Posts Tagged ‘Ethics’

Post-moderation of user comments is now the accepted safest practice for journalists. Pre-moderation opens us up to the risk of letting through an offensive or libelous comment in error, effectively endorsing it through our approval process.

But there’s still confusion and differing opinions about how we should treat comments we don’t like once they go live.

This week a story about a Congolese woman facing deportation sparked an interesting debate in the Sunderland Echo newsroom.

>> Battle for mum and son to stay in Britain

A comment suggesting the subject of the article should ‘go back to the Congo’ as she was a ‘parasite’ was posted by a user. It was an uncomfortable read with worrying racial undertones.

But how do you handle such a comment? Removing it ourselves would set a precedent of moderation which would be difficult to maintain in terms of resource. More importantly, perhaps, it would show that we were hands-on with moderation thereby raising the notion to readers that comments we don’t remove are implicitly approved.

On the other hand, the comment does not sit with the inclusive values of our newspaper and journalists, and would almost certainly cause offence to the subject of the article or some readers.

In the end we opted to leave the comment and trust our readers to contextualise it with responses of their own.

Even by the time our debate had ended the decision had become a moot point – one poster had taken the original commentator to task and another had reported the comment as unsuitable, thereby hiding it from view.

But what would you have done?

Porn twins Zayna and Noor, aka Kit and Kat

Porn twins Zayna and Noor, aka Kit and Kat

Any local newspaper is only as big as the village/town/city/area it serves, but the sky’s the limit when it comes to attracting an audience online.

In two years at the Sunderland Echo our most popular story by far has been the tale of two Wearside twins who revealed a secret double life of escorting and porn movie stardom to their aghast family. The story will soon pass the 200,000 hits mark and attracts a steady flow of visitors from all across the globe. Continue Reading »

One staple source of stories for local newspapers is the RSPCA press office. The tales of cruelty we hear are routinely stomach-churning, but sometimes we get images that are genuinely shocking – even to hardened news hacks.

A recent example of this involved photographs we received of a horse found dismembered in a river. The key image was gruesome; the animal’s severed head and blood spattered hooves were scattered on rocks, but there was no body on show. It was truly horrific.

(Read the article here: Dismembered horse found on river bed)

On this occasion our editor was away from the office, but no discussion was required to establish what everyone knew instinctively – there was no way we would publish such an image in a family newspaper.

I could imagine eyes on me – as digital editor – wondering whether I would try to pull a fast one and sneak these images onto our website. They certainly would have generated plenty of page impressions.

I would never do that. Putting aside questions of taste, I operate under the guidelines which inform the brand values of our core product – the newspaper. Sunderland Echo as a multi-channelled brand should deliver the news via different media but to the same standards across the board. 

Of course there are new ethical dilemmas in the digital age – still photos of a brutal mugging seem relatively tame compared to moving images of the same incident, for instance. When we have footage like this we always consider whether showing the shots will do more good by aiding the apprehension of suspects than harm by offending the sensibilities of some website users who have the right not to click ‘play’. Footage is labelled clealy, and never gratuitous.

A footnote to this post regarding oft-claimed declining moral standards in journalism…

April’s anniversary of the Hillsborough disaster caused me to look back at the coverage from 20 years ago and proved that we weren’t so squeamish when it came to images of people crushed to within an inch of their lives in 1989. A front page picture showed young people fighting for breath, and who knows which of them survived.

Such an image would never appear in the Echo, or on these days. Standards of decency have simply improved since then.