Ethics and transparency: tabloid tales under the microscope.research informs required skillset for journalism students
2:00 PM - 3:30 PM
Wed Jul 10, 2019
TBASalle C Bis (Room C Bis)

ETHICS AND TRANSPARENCY: TABLOID TALES UNDER THE MICROSCOPE.RESEARCH INFORMS REQUIRED SKILLSET FOR JOURNALISM STUDENTS Teaching Journalism during a disruptive age Ethical challenges for teaching and undertaking new forms of journalism In an era of changing demands upon ‘traditional’ journalism involving trust, transparency and content this paper examines the changing work practice of tabloid journalists. A major impact was ‘Hackgate’, with journalists found to have illegally hacked telephones and the subsequent Leveson Inquiry, where the scrutiny on the relationship between the media, politicians and the police resulted in an unprecedented ethical shift within the industry. Lord Leveson stated in his summing up: "There has been a recklessness in prioritising sensational stories, almost irrespective of the harm the stories may cause and the rights of those who would be affected." This paper explores the way that, over the last six years, journalists have had to alter their practice to meet new, tougher ethical guidelines. It also examines initiatives by international media organisations to integrate more transparency in news reporting. The research leads to the development of strategies for preparing students for employment. The primary research involves semi-structured interviews with 20 national tabloid journalists with a focus on reviewing practice before and after Leveson. The research demonstrates significant changes in the way the tabloid press approach a range of stories, taking greater account of public responses and adopting a more ethical approach, with support from editors. The newsroom culture at many organisations was found to have undergone significant changes, in line with the recommendations made by Lord Leveson with a greater application of ethical guidelines and a strict code of conduct for all working journalists. Our findings also revealed a marked increase in public hostility and suspicion of journalistic enquiry and assertions from reporters that more stories are now unreported. However, they say there has been an increase in the number of stories obtained via whistleblowers and leaks, even from politicians, and, as well documented, a proliferation of online content from a range of sources. Interviewees also reported that tighter financial restraints in a contracting employment market had led to a reduction in the number of experienced journalists being in post. Although they felt there was greater transparency with some sources they felt there was still a need to retain anonymity in some cases and there was also evidence that sources often purposely sought deflection to ‘a close friend or relative’ for personal reasons. From a teaching perspective the research demonstrates the ever increasing relevance of journalistic training in an environment fractured by these changes. It highlights the need to instill the need for integrity, professionalism and a thorough understanding of regulations and codes of conduct. The need to verify information from a wider range of sources remains critical, with students requiring specific and up-to-date support with navigating and scraping online and Social Media data. We argue that there should also be more training around human interaction techniques as part of the skillset to develop mutual trust with the public. There is also a need to reassure the public that journalists are aware of the changing climate but that in turn they need to appreciate the need for coverage of sensitive issues like deaths, crime and investigations that belong in the public domain. Gaining the confidence of interviewees to enable them to have the ‘human touch’ to get behind doors is critical and is potentially a barrier for young students and trainees reliant on digital communications. KEY WORDS: Ethics Journalism Tabloids Transparency news culture skill set

Claire Wolfe Principal Lecturer In Journalism, University of Worcester
Christine Challand Lecturer, University of Worcester

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