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.


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.

Final paper snapshot


How to be an ethical journalist when covering news in foreign countries?

As a French person living in the United States, I sometimes get offended by the coverage made by American journalists about my home country. And when I go back to France and hear about what is happening in the U.S., I also sometimes get surprized. So why is that? Aren’t news supposed to be about true facts? A fact is a fact, it isn’t supposed to change from a country to another. If American news report a wildfire in California, why is all of a sudden, the entire United-States burning in foreign news?

In this paper I want to try to find why this kind of distortions of the truth happen, and I will try to find some solutions to fix it.

I will, among others, take a look at translation issues, generalization, misunderstandig of different cultures, etc. I will also talk about how the public reacts to those errors that can sometimes have terrible consequences and how those errors have been corrected in the past.

In order to right an accurate paper, I will use concrete examples and reliable sources such as the Global Media Ethics Center, The Center for International Media Ethics and iMediaEthics. As an intern at PRI’s The World, I cover international matters every day and will also use my own experience in this paper.

“One responsibility is to report issues and events in a way that reflects this global plurality of views; to practice a journalism that helps different groups understand each other better. Reports should be accurate, balanced and diverse, as judged from an international perspective. A biased and parochial journalism can wreak havoc in a tightly linked global world. Unless reported properly, North American readers may fail to understand the causes of violence in Middle East, or a famine in Africa. Biased reports may incite ethnic groups in a region to attack each other. A narrow-minded, patriotic news media can stampede populations into war. Moreover, journalism with a global perspective is needed to help citizens understand the daunting global problems of poverty, environmental degradation, technological inequalities and political instability,” Global Media Ethics.

I will write this paper in order for my topic to fit with my personal ethical guidelines. I think fairness, accuracy, accountability and minimizing harm are key to a better international coverage.

Picture credit: Pixabay, Creative Commons, Some Rights Reserved.

Operation Correction


Here is some news for you, journalists are human beings… Therefore, they make mistakes.

Announcing someone’s death when they’re alive, getting a name or a figure wrong… they are all very easy mistakes to make. The problem is that journalists’ main goal should be to get the information right.

Getting a wrong information on a newspaper article or a TV or radio newscast can cause a lot of trouble.

How much would you like to read in your town’s newspaper that you’re dead or that you got arrested by the police, when that’s in fact not you?

Anyway… I don’t have a recent example to give you but I am going to go back in time to January 2015.

On January 7, 2015, 3 men shot several Charlie Hebdo journalists and other people in a store in Paris. But how many people were killed?

There are 2 main trends… Some news article say 12, others 17…

I read in the Boston Globe the other day that “three homegrown extremists killed 17 people in and around Paris,” in French search home of beheading suspecton June 28, 2015.

The Globe doesn’t mention its source for this number so I couldn’t verify it.

I decided to search on Google what the French news organizations said about that number… Turns out that most of them say that 12 people were killed even several weeks after the attacks.

For instance, in February 15, 2015, France Bleu talk about 12 people killed. “Le Premier ministre Manuel Valls a rapproché cette attaque de celle de Charlie Hebdo qui avait fait 12 morts le 7 janvier dernier à Paris,” in Fusillades à Copenhague: deux morts, un suspect abattu.

But in January 10, 2015, La République des Pyrénées, states that 17 people were killed by the terrorists in Attentats en France : 20 morts dont les trois terroristes.

None of the articles I read mention any sources for the number of deaths… so I asked Alex Turnbull, journalist who wrote the Globe article, were he found that number to make sure that had the right one. I contacted him via Twitter.

Here is my message to Alex:

Hi. Just read your article on French attacks and wonder where you found that Charlie Hebdo attacks made 17 dead. DM me please.”

Unfortunately, he hasn’t tweeted back yet.


Photo credit: Dan Mason, Ethics. Creative Commons – Some Rights Reserved.