Audio Editing with a Purpose


Last spring, The New York Times reported that NBC fired a producer for participating in the editing of an audio clip in such a way that it made a misleading connection to race in the Florida shooting of Trayvon Martin, who was walking in a Florida neighborhood, by George Zimmerman, a volunteer neighborhood watch member. 


The issue of what role race played in the shooting is far from clear, but NBC’s clip of the Zimmerman call to the police through the emergency 9-1-1 number before the shooting, seemed to make it pretty clear. As aired, Zimmerman is heard saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. He looks black.” 


But in the unedited police copy of the 9-1-1 tape, Zimmerman is heard saying, “This guy looks like he’s up to no good. Or he’s on drugs or something. It’s raining and he’s just walking around, looking about.” It is only when the dispatcher asked if the man being observed is “white, black or Hispanic” that Zimmerman said, “He looks black.”


After an internal investigation, NBC admitted that their edited version focused on race to the virtual exclusion of other factors, and apologized to its viewers. (This hasn't stopped Zimmerman from suing NBC).


Sometimes, an unedited sound bite may be worth a thousand words….


Post Blogger Fails Journalism Test 


The French News Agency reported last spring that a Washington Post blogger resigned after being reprimanded twice in four months for journalistic ethics infractions. One of her articles in blogPost, “home for breaking news and conversation,” was prefaced by an Editors’ Note, which said an earlier draft of the story “made inappropriate, extensive use of an original report by Discovery News” and ”failed to credit that news organization.”


The Editors’ Note appended to the second story said that it “contains multiple, serious factual errors that undermine its premise.”  Presidential candidate Mitt Romney, the Note said, “is not using ‘Keeping America American,’ which was once a KKK slogan, as a catchphrase in stump speeches, as the posting and the headline stated…. The Post should have contacted the Romney campaign for comment before publication….”  (The KKK is a racist organization founded in the Southern U. S. after the Civil War).


Post Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli apologized and said, “We believe in being excessively contrite when The Post falls short of its own standards.”


But Post Ombudsman Patrick Pexton said, “The Post failed her [the blogger] as much as she failed The Post. I spoke with several young bloggers at The Post this week, and some who have left in recent months, and they had the same critique…. They said that they felt as if they were out there alone in digital land, under high pressure to get Web hits, with no training, little guidance or mentoring and sparse editing.”


Should the Post upgrade its hiring practices, or its training and supervision, or both?


Veteran Journalist Tries to Return Favor for Scoop


The New York Times and other media reported last summer that ABC’s Barbara Walters obtained a highly touted interview with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, through the help of a former aide of his—the daughter of Syria’s U.N. ambassador, who had moved to New York with his family.


This story went a lot further after The Telegraph of London found some e-mails exchanged between Walters and her friends at CNN and Columbia University.  In those e-mails, Walters attempted to get the 22-year-old woman a CNN internship and/or admission to Columbia’s Journalism School.  In one of her e-mails to CNN’s Piers Morgan she said the young woman was “brilliant and beautiful," and would make a “wonderful hire.”


Clearly, it was a journalistic coup for Walters to get the interview at a time no Western journalists were being allowed into Syria.  However, her attempt to repay her facilitator in this fashion proved embarrassing both for her and the young woman. Walters did admit that she offered “to mention her to contacts in other media organizations and in academia,” but she said she now realized “this created a conflict and I regret that.”


More embarrassing than this tit-for-tat, however, might be that Walter’s overtures to her “contacts” appeared to have yielded neither a job nor a Columbia admission.


Dutch Treats


Some Dutch journalists came under criticism recently when the Amsterdam daily De Telegraaf revealed that seven journalists were offered money by the General Intelligence and Security Service (Algemene Inlichtingen en Veiligheidsdienst, AIVD) to collect information on China during the Beijing Olympics in 2008. Only one journalist out of the seven refused to participate. 


AIVD, a governmental service that assesses threats and risks to the national security of The Netherlands, said that it “is allowed by law to approach anyone it thinks may have relevant information,” said. The journalists were instructed to gather information and take pictures of “Chinese officials who approached representatives of Dutch industry.”   


The relevancy of this to the Olympics—or to governmental secrets—was not made clear. 


The general secretary of the Dutch Association of Journalists (NVJ), told Radio Netherlands, “This is really bad… We’re shocked not just because information was given, but also because this involved pay.” He said he was concerned that “the actions of the journalists in question could undermine the credibility and independence of the entire profession.”


No kidding.


Czechs' Cancelling Checks 


A survey of ethical issues in Czech journalism by Donath Business and Media (a Czech public relations organization) recently revealed that 70% of the 566 journalists who responded considered the “low level of expertise among journalists” to be “the single most important negative factor affecting media quality” in their country. Pressure from advertisers was second (67%) and pressures from senior editors and owners were third (64% and 59% respectively).


Other less powerful factors were pressures from PR agencies (52%), “pressures from important corporations” (50%), pressures from political parties (48%), and pressures from central and local governments (26% each).


This Czech journalism mea culpa might appear to be encouraging, until one reaches another part of the survey: 54-57% of the respondents said that, in spite of in-house rules, they’d accept gifts from advertisers, PR agencies, large corporations and even governmental entities. Reservations, if any, would emanate from the gift’s “value,” “intention,” “frequency,” and “gift circumstances.” Only 8% said they’d accept gifts without any reservations.


It appears as though journalists should improve policing their profession or hoist a FOR SALE sign in Czech newsrooms.