When it’s too much information

Charlie Hebdo

A couple of days after the attacks at Charlie Hebdo in Paris last January, the Kouachi brothers, the 2 suspects of the attacks, tried to flee and hid into a warehouse. The manhunt was widely followed and a live stream was a available on any major TV and radio stations.

Authorities were updating the media pretty regularly with information on the situation and told reporters that someone was possibly hiding inside the warehouse. Three major news stations: TV stations France 2 and TF1 and RMC radio revealed that someone was hiding in the printing shop whereas the brothers Kouachi didn’t know there was someone in the warehouse.

It turns out that the information was true and that a man, Lilian Lepère, was inside, trying to hide from the Kouachi brothers. The Kouachis could have easly gotten this information and try to hurt Lepère or hold him as a hostage.

Nothing happened to Lepère but he is now suing the news organizations for endagering his safety.

I think this is a perfect example of publishing the news before thinking of the consequences. Every news organization wants to be first and it leads to potentially hurt people. In this case the news organizations clearly failed to take a minute and think of what they were about to announce.

Picture credit: Wikipedia Luxembourg, Jwh. Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved.


Final Paper: coverage of international news

With its 196 countries (195 + Taiwan) and internet, the world has many news to share. And that can give a hard time to journalists. Different cultures, different languages, different behaviors, it can all be confusing for the journalist covering a story but also for the reader, viewer or listener of international news.

Because there is a lot to consider when covering international news, mistakes are made by reporters and news organizations… over simplifications, sensationalization, misinterpretations, translation errors, so many things can go wrong while covering news abroad.

In this paper I will try to analyze the current situation of international news coverage by giving some examples. I will also explain why mistakes are easy to make, leading to ethical issues such as a lack of accuracy and causing harm.

in the United States, journalism is experiencing important financial problems. So news organizations tend to cover more of what the audience wants to hear about, and that’s local news. People care more about what happened two streets away from their home than in some country across the world. Which is understandable. But what happens in the world can have an impact on what is happening locally. That’s why most news organizations have not given up on international news.

The challenge is to keep the audience reading, watching or listening to the newscast during the international sections.

As an intern at PRI’s The World, I got a chance to chat with Clark Boyd, editor and reporter for the radio show.

“We’re telling uninterested audiences stories that they fundamentally don’t understand but there’s an element to it. So I think, we try really hard to walk a fine line between dumbing it down so much that you think to yourself, ‘why do we even put this on the air’ but also making it accessible. I think this is a big tension,” Boyd said.

If The World is trying to find angles that Americans will care about, other news organizations will prefer oversimplifying the events.

“The presumption that audiences are disinterested in news that doesn’t directly affect them ‘leads the media to oversimplify international news events’ and results in international news items that report foreign news in a one-dimensional, less complex   manner   so  to   gain   audience   appeal,” Global Media Journal paper on international coverage on page 5.

Even if a 2004 Pew Research Center study shows that more and more people are following international news, it is still a minority of news consumers. That same study also shows that if there is no link with the United States, American audiences aren’t likely to follow international matters. In the contrary, the Iraq war involving a large number of Americans, was highly followed.

“International stories that are perceived to have little direct impact on American lives and security  attract   scant   interest   from   the   public,” the study pointed out on page 28.

As a result, international news are not very diversified. According to the Global Media Journal, media only cover war, violence, Presidents shaking other Presidents’ hands and natural disasters. And that gives a poor view of the rest of the world.

Nevertheless, alternative coverage exists.

PRI’s The World definitely covers the topics previously mentioned but also tries to diversify its coverage. I recently on a story about beer in South Sudan or on the arrival of the burger restaurant Five Guys, in Paris, France.

David Guttenfelder, photographer, chose to show a new side of North Korea through a series of photographs on Instagram and for the New York Times.

These two example prove that it is possible to show the world, even a country like North Korea, the way it truly is.

Other initiatives on social media like Twitter recently started due to a despondency of people living in Africa about the inaccurate or incomplete coverage made of their country or even continent.

With #TheAfricaTheMediaNeverShowsYou, people from all over Africa began to post photos of their everyday life and their environment. The phenomenon went pretty viral on Twitter and shows what we (rest of the world) never see in the media… Happy people in beautiful and peaceful places.

Inaccuracy by generalization is another problem… #SomeoneTellCNN started after CNN qualified Kenya as a “hotbed of terror.” Kenyans didn’t agree with that and decided to show the world what most parts of Kenya really looks like.

But CNN was not the only one to make ethical mistakes in the past few months. After the Charlie Hebdo attacks in Paris, Fox News was also pointed out for using pictures and maps that have nothing to do with what they are talking about. Fox News talked about “no go zones” around Paris, which don’t exist and Yann Barthès, reporter for Le Petit Journal, explained all the mistakes the Fox News reporter in Paris made. For more details, watch the video (2’20”).

Translation can also be part of inaccuracy. Reporters cannot possibly speak every language of every countries they are going to.

Boyd said that when he went to Morocco or Greece, he didn’t speak the language and had to use the help of fixers who would quickly translate what the interviewee is saying. And that is common practice among foreign correspondents.

“The reason why this is of significance here is that the fixer’s summary can act as the translator’s source text, the danger being that fixers can give journalists the gist of what others say, rather than being obliged to closely translate or interpret their utterances (Palmer 2007, 19). However, there are no guarantees that the information provided by fixers is accurate. This is because, through possible exaggeration or omission of important detail, there is the potential for them to consciously or unconsciously put a particular slant on their account, thereby portraying their own ideologies in their spoken or written account of events,” in The Role of Translation in the Production of International Print News of the University of Auckland on page 158.

So this raises the importance of transparency. If the reporter can only base the information on one translator or fixer, there is a chance of inaccuracy, so it is important to notify it to the audience.

Another aspect of translation would be when the interviewee speaks some English but maybe not enough to make his or her point.

“It’s always a judgment call and there are always people that are going to be right on the line. But if we feel that somebody is not able to express exactly what they mean or what they want to say in a second language (…) I have done interviews for pieces in the past, where we’d start in English and it was clear that they weren’t able to say what they wanted to say and I would almost insist that they switch [back to their native language] because at the end of the day, have them saying exactly what they want to say. And I would do the translation after,” Boyd said.

Boyd said that the whole process of verifying a translation is especially tough when on deadline. It is nonetheless very important to make sure all information are accurate.

I feel like if reporters and editors were paying more attention to all the points I touched in this paper, the international news coverage would be more accurate and fair and thus more reliable. Diversifying and telling the complete story are also important points to give the audience a better sense of the world.

I am well aware that the means and time to do some good reporting are challenging, but some news organizations succeed in it. That proves that it is possible.

How many corrections?


I am going to stay in this week’s theme… corrections.

It is extremely important that news organisations be transparent when they make an error and it is even more important that they correct it.

Many newspapers like the New York times or the Boston Globe have webpages dedicated to the corrections of errors.

So I wondered… how many corrections are made in a day or a week? Meaning how many errors were made and noticed.

Well the answer varies from a newspaper to another. Here is what I found out:

I am going to compare The Boston Globe, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times and USA Today because they provided a clear list of errors.

And the winner for most errors in a week is… The New York Times.

With a total of 52 corrections in 6 days (from Aug. 6 to Aug. 11) going from an error in crediting a photo to incorrect information. That’s more than 8 errors a day. Their peak day during this period was August 7, with 13 corrections.

To compare…

The LA Times corrected 10 errors in 8 days (Aug. 5 to Aug. 12)

The Boston Globe corrected 6 in 9 days (Aug. 4 to Aug. 12)

And USA Today had 5 correction entries from August 1 to 12.

As a conclusion, two  options come into mind… The New York Times is way worse at checking facts than the three others or the others are not as transparent regarding their corrections…

Photo credit: ms. Tibbetts, error. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.

Operation correct that error


Any form of news is subject to errors. Journalists are human beings and making mistakes happen.

The problem is that getting a name or a number wrong can mislead the reader and cause harm. That’s why one of the main journalistic duties is to get the facts right and double check them. Always double check.

A couple of weeks ago at my internship, I got assigned a story on a trash issue in Beirut, Lebanon. My mission that day was to find a reporter in Beirut who could talk about the problem on radio for the show later that day.

So I started browsing Google and I found some articles dealing with my topic. One of them was an article on the Reuters website called, “Beirut’s mounting trash reflects crisis of government,” by Tom Perry.

As I read his article and was looking for potential people I could interview, I saw a quote from a reporter for a Lebanese newspaper.

Here is a screenshot of the article.

Nicola NassifI thought that Nicola Nassif could be an interesting person to talk to and I tried to find his contact information.

There are plenty of Nicola Nassif that are on Google, one of the entries was even an obituary. But I was practically sure that the Nicola Nassif I was looking for wasn’t dead…  Turns out, Nicola was actually Nicolas.

I immediately tweeted at Tom Perry of Reuters to let him know of his mistake. After a week or so, still no response from Perry or correction in the article.

So I tweeted at him again and send an email to the Reuters correction section. But still nothing. I checked today to see if any corrections had been made. And the answer is no.

It was also very hard to find the section to report corrections.

Accuracy is essential to produce good journalism and as I said, journalists are just humans who can make mistakes. I feel like getting constructive feedback from the audience such as corrections is key to better journalism.

Picture credit: Florent Darrault, Kendell Geers > T:error (2003) sans T. Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved.

Ethics Guidelines

Image Ethics

As a journalist, being ethical is crucial but not simple. Being accurate in telling the truth is the most important principle to me. The readers/listeners/viewers need to be certain that the information is correct in order to build a relationship of trust. Here is a set of guidelines that appear to be most important to me.

To come up with this list, I have used various sources.
The New York Times’ Ethical Journalism Handbook, the NPR’s Ethics Handbook, the Canadian Association of Journalist’s Ethics Guidelines and The Ethical Journalist textbook from Gene Foreman.

  • Personal relations with sources:
    Sources cannot be family members, close friends or a romantic relationship. It is ok to be friendly with a source and maintain a good relationship with the latter but it cannot be a personal friendship.
  • No bribes:
    Don’t accept gifts or money from parties of a story. Don’t ask for gifts, money or favors.
  • Independence:
    No political affiliation. No participation in marches. No participation in any board of trustees. No stock in a certain company. Report the truth even if it conflicts with various public and private interests, such as sources, governments and advertisers. Report crimes and misconducts. No favored treatments. Don’t report about subjects in which I have financial or other interests. Don’t show a report before it’s published.
  • Fairness:
    Respect the rights of people mentioned in the news. Give all parties a chance to speak. Avoid stereotypes about gender, ethnicity, age, religion, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. Keep biases out of the story. Give the benefit of the doubt to a suspect before he or she received a fair trial.
  • Minimize harm:
    Don’t do any more harm than necessary. Treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving respect. It is ok to omit some details if it’s news value doesn’t justify the harm.
  • Accuracy:
    Verify all facts. Verify identities and backgrounds of sources. Seek documentation to support testimonies of sources. Always attribute a fact to its source. When mentioning or quoting something/someone, always make sure to keep it in context. Take full responsibility for the work done.
  • Accountability:
    Fairness and reliability of the reporting. Serve public interest. Clearly identify opinions. Don’t mislead the public. When a mistake is made, it is immediately corrected in a transparent way.
  • Completeness:
    Report stories thoroughly. Tell stories in a clear and comprehensive way. Do all the background research to get the context of the story. Give all parties a chance to speak. If there are areas of uncertainty, say it.
  • Transparency:
    Corrections are made transparently. Introduce myself as a journalist and share my intentions. Identify sources by their names unless there is a clear reason to protect their anonymity. When anonymous sources, identify them as accurately as possible with a job title for example. Credit original source if part of the content is not mine.
  • Promises to sources:
    When promised anonymity to a source, the promise will be kept.

I think guidelines or rules are a good way to start an ethical thinking. The rule-based thinking can be very help full when the decision I have to make is so complex that I can’t figure out a way to solve the problem and it’s hard to go when you’re playing by the rules.

Unfortunately, the rules can’t cover everything, that’s why I find useful to also use the three other theories. I am convinced that minimizing harm is crucial in any ethical decisions but it is also necessary to be tough and not be afraid of exposing people. It is all about finding the right balance, just like in Aristotle’s theory of the Golden Mean.

I have never really faced a major ethical choice in my student journalist career but I have chosen to highlight these specific guidelines because I feel like good journalism couldn’t be done without them.

I feel like some of these guidelines are true to good journalism but also true to being a good citizen, family member or friend. If I had to pick three of these guidelines that apply to my private life, I would probably chose minimizing harm, fairness and transparency. I believe that by using these, I can sleep soundly at night and I wouldn’t want the work I’m doing for my job to be any different.


Picture credit: www.solucareaide.org, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved.

Accuracy in TV news

TV studio

I recently read an article on Poynter MediaWire about the use of the word “tonight” in TV newscasts.

The article showed the misuse of time periods in the narration of some TV stories.

Here is what Ric Ward found out when he watched ABC’s World News Tonight with David Muir.

“On Tuesday, July 21, I counted 45 “tonight” references in the newscast. All but 10 of the “tonights” were in anchor scripts. The other 10 were in reporter packages or live shots. With a news hole of roughly 20 minutes, that’s a “tonight” every 26 seconds.

Were all the “tonights” necessary? In my opinion, no. Most were like Newswriting 102 in hyper overdrive. Not needed. Only thrown in to give the story an air of immediacy – a false air of immediacy.

Were they accurate? For most, if not all — no. Lines like ‘new video released tonight’ when the video had aired most of the day on other networks, cable channels and online were simply false. Lines like ‘investigators say tonight’ are also inaccurate. Unless you consider early afternoon as ‘tonight’,”

I was pretty shock by that article because I realized I had never really paid attention to the misuse of “tonight.” But by watching the ABC newscast I realized how misleading this was. It also made me think of the overuse of adjectives in TV journalism. It is not rare to hear words like “terrible,” “dramatic” or “incredible” in a newscast.

These adjectives make the reports less objective and adds drama and sensationalization. But this is not what an unbiased newscast should be. A journalist or anchor is not supposed to tell the audiance how to feel about the news.

On the contrary to ABC evening news, I watched the CBS evening news and they did a great job avoiding “tonight” when it was not accurate, they actually almost never used it. They used a couple of “drama adjectives” but nothing too problematic in my opinion.

Photo credit: Wiki Commons. Some Rights Reserved.