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News & Press: Government Affairs

Reporting on Sunday Sales

Wednesday, September 30, 2015  
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Reporting on Sunday Sales“Even the most private of Twitter users aren’t just individuals, tweeting into the void. They’re also members of ad hoc communities that coalesce around shared identities.” – Slate, May 2014

 

Well-funded coalitions can also pay people, reward people with events and other offers, and encourage people to “weigh” in with borderline libelous comments. Savvy journalists get that, but bias does creep in when media are engaged in the high-stakes game of moving the needle in social media in the competitive race for the most followers, shares and likes.

 

Two stories are posted here for comparison sake alone. Check out The Indianapolis Star article and The Statehouse File story to see the “take” on the very same subject matter — Hoosiers aren’t obsessing in their daily lives about Sunday alcohol sales, which is what all three of our statewide polls have documented. We understand that’s difficult for journalists to believe, but two former statewide astroturfing campaigns that both failed seem to also underscore what we’re saying. One article leads the reader with observational smack, like the comment about “men in suits.” (As if men wear other standard attire?)

 

The Statehouse File story is fairer on its face, without these kinds of digs. More from Slate: “The journalistic landscape has changed so much in such a short period that it feels a little square to harken back to traditional ethics codes. The Society of Professional Journalists’ version, which was established in 1926 and updated most recently in 1996, instructs journalists to “use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects” and to “recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.”

 

If reporters view all statements on Twitter as equally quotable — who among billions of Twitter users couldn’t be accused of seeking “attention”? — then the divide between public and private is rendered meaningless. On the one hand, news is being created and shared on social media, and journalists cover those platforms like a beat in order to keep their readers informed.

 

On the other hand, the obliteration of the private sphere is very convenient for journalists, and not just because it enables us to exercise the right to a free press in service of the public good. Social media sourcing also allows journalists to push out a high volume of stories at a breakneck speed, racking up ad impressions along the way.” The SPJ ethics code was updated this September. It is worth pointing out other key points to the code: “Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.” “Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” “Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.” “Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.”

 

As media continue to be courted in promoting this Big-Box campaign by posting web links and driving traffic (far cheaper than paying for ads), we hope you remain as skeptical as we do. We hope that all journalists take a fair approach to a public policy story that affects millions of Hoosiers in Indiana. In the end, that’s really all we can ask and continue to point out who’s taking sides (and funding the campaign).


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