Sunday, August 01, 2021

Seares: Reporter suspended for exposing himself on Zoom. Why USA Today decides to endorse a candidate. When SunStar took down a councilor’s photo.

Medias Public

Journo’s freedom of expression

“Forbes” reported that Jeffrey Toobin, a “New Yorker” reporter and CNN legal analyst, “unwittingly exposed himself” during a Zoom call with colleagues and some staffers of a New York radio station. He was suspended Monday, October 19, by New Yorker and took a leave from CNN.

“The Guardian,” Fox News, and Poynter Institute, among others, specified Toobin’s act: The camera caught him masturbating.

Previous “accidents” with Zoom involved women, including a Mexican senator, undressing while Zoom was on. This is the first report of masturbation by a person, a journalist no less.

Toobin’s explanation was similar to those who shamed themselves by Zoom: he thought he was not visible, no one could see him, and video-audio was shut off.

Tom Jones (yes, but not the singer) wrote in “The Poynter Report” that Toobin and the others were on a virtual meeting to “simulate the election.” (They were prepping for election night coverage, other reports said.) Apparently, it stimulated Toobin, albeit differently, more than it did the others.

A newspaper decides to endorse

“USA Today,” one of the largest newspapers by circulation in America, has decided to endorse a candidate for president, Joe Biden, in the 2020 November election.

In the 2016 election, the paper declared its stand against Donald Trump, asking Americans not to vote for him -- a “dis-endorsement.” But it didn’t endorse his rival Hillary Clinton.

Not endorsing a candidate is a tradition for USA Today. The paper believes that “different voters have different concerns.” But “this is not a normal election and these are not normal times.” “This year,” the paper says, “character, competence and credibility are on the ballot. Given Trump’s refusal to guarantee a peaceful transfer of power if he loses, so too is the future of America’s democracy.”

WHY PAPERS DON’T ENDORSE. Most Filipino newspapers do not endorse a candidate. Their audiences don’t want their source of news and information to take sides in political contests. News editors and news managers don’t even want their newspaper or broadcast station to appear partisan. The task of carrying news and information is hard enough. The mere appearance of partisanship makes it harder.

USA Today’s editorial, presented by its editorial board, says, “We may never endorse a presidential candidate again. In fact, we hope we’ll never have to.”

Taking a photo down

A number of opinions have been raised by the post on Facebook about the removal of a photo from the SunStar Cebu wall. The photo caption said “relatives of the child found dead by the Rahman Bridge at Gen. Maxilom Ave. express their grief...” The people in the photo included a man with an orange hard hat, who appears to be taking a selfie with the victim’s relatives as background.

Harve Abella commented on his wall, reproducing the SunStar post: “Don’t be like the Orange Hard Hat Guy who took a selfie with the grief-stricken relatives of the boy who was washed away and found dead on Gen. Maxilom Ave...”

EXPLANATION. Later, SunStar deleted the photo on request of Cebu City Councilor Guardo who said it might be misinterpreted. He was “taking a video annotating what is happening as documentation of what happened.” The city, he said, was “investigating obstructions in the city’s waterways.”

That explanation didn’t wash with Abella who said the taking down should’ve been explained as it might be “construed as sanitizing a news item.” Judge Haidee Acuna, a former journalist, commented that it might be seen as a cover-up and may look worse than the act covered up.

Actually, it was not yet the full news, just a photo feed, a trickle on the FB wall, which still had to be reported as a substantial report in SunStar’s website. An online senior editor told me the councilor was not identified in the FB breaker news item. He was unidentifiable because he was wearing a face mask. And Abella’s post referred to him only as “orange hard hat guy.”

COULD-HAVES. The councilor’s request could’ve been refused and still not be unfair to him by putting in his explanation in the photo caption. Or the full story, news with photo, could’ve been run, this time with added information that a councilor named Guardo was there conducting an inquiry for the city government on the cause of flooding.

How much damage on flow of information was the removal of the photo? Minimal or nil. Netizens like Abella were able to screen-grab the post or pass it on to others and thus were not wanting in “gotcha” evidence against the councilor.

A news site like SunStar actually keeps changing content in text and photos in the news cycle, without the constant obligation to explain removal, change, or replacement of news material.

Besides, the main story was the death of a boy during the flood, not the probable posturing of a public official. The social media comment on the removal of a photo instead dragged the main narrative to the side.

NOT A PRECEDENT. And unlike Supreme Court decisions, it is not likely to set a precedent in SunStar, as media specialist Max Limpag fears. Editors learn from their day-to-day experience and many newsrooms craft journalism rules on the basis of what they learn from being occasionally burned.

And getting “corrections” on an editorial decision is accepted by journalists as part of the job. At least, they don’t publicly show their annoyance. Editors should welcome the “engagement with the audience,” as mass-com professor Mayette Q. Tabada encourages.


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