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Friday, April 3, 2015
Digital Media Toolbox

Mobile reporting and ethics questions

By May Zayan

Technology and journalism are becoming more than just intertwined; they are informing one another's development at an exponential rate.

As journalism experiences one of its most transformative stages in history, reliable newsgathering and comprehensive storytelling require more than just observant eyes, savvy wordsmithing and a well-positioned camera. Everywhere we turn there's a cutting-edge gadget, a flashy app or some radical new software that practically does the work for us, whatever that work might be.

Every day it seems, the public is nudged further away from traditional news media mechanisms and closer to what the marriage of technology and journalism promises to deliver: accessible, digestible content, on demand. The lightning-speed potency of smartphone images captured mere feet away from the action, or the tweeted real-time account of what's happening on ground zero — whether we, as journalists, like it or not, that's the kind of newsgathering many people are now looking for.

Nonetheless, no matter how our media tools evolve, the ethical implications of our journalistic methods are — and always should be — considered throughout our process. Even as the industry is reshaped and redefined by the imprint of emerging technologies, how we incorporate that tech into our ethical framework is just as critical as the news content that's ultimately produced with it.

Newsgathering, Incognito

Mobile tools, including the newest forms of wearable tech (Google Glass, smartwatches, etc.), have made on-the-go content creation significantly more convenient for professional media pros. These devices do more than just make newsgathering faster -- and arguably, more efficient -- they transform the content that's being shared altogether. User perspective is directly influenced by format, size and, most measurably, by the content creator's own amplified POV.

Depending on the device, the story being told can be a reporter's glance into a greater context or a zoomed-out look across a generalized subject. With the types of mobile tech and wearables that are now on the market – and those that are on the way — personalized glimpses into news content from the most intimate of perspectives to the most far-removed become enhanced mechanisms for storytelling. Journalists are now able to blend into their surroundings easier than ever, as our ability to get nimbly close to the news has dramatically increased.

But amid the ease, speed and accessibility that come with mobile media tools — specifically wearables — implications arise beyond those of industry transformation and societal impact. How will these emerging (and oftentimes inconspicuous) technologies affect ethical newsgathering?

Making sure wearables don't skew the story

It's one thing for a reporter to describe what's going on around them in such detail as to transport the reader right into the heart of the action. Photojournalists, for example, are among those who can truly draw the audience into a physical moment in a raw, potent instant.

But what about when the news is portrayed through such a specific lens as to encompass only the reporter's personal experience? Does this type of storytelling fall into the realm of blogging? If used merely to document news, are wearables helping or hurting the journalist tell the unbiased story? Without the same POV given to the other side, is there an ethical balance achieved in storytelling? Do wearables pose a different set of moral guidelines by which to report?

Ethical newsgathering in the mobile world

Therein lies the fundamental challenge that accompanies all forms of journalistic progress. If the news is happening all around us no matter where we are, and we can cover it with the subtlest of tools in hand, are we delivering the story in the most ethical way possible? Or are we just taking advantage of the ease that mobile tech has to offer? Moreover, if by using wearables to tell a story, are we — by default — presenting a skewed perspective, colored by both the POV of the reporter and the mobile tech used?

Before we can effectively incorporate these emerging technologies into our reporting, we must pose and address these questions at every stage of mobile tech's evolution, no matter how much it streamlines our newsgathering process. In the end, the public's trust in us can only be shaped by the ethical principles that guide our reporting.

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