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Ethics Committee chair
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a medical journalist for Reuters Health in New York. Before coming to Reuters Health, he was a Kaiser Media Fellow at Reuterss Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covered the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.
In 2011, Andrew graduated from Columbia Universitys Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied investigative journalism as a Stabile Fellow and was named Student of the Year. Andrew also graduated with his B.A. from Wilkes University in 2011.
Hes won numerous awards throughout his short career, including being named a 2010 Tom Bigler Scholar for ethical standards in journalism, the 2009 Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, the 2009 and the Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year Award.
Monica Guzman, vice chair
Bio (click to expand) Monica is a Sunday columnist for The Seattle Times and a weekly columnist for GeekWire, covering issues in digital life. She was a juror for the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes, serves on the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute and contributed the closing chapter, Community As an End, to the 2013 Poynter book The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century. From 2007 to 2010, Monica launched and ran the innovative Big Blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and seattlepi.com, complementing news and culture coverage with weekly reader meetups. From 2010 to 2012 she developed user communities for Seattle startups like Intersect, Trover and Glympse before kicking off her Times column.
A member of the World Economic Forums Global Shapers community, Monica emcees the popular quarterly community speaker series Ignite Seattle and is assisting the American Press Institute with a newsroom innovation project. Monica served on the ethics code revision task force and is an active member of the Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ. She is currently serving as chapter president.
Ethics Case Studies
WHAT: Perverted-Justice.com is a Web site that can be very convenient for a reporter looking for a good story. But the tactic raises some ethical questions. The Web site scans Internet chat rooms looking for men who can be lured into sexually explicit conversations with invented underage correspondents. Perverted-Justice posts the mens pictures on its Web site.
Recently the tactic has spread to the mainstream media. Perhaps the most visible use of the resource has been on the NBC networks Dateline news show. Many local television stations have used it as well. A Wichita, Kansas, station, KCTV-Channel 5, may have been the first to show faces and name names. Its six-night report aired during February sweeps, in 2004, taking advantage of information and volunteers provided by Perverted-Justice.com. It helped the station get good ratings.
In December 2003, investigative reporter Steve Chamraz and volunteers from the Web site rented a house in Independence to wait for men who had responded to messages from volunteers who had pretended to be underage boys and girls. Several local men engaged in chat-room conversations with the supposed youngsters.
Eventually, 16 of them showed up at the rented house. Each time, Chamraz and a Channel 5 camera crew were waiting to record the encounter. But one man targeted by the reporting filed a federal lawsuit against Channel 5s parent company, Meredith Broadcasting; the Web site; and the CBS network. The plaintiff claimed he was misrepresented as a pedophile and it cost him a $50,000-a-year job.
He claimed he never propositioned the young girl he chatted with.
The lawsuit challenged only one of several apparent instances of what Chamraz and Channel 5 characterized as Internet predators who wanted to have sex with underage teens.
But there are broader questions involved here. Here are the questions you might want to ask: Is it ethically defensible to employ such a sting tactic? Should you buy into the agenda of an advocacy group even if its an agenda as worthy as this one?
WHO: Put yourself in the position of a news director or station manager who must decide whether to use the services of Perverted-Justice.com.
Who else has a stake in your decision of whether to make this a major story? Certainly, the community you serve needs to know who might be trolling for children to exploit. Its important to drive these pedophiles out of the shadows and get them off the street. Your audience will thank you, especially parents with young children.
Certainly, Perverted-Justice.com is a stakeholder. Your reporting will add to its credibility. Is it a reputable group or a bunch of suspect vigilantes, possibly even voyeuristic? Those with the most at stake are the potential perverts caught in the sting. They most certainly will lose their reputations, their jobs and quite likely their freedom, as many of them will be arrested and incarcerated.
There are many questions here. Your task is to put yourself in the position of a news director or managing editor who has an opportunity to use information provided by a third party, outside the newsroom, with a clearly defined agenda.
WHY: Identify the competing moral principles. Telling the truth is always the primary responsibility of a journalist. But is this a manufactured truth? When you consider minimizing harm, does the harm you do to the Internet predators carry more weight than the harm they might do to the communitys children? Is Perverted-Justice.com itself ethical? Or is it, as one law enforcement officer in Wichita said, a lawsuit waiting to happen? Are you damaging your own ethics by using it? Whats the greatest good for the greatest number of people involved?
HOW: Decide how to answer the questions raised in the first part of this exercise. Write down your answer to see if it makes sense. And put your rationale into words. If you were to proceed with a story using these techniques, do you think your viewers and/or readers should be told something about your rationale? Consider making your decision-making process part of your coverage.