The Power or Problem of the People: The Role of Citizen Journalism

Guest Post: Haley Veres, student journalist

When I see a protest of the president-elect or an arrest being made on Marquette’s campus, my first thought is never to take out my phone and shoot video. However, it is those who think to whip out their cell phones that make history.

It was Rakeyia Scott’s cell phone video that was the catalyst for protests and advocacy for the Black Lives Matter movement. Like philosopher Immanuel Kant, Rakeyia Scott believed in her intentions of filming her husband’s confrontation with police. Even when her husband was shot, Rakeyia Scott continued to shoot video with the intention of sharing this story. Her actions sparked protests, and the story made national news, which, I believe, she did not imagine when began taking video on her phone. She intended to show how police, especially considering the news coverage of African American men who have been shot by police, confronted her husband.

oneslidephotography-comHowever, had I been in Rakeyia Scott’s position, I would have highly considered the consequences of such a video being recorded. Who would see this video, and how would they respond? Could this video trigger protest and spread like wildfire on social media? How would those who see the video view my partner? What lasting effects could this video have on my family, my community, and my partner’s memory? I would compare myself to philosopher John Stuart Mill and his views on consequentialism. Even if I had good intentions in shooting a video or taking a picture of a newsworthy event, if there could be undesirable consequences, I may not engage in the situation.

Every person who has the ability to shoot video or take pictures has a great responsibility and power especially as citizen journalists. The problem is a person’s ethical mindset when making the decision to start recording. Do they consider their personal intentions in the affair or the consequences of their actions, or is their moral conscience undermined by the split-second decision to shoot pictures and video? The citizen journalist must use a moral thought process, whether they consider their action’s intentions or their action’s consequences. Their voice can have as much power or influence over others as a professional reporter or journalist. As much as we hold professional journalists and reporters responsible for ethical and unbiased news stories, we have to hold citizen journalists such as Rakeyia Scott to the same standards.

While moral deliberation seems time-consuming when news is unfolding before you, it is your responsibility as a citizen journalist to understand the ethical implications of the photos you take or the video you shoot.

Pick a Side. Any Side

Guest Post: Olivia Bohringer, Student of the World

Political parties, gender roles, majors in college, personality quizzes, cultural backgrounds, generational differences, religious identify, fashion choices: decisions we make as frequently as every day or as rarely as once in lifetime, each choice asks us to pick a side. Choose a loyalty. What do you stand for? What will you fall for?

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Source: Discovery Magazine, April 2014

Media professionals have an exceptional obligation to loyalties. On one hand, we go into the Deep Dark World of Media to advocate for the underdogs and to touch the most human part of our audiences. But we also sign up to be journalists, agency junkies, copywriters, producers, and communications people to bring in a paycheck. We sit in classes and learn how to work through ethical dilemmas and where to look for inspiration once we enter the real world, and we flip through textbooks and autobiographies looking for answers on how we’ll define our values. But the world of communications and media also asks us to define the values of our audiences and/or industries. A profound responsibility comes with the work in this field, being held accountable to our own set of personal ethics, to codes of action in our industries, and to our audiences.

Loyalty is often reduced to being told to pick a side. But what happens when there’s no clear line in the sand drawn? In a world of political correctness, it is often easy to proudly identify your allegiance to one side with one foot still firmly planted with the opposition. We can talk the talk, but the challenge comes with walking the walk. It’s easy to nod along when you’re in a crowd of many, but the challenge comes when the popular opinion does correspond with your own.

To ask the average student or professional to define his or her loyalties will not necessarily outline clear moral codes. It’s not easy to think about the values you’re devoted to nor the ones that you outright condemn. Perhaps it’s easy to frame loyalties as motivations; what is it that drives you? What gets you up in the morning? What do you find rewarding, and just as importantly, what is discouraging to you? Loyalty has a variety of definitions, but to identify your own, think about the decisions that you are most proud of. Think also about decisions you’ve regretted; sometimes a loyalty can’t be defined until it’s been betrayed.

Ever-shifting and ever-challenging, loyalty shapes every action we take, both personally and professionally. To understand one’s own loyalties is to understand your deepest ethos, your motivations, your most personal drivers. Loyalties reflect our upbringings and our innate values, and they grow to reflect our changing experiences; we can look at our priorities and our passions to find what drives us and calls us to action. The challenge lies in deciding which of these loyalties speak loudest, and if they speak loud enough to pick a side.

Think Before You Post: A Note on Social Media in Times of Tragedy

Guest Post by: Erin Acklin, student

On the night of November 13th, 2015, a series of coordinated terrorist attacks occurred in Paris, France. The attacks took the form of mass shootings and suicide bombings, and occurred inside of the Bataclan theatre, inside of restaurants, and outside of the Stade de France in Saint-Denis. The attacks killed 129 people and left at least 80 others in critical condition. In the aftermath of the attack, social media was abuzz and news outlets were constantly bringing forward new information. The world received the basic news updates but much more. Personal stories, motivational posts, grievances, and prayers. Facebook introduced a photo filter of the French flag for profile pictures. However we also saw posts of fear and anger, messages of hate. In the wake of the attacks came a whirlwind of social media. And with all this social media buzzing, it is important to ask ourselves about our motivations to post in a time like this.

Screen Shot 2015-11-30 at 10.11.59 PMCitizen journalism has become almost a main source of news. We look to Facebook and Twitter to get caught up on common day occurrences. Social media harnesses a lot of power. These past events have shown us the ability social media has to spread either hope or fear in just the click of a button. I don’t deny that social media can change the minds of those who view it, or that it is a place where ideas grow. However, what tangible benefits does Paris receive from our Facebook posts and hashtags? Social media has given us a platform to shout our encouragements and declare our support from a safe distance with no real obligations.

According to an article on International Business Times, things like the Facebook profile picture filter breed what researchers call “slacktivism.” These online support trends allow social media users to declare their support without actually having to commit to the cause. People can associate with a cause without truly being involved in it. Much more than that, researchers have found that these sorts of social media support trends have actually had negative affects on garnering actual support, specifically financial support. Because people are able to visually and publicly display that they give their support, they don’t feel they have to take any real action. They are already associated with the event.

So, is this ethical? Surely people have the right idea when they post to social media with support or update their profile picture with the colors of France. I would argue that people are perhaps just not fully thinking about their actions. But to build from that, I think that people have an ethical obligation to start thinking about the ways that they use social media. In times of terror, verbal support can have great impact, but we can do so much more. Surely we can give more to Paris than a Facebook filter.

Musically Impaired: How Apple’s U2 Release Broke the Wall of Trust

Guest Post by: Dan Reiner, student journalist

It was a fateful day in September 2014 when media conglomerate Apple decided to break through the wall between itself and its customers. This “wall” did not exist physically, but rather it represented the boundary between Apple customers and their property, and the company and how it controls its products. So when Apple secretly dropped an unwarranted free U2 album into the iTunes libraries of 500 million users around the world, people were not happy.

Apple didn’t break any laws by forcefully handing out the album (it’s not like any non-Apple employee has ever read the Terms and Conditions from beginning-to-end), but the company did break that metaphysical wall. Many subscribers were outraged by event because it was meant as a marketing ploy. Apple paid more than $100 million to U2, and the album’s release coincided with the release of the iPhone 6 and Apple Watch. So when users opened their iTunes to find that Apple had accessed their personal library.

It was a matter of privacy more than a kind gesture by Apple. To consider the severity of Apple’s marketing miscue, it’s best to contemplate the matter from both sides of the argument. Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance is the best way to ethically consider the matter because it refrains from placing bias on either side and deals directly with the social contract. The most important question to answer in this debate is whether or not Apple was ethically flawed in breaching the public libraries of 500 million people.

From Apple’s perspective, this was meant to celebrate not only a big technology launch, but also the 10th anniversary of U2’s “Vertigo” silhouette commercial with Apple. The band’s longstanding relationship with Apple has always been well documented, so it made sense for the two worldwide powers to team up.

ABCOn the other side of the argument, the consumer opens his or her iTunes to find an unwanted album, free of charge. Apple had never pulled a stunt like this before, so it was quite unexpected to the 500 million who received it. Apple may have thought U2’s worldwide popularity would lead to more downloads of the album, but only two million people downloaded the it to their cellphones. The public overwhelmingly rejected it, and the launch was a failure.

Content Before Care?

Guest Post by Claire Nowak, crafter of words

To report or not to report?

For journalists tasked with covering breaking news, the answer is obvious. Get the story, no matter what the cost.

Such dedication is a defining and often inspiring characteristic of the profession. Countless reporters willingly put themselves in harm’s way to gather and share vital information. Some give their lives to tell stories that would otherwise remain untold, as James Foley did covering war victims in the Middle East. To them, communication is more than a profession. It is a mission, a sacred duty to free the voices of their subjects and expose the public to their stories.

In upholding that duty, journalists can present a captivating story—at the expense of those voices they claim to liberate.

When news of the shooting at Umpqua Community College broke out, people around the country turned to social media for updates, including media professionals. One woman at the scene tweeted, “Students are running everywhere. Holy God.” Less than 5 minutes later, she was bombarded with replies from reporters asking for more details. Some prefaced the conversation with messages of (theoretically real) concern: “Are you okay?” or “Stay safe.” Others skipped formalities altogether: “Can you call me. I am with CNN. Follow me back.”

BlogSo-called “insensitive” reporters are not new. Consider the stereotypical image of a news anchor standing outside a burning building with a resident who has just lost everything and asking, “How do you feel?” Asking questions no one else will in order to bring new information and human reaction into a story is part of a journalist’s job. In this sense, Twitter is the perfect media platform for breaking news. It instantly gives reporters an exclusive scoop, a raw behind-the-scenes look at what’s really happening. But in a time when media organizations compete for the first post on breaking news, any chance of digital sympathy vanishes.

There is no problem in quickly finding sources for a story. The problem lies in neglecting care for the source for the sake of a story.

Journalists are forced to choose between competing loyalties—loyalty to their profession, and consequently the media consumers relying on their reporting for information, or loyalty to their sources as humans, who care, think, feel, and live as they do.

I am a journalist. I have been since I began reporting and publishing stories during my sophomore year of high school. But journalism is not the epicenter of my life. I am, first and foremost, a human being. If I cannot show compassion for my subjects or think of them as anything but a quote, I put my livelihood before life itself. A single story takes precedent over our humanity. Before long, there would be no one to read the stories I write. Accurate, up-to-date reporting is important, but is it worth the ethical integrity of our society?

That is the question.

When Objectivity Meets its Match

Guest Post by: Meghan Hickey, Student and Brand Story Enthusiast

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“News should be objective.” We’ve all heard it, and we’ve all laughed and flipped to our favorite news channel that spins the story in the way that we want to hear. Whether you choose FOX, MSNBC, CNN, or ABC, you’re making either the conscious or unconscious decision to hear your news in a certain way. And that’s okay.

The fact is that, yes, media provides fact, but it also provides the framework to understand the facts provided. Ethicists believe that media’s primary function is to provide citizens with information that will allow them to make informed political choices. Objectivity is the obvious means to do so, but does there come a time when objectivity is simply too much for the average public to handle?

Maybe, the late, James Foley would have had a say in that.

In light of the current conflict in the Middle East involving the oppression of Christians by ISIS and much more, raw footage of beheadings, mass shootings, and other gruesome events have made their way to American media in big ways. And when I say gruesome, I don’t mean your average cartoon blood spout. These images create awareness of the severity of the massacres happening oversees – but do they also serve another, less heroic purpose?

Terrorism is an act of communication. Yet, it’s a form of communication that cannot function on its own. Media and terrorism act as catalysts for each other, the media needing stories to report news, and terrorism needing media to report its stories. The stories showing ISIS murdering and torturing endless amounts of people aren’t just stating objective facts – they’re creating a way for ISIS to be heard, and showing their leaders that if they continue to act as they are, they WILL be noticed. It is up to the media to break that cycle of communication by changing the way in which they communicate.

And that is where I believe objectivity meets its match – with humanity.

We’re all humans. It’s what has helped us remain the superior form of life for as long as we have. However, when we allow objectivity and the cruelty and fear that can come with it to break down our humanity, we risk losing the one thing that binds each and every one of us together.

With humanity, we take on the role of moral witness. We take on the responsibility to report stories in a way that, yes, uses a frame to bring people together in defense of humanity, instead of against it. It is when we are able to recognize the need to set objectivity aside, and report in the name of humanity, that great stories and honorable reporters are able to break the cycle that terrorism relies on, and truly report news as it should be – truthful, just, and humane.

Terrorism and the Media: Adding Fuel to Fire

Guest Post by: Julia Markun, Student

Terrorism by definition is “the use of violence and intimidation in the pursuit of political aims” (Oxford Dictionary). The word itself even evokes pain, suffering and fear. In the United States, images of the September 11 attacks fill our heads, or our thoughts might jump to more recent coverage on groups such as ISIS. And suddenly, without as much as a second thought, we become pawns in their game. We’re intimidated, vulnerable and willing to give whatever it takes to just stay alive. Why is this? Think about everything you see in the media.

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Source: Alex Wilhelm, The Next Web

The media give terrorist groups exactly what they want: attention. It’s how they thrive. It’s the fuel to the fire terrorists start. If their violent acts weren’t publicized, they would have no way to intimidate us. Similar to the way a small child might act, these groups go out of their way to make a scene, create attention and scare enough people to eventually get what they want. So why can’t we treat them like a toddler and ignore the tantrums? Because this also happens to be information that affects millions of lives and is our right to know.

One of the many roles and expectations of the media is to truthfully inform us of what’s happening in the world, especially when it impacts lives. But what is more important: our need for information or decreasing the power of terrorism? Which is more ethical?

Not only is the publication of terrorist acts validating their efforts and potentially provoking more, but the content is also questionable in itself. Is it ethically sound to broadcast a human being’s death or even the distress and humiliation of a prisoner? Should terrorist propaganda and recruiting videos be shared to influence even more people?

There are so many factors at play that finding a definitive “right” or “wrong” is impossible. On one side, it is unethical for the media to withhold information from the public. However, it is also ethically unsound to exploit acts of terrorism for the sake of something such as ratings. Media outlets need to find a balance between giving us what we need and giving the terrorists what they want.

However, as much as it might be right to censor some news, I believe informing the public of the whole truth will never go out of style. Not only do we expect nothing less of our press, but also they rely on us to keep them going. Headlines about terrorism catch our eye and it’s difficult to ignore an extremist group’s YouTube video when it’s playing on your daily news show. I believe media are now less gatekeepers and more in a race to open the gate first, and with our increasing technology and instantaneous access to everything around the world, I don’t think that is going to change any time soon.