August 11, 2011

Knight Center ethics webinar tackles challenges faced by journalists in the digital age

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Registration is now closed

Rapid changes brought on by the digital age have created new ethical challenges that will be discussed in a Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas webinar on Aug. 16 from 12–2p.m. (CDT). Registration is open.

The two-hour webinar “Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age” will be taught in English by Professor Edward Wasserman, Knight Chair in Journalism Ethics at Washington and Lee University. Journalists from Latin America and the Caribbean have until 9 a.m. (CDT) on Aug. 16 to register here.

Professor Wasserman will focus on the new challenges journalists face as the technological revolution puts them at greater risk for violating conflict of interest rules. “I think conflict of interest is arising as a truly signature issue of journalism in the digital age because more and more journalists are doing journalism as one of the numerous things they do,” said Wasserman.

The ethics professor finds that as many journalists turn to other sources for income, “the journalism they do can be affected by that. There is always a temptation to view the journalism as a kind of audition for other jobs and when you’re doing that, you run a tremendous risk of doing worse journalism or doing journalism that is conflicted.

“The other problem is that news organizations are so eager for revenue sources that they are not perhaps as rigid as they had traditionally been about resisting influence from potential funders,” Wasserman explained. More organizations are sponsoring reporters to cover certain topics which “means that you are fundamentally allowing someone from the outside to direct the way you use your newsroom resources.”

In addition to his teaching duties at Washington and Lee University, Wasserman also writes a nationally distributed column on the media for McClatchy-Tribune News Service. He is a member of the executive board for the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics (APPE) and serves on the editorial advisory board for the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. In the past, he was executive business editor of the Miami Herald and CEO and editor-in-chief of the Daily Business Review newspaper chain. He has also taught the Knight Center’s online course, “Journalism Ethics for the Digital Age.”

Along with conflict of interest, Wasserman will discuss problems with avoiding harm and privacy issues that have evolved as journalists adjust to a digital world. Newsrooms now may “push stories into publication much more quickly than those of us who came up in the print environment are comfortable with,” he said. The question, then, is how do journalists balance the need to be competitive and relevant “with the moral necessity to try to be fair and and to try to minimize whatever harm you’re going to be doing?”

While the use of technology has “recast” some ethical dilemmas, Wasserman does not plan to focus the entire webinar on digital related ethics. “It’s going to be a pretty sweeping, two hour, full immersion in contemporary newsroom ethics and we have to start with certain basics about the way that ethical doctrines use right and wrong,” he explained.

The ethics professor will also give participants plenty of time to ask questions during the event. Those wishing to register can do so here and have until Aug. 16 at 9 a.m.(CDT) to sign up. There will be an administrative fee of $30.

The Knight Center was founded in 2002 with a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation by Professor Rosental Alves with the goal of helping journalists in Latin America and the Caribbean improve the quality of journalism in their countries. The center also receives contributions from other donors such as the Open Society Foundations and the University of Texas.