Friday blog rescue: WisconsinWatch series on sexual assault at UW

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism — a separate, non-profit, public-interest reporting group, housed here in SJMC — recently launched a multimedia reporting project and resource entitled Suffering in Silence: Sexual assaults at the University of Wisconsin. It’s already gained attention from both the UW administration and the media:

At University of Wisconsin campuses, sexual assaults remain seriously underreported and many women still face barriers to notifying authorities. Most victims do not report crimes. The statistics are inconsistent. And most rapists go free.

The Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism today launches Suffering in Silence: Sexual Assaults at the University of Wisconsin, an investigation that examines how UW is tackling sexual assaults on its 13 four-year campuses. The multimedia project, which includes audio clips and a searchable database of campus reports, is the result of dozens of interviews the Center’s reporters conducted with rape victims, UW officials, advocates, researchers and others.

Reactions to the investigation began even before the stories were published. As a result of our reporting, on Tuesday, Feb. 23, the UW System acknowledged its annual summary of sexual assaults — required by the Legislature — should be more accessible and posted it on a new Web page. Two days later, UW-Madison Dean of Students Lori Berquam issued a statement saying that “reading these stories reminds us of the importance of the work we are doing to try to prevent these horrible acts, to respond in victim-centered ways and to seek accountability from those who would perpetrate them.”

These reports were put together by a staff of both seasoned professionals and young reporters (several are current students and recent graduates of our program).  The separate Suffering in Silence web site that they have put together to highlight this enterprise reporting is a great example of the ways in which today’s journalists are exploring difficult but crucial social issues by mixing text, image and audio, connecting their stories to other news agencies and public organizations, and inviting open but civil feedback to their work through social network tools.

Monday debate: iPad to the rescue?

This week I’m working on a plan to get some Apple iPads into the hands of students in Fall 2010 through SJMC courses.  If you haven’t heard of the Apple iPad, you weren’t paying attention to the commercial aired during the Oscars last night:

iPad Oscars commercial

It’s been called a souped-up iPod Touch, a reinvented NetBook, a new paradigm for computing, and — coming from Apple — the Next Big Thing.  But what might it do for media?  Here’s a presentation from a major global publisher which hints at some possibilities:

iPad Penguin presentation

Today’s debate: Will the iPad save media? Will it kill media? Will it affect news distribution or message campaigns? Will it matter?

Friday blog rescue: Ethics, parenting and war

Today’s blog rescue comes from Katy Culver’s J 401 course, “In-depth multimedia reporting,” where she challenges her students to consider a different case of media ethics than the one the campus has been discussing this week:

Check out this four-part series from Journal Sentinel Managing Editor (and J-School alum) George Stanley.

Gone, our peaceful world – JSOnline.

And ponder this critique of the work.

What are the limits of “objective reporting,” as we’ve discussed in class? Many people argue that transparency is a solution. Let the audience in on your biases and predispositions, and you’ll move a lot farther toward fair reporting. Do you agree?  Does Stanley do this? Does Murphy do it in his response?

How is the piece reported and written overall? Check out the multimedia stripped down the left rail. Do they add to the story? Are they integrated? Do the personal connections add to the story or detract? What different choices might you have made if you were given this same assignment.

In viral video sponsorship, when it comes to brand identification, OK Go and their underwriter prove less is more

Advertisers and their agencies talk a lot about viral videos.  “I have an idea!  Let’s make a video!”  And they do, and far more often than not, the thing goes nowhere.

This Too Shall Pass by OK Go

“This Too Shall Pass” went live on Monday, and already has 2.5 million views as of this moment.  I came across it via a link on Twitter feed from a guy I follow but don’t actually know, which directed me to his Tumblr page.

It features the band OK Go in a giant Rube Goldberg-type machine.  (These were the guys who made the 2006 video involving some rather acrobatic jumps on treadmills.)  The back-story is pretty cool.

Kudos to State Farm for sponsoring it, and for doing so in a very low key way.  Their very recognizable logo appears at the beginning, integrated into the first few seconds.  I noticed it but only really knew they were the sponsor at the very end.  This is exactly how viral videos should work.  Understated identification that makes a consumer connection but doesn’t get in the way of the entertainment value of the video itself.

As the Tumblr post I saw from Harry Shum Jr. notes, “OK Go….That was pure epicness….”  I have to agree.  (Updated)  I can’t help but notice that he has two dozen comments about it already himself.

Monday debate: Should a campus paper accept a Holocaust denial ad? (updated)

Last week’s Monday debate concerned the question of whether and how to moderate comments to online news articles and editorials, inspired by a case that took place over at the Badger Herald.  Over the course of that week the Herald was targeted by a well-known Holocaust denier with a paid advertisement which ended up running on the front page of the paper’s web site.  The paper decided not to pull the ad:

This paper did not want to give Smith or his foolish ideas any legitimacy, nor did it want to benefit financially from such a reprehensible idea. However, at the same time, I did not want to serve a paternalistic role, telling this campus that these thoughts are so painful and wrong that to even discuss them would be dangerous.

After wrestling with the consequences of my actions and the principles on which this paper is based, I came to the conclusion that I cannot justify the removal of this ad.

Since then, the issue has generated nearly 100 online comments over at the Badger Herald, and lots of behind-the-scenes discussion among faculty and staff here at SJMC.

The issue in question is not the legal right of an independent campus newspaper to accept any advertising it likes.  The issue is rather one of media ethics.  Is a newspaper obligated to accept any and all advertisements which reach its inbox?  Should a media outlet avoid accepting an ad which both its editorial or journalistic judgement tells it is blatantly false?  Is constructing any policy to potentially refuse advertising of any nature a slipperly slope to censorship?  Is it simply the case that “the antidote to objectionable speech is more speech,” or are there important power relations at work in these cases?

The Anti-Defamation League has confronted this issue on college campuses many times.  Their sourcebook on Fighting Holocaust Denial in Campus Newspaper Advertisements focuses directly on the organization which placed the ad in the Badger Herald, and describes how three other university newspapers dealt with these challenges last year.  They state their ethical position on the issue clearly:

Although campus media are a natural venue for the expression of ideas — even controversial ideas — editors should be aware that privately owned publications have editorial autonomy to decide what will and will not be published. Courts generally view student newspapers (even those at public schools) as private when student editors, and not school administrators, make decisions about content and advertising policies. Campus newspapers are under no legal or moral obligation to accept unsolicited articles or advertising containing false, misleading and/or defamatory statements.

Abstract ethics need to be made relevant to, and sometimes held accountable by, personal experiences.  Over the course of the week I received a detailed and well-written email from a former student concerning this debate.  The student kindly agreed to let me excerpt from the email for the purposes of opening up the discussion on media ethics here at Mediated Communication:

Hey Professor Downey,

I wanted to email you regarding the Badger Herald’s decision to post an advertisement for CODOH (“Committee for Open Debate on the Holocaust”). Yesterday, I received an email from Greg Steinberger, Hillel director, regarding the advertisement and went in to his office today to learn more about the situation.

During the day, I looked at the actual advertising copy on the Herald’s site plus visited Bradley Smith’s blog to gain more information about why he placed the advertisement. Although I found myself drawn into this situation, it was not until two hours ago that my interest evolved into discomfort. I went to Smtih’s blog again and found a video titled “The Badger Herald is Not Alone”. To me, this video doesn’t advocate free speech but instead promotes the message anti-Semitism on campus.

Viewing this situation, I feel that the Badger Herald’s actions impacted me on three different levels (in random order):

• as a UW-Madison student
• as a Jewish college student
• as a student within the School of Journalism and Mass Communication

First, I feel that the Herald’s choice to run the advertisement acted as a gateway to bring anti-Semitism, masked as an attempt to “promote an open forum”, to our campus. I am uncomfortable with the idea that some student, browsing the Internet in his or her dorm room, may stumble upon this material and be drawn into a movement that is harmful, discriminatory, and simply “wrong.”

Being a Jewish student, I am… well, I can’t think of a better term to say this… pissed off that the Herald would run such an ad. I’ve visited Poland and walked through concentration camps, viewing the Zyklon B stains and fingernail scratches on the walls of gas chambers. Looking deeper into his blog, you can find that Smith makes statements that are anti-Semitic in nature. He states in a January 2009 post, “Jewish greed, Jewish monomaniacal self-regard, joined with the self-defeating and degenerate acquiescence of both by non-Jews throughout the American political system, media, and academic worlds, ensure that the taboo against questioning any of this murderous nonsense is enforced.” I feel uncomfortable, as as young Jewish adult,  that the Badger Herald placed an ad for an individual who, at the core of his work, is anti-Semitic.

Finally, I am appalled that the Herald has a low standard of ethics to place such an advertisement.  I support free speech, the value of muckraking, investigating controversy, and the efforts to promote public debate. As a student in the SJMC, I’ve been taught the absolute and utmost importance of ethics. However, I feel that the Herald did not act in a moral fashion when placing this ad. Many students within the SJMC work at the Badger Herald and I feel that their actions reflect poorly on the education of the J School.

I just wanted to let you know my thoughts and concerns on this situation.

The School of Journalism & Mass Communication has no formal sponsorship or supervisory role over any of the student media on campus.  However, I know that the case will be raised in more than one SJMC class this week as a “teachable moment.”   I figured our blog might be just the place for our graduate and undergraduate students to confront and discuss questions like these, carefully and caringly, so if you feel like adding a well-considered comment below, please do.  (All submissions will be moderated, just as I would moderate a classroom discussion.)

Late update 2010-03-02: Both the Daily Cardinal and Chancellor Martin have now added their voices to this debate, each in different ways.