For the Record
Dean Wright on Ethics, Innovation and Values
After six of the most rewarding years in my career, this is my final week at Reuters as global editor for ethics and standards. In this role, it’s been my job to make sure Reuters journalists have the guidance, tools and oversight to help them practice journalism in a way that is consistent with the highest ethics and standards. I’ve spent most of my life doing more-or-less daily journalism, and now my wife and I have formed a media consulting company. But before I move on, I’m taking one last opportunity to reflect on why I’m proud to have been a Reuters journalist.
Some say journalism’s golden age has passed. But speaking as someone who has been at this for 38 years, I think we’re living in it.
The news cycle of the first three months of 2011 has clearly shown the value of having experienced journalists in place around the globe to tell the world’s stories and provide insight into how those stories affect the lives of our audience.
I’m humbled by the skill and courage our journalists have shown in reporting on the wars and revolutions in the Middle East and the earthquake, tsunami and nuclear crisis in Japan. Just this week, Sabah al-Bazee, a freelance Iraqi journalist who had worked for Reuters since 2004, was killed while reporting from Tikrit when gunmen attacked a government building.
I wish it were the awarding of its 14th Nobel Prize that is putting my country in the news these days.
Instead, Hungary is back on the world stage because of a disastrous chemical spill. An avalanche of a highly alkaline mud that could fill 440 Olympic-sized swimming pools has broken through the shoddy containment walls at an aluminum plant not far from the Lake Balaton region. As a result, nine people have died and 250 were injured. Wild and farm animals have perished, and lands and little summer gardens that were the villagers’ food and staple for winter have been ravished.
Visitors to this space may recall that I wrote this summer about the issues Reuters and other news organizations face in dealing with reader comments on stories.
I’ve become increasingly concerned about the quality of discourse in comments on news stories on Reuters.com and on other major news sites. On some stories, the “conversation” has been little more than partisans slinging invective at each other under the cloak of anonymity.
When my editorial assistant, Mirjam Donath, traveled to her native Hungary recently, I asked her to look into some of the ethical issues faced by journalists there.
In a coincidental piece of timing, Hungary’s president this week signed into a law controversial media legislation that has drawn criticism from constitutional law experts and press freedom advocates. So Mirjam’s interviews in Hungary are all the more newsworthy now.
Let’s see who’s been commenting on Reuters stories and blogs in recent days and weeks. There’s gadfly, WeNotMe, Blisterpearls, northboundgirl, Snowshoes and JacktheBear, among others. I strongly suspect those are not their real names.
I don’t mean to call out these particular commenters, and I’m happy to see our readers taking the time to engage in robust discussion on Reuters.com. But I’m beginning to think our discussion would be even more robust and insightful if those making comments signed their real names.
The recent publication of “The Imperfectionists,” Tom Rachman’s witty and entertaining little novel about a struggling English-language newspaper in Rome with a colorful staff, was a reminder that, even as newspapers face a tough economic climate, there’s still a good market for stories about them.
Maybe it’s because I want to find some glamor or intrigue or romance in my profession, so I find it reassuring that writers are still able to spin entertaining tales about journalists.
It’s easy to become enchanted with the multimedia world of communications we live in. Every week, it seems, technology brings a new way for people to connect with one another and for journalists to tell stories.
But I’m reminded that this is not the case for much of the world—that the brilliant technologists and the daring entrepreneurs of “new media” tend to ply their trade in the developed world.
One of the many joys I have in this job is getting the occasional opportunity to help give prizes away.
I served as a judge for the first Breaking Borders Awards, which were created by Google and Global Voices, and supported by Thomson Reuters, to honor some of those who strive for freedom of expression online.
It starts with “A/S” (abbreviation for Aktieselskab, Danish company title) and ends with “zero coupon yield curve” (a yield curve of zero coupon bonds. Market practice is often to derive this curve theoretically from the par yield curve. Also known as a spot yield curve).
Between those two entries in the Reuters Financial Glossary are more than 2,000 other terms used in the financial industry and in the reports that journalists write about it.
The rise of social media has brought journalists some powerful new storytelling and information-gathering tools. However, with these new opportunities have come some new risks.
At Reuters, we have just published some social media guidelines that lay out some basic principles and offer recommendations that should prove useful as journalists navigate what can sometimes seem a chaotic landscape.