Report the News — Not On The News — Says Time, Inc. Panelist

Moderator of the Medill Club Ethics Panel 2012, Professor Jack Doppelt with alums Joyce Hanson and Sally Fryberger

Brian Moylan, an editor at Gawker Media (and self-proclaimed “Gawker shit talker” on Twitter), remembers a recent spate of 20 minutes that seemed like the longest ever. He couldn’t click the refresh button on enough browsers fast enough. Having just spotted a Tweet on Billy Crystal’s feed announcing the nine-time Oscars host would be emceeing the Academy Awards yet again in 2012, he posted the news.

Moylan then realized the Academy had not yet confirmed the information—and anxiously awaited confirmation hoping the post would not have to be taken down (or crossed out and amended).

“A lot of all we have is speed,” said Moylan. “We put up as fast as we can, fix later.”

Keeping up with speed-posters is just one of a smattering of new challenges facing media outlets in the rapidly changing multimedia landscape, and among several questions discussed Thursday at a Medill Club of New York panel at 230 Park Avenue.

You have to wonder, added panelist Betsy Gleick, executive editor at People magazine, “Is that even Billy Crystal Tweeting?”

Speed is at a premium with online journalism. “Before,” said Gleick, “weeklies used to be seen as the grind. Now we’re competing with that. We’re forced to deliver. There’s a risk when we do compete that we can forget a lot of ethical things.”

In her current role helping to update editorial guidelines at Time, Inc., these are the points she wants to ensure staffers remember.

Panelist Karen Miller Pensiero, assistant managing editor at The Wall Street Journal was quick to point out that blog posts at the paper still have to be read by an editor before they can go up online.

“We’d rather be right, and a little slower,” said Pensiero. “We still operate the same way—we still believe very strongly in that model.” What’s more, she added, an online Journal story is not changed after it has been posted without letting the readers know.

While online content may pop up quickly, it’s often lacking in original reporting, suggested panelist Steven Weissman, deputy general counsel at Time, Inc., who remarked that too much of what is out there on the Web is “reporting on the news…not reporting news.”

He added that while writers have been taking facts that already appeared elsewhere for years, “what’s new, is the ease in detecting this. A re-publisher of libelous information is still responsible,” he reminded the bounding-with-questions audience, pointing out that journalists should be getting independent confirmation. “Libel and privacy laws apply equally to print, online, Twitter.”

A cord was struck with Moylan, who piped up, with seemingly as much real as humorous warning, “Don’t go taking our stuff and not giving us a link,” he said, recalling a recent instance where three whole graphs of one of his posts were cut-and-pasted into another post with no attribution, and worse, no link. “Smaller blogs think they can fly under the radar,” he said, requesting, “Just say, ‘I saw this in Gawker.’”

Pensiero gave an example of uncovering an episode of cut-and-paste journalism when two freelancers hired for a brief run at the Journal were found to be doing this. “They were terminated and thrown very publicly under the bus,” said Pensiero of the two offenders.

“Plagiarism is punishable by termination. From where I sit, it is so wrong on so many levels,” agreed People’s Gleick.

While on the topic of bad behaviors journalists should avoid, Pensiero made a plea for reporters to try hard to avoid using anonymous sources.

“It’s lazy, right? It’s easy,” agreed Gleick.

“Direct quotes from anonymous sources, that’s driving me crazy,” said Pensiero. “How annoying. Go out and corroborate. We’re relying on anonymous sources too much some days.”

Added Gawker’s Moylan, “the most important thing is to have personal guidelines for what you think is right. You’re the one who has to sleep at night.”

Of course, he added in seeming jest, anonymously sent silly pictures of dirty Conde Nast bathrooms would be accepted, he grinned, should an audience member feel so inclined to send some, which sent a ripple of laughter through the room.

Watch a video comment about the panel by moderator Professor Jack Doppelt with alums Joyce Hanson and Sally Fryberger.

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