Thou shalt not bear false witness!

People wonder why I come off as angry, especially a certain crowd on Facebook. Well, let me be blunt. The world is so swimming in the muck of lies and distortion that we’re all drowning in our own bullshit. If you dare, take a look at this. It was posted on Facebook by a prominent Christian author, speaker and radio show host, Dr. Michael Brown. As of this writing, it’s been shared by over 2,100 fans. The comments are a long stream of attaboys, backslapping, and “thank you for the truth” accolades. The problem is it’s all crap.

fakemuslimwomen

The problem here is that this isn’t a photo of some random gathering of Muslim women! Who knew, right? I mean, it fits the message so beautifully that I’m surprised Bill Maher hasn’t used it already. I did a Tineye search of that image and discovered that the copyright is owned by a photographer named Scott Nelson, who writes this in his description:

BAGHDAD,IRAQ-APRIL 03: Female members of the al-Mehdi Army march in Military formation during an April 03, 2004 military parade through the streets of the Sadr City neighborhood in east Baghdad, Iraq. The Al-Mehdi Army is a Shia militia aligned with controversial Shia cleric Moqtada Sadr, and the parade was meant to be a show of force in tandem with Sadr supporters’ continued protest against the occupation of Iraq by the U.S. lead coalition forces.

Wait, what? Their faces are covered for good reason? This was a Shi’a (Iranian roots) militia marching in a public parade in Baghdad after we took over their country. In his keywords, Nelson used military and war terms and was careful not to use the word “burka,” Muslim women, oppression,or anything else inflammatory. It is in no way representative of women without political rights. It’s a con job and one that is designed to inspire fear.

Yet the picture has been used in the Dr. Michael Brown context 80 times since. His clever poster is just the latest.

And so I ask, where is journalism in any of this? Why is Snopes the only website dedicated to sniffing out these frauds? Culture is being torn apart by lies, and our only worry is who’s going to pay for “journalism” in the future.

Shame on us!

The Right Way to do Customer Service

I received this 2 days after contacting Vanguard

I received this 2 days after contacting Vanguard

It’s been many years since the “Dell Hell” episode in the life of Jeff Jarvis, and customer service across the country continues to have its ups and mostly downs. In my limited experience, however, I sense that companies are really trying to use technology to assist with the heavy lifting today, although we still have a very long way to go (will somebody please invent a replacement for telephone answering technology?).

I want to share with you today a remarkable experience I had last Wednesday with Vanguard USA, a manufacturing company that specializes in photo, video, and hunting accessories. In my case, I was looking for a quick release shoe (see photo) for Alicia’s old tripod, made by Vanguard under the Forceguard brand. My search for this was like looking for the proverbial needle in the haystack, and I ended up on Vanguard’s website. They offered 10 or so quick shoes, but the dimensions weren’t offered, so I was stuck. On their contact page, right under their phone number, is an email address. At first, I was taken aback. I mean who knew? I clicked on it, opening my Outlook and presenting me with a simple method of contact.

Below is the entire email chain. Note especially the time stamps. Every company in America (hell, the whole world) could learn from this, and I am happy to present it here for you:

Wednesday, February 4, 2015 12:28pm

To Whom It May Concern:

I’m in need of a quick release plate for an older Forceguard (Vanguard) tripod (MG5-OS). The opening for the plate clasp is 1 1/2″ x 1 3/4”. Do any of your QS products (except #40) fit that criteria? You don’t give the dimensions.

Sorry, but I really NEED this.

Thanks,

Terry

Terry Heaton
7435 S Catawba Circle NW
Madison, AL 35757

12:59pm

Terry–

Thank you for your email and your interest in our products.

You need the QS-36. You can purchase it from our website at www.vanguardworld.com

We thank you for choosing VANGUARD and we hope to keep you as a satisfied customer.

Michelle Rainbolt
Repair Technician
Vanguard USA Inc

1:22pm

Your are amazing! Thanks.

Terry Heaton

1:27pm

I ordered the part, Michelle. Too bad I can’t request overnight shipping. Seems like something’s missing in your ordering process. I need that sucker and was willing to pay what’s necessary to get it. Boo-hoo.

Terry Heaton

2:01pm

Terry–

Call me here at the Service Center 800–875-3322 x120 and I will see what I can do…

Michelle Rainbolt

2:39pm

Terry–

It will be going out today 2nd day air. Tracking # is as follows: 1zew00150265006143

Michelle Rainbolt

3:03pm

You are SUCH a blessing. Can you give me name/email of your supervisor? I’m so often underwhelmed with anybody’s “customer service,” that I’m really trying to come to grips with the opposite. Love to get you a raise.

Terry Heaton

Thursday, February 5, 2015 12:48pm
Email to Michelle’s supervisor:

Dear Lynn,

I had just a wonderful customer service experience with a staff member of yours yesterday. I’ve got to say that in all my years of contact with various “customer service” units, I’ve really never had one quite so positive as I had yesterday with Michelle Rainbolt. You know, everybody has horror stories, and I always dread contacting companies, because it’s just so often useless. Just the fact that your company provides an email address online that is actually watched is remarkable, and I appreciate it so much. I sent my need (a little Quick Shoe for an old tripod), and Michelle got back to me within the hour to give me the information I needed. Unbelievable! I then went to your website and made the purchase. Unfortunately, speedy delivery was not an option, so I wrote Michelle back to thank her and tell her I wished I had the option of 1 or 2 day delivery. She got back to me immediately and actually gave me her direct line. So I called and spent 5 minutes on the phone with her, where she was able to arrange 2nd day delivery for me. I’ll now have my part tomorrow, and I am one truly HAPPY customer.

Give Michelle a raise, pat yourself on the back, and go tell your CEO that I said he runs a terrific company.

Thank you so much,

Terry

1:24pm

Terry,

Thank you so much for the kind words for Michelle.
I have shared your email with the whole company, because you are correct too often we only hear the bad.

Thanks again.

Best Regards,

Lynn A. Slagle

Only 1 in 5 think TV reporters have high ethical standards

I hate to be redundant, but TV News people head out the door each day in the belief that they have the public trust. They do not, and yet, we keep throwing the same old stuff at viewers. Here’s new data from Gallup. Note that just 20% of Americans feel TV reporters have high or very high standards of honesty and ethics. That’s one in five.

gallupethics

Now let’s switch over to TVSPY for a piece on a young reporter looking for investigative chops in the small market of Fargo. Her piece on “school security” was as cheap as one in the same market many years ago about “airport security” (or was that Duluth?). Really, people, who do we think we’re fooling? This isn’t a real investigation by anybody’s standards; it’s an attempt by the reporter to get something on her reel that will convince her future employers that she’s tough. Puh-leeze.

Do we really wonder why we’re so screwed?

CJR story brought to you by the FCC

Columbia Journalism Review logoThe Columbia Journalism Review has presented — as a news commentary — a piece indirectly written by the FCC that favors the commission’s position in a key legislative issue involving broadcasters. The piece hypocritically trashes broadcasters for the same kind of behavior it represents, and it does so using the popular buzz term “transparency.” This is a smokescreen for what’s really being conveyed.

First, a little background.

Long ago, our government decided that “the airwaves” belong to the public and, therefore, should be regulated by the public’s representatives in Washington. Licenses to “use” the public’s airwaves were granted and maintained by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), and so was born an antagonistic relationship between the licensor and the licensees. Broadcasters have long held the upper hand in this antipathy. They are a powerful group with the ability to easily reach the public “back home,” where legislators raise money and votes. The National Association of Broadcasters was and is a powerful lobbying organization.

However, there’s been a recent shifting of that power, and things are a little different today. Armed with knowledge of a real demand for wireless broadband — which would use that same spectrum owned by the public — the FCC is turning up the heat on broadcasters. This will evolve to an all-out war that threatens the core value of all of broadcasting, and as the number of people receiving TV via those airwaves alone dwindles, the case of the whole industry weakens. We’re in a season when broadcasters can extract value two ways: through subscriber revenues from cable providers and via advertising based on reach, at least some of which is over-the-air. As a group, therefore, broadcasters must promote both, and that hands the FCC an industry with a split focus to regulate. The FCC, however, cares mostly about that spectrum.

We can argue that cord-cutting raises the value of that over-the-air signal — especially in high-definition — but the longer technicians are able to innovate and resolve compression and other hi-def delivery problems, the more viable TV over IP becomes, and so we must admit that broadcasting’s “cake and eat it too” has a limited window. Broadcasters are well aware of this “problem,” and are working on so-called solutions that limit broadcast signals over IP to those geographic regions determined by broadcast licenses, thereby maintaining the old status quo. The weakness of one solution supported by the NAB and big broadcast companies (Syncbak) is that it requires the broadcast signal to verify geographic position within the market. This will be a hard proposition to sell Congress or the FCC as pressure mounts for broadband spectrum.

It’s into this scenario that an advisor to the FCC Chairman was begun writing what I would call “attack pieces” published in the Columbia Journalism Review. What or who is being attacked? Broadcasting, specifically television. It would be untoward for me to suggest that this is a deliberate effort to cloud the picture of the FCC versus broadcasting, but it does strike me as odd that such vertically-slanted stories would be published in the high church of the Columbia Journalism Review.

Steve Waldman is the writer/advisor, and his latest (This News Story Is Brought to You By…) is about how some television stations “allow sponsors to dictate content” within or close to newscasts. Mr. Waldman was the lead author of the FCC’s Information Needs of Communities study, which challenged broadcasters and helped lay the groundwork for the above arguments about the best use of spectrum.

One of Mr. Waldman’s major concerns in the CJR article is the use by certain television stations of video news releases disguised as news stories or other methods that those with a position employ to escape the wall of separation between news and advertising via the public’s airwaves. In making this charge in the Columbia Journalism Review, however, Mr. Waldman is guilty of the exact crime of which he accuses broadcasters, namely the presentation of a government position paper as news or commentary. I find it astonishing that the CJR would permit this, and yet, there it is.

That said, Mr. Waldman’s point is well-taken and broadcasters most certainly should be following the law and clearly labeling such as sponsored. But so should the Columbia Journalism Review, for this piece was surely presented — however indirectly — by the FCC.

The ethics of hyperconnected media

My ethics class, fall 2010Most of you know that I teach media ethics at the University of North Texas. I do it to be around young people and their thinking, because it keeps me fresh. We should all be so lucky. The course is actually titled: Ethical Decision-Making in the Media, but I call it “Ethics for Journalism in a Networked World.” I do so, because they are different subjects, and the latter is what is required of anybody entering (or in) the field these days.

I’m writing about this today, because the question of ethics has been raised in the story of the firing of NPR’s Juan Williams over statements he made on his other job as a commentator on Fox News. An internal investigation by NPR resulted in one long-time employee resigning and an announcement that the network was reviewing its ethics policies. This has the usual head-scratchers scratching their heads. Poynter’s Kelly McBride wrote that NPR isn’t the only news organization in need of modern, realistic ethics guidelines for its journalists, and I agree. Why? Because things are changing.

Journalism is a profession rife with stars who get away with a lot. And in this new environment, stars tend to have more opportunities than ever, while newsrooms leaders don’t always have the resources to pay their stars enough money to lock them down exclusively or the time to manage their potential conflicts of interest and competing loyalties.

“The climate has changed a whole bunch,” Bill Marimow told me Friday in a phone conversation. Besides once being a senior news executive at NPR, he was editor of The (Baltimore) Sun and The Philadelphia Inquirer.

“In some cases, people who were truly outstanding become almost like franchises,” said Marimow…

The problem with these kinds of dissections is that they cling to tradition as a guide. That’s evident when Ms. McBride gets into solutions.

I’ve no doubt that they will have significant discussions about how journalists uphold traditional standards while they thrive and stay relevant in the modern world.

It will be tough to write guidelines that allow the rock stars of journalism to pursue opportunity and extend their influence, while preserving their primary loyalty to one central newsroom. “They have to get the language just right,” Marimow said.

Here we have the essential conflict, and it’s why I’ve chosen to teach media ethics at the university. The conflict is between the individual and the stage (one central newsroom). Remembering for a minute that the stage is all about economics and providing an environment conducive to advertising — this is exactly what it is — here’s what I teach my students:

The stage is what matters to traditional media, the driver of its pursuit of “impartiality.” An impartial stage, after all, is home to all, including advertisers. This is no accident.

Journalistic ethics are all about the impartiality of the stage, not the individual journalists. Without an impartial stage, advertisers will bolt, so the decision is about business.

The people formerly known as the audience (TPFKATA) expect an impartial stage. Why? Because we’ve told them it’s supposed to be that way. The problem is that people don’t believe it anymore.

Without a stage, there is no institutional wall of ethical protection. One, therefore, cannot pretend to be what one is not. This is the truth and the challenge of ethics in a networked world.

The stage says, “I am impartial.”

The individual says, “I’m trying to be fair.”

Artificiality is a curse in the Network.

Your personal brand is everything.

And so, I prepare ethical dilemmas based on scenarios where individuals have to make decisions based on their own brands, which is very different than learning to protect the artificial marketing of the stage. These people will go forward into the hyperconnected universe and do good, ethical work, and not because they follow a set of elitist canons that are in conflict with the culture. Why we cling to this as an industry is beyond me.

The biggest practical difference between one practicing journalism from a stage versus a personal brand has everything to do with the role of publisher-journalist. Business and journalism aren’t separate entities with those who run their own brands, and that’s where the ethical admonitions of industrial age journalism become impossible today. Conflicts of interest must be handled transparently and not be avoided altogether. This, I believe, is where NPR made its mistake.

Ironically, I find many of our old ethical beliefs to be in sync with today, things like accuracy, verification, and fairness. To these have been added, however, speed, transparency, and authenticity. We’re still discovering what all of it means, and until we get there, we’re going to have problems like Juan Williams or telling people that a congresswoman is dead when she’s not.

Meanwhile, let’s not be silent.

New media ethics: TechCrunch, a case study

The ethics of journalism are being rewritten, as that which is new advances. There are basically two forms of ethical conduct in the press today. One espouses a traditional set of canons and exists with self-restraint as a guide. In this world, objectivity — or attempts at objectivity — are the norm, for balance and fairness are the goals. Here, truth is presented as existing between two or more “sides” to stories. In the second world, however, transparency replaces objectivity in the belief that the audience can determine bias and figure out where the writer is coming from. In this view, objectivity is a farce and truth determination is up to the reader.

Much has been written and said this week about NPR firing “news analyst” Juan Williams for comments he made on Bill O’Reilly’s show on Fox. Williams is only the most recent firing for something like this, and I expect to see many more.

That’s because there is a great struggle between the two ethical perspectives today, with traditional journalism seemingly unable to grasp the other point of view. So today, I want to give you an example of how it works.

Michael ArringtonMichael Arrington is the top guy at TechCrunch, a blog-format publication tracking news in the world of technology. This includes reviewing new products, new companies and basically standing between Silicon Valley’s companies and the people who buy and use its products. Arrington has great sources and breaks many stories, and he often inserts himself in the stories he covers. He’s a very influential guy in the world of tech, and he operates under his own rules of transparency when it comes to ethics. I’ve come to know him as an ethical person, meaning I trust what he writes, although I know where he’s coming from.

This week, Arrington wrote a piece called Damnit Amex, Give Me A Credit Card. The story fit within the scope of tech news, because he used the software of a new company called Credit Karma to reveal that while he had zero debt and paid his bills on time, he wasn’t “qualified” for the American Express card he wanted. Many would argue that such a piece is way outside the boundaries of what journalistic ethics should allow. I mean, here he was tweaking American Express for a credit card. However, this is part and parcel of TechCrunch, for what better way for Arrington to relate to his readers and for his readers to relate to him than by bringing personal experience into the story?

Ironically, Amex is a TechCrunch advertiser, and wouldn’t you know it, an ad for an Amex card appeared right next to Arrington’s story. Oh my, the sales department must have winced at that one.

Amex ad next to TechCrunch story on Amex

A few hours later, Arrington revealed via Twitter that he’d gotten a call from American Express and that they were giving him the credit card. Nice. The power of the press, right? The reason this works for Arrington is that this is exactly who he is, and his readers know it and are completely comfortable with it. He hides nothing and pretends nothing. What you see is what you get. Welcome to the new world of journalism ethics.

Michael Arrington's tweet

Then, today, Arrington revealed in another post that the ad agency representing American Express has sent them an email trying to strong arm him into pulling the original article. The email foolishly threatened TechCrunch:

“If you are not able to monitor this more closely, we unfortunately will not be able to run with TechCrunch in the future.”

So Arrington — in all his transparent glory — published this for all to see, and now American Express REALLY looks like a bunch of idiots. Arrington explains:

First of all, the agency in question should understand that the post was a significant net positive for American Express. Sure, I was complaining. But I also put American Express’ brand squarely in the center of things. There were a variety of credit cards that I was unable to get, but the Amex Starwood card was the one I wanted. I wanted it, and I couldn’t get it. Who doesn’t get how great that is for Amex?

Paleolithic marketing morons who can’t think outside of a box, that’s who. The same kind of person that not only gets upset that their client is the center of attention, but then actually threatens to pull business if we don’t get our editorial in line with their agenda. This isn’t the Wall Street Journal, you know. We don’t like being told by others what we can and cannot write.

TechCrunch IS Michael Arrington, beginning just five years ago as his blog. It carries his persona, and the views of its writers are understood by those who make up its audience. Not only does it work, but it produces the kind of compelling, relevant, and involved kind of news that traditional journalism would love to create, but can’t, because it follows the ethics of a bygone age. We’ve entered an era of personal branding and argument-laden prose that helps people figure out life around them through their surrogates, the men and women who bare their lives and views for all to judge.

Those of us in traditional media should not be surprised as this bubbles up beneath us. It certainly would be a minefield, if we suddenly attempted something like this ourselves, but in the end, we must acknowledge that people long ago began judging us and our behavior by turning away. The idea of protecting a media brand — so that a sterile environment could be maintained for the sale of advertising — is becoming less and less practical where audiences aren’t captive, so perhaps the time is ripe. I certainly wouldn’t bet the ranch on it happening soon, however, so we’re going to cede audience (and relevance) some day to those who come up from outside the reach of the mainstream. The drumbeats are clear to those with ears to hear.

There is tremendous pressure today on J-schools in teaching ethical conduct, and those who do not address the culture war are doomed to a slow and painful death as the people formerly known as the audience assume control. I feel qualified to say that, because I teach ethics at UNT, and I promise you that my students all understand what’s going on.

(Originally published in AR&D’s Media 2.0 Intel newsletter)