Ethical Journalism

A major issue I find today is the problem of ethical journalism.  What is it?  What is considered ethical?  Unethical?  And where do you draw the line?  The ethical dilemmas faced by professional journalists and how we handle each situation is what separates us from citizen journalists.

In professor Mead Loop’s journalism ethics class we learned that studies have shown that after doctors and lawyers, journalists deal with the most ethical dilemmas in their job.  I believe it is the journalism training a professional journalists receives throughout his career that separates us from journalists like Mayhill Fowler.  As a citizen journalist, Fowler did not learn about how to deal with ethical dilemmas in the workforce, like her article on former President Bill Clinton.

So what is ethical journalism?  To me, ethical journalism is using the correct process of interviewing and collecting information in order to present both sides of a conflict.  As a journalist, it is our responsibility to interview as many sources as possible to prevent a bias in an article.  Fowler did not do this in her article about Clinton.  Her only source besides Clinton’s testimony is an editor from Esquire.  The editor agreed with Clinton, giving Fowler’s article no opposing viewpoints.  Fowler should have interviewed Purdum and others who agree with him to present both sides of the conflict.

Also, as far as Fowler’s process of collecting information, she did not identify herself to Clinton as a reporter, appearing to be simply engaging in conversation with the former President.  Fowler presented herself in a false light, and the process by which she received her information was unethical as well.


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Fowler Commits a Journalistic Foul

Mayhill Fowler, a citizen journalist for Huffington Post, wrote an article in 2008 slamming Bill Clinton over a discussion of a Vanity Fair article published by journalist Todd Purdum.  In Fowler’s article, Clinton is quoted using words such as “sleazy,” “slimy,” “dishonest,” and “scumbag” to describe Purdum and his article.

In her article, Fowler quotes an editor from Esquire who said Purdum’s article about Clinton was a dirty act of journalism and was one of the sleaziest pieces of journalism in decades.  The editor said it, “made him want to take a shower” because it was so dirty.  However, what Fowler did not tell her audience was that her interview with former President Clinton was an unofficial interview.  Fowler never identified herself as a reporter to Clinton.  When dealing with a public figure as influential as Bill Clinton, Fowler committed a journalistic foul in not identifying herself as a member of the press.

Fowler has a history of unethical behavior.  In 2008 Fowler snuck into a press conference being held by Democratic Presidential candidate Barack Obama.  Again it seems that Fowler has committed a journalistic foul.

I believe it is unethical for a journalist to intentionally refuse to identify themselves as a member of the media and press.  In my mind, Fowler is the same type of reporter as Purdum.  Her writing is hypocritical because she herself uses unethical process to collect information.

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Bloggers and Vloggers – Is There a Difference?

Freshman year at Ithaca College myself and two roommates made two videos.  The first was a music video to the song “Here In Your Arms” by HelloGoodbye.  The second being a music video to “Baby Got Back” by Sir Mix Alot.  Our goal was to go viral and become YouTube and Internet sensations.  Needless to say, it didn’t work.  The concept was not original.  We were just three college students trying to have some fun.

Becoming an Internet sensation today is harder than ever.  In a 2008 article, author Brian Stetler writes about Michael Buckley, host of “What The Buck?,” a celebrity gossip show found on YouTube.  Buckley has been so successful in his YouTube quest that he quit his job to commit more time to his YouTube channel.  Buckley currently makes a comfortable living off What The Buck?  This trend is all due to YouTube’s partnership with Google Ads.  After a specific amount of views on your channel or video, Google will start to show ads on a video, with the YouTube host receiving a cut of the advertising revenue.

Those YouTube hosts (or Vloggers as I like to call them) taking advantage of this system and who are popular like Buckley are doing what every independent blogger has done before them.  They are establishing a unique following and exploiting a particular niche in an ever growing market.  I commend them for finding a new medium for which to express their thoughts and opinions, just like bloggers did when the Internet was founded.

The only difference between entrepreneurial bloggers and vloggers is the medium where they present their views to the public.

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Chocolate Provides a Sweet Life


APR. 18, 2012

Although it only opened four years ago, Life’s So Sweet Chocolate shop, located in Trumansburg, N.Y. has an antique feel to it, which is exactly what owner Darlynne Overbaugh intended when she opened the store in February 2008.

Life's So Sweet is located in Trumansburg, N.Y.

“We are a fusion of the classic confectionary store like you would have found in the 1950s and 1960s all over America and also with the contemporary stores carrying all different kinds of exotic flavors,” Overbaugh said.

[Click here to view an audio slideshow of Life’s So Sweet]

Overbaugh graduated from Wells College with a bachelor’s degree focusing in theatre and arts but eventually decided to take her hobby of making chocolate and turn it into a business.

“I’ve been making candy since I was 8 years old.  My mother and I would make it for fun for Easter and Christmas gifts and then I began teaching myself other techniques.  I created some of my own recipes and decided to put together a plan to start my own business,” she said.

Life’s So Sweet Chocolates originally started by selling just three different kinds of signature truffles but it now has over 40 flavors of truffles, all of which Overbaugh had created a recipe for.

“I pay really close attention to the flavor trends within the entire food community and then I borrow ideas form different portions of the food industry…we utilize local ingredients whenever we can so I try to look at those local ingredients when they’re in season and then create a local recipe based on what’s available to me,” she said.

Along with selling chocolate on its website, Life’s So Sweet Chocolate is also sold in stores throughout Ithaca such as Purity, Bool’s Flower Shop, and Buffalo Street Books.

The store is known for its variety of truffels.

“We make a product for Ithaca Coffee Company that we don’t even sell here. It’s a signature coffee bark. We paired their coffee with our chocolates, both milk, dark, and white, giving each kind its own flavor of coffee and blended it right into the chocolate, creating a bark. They sell it like wild fire year round,” said Overbaugh.

Pam Barbanks, who works at Ithaca Coffee Company, is in charge of ordering the chocolate from Overbaugh.

“We carry about five different types of her chocolate, including the bark, and we sell a large amount of each of them.  People know that we carry it and they come in just for her product,” Barbanks said.

Heather Lane, a manager at Purity, said she and her costumers love the quality of the chocolates.

“We started selling Life’s So Sweet Chocolate after me and another manager went to visit the shop in Trumansburg.  I loved the product and her [Darlynne’s] story,” Lane said.

Overbaugh said while they are busy year round doing events and weddings they concentrate their sales around three major holidays, Valentine’s Day, Easter, and Christmas.  Life’s So Sweet Chocolate also has a lot of tourists stopping in throughout the year.

“We are a tourist attraction.  During the months May through October we offer chocolate tours on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays, at 1 and 3 pm. We find that people from all over, even locals, come and tour the shop.”

Overbaugh said she never thought her business would grow as much as it did in the past couple of years.

“I believe its because we don’t just sell candy, we sell memories. People remember a time when things were simpler and costumer service was outstanding.  That’s what we provide and we work really hard to make sure everyone is well taken care of,” she said.

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Small Town Street Vending


APR. 9, 2012 

Ithaca, N.Y. – For 16 years Lou Cassaniti has sold hot dogs on the Commons of Ithaca, New York, a street vending veteran in his own right.

Cassaniti works by his own clock, judging the weather and the crowd to decide when he’ll call it a day. His right to operate a mobile vending cart, however, is registered and regulated by the city of Ithaca.

“I have a seven page contract with the City of Ithaca,” Cassaniti said. “I have a $3 million liability policy so the city can’t get sued.  I have seven permits; health department, fire department, etc.  I got them all.  This is a regulated business.”

Cassaniti is one of a handful of street vendors who occupy the Commons and their respective niches in the sale of different foods for the majority of the year.

The seasons and festivals of Ithaca decide how much revenue Cassaniti’s business and others will generate. With spring heating up the city and bringing in tourists as well as families for graduation at Ithaca’s two universities, Cassaniti expects to see business pick up as it does every spring on the Commons.

“The warmer it gets the more [business],” he said.  “In the summer time it’s tourists from all over the world.  It’s graduation next month.  A whole week at Ithaca College, a whole week at Cornell.  That’s a lot of people.”

Cassaniti welcomes the crowds the festivals draw in as well as the 20 to 30 other vendors who set up shop. He does not fear competition drawing away from his own business; rather he encourages new items and services to be offered by his neighboring vendors.

“What’d I’d like to see is someone do smoothies and drinks in the summer time when it’s warm,” he said. “Nobody’s done it yet.”

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CHILD Combats Christian Scientists


ITHACA, N.Y. – Jean German is Rh-negative.  Her husband is Rh-positive.  As a result, doctors thought the couple to be incompatible and would experience difficulties when conceiving children.  Years later, the Germans have three daughters, which German gives credit to Christian Science.

“I feel medicine isn’t the answer to all the problems, and it’s our thought that’s important — it’s what we think,” German said.

The study of Christian Science focuses primarily on the belief that physical ailments, such as sickness and death, are not actually physical.  Instead, they are believed to be a state of mind disconnected from material, bodily elements and therefore will not be benefited or in need of medical treatment.

However, the departure from medical science, or “materia medica” as its followers call it, makes this religion controversial and the subject of numerous court trials and cases of medical negligence, particularly involving children raised in a Christian Scientist household.

Children’s Healthcare Is a Legal Duty, an organization founded in 1983 by Rita Swan to “protect children from harmful religious and cultural practices, especially religion-based medical neglect.”  CHILD has been active in communicating with state legislations about parental obligations in regards to religious exemptions from child health and safety laws.

“Parents should not be required to continue with medical care that does not have a good probability of saving life, preventing permanent harm, or at least relieving severe pain,” said Swan. “But at the point when a Methodist, Jew, or atheist parent would have a legal duty to take their child to a doctor, a Christian Science parent should have that same duty.”

Rita Swan founded CHILD after the loss of her 15 year-old son, Matthew, to spinal meningitis in 1977 after relying on Christian Science for spiritual healing.

The Swan’s left the Christian Science church after Matthew passed away.  They continue to focus on spreading awareness of other children who have been negatively and sometimes fatally affected due to a lack of medical treatment from Christian Scientists and other parents of medically opposed faiths.

The Church of Christ, Scientist was founded by Mary Baker Eddy in 1879 and was based upon the teachings of Christ Jesus.  The religion is worshiped in 130 countries worldwide, with 55 in New York State. A local fellowship, the First Church of Christ, Scientist can be found on University Avenue in Ithaca.

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In Transparency We Trust


In the summer of 2010 NBA superstar LeBron James became perhaps the most anticipated free agent in sports history.  His choice of where to play the 2010-11 season was the primary focus of ESPN’s coverage for several months.  When James decided where to play, ESPN announced they would be airing a LeBron special called, ‘The Decision,’ in which James would announce his signing.  ESPN had exclusive coverage of this event.  What they did not tell the public was that James’ agent and managers had contacted ESPN first, and that the special was all James’ idea.  After word spread of the debacle, ESPN received an incredible amount of negative feedback from sports fans and other news reporting outlets.  The special was not objective reporting.  James’ manager even selected the interviewer for ESPN, stating LeBron would not agree to The Decision unless ESPN’s Jim Gray was interviewing.  LeBron’s people also had final say in what questions Gray could ultimately ask James.  Credible reporting?  I think not.

After personally interviewing several ESPN producers in April of 2011, Mark Gross (a Senior Producer at ESPN) admitted they went about covering The Decision incorrectly, and that if given the chance to do it over, Gross and ESPN would be more transparent in their reporting on LeBron James.

But this begs the question: In a digital age, is it more important for writers and reporters to be transparent in their coverage, or stick to an objective view point?

In a 2007 article, blogger David Weinberger discusses how media outlets, particularly new media, are changing how their news is presented to its readers.  For centuries, journalists have clung to the idea of remaining objective in their reporting.  The idea stemmed from the belief that if we (journalists) report objectively, the news produced will be increasingly trustworthy.  If we do not present our political and social biases, our audience will have faith that what we are reporting is both fair and accurate.  But the internet is changing this.

As Weinberger mentions, transparency “prospers in a linked medium.”  I believe that hyperlinks alone are the main cause for bloggers and journalists writing for the Internet to be transparent.  As a reader, I like to know the background of whatever article I am reading.  Where did the information presented originate?  Was it conceived by research?  Interviews?  Or through documents obtained by the reporter?  This is the advantage hyperlinking holds.  By hyperlinking in an article, questions like these are answered.  No longer does a consumer need to wonder where or how a reporter is gathering information.

In today’s media world, although never openly conveyed by corporate media, biases are ever present.  Fox News and MSNBC are two examples of corporate media outlets whose political biases are evident, yet swept under the rug and disregarded by corporate producers.

I agree with Weinberg’s statement, “Transparency is the new objectivity.”

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