Feature: Social Goodness

Journalists tackle “Ethics in a Digital Space”

Author: George S. McQuade III
Published: January 23, 2013 at 3:14 pm
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 NBCLA Manager Editor Jonathan Lloyd shows a fake photo sent to editors.

Many TV, radio and newspaper journalists have been bombarded by sensitive postings in the comment sections below their articles online. Social media has prompted stations like NBCLA to adopt a policy to handle negative comments and potentially libelous statements 
registered on news distribution sites.

The Burbank, NBC Network owned and operated station sponsored the media workshop,  "Ethics in a Digital Space,  early this month (Jan. 16, 2013), The Society of Professional Journalists, LA Chapter event  attracted about 50 newsroom editors with lots of questions.

“Often what can happen when you’re dealing with Social Media harassment, there’s a tendency to have a gut reaction and a panic response that can get you in trouble,” explained Olsen Ebright, Social Media manager, NBCLA, who talked about "Social Media Policies Online”, which have been adopted by management NBCLA.com. “When a user attacks anyone or subject online, we prefer to take the debate or agitated person offline to continue the conversation.”

Ebright says just having that Social Media “Playbook and steps to go through when the harassment and comments have gone too far, the policy sets the tone to handle everything professional and in calm way.”

“If there are profanities or personal attacks we delete those comments,” he said. “And sometimes we will post a little note to the visitors, ‘Hey guys lets clean it up.’” 

Negative comments aren’t the only issues discussed. Other issues focused on included fact checking and corrections in breaking news.

Megan Garvey, assistant managing editor for digital, LATimes.com reminded SPJ LA members that during the Sandy Hook School shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, last month, the media got the suspect's name wrong and it went viral on Social Media networks. There were other examples put up on an overhead projector. “We leave the original story up, but we feel it is necessary to post a correction at LATimes.com as soon as possible, she said.” 

Other sensitive issues in the digital newsrooms that managers and writers face are fake press releases or images sent to newsrooms by a viewer’s and reader’s cell phone. Managing Editor Jonathan Lloyd showed an example of how a flood victim photo had been touched up. He said, “It was not an easy catch, except the level of flood waters surrounding people trapped in the water didn’t match the shoreline flood water level. It didn’t look right and a closer examination proved it,” he said pointing it out on an overhead project.

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Article Author: George S. McQuade III

George S. McQuade III is a national award-winning business, high tech, entertainment and social media writer based in Los Angeles. He has earned “Best Breaking News", Associated Press Managing Editors Assn, “Best News writing", Radio TV News Assn., …

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