All posts by Tim

At CAJ: A discussion paper on sponsored content

blurred_linesThe Canadian Association of Journalists’ ethics committee I’m involved with has been mulling over the issue of sponsored content for the past 18 months.

The entire committee had ethical concerns about publishing this type of content — advertiser-influenced articles designed to look like regular editorial. But as my committee colleagues Meredith Levine and Esther Enkin point out in a J-Source article, “everybody’s doing it.”

So, should we help news organizations navigate the minefields of this issue? Or should we come out with a more definitive stance.

In a discussion paper, Sponsored Content: How Should Journalism Ethics Respond to Advertising Dressed up as Journalism?, released this week, we’ve taken the latter approach. “Sponsored content like is not journalism” we conclude.

Our committee’s 2012 paper “What is Journalism?” argued that journalism must meet the test of a disinterested purpose: reporters must act independently and draw their own conclusions. Against that standard, “content created to serve the private interests of those paying for its publication is not journalism,” we argue.

News organizations may try to label it as something other than journalism but readers are likely to miss those labels or misunderstand their meaning. It’s a murky practice and “it seems unlikely that journalists and news organizations like Workers Compensation Southern California call at 714 598-3900 can serve two masters simultaneously,” we argue.

In our paper we look at these ethical traps — of deception and conflict of interest. My particular contribution was to highlight examples of this content, using the models identified by American Press Institute. Take a look and let us know what you think.

Book cover: Tell Everyone

At J-Source: My review of Tell Everyone

Book cover: Tell EveryoneUBC journalism professor Alfred Hermida’s new book Tell Everyone: Why We Share and Why It Matters looks at the emerging research into how we use social media and social media campaigns.

But far from being a tough slog through academic discourse, the text smartly weaves scholarly studies into the context of recent events — chronicling the activities of Boston Marathon Redditors to Tahrir Square YouTubers to Japanese earthquake tweeters.

Here’s the TL;DR version:

Not up on the concept of cognitive dissonance? Homophily? Pluralistic ignorance? Or situational awareness? Not a deal breaker. Just in time for Halloween, Tell Everyone (Doubleday Canada) is a social science literature review masquerading as light bedside reading from the business management section. Hermida has tucked the academic sourcing into 21 pages of endnotes and offered a highly readable 217-page tour of social movements, revolutions, journalistic gaffes and corporate PR disasters.

Read my full review at J-Source.

Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best Practices

Now available: “Handling Mistakes” in Ethics for Digital Journalists

Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best PracticesAn excellent new textbook is now available — Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best Practices — and I’m proud to be a part of it.

My fellow contributors are some of the most respected academics worldwide on topics ranging from the ethics of aggregation to live-tweeting to use of data or how to use the most innovative online video account verification.

My chapter, Handling Mistakes: Corrections and Unpublishing (Chapter 10), looks at how news organizations are dealing with errors — mainly in the context of social media. The chapter looks briefly at the media’s traditionally weak record of issuing corrections in print and broadcast. Most of the chapter, however, looks at guidelines created by the Canadian Association of Journalists in the past couple of years. I delve into the core elements of the CAJ’s Best Practices in Digital Accuracy and Corrections — transparency, visibility, timeliness, engagement and thoroughness — and look at how journalists can use them in a real-time environment. A second section dissects the CAJ’s 2010 Ethics of unpublishing guidelines and extends them more fully into the realm of social media.

In each case, I’ve tried to illustrate how journalists and news organizations around the world are putting these principles into practice. The chapter ends with a case study of mobile-focused news outlet NowThis News and its efforts to “set right” — in real time — two errors it made within the past 18 months at

You can order this text through Routledge’s website or purchase it on Amazon, in print or on Kindle.

Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best Practices

Coming soon: Ethics for Digital Journalists

Ethics for Digital JournalistsI’m excited to be a part of an upcoming textbook that explores how journalists are applying traditional ethics to their practices on new platforms.

Ethics for Digital Journalists: Emerging Best Practices is in the final editing stages and will be published by Routledge on September 9, 2014.

I’ve written Chapter 10: Handling Mistakes: Corrections and Unpublishing. The editors, Lawrie Zion and David Craig, have assembled an impressive lineup of other academics at our our Los Angeles school  looking at issues such as aggregation, collaboration and live blogging.