Creating Accountability Structures for Misreporting in the News Industry

While reading the introduction to Digital Media and Democracy: Tactics in Hard Times by Megan Boler, I kept connecting many of the themes and concepts to the Respect in Reporting Campaign with Press Pass TV. As part of the Civic Media Collaborative Design Studio, another course taught by Professor Sasha Costanza-Chock, fellow students and I have been working with Press Pass TV, a local community organization that uses media to empower youth, to develop the Respect in Reporting Campaign. The Respecting in Reporting Campaign is meant to address the misreporting of youth murders in low income neighborhoods and communities of color, which can lead to very damaging consequences for those that are affected. This misreporting is often avoidable is certain guidelines and codes of ethics are followed, and pledging to these protocols is a central part of the campaign.

There are several points that Boler makes that are directly related to the misreporting of murders in low income and communities of color that the Respect in Reporting campaign aims to address. For example, when talking about an exchange with Tim Russert at a press conference and his change of stance from pro-war to war critical, Boler states: “When public perception of the facts changes, and it is safe for dominant media to take a more dissenting position, media tend not to accept the responsibility for harm already done” (3). While this quotes speaks directly to the influence that political structures have on the position of media and the portrayal of facts, what seemed related was the part about media not taking responsibility for their misreporting, especially when harmful.

On the one hand we have political pressure, and on the other, perhaps the institutional pressure of the news industry.  These news industry pressures can include structural barriers that prioritize quick dissemination of stories and highlighted sensational events (i.e.,”if it bleeds it leads”), such as youth murder, without thoroughly considering ethics. Now without being personally trained as a professional in the news industry, these structural barriers are largely informed  by an outsider’s perspective. Regardless, as Boler mentions, actual harm does occur from misreporting on several levels. My question is, what kind of accountability structures are in place to prevent this, the misreporting of low income and communities of color regarding murder and crime, from occurring so systematically in the news industry? In a way, the Respect in Reporting Campaign can be seen as a response to the lack of formal and participatory accountability structures, which allow constituents to have some say and control over the media that so overwhelmingly shape their lives.


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