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Case studies in new ethical challenges in online journalism

Hypocrisy in journalism school

By Joy Bacon, Dotcom Journalists

Alana Taylor is a journalism and history student at New York University. In the summer of 2008, she was asked by PBS to begin posting guest entries on the organization’s Media Shift blog. She did not receive payment for her work. Taylor posted her first entry on Sept. 5, 2008, titled “Old Thinking Permeates Journalism School.” The entry focused on her only journalism class that term, Reporting Gen. Y, which aimed to explore how Generation Y used new technology differently than previous audiences, and how to utilize this technology in journalistic reporting. Taylor’s entry was critical in several ways.

First, she writes about her disappointment with NYU’s journalism program as a whole, specifically its lack of courses about digital media and the shifting employment requirements for online vs. print journalism. Her second main criticism is that she is the only student in a room of 16 students that had a blog. She also wrote that her professor, Mary Quigley, did not understand the uses of social media even though she was teaching about them. Finally, Taylor wrote about her frustration with having to bring a print copy of The New York Times to class each day, saying that she wished the class was open to online news sources or at least non-traditional media.

The blog post was picked up as a top story on the Poynter Institute’s Romenesko page, of which Quigley was an avid reader. On September 18, Gawker.com also posted an entry about the incident. (The site posted another entry September 26). According to a September 17 post on Media Shift, Quigley told Taylor it was an invasion of privacy to the other students in the class for Taylor to blog about it. She also was upset that Taylor did not ask Quigley’s permission before posting the entry. Taylor was told by Quigley that she was no longer allowed to blog or live-Twitter from the class. Brooke Kroeger, director of the Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute at NYU, told Media Shift’s Mark Glaser that the university did not have a policy on blogging in or about a class. Kroeger said it was an individual classroom policy decision that could be made by professors about their own classrooms. She did, however, defend Quigley’s decision to restrict blogging and live-Twittering in class, saying the practice would be distracting in a classroom. In a response to Glaser, Quigley said she asked students not to email, text, or use cell phones during class, but that they were free to blog or comment on the course in any manner they felt (Twitter, Facebook, blog, etc).

Another concern around Taylor’s post was the limited scope of her reporting as an embedded journalist for Media Shift. Adam Penenberg, an assistant professor at NYU and chairman of the journalism department’s ethics committee, told Michael Getle of PBS’ Ombudsman blog that he felt Taylor’s post was not sufficiently researched, did not include balanced interviews, did not identify herself to the class as being a writer for the national PBS affiliate. He questioned if the blog post violated PBS’ editorial standards regarding deception. In e-mail exchanges with Penenberg, Glaser said he agreed Taylor should’ve gotten her professor’s permission beforehand. Taylor told Glaser, and also wrote on her personal blog “Alana Taylor,” that she had originally planned to write two entries, and would’ve included interviews and her professor’s perspective in the second post. In his Media Shift entry on the situation, Glaser also discussed the hypocrisy of an institution such as NYU teaching students about the First Amendment and how to practice journalism, but at the same time limiting free speech and not allowing the use of the tools it was teaching in its classrooms, such as twitter and blogging. Taylor is currently still enrolled at NYU. She also writes for Mashable, a blog about social media. She also does freelance social media consulting for Classic Media, Inc. and Halo Pets.

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Works cited

-Getler, M. (2008). Some dubious links for pbs.org. Ombudsman. Retrieved February 16,
2009 from http://www.pbs.org/ombudsman/2008/09/some_dubious_links
_for_pbsorg.html

-Glaser, M. (2008). NYU professor stifles blogging, twittering by journalism student.
MediaShift. Retrieved February 16, 2009, from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/nyu-professor-stifles-blogging-twittering-by-journalism-student261.html

-Romenesko, J. (2008). NYU student who wrote about her j-class says she’s been silenced. Romenesko. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from http://www.poynter.org/column.asp?id=45&aid=150773

-Shiela. (2008). “Embedded” blogger-journalism student confuses the hell out of PBS. Journalismism. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from http://gawker.com/5055530/embedded-blogger+journalism-student-confuses-the-hell-out-of-pbs

-Shiela. (2008). Journalism prof banns blogging about class. Journalismism. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from http://gawker.com/5051737/journalism-prof-bans-blogging-about-class

-Taylor, A. (2008). Alana Taylor. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from http://www.alanataylor.com/2008_09_01_archive.html

-Taylor, A. (2008). Old thinking permeates major journalism school. MediaShift. Retrieved February 16, 2009 from http://www.pbs.org/mediashift/2008/09/old-thinking-permeates major-journalism-school249.html

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