Essay on Journalism Ethics

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A journalist is a fact finder and his aesthetic collaboration with a designer to illustrate the data or information is a rethinking of ‘changed’ or ‘evolved’ newsroom. With the motive of engaging a large number of audience or readers towards complex data reporting - infographics and visualisation elements were incorporated with the use of diverse tools and technologies. The digital sources and platforms allow journalists to produce news in bewildering array of choices. Multidisciplinary news-rooms allowed the readers to participate as a commentator and a critic due to the digital era that flourished with numerous challenges changing the objectivity from past to a different present. This shift of news reporting changed the ways in which people used to get their news by setting up mul-tiple outlets for storytelling. However, to represent the information, stories, investigation etc. newsrooms should maintain integrity of adequate truth and factual information to clarify and make the data understandable through interactive visualisation, data driven reporting, precision journal-ism. Ethics of humanity is the sole requirement for journalism to represent the event/ news accurate-ly. Lately, journalism has failed to overcome the trend of disinformation, rumours and building up stories and truths, facts are wiped out with such ease.

In this paper I attempt to read Nerd Journalism by Alberto Cairo who has spent his entire career in developing visual journalism, a Ph.D. dissertation that deals with his analysis of transfor-mation in the news graphics in the past twenty years, and how eventually tools and softwares have interpreted newsrooms role in modern journalism. Alberto Cairo is titled with ‘Knight Chair in Vis-ual Journalism’ at School of Communication of the University of Miami and is keen indulged in the convergence between Visual communication, Journalism and Cognitive Science. He began his career in infographics and visualisation from various newspapers and imagines and currently he teaches the course on the same the University of Miami, also is an author of the books The Functional Art : An Introduction to Information Graphics and Visualization (2012), The Truthful Art : Charts, and maps of Communication (2016) and How the Charts Lie: getting Smarter About the Visual Infor-mation (2019). He teaches a course on infographics. With an increase interest in journalism and lack of communicating the data effectively, Alberto Cairo in his work attempts to set a standard of what data visualisation, infographics represent is not a simplification of data, but is clarification through an imaginative way to reliably inform the public. After analysing Malofiej Infographics Awards over a period of last two decades where the newsroom has completely changed the practice of news reporting altogether with the rise of digital data and tools from simplified charts, graphs, diagrams etc. The intersection between journalism and technology and the influence of digital technology on the traditional journalism is looked after by easier access, analyses and sharing that data. A shift of creative coders from media to journalism, from data collectors to readers in order to release the data trapped in spreadsheets of traditional news organisation by liberating them with visualisation.

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There was a dilemma faced by the newsrooms regarding reallocating digital medium while still to keep a hold on existing and ageing print audience along with the revenues of the organisa-tion. The news covered during the last decade of twentieth century through explanatory graphics which were more space consuming as in to cover the news in more in-depth than the traditional con-cept of smaller maps and charts, covered the national news such as Space Shuttle Challenger disas-ter, Operation Desert Storm and later dived down to less significant issues and stories. Moreover, the print news industry has been affected to counter the loss of revenue, decline in readership and rise in internet US and Latin America newsrooms have cutdown their staff due to nation’s strug-gling economy in late 2000s. Lack of illustrative vision and skills brought the shift to data visualisa-tion that reduced the usage of explanatory graphics in print since 2008 due to the influence of The New York Times. To this in an interview Cairo says, “So news organisations are suffering, but they are enduring the hardship of the crisis.”

The rise in technology has significantly altered the mass media’s monopolistic tradition of circulating news to the public. Alberto Cairo defines and explains certain terms used in data journal-ism, for instance, ‘visual journalism/ visualisation’ is a practice to make data understandable by means of visual principle. A best visualisation is the one that allows its readers to engage with the information in a playful manner, to interact with the data. A Spanish design professor, Joan Costa says, “to visualise is to make certain phenomena and portions of reality visible and understandable.” (1) Cairo defines ‘data journalism’ as ‘craft’ and claims to improve his perspective during working as an infographic designer and data journalist for many years, he saw the changes in the field with the rise of technology and softwares, however his quantitative exploration of the Malofiej Interna-tional Awards, his ethnographic observations showcase the extent to which the news graphics has significantly changed. His dissertation ‘Nerd Journalism’ can be seen as a step towards improving the methods the ‘craft’ is perceived and focused exclusively on English speaking publications, and the motive of journalism to present the data in a manner that its audience reap benefits out of it, how he needs implication on the process of representing the data and not merely reducing it to a different direction. He visualised the great potential of visualisation but was afraid after coming across how the data is being presented and how data was interred by the public, and he advices ‘but we must remember that number can be subjective as text.’ The principles on which both are based i.e. accuracy, depth and clarity. It influences a powerful the cognitive skills of a human brain that processes a visual information through a widest pathway. Data journalism is in favour over other forms of journalism, due to its’ balanced measurable facts with small news or storytelling narration where it can be both aesthetically engaging and deeply rooted, it is a new vision for same old famil-iar topics. A farther perspective towards is to explore the digital world’s possibilities in terms of communication.

Tracing back to the Stone Age, during Palaeolithic period the paintings representing the hunting scenes on the cave walls are the earliest form of infographics. Taking a leap from 3000 B.C. to medium of infographics that were first used by a Scottish engineer and political economist Wil-liam Playfair (1759-1823) in 1786 where he represented certain data through forty-three bar chart, line graphs and histograms in The Commercial and Political Atlas. This was followed by Florence Nightingale, who used pie charts to represent the causes and the number of deaths during Crimean War. With an eventual progress in the infographics designs and representations, Edward Tufte lead to an expansion of the same in various fields and was known as father of data visualisation. In De-cember 2013, Snow Fall became the most popular story of presenting the data, and gradually Jarvis claims that journalism has moved beyond the concept of just ‘storytelling’. During the last decades, infographics achieved equal visual space along with photojournalism where it used to cover the large in-depth national news as a valuable resource. Due to Peter Sullivan’s (1932-1996) major contribu-tion towards encouraging newspapers for the usage of infographics through his books Newspaper Graphics (1987) and Information Graphics in Colour (1993) led to the highest prize at Malofiej In-fographics with his name - Peter Sullivan award. Malofiej Infographics Award is named after Alejandro Malofiej (1938-1987) where entries come majorly from Latin America and Europe. In 1993, University of Navarra professors’ Juan Antonio Giner and Miguel Urabayen honoured an Ar-gentina cartographer, a pioneer in infographics - Alejandro Malofiej. The award which is also con-sidered as a Pulitzer Prize is a significant reference for all the best infographics from all over the world in media and is named after him in recognition of his career.

Society for News Design (1979) and Malofiej (13) are the organisations along with the rise in technology that led to evolution of infographics as official news resource and is a platform for visual journalist from all over the world. Society for News Design is a non-profit organisation, a platform for all the visual journalist from around the world, that brought a revolution in visualisation that journalism is experiencing since late 70s. Many paywalled sites encouraged its casual users the authority to go through some content for free, for example: Gannett , today holds the highest source of web traffic. With only a few global publications that practiced graphical work theoretically to be a part of coalition were The Washington Post, The New York Times, The Chicago Tribune and The Sun Sentinel, where journalist believed the lack of emotion and understanding through writing was fulfilled and satisfied the readers through data visualisation. The new wave of global populist fac-tions’ supporters led to demise of facts and rise of fake news since the presidency of Trump being a prime example, which however was prevailing in the society for two decades. There was a remark-able fivefold increase in the traditionally prevalent populism between 1990-2018 does not only in-clude emerging democracies Latin America and Central Europe, but Asia and Western Europe as well. This epistemological abyss was due to lack of constituted and concerned democratic public. Populism rules the journalism majorly through Facebook and not Twitter, and brings unscrupulous politicians’ messages into the play, wherein the minorities voices remain unheard over the racist and xenophobic through social media, from fitness statistics gathered through the number of wearables to the political polls. This misuse by the populism of public information space by providing more coverage to this news reduces the importance and challenges facts than the statements, hence, ac-celerating emotional judgements. Although in 1920s, politically engaged ‘objective journalism’ did not disregard the facts while dealing with adversarial stories. And today, the footsteps are being modified by completely ignoring the rationality, disconnecting facts and stories with each other.

The global rise of populism has severely damaged the journalism industry as it has become uncertain of inadequate responses and putrid ideologies with respect to generalisation of false in-formation and revolt against the mainstream journalism by the commonwealth. The attack populism does is to focus on the fears, of the dangers assumed intensifying both psychological and physiolog-ical fear reactions. thus, ending up supporting the populist solutions. A range of news that needs to be focused on conflict, religious and cultural differences bringing int he anxieties of societies are exploited over the dominating news of consumerism. People with populist ideas tend be more active on Facebook as it allows them to generate the content for more communication and can be over- represented and simultaneously are dissatisfied with the established media platform. A pattern re-flecting the preference for commercial television and tabloid newspapers highlighting new dimen-sions to segment the audiences accordingly. Numbers and statistics are widely popular for them considered to be objective in informing the data the commonwealth is unaware about, just like we accept a person’s observation as an anecdotal one which surely needs to be re-looked, re-observed and re- questioned. Similarly, numbers and statistics can be subjective and needs to be cross ques-tioned. They come in various forms accumulated during news gathering process from large spread-sheets to metrics gathered from the audiences to the converged formats for small data tools (cell phones). For example, talking about corruption, which is not observable, it is one of the undeniable things taking place in concealed forms and eventually being reported about, but cannot be repre-sented objectively due to its dependence on certain situations, and cultural setting. Gilbert Picard in his speech on ‘Journalism, Populism and the Future of Democracy’ states, “In covering populism, journalists who provide neutral reporting of slander, hate speech and lies become complicit in at-tacks on democratic values and human rights. When journalists remain unreasonably neutral, they help spread falsehoods and lies and promote the causes of hatred and racism. When journalists stand above it all and don’t respond, they become partly responsible for the results.” (16)

Moreover, journalists tend to dismiss the statistics, or the numbers collected to be biased, thereby, the numbers can be subjective as text, wherein a scope of re-research is always present. Ma-jorly in terms of socio- political scenarios journalists create influential report representing an actual reflection of a country which are subjective perception. As there is no mechanical methodology against the mix assumptions or effects during an analysis, here the significant role is played by visu-alisation to guide towards achieving the correct conclusion by portraying these effects accurately.  

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