Concerned with newspaper coverage

11

To the Editor:

I have read the Times for most of my life. I used to write for the Times. I won a NEPA (the predecessor to NENPA) award for the Times. But I don’t intend to pay for the one-sided, inflammatory coverage I’ve too often found in its pages of late.

The Society of Professional Journalists, a body over 100 years old, has established a Code of Ethics: four guiding principles for journalists who wish to take the high road in their craft, where the view is usually better anyway.

The second of these principles is “Minimize harm.” To meet this benchmark, journalists are encouraged to:

“Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort.

“Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.

“Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish.

“Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

There are gratuitous details in some recent stories which have caused severe, lasting harm to people and which do not edify the public, unless your goal is to erode any remaining trust in our institutions, our public officials, and humanity in general.

On the other hand there are salient details, and perspectives, which have been left out. It’s surreal to see the same quite flagrantly biased sources in story after story, while sources who could provide valuable countervailing information aren’t heard from at all. That’s covered in the first SPJ principle, by the way: “Seek truth and report it.”

One more thing: “Tree of death”? You know most of the Tisbury School students can read, right?

Looking forward to a return to the ethical guideposts which should be the goal of every serious newspaper. At that time, I will happily subscribe to the MV Times.

 

Molly Martone
West Tisbury

11 COMMENTS

  1. Molly, I ask this sincerely, without sarcasm, and with genuine curiosity. What publication do you see as paradigmatic of the Code of Ethics you mention?

  2. Permit me, please, to focus my original question. What newspaper, as written, do you see as paradigmatic of the Code of Ethics you mention?

  3. It’s hard to know what the writer is talking about since she is purposely so unspecific. Is there some story that was unfair to someone? Was this newspaper unfair to a Chilmark police chief who resigned after illegally discriminating against a subordinate female officer he was having an extra-marital affair with, telling her that her mental health condition prohibited her from going back to work? Why shouldn’t the public know that? That story actually made a lot of sense to me and I am glad to know about it. The Times did its readers a service by covering it. Is it unfair to name names, like when there’s a criminal spree of robberies against honor-system farm stands? What exactly is too lurid and too unfair to print if this is what’s happening in our community? I’d really like to know what the writer thinks is so unfair.

    This newspaper is not perfect but it does an intelligent and good job of keeping readers informed on all kinds of topics– on a level that is professionally recognized. As a person whose comments are censored left and right, I don’t have issues with the paper’s professionalism, standards, and quality of reporting. This gripe of inflammatory coverage of a story comes up every so often, usually when someone’s family or close friend has been outed in the newspaper for doing something they should not be doing, embarrassing and emotionally hurting other family members. This is a small island and if you don’t want details of criminal or anti-social behavior to be pubic knowledge, don’t live here. Small towns are not for you. I have a friend who claims that if you pass gas in Chilmark, they are sure to know about it in Edgartown. And really, where else can you get news articles about cribbage scores and winners? I don’t think the Gazette reports on that.

  4. Hit and a Miss here. Hit: “Tree of Death” was a joke of a headline, suggesting a B-Movie creature was stalking innocent children at play on the school grounds. Miss: The idea that the newspaper is an out-of-control, harmful entity that is running roughshod over the community. No paper that churns out an edition 52x a year, year after year, will be immune from error, but on the whole the MV Times is a decent paper. The perfect is the enemy of the good.

      • Must all journalistic writing be completely bowdlerized? Must all prose lie tepid and dead on the page? Why should the school community be the final arbiter of taste or of journalism? Did the offensive headline cause actual harm, or just hand wringing?

  5. “You know most of the Tisbury School students can read, right?” How does mocking students further one’s point?

    • …author is refuring to students in classes where reading skills are just being taught, of which there are several in all elementary schools. I think it you read the authors words again in this light, you’ll see she was actually noting that scaring children old enough to read but not old enough to understand the situation was the concern held here, never-mind attracting attention to something dangerous that children may decide to explore having been informed of it.

    • I think that you are misinterpreting the authors letter greatly if you interpret that line to be mocking students.

  6. I couldn’t agree more. I feel I could have written this myself. As a small community, we need to treat every person being represented in the newspaper as if they are our own family or friends, because chances are, one day it will be. Regardless of the subject or the mistakes made by any individual, journalistic integrity and objectivity should be vital to our local newspapers. The rhetoric, bias, framing and overall lack of sensitivity can do so much damage. We as a community need to demand the stories that surround us to be delivered to us at a higher standard. I realize it must be difficult for journalist to eradicate personal opinion from a storyline or withdraw unnecessary “gratuitous” details, but if that’s the case we might as well be purchasing a tabloid magazine. Recent articles are overly invasive, to say the least. Stories are delivered by our papers with improper explanations and misleading narratives (some more than others) and people read them and believe what they are reading to be fact, when that isn’t entirely true and this can be incredibly deceptive. Sources are also a vital part of a story. A newspaper should be doing their due diligence in making sure their sources are credible, reputable and not out to destroy someone’s character or seek revenge.

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