts in with cheap entertainment, and often manipulate the situation, because once again, they are not claiming to be a real news source.  With all this freedom to “entertain” while they inform a lot of real information may be lost, or altered, but the ratings still soar, people still watch and networks still make a great deal of profit.

This area of the media is one full of blurred lines, and pseudo-truths that are extremely hard to regulate.  Infotainment is a great source of cheap income, but not a source that we should use as our only means of gaining information.  Yes, they contain some factual information, but how much?  We need to be the watchdogs, it is our responsibility as media consumers to know where our information is coming from, and not place our trust in just anyone.  Until there is some sort of system in place to regulate these programs we need to be careful with how much faith put in them as credible news sources.

Why Snowden?

Guest Post by: Julie Posh, Aspiring Advertiser & Designer

Edward Snowden: traitor or patriot? It’s a question posed countless times since he leaked government documents in June 2013. But there’s another interesting question that’s asked less frequently: why was Snowden the first to share this information?

Of all the people that were a part of the National Security Agency (NSA), or Booz Allen Hamilton (the NSA contractor Snowden worked for) or other government agencies in the know, Edward Snowden was the first to blow the whistle.

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Few citizens I hear disagree with Snowden’s actions. Many people believe he’s a hero. So why didn’t anyone else make the same move?

A compelling answer develops when we consider the case through Mays’ ethical frame of competing loyalties. There are four sources of loyalty in this frame: shared humanity, profession, employment and media in public life.

These competing loyalties are no doubt a huge factor in preventing people from leaking information like this. Sure, they know it’s “bad” or “unethical.” But they also feel a sense of loyalty to their job, their employers, even their own sense of professionalism.

Edward Snowden is a unique case. The sole reason Snowden sought out his job with the NSA contractor was to gather evidence of spying. This essentially negates the potential loyalties to profession or employer.

Everything Snowden did, he did out of loyalty to his fellow Americans. He said, “America is a fundamentally good country. We have good people with good values who want to do the right thing.” He loves his country, just not his government.

As far as media goes, although Snowden was not a journalist, he certainly utilized the media’s role in public life to spread his message. Mays suggests that this type of loyalty often drives people to “serve as a mirror of society.” Snowden’s actions could certainly be seen as mirroring a truth that was as of yet unknown to the society he wished to protect. Once again, therefore, this loyalty to the media comes out of his loyalty to other people and does not compete against it.

Loyalty plays perhaps a greater role in our ethical decisions than we would care to admit. Of course we all like to think that we live by utilitarian ideals, doing what’s best for the greatest number of people. But what about our bosses? The jobs that put food on the table? Our friends or family? Loyalty can twist us in so many directions that eventually we become immobile.

Snowden was able to move because his loyalty was so clearly defined and unchallenged. Other potential informants were not so single-minded. Does that mean he did the right thing? There’s no objective answer we can give. But if you asked Snowden himself, he would label himself a patriot. Guaranteed.

CEO Compensation

Today in class we discussed loyalty. As we talked about the case of Whole Foods, where two co-CEOs run the company, the intersection of money and fairness came up. The co-CEOs are part of a seven person executive team, all of whom earn the same salary. Their salaries are 19 times the average wage of a full-time worker. That lead to a discussion about the ethics of the growing salary gap between workers and CEOs and what media professionals might do. According to The Globalist  the U.S. has the greatest disparity – far larger than most countries.

Japan 67 time

Britain 84 times

France 127 times

Germany 147 times

United States 354 times

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In November of last year the Swiss left attempted to address salary disparity. According to The Guardian, there was a vote on the so-called 1:12 campaign, which would have capped executive salary at 12 times that of the average worker. The referendum went down 34.7% in favor to 65.3% against. 

Funny, this story was covered for a day, maybe two, while “news” about a celebrity’s death by drug overdose (and not the problem of addiction) or a disappearing jetliner was covered over and over and over… To quote Clara Peller, from a 1984 Wendy’s commercial, “Where’s the beef?”


Supreme Court Strikes Down Political Donation Caps

On April 2, 2014 the Supreme Court struck down political donation caps.

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And my students react with one word reflections – appalled, bylaws, causes, conversation, corruption, disparity, disappointing, divided, frustrating, functioning, influenceintegrity, lies, limits, manipulation, money, powerrecognize, remaining, restraint, separation, unfair, united and unsetting.


We want Democracy not Dollarocracy!

Guest Post by: Lauren Guzman, aspiring media scholar

A wise high school history teacher of mine once told our class, “Our government is not a democracy, but it’s getting closer.” In the context he presented it, this made complete sense. Our country boosts democracy but left out a lot of marginalized groups along the way (women, former slaves, non-landowners). When considering the laws and constitutional amendments created to fix disenfranchisement, we are inching closer to that ideal democracy, but my high school teacher disregarded a very important piece of the puzzle—money.

GuzmanIn Dollarocracy, Nichols and McChesney wrote, “The malefactors of great wealth continue to twist the methods of free government into the machinery for defeating the popular will.” Pulled out of context, one might believe this book is about conspiracy theories or another liberal rant, but I assure you there’s something more to it. Nichols and McChesney put into words everything wrong with our political system and the media covering this system today. They find the causes of my generation’s political anger, frustration, or worst of all apathy.

What struck me most was the chapter titled, “The Rise and Fall of Professional Journalism.” It’s easy to blame corrupt politicians or say we can’t change the way money influences them and our government as a whole. However, if our free press did its constitutionally intended job of being the watchdog of the government, we might be in a very different position. According to Nichols and McChesney, “[Media] preserves and even enhances a dysfunctional status quo while narrowing prospects for real reform.” These are strong words.

I can tell myself that no one including the media can tell me what to think, but I can’t tell myself the media doesn’t tell me what to think about or in what context I see things in. There is a reason our media is increasingly partisan and decreasingly interested in the giant sack of money in the room. They are after profits too. So where does that leave the average voter? Well personally, if I look at politics from the framework set up by the media, I must choose a side (Democrat or Republican), make a commitment to hate everything the other side stands for, but never question where money is coming from to fund elections and never question if my representatives are doing their jobs. Ignorance is bliss. No.

Media is one of the key components to getting our government back on track. We can’t sit by idly debating the semantics about a phrase used by this or that candidate. We need intelligent political discourse and to hold our politicians accountable for their actions. Media should be spurring conversations and opening up forums and telling us where our politicians’ loyalties really lie. Attacking the opposing party with loud-mouth talking heads is not the media acting as a watchdog but as a pawn. We need journalists critical within party lines, across party lines, and within the system. When I look around my classes, I hope some of them are hiding in the crowd. I hope they are ready to graduate and set the status quo on fire after reading this book like I am.

We the People of the Internet

Guest Post by: Julie Posh, Aspiring Advertiser & Designer

The view of the modern media landscape is bleak from the vantage point of Dollarocracy. With chapters on professional journalism’s decline and death, authors John Nichols and Robert McChesney detail how big corporations and the political machine are destroying the once vital role the media played in American democracy.

PoshAnd the digital future doesn’t look much brighter from their perspective. Nichols and McChesney caution that the Internet could easily go the way of television. Despite initial hopes, TV became a definitional rather than a democratic media. As the authors state, “The people who do the defining are, more often than not, the people with the best political connections and the most money.”

But I think they miss an important distinction: television was never truly democratic. Dollarocracy repeats the words of critic Clive Barnes on TV: “It is the first truly democratic culture, the first culture available to everyone and entirely governed by what the people want.” But a democracy is not created simply by “what the people want.” It is created and sustained through action — what the people do and what they say.

In this way, the Internet is more democratic than television ever was. Citizens have the ability to not only engage on a deeper level with existing content but also to create their own. Corporations and big spenders certainly have influence online, but the Internet is a unique medium in that it is overwhelmingly created by individual citizens.

I would argue that while political spending has drastically changed media (as evidenced throughout the book), the advent of the Internet has changed it even more. And I believe it has the potential to continue making changes, even against the tide of dollarocracy.

Through the Internet, my own personal political and social views have been challenged and changed time and again. I have been deeply affected by digital media, and I in turn have contributed and spread my own views and beliefs. This impact didn’t come from the big online news outlets; it came from other individuals — through blogs, online communities and social networks. That is the lifeblood of the Internet. I am a citizen, and my voice has an impact here.

Dollarocracy was a thought provoking, insightful, upsetting and ultimately inspiring read. It introduced me to the extent of a problem I had barely considered before, and while the outlined state of American politics was often incredibly frustrating to read, I still have hope for the future.

The authors cautioned those that believe the Internet to be “too vast, too uncontrollable, too ripe with opportunity for discourse and dissent to be conquered” that digital media may also fall prey to the dollarcrats. That it may become just another “vast wasteland.” But I have faith in the power of the Internet and the citizens who create it. America may no longer be a true democracy, but the Internet is. And through that democracy, change can come.