Ethical Issue: Don’t confuse your readers with wrong translation

I’m resonating with the issue of translation when dealing with international issue or interviewing someone whose first language is not English that my colleague, Audrey Adam addressed in her final paper due to the fact that we both pay particular attention on international coverage especially when homelands involved.

How much should we rely on translators/interpreters? The famous tennis player in China Li Na’s case raised my doubt. An article on NYTIMES on August 25, 2013 misidentified the medication that she took in 2002 because the translator was confused about the difference between “hormone medicine” and “steroid pills”. The news website later released an apology and amended their article after received complaints from readers.

Screenshot of NYTimes

Screenshot of NYTimes

I think this case is classic because professional translators/interpreters could be amateur in the fields that requires specific knowledge and basic jargons. But the reason why NYTimes worth criticizing here is that they did not put as much effort on further verifying the information as important it is. An athletic used to consume steroid pills is a big deal and it definitely needed to be confirmed especially the interview was conducted in a language that wasn’t her mother tongue.

Journalists should not completely count on the translators especially when covering sensitive topics or have very specific jargons involved.


Ethical Issue:Consideration on the use of offensive image

As journalists, only writing about stuff is not sufficient to tell the whole news to readers, photo is another key element of a good story. But making decisions about whether to run certain photograph or not sometimes could be tougher compared with making decisions on content. Because image has more straightforward impact on audience than words.

Last week in my last class of journalism ethics, a very disturbing photograph published on Mercury News was showed to the class. It’s Richard Allen Davis, the convicted killer of abducted child, giving vulgar gesture to the camera. It’s unclear that who/what is his target and why he did this gesture, but the fact that the editor approved this photograph to be published on the front page has caused controversy.

“Would you run this photograph?” The answer is not easy. This photo is offensive, shocking, disturbing, while it feeds the audience’s curiosity about the character of a convicted killer. The editor made his choice, but I think if I were him I would do the opposite.

As Foreman concluded in his book, when journalists analyze the news value of an offensive photograph, they also need to consider the ways of minimizing the likely harm. The photograph on the front page of a newspaper of a killer who showed no regret but only hate to the public would haunt the victim’s family in a lifetime.

A good example is the report on LA Times Javier Bolden, one of the shooter that killed Ying Wu and Ming Qu, smiling when Wu’s father addressed the court about his loss. The reporter decided not to publish the photo and did not include the scene of the smiling in the video as well.

Foreman’s solution is simple and helpful in this case. I guess if I encounter this sort of issue, I’ll make my decision based on this statement:

Decisions on this kind of content have to be on case-by-case basis. These decisions weigh the degree of offense and the news value of the specific photograph or video.”

Final Paper: Guideline on Crime Coverage

Reporting on crime is never easy for any reporter. Especially in many cases, according to A Guide for Journalists who report on Crime and Crime Victims, rookie reporters are most likely to be assigned to cover crime when there’s a need to work nighttime hours in a high crime rate neighborhood. And,

“Unfortunately, news organizations rarely offer rookies training about reporting on victims of violence and many did not receive specialized instruction before entering the field.”

Lacking in experience in this case is very likely to cause mistakes and difficulties in dealing with victim’s interviews, and lots of unnecessary pressure would also be added to the work. Thus, it’s crucial and urgent for rookie journalists have themselves fully and well prepared before actually entering the career.

The guidelines I came up with are mostly inspired by Bonnie Bucqueroux and Anne Seynour’s “A Guide for Journalists who report on Crime and Crime Victims” and Sue Carter’s “Interviewing Victims” as well as my own ethical codes based upon my background.

The way reporters are supposed to deal with crime reporting in which they could make ethical decisions prior to further investigation is to create a self guideline that would be strictly followed. The guideline should be updated and revised as the situations reporters will face vary time to time.

Based upon my personal interest, I’ll come up with a list of ethical principles on crime reporting by comparing how differently as well as how similarly American media and Chinese media cover the same issue. The ethical codes of crime reporting should be universally shared regardless of government censorship, because journalists are supposed to make their own decisions guided by ethical principles.

Before we get into the guidelines for crime coverage, it’s important for journalists to know the unique role that news media is playing in terms of impact on crime victims and the readers.

Crime victims and their relatives always find themselves the subject of media coverage, regardless of whether they are willing to participate or not. So the biggest challenge for journalists is to report on crime victims with essential facts but without victimizing them. It’s especially important when dealing with venerable populations like children and relatives of the victim.

“It feels like a knife stabbing the heart.” This is what Lingzi Lu’s parents said in an interview with NewsCenter 5 through a translator. Lingzi Lu, the Boston University student killed by the Boston Marathon Bombing has become her parents’ eternal pain in the lifetime. Interviewing such people might forced them to recall all the terrible things happened to their beloved, and thus stir emotional reactions.

Expressing your concern when interviewing such group of people. Being considerate does not mean journalists should prevent themselves from asking tough questions during interview, on the contrary, showing your concern towards victim or victim’s family’s loss actually develop trust leading to a more open conversation. Share human feeling and experience to the victims or the victim’s family and tell them bad things indeed happen to good people, and let them know “You are not doing anything wrong”.

But, don’t be one-sided

Journalist should always maintain their professional skepticism towards the “victim” unless proved. Given the case of Sun Yang that I have discussed in my previous post, journalists should not suspend all disbelief toward the Brazilian swimmer only because she asserted that she was physically abused by Sun Yang.

Try to get the reliable source and get quotes from both sides, and let the readers to decide.

Be careful on what should be presented and partial truth should not be accepted

It’s hard to balance the victim’s right to protect privacy and the public’s right to know the facts, and there are many private facts that the victims and their families are not willing to be revealed. However, “information that is part of a public record is generally considered open to the press to report.” So setting up a bottom line, for me: report essential facts that will only enrich the story not victimize sources and never accept partial truth that would potentially misleading, is very helpful for journalists to make ethical decisions.

The case of two slain USC Chinese students, Ying Wu and Ming Qu well indicates how partial truth hurts journalism. A video named “Our Voice” posted after several media websites reported on their death. Chinese students in USC voluntarily gathered and attended a candlelight vigil, expressing their sympathy towards victims and disappointment for how media distort the facts.

Crucial Tips for Chinese journalists: when covering/translating international issue, be aware of certain stereotypes that American media might have.

According to Chaijing’s documentary “Investigating on USC shooting”, the initial report was from the Associated Press and mentioned “ a brand new BMW valued at $60,000” in their original newsletter. This piece of information later was deleted because of inaccuracy. However, a field reporter of the Fox cited this false information in a live reporting. Hours after the shooting, the state-run Xinhua agency was the first Chinese media translating news articles in American media while omitted the part of exaggerating the condition and price of the car. But some of the major Chinese media websites such like Wangyi and Sohu put “brand new BMW” and “shot dead at midnight” in the headline and soon raised numerous speculations on social media.

A screen catch of Chaijing's documentary

A screen catch of Chaijing’s documentary

A screen catch of Chaijing's documentary

A screen catch of Chaijing’s documentary

If you google “Chinese international students”, a bunch of articles related them to “luxury cars”, “ultra rich” and such key words popped out right away. There is even an article on Bloomberg titled “Chines students major in luxury cars”. It’s fair enough for other American to judge Chinese students as “super rich” as many of them act high profile and show off their parent’s wealth. But as journalists, we should stick with the core principle: objectivity, that is not to assume anything before investigate.

To summarize, I want to refer to a speech of a friend of Ying Wu and Ming Qu at their Memorial Service, and I believe this would be the most important ethical code that I will follow in the future.

“Put your hand on your heart” as a journalist.

“I just hope that every media here tonight can cover this incident with their conscience.”

“Please do not exaggerate. Don’t make unnecessary ornamentations to the incidents.”

“This our only correct way to mourn.”

                                                                                       By a friend of Ying Wu and Ming Qu

Operation: Correct That Error (Final Version)

A series of apocalyptic explosions rocked my hometown, Tianjin around 11:30pm (15:30GMT) on Wednesday, causing dozens of dead, hundreds of injured and areas of devastated. My Weibo page has been occupied by updating news and myriad posts of prayers ever since the disaster exposed to the public. Though my parents and friend were not affected due to the fact that they all live in the city area where is roughly one-hour drive away from the explosion scene, the increasing number of causalities deeply saddened my heart and I couldn’t stop myself on watching news on it.

In my last post, I described an error that I found in a relevant coverage on ExtremeTech, and I immediately sent an email to the reporter Joel Hruska with my question. Luckily he got back to me as soon as I wasn’t expected especially I assumed that he’s supposed to be very busy with the reporting.

Screenshot 2015-08-12 22.27.04

I truly understand that as people who were severely burned could die at any second, reporters can never guarantee their information is the latest and completely accurate. However, the reason why I doubt about Hruska’s story was that his post came out nearly the same time as other major news outlest like CNN, the New York Times and BBC etc. while his estimates was completely different.

Although I really appreciate Hruska’s accountability as he got back to me and respond my question, he still didn’t provide me which is the “reliable source”. And as far as I know, there’s no official Chinese news agency or police department announced “two have died, six more are out of contact” at that moment.

So I sent him another email to ask how he makes his estimates of casualty in this case, his response is as below. And he updated the story later last night.

Screenshot 2015-08-13 23.31.07

It’s worth nothing that in his update #1, he mentioned the state-run Xinhua news agency has different information on its ongoing update and twitter account and linked to both sources. But he didn’t correct the original one nor linked it to the “reliable source” as he said in the email.

Screenshot 2015-08-13 23.59.47

As my instructor, Bill Mitchell commented on my last post, “It’s always difficult to make reliable casualty estimates as stories like this are still developing”. And,

“…even official sources — e.g., police or other governmental spokespersons — can make mistakes when providing information to the news media in a time of panic and confusion.”

Self Study Unit 4: The first 24 hours on Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma

I think when a reporter is assigned to cover a story like this, the most important thing is to keep it updating based on information from official departments because rumors feed on people’s panic and delayed news. It’s not necessary to ask Hruska to correct his original story now since the updated information has been posted and this time he provides the readers the access to his sources.

I know it’s all about timing when reporting on breaking news like this, but at least what we can do is to have ourselves prepared in advance in terms of getting contact information from reliable sources.

In this case, CNN was able to provide accurate information and referred the sources in the article. As I noticed, CNN assigned a Chinese reporter as well as American reporters to collaborate on the reporting, and I guess the logic behind this decision was that the Chinese reporter probably has more connection with local media and police department in order to obtain latest updates from official and reliable sources. I think it’s smart to have reporters with various backgrounds in case there’s a need to cover international issue.

Here’s a guidebook for journalists that I found useful when covering disasters, accidents and other crisis.

Operation Correct That Error

Massive explosions rocked the northern Chinese city of Tianjin late Wednesday. According to the latest update on @央视新闻, the official account of CCTV news on Weibo, at least 14 people were killed and more than 400 people were injured.

The first blast erupted at a warehouse of a logistics company in BinHai New Area around 11:30pm, according to the official account of Tianjin Police Department on Weibo@平安天津 (Peaceful Tianjin).

The explorsion soon “rocked” the major social media platform Weibo after an unidentified number of Tianjin residents post the video clips of showing shattered windows, destroyed cars, some people covered in debris and of course, the blast as they described as “like the end of the world”.

The U.S. news outlets reported on the explosions in Tianjin shortly after it came out as well.

“The state-run Xinhua news agency reported the explosion tore through a warehouse storing “dangerous goods” in the Binhai New Area.The initial blast triggered secondary explosions, setting off local tremors, according to Xinhua. Residents said the blast shattered windows and fish tanks.”

                                                                                                         By Steven Jiang and Dana Ford on CNN

Screenshot on CNN news website.

Screenshot on CNN news website.

“According to the China Earthquake Administration’s official account on Weibo, a web messaging network similar to Twitter, the first explosion took place at 11:34 p.m. and registered as a magnitude 2.3. It said a second, magnitude-2.9 explosion happened 30 seconds later, and it called that blast “the equivalent of 21 tons of TNT.”

By Andrew Jacobs and Yufan Huang on The New York Times

Screenshot of the New York Times website.

Screenshot of the New York Times website.

More than 100 fire trucks are at the scene where the fire is currently contained, the fire department said. Two firefighters are missing and four are injured, however, that number is expected to climb, according to the department.

By Kaylee Heck on ABC News

Screenshot of ABC News website.

Screenshot of ABC News website.

I was bombarded by messages of care and questions when having a seminar with my co-workers today, asking me “are you okay”, “how’s your family” etc. Yes, it is my hometown suffering the massive loss and unbearable pain caused by this tragedy. I contacted my parents at once to make sure they are safe, and asked them to alert me if they saw anything newsworthy on television.

Then I looked up several articles and updates on social media, and I found something may needs further verification.

CNN and The New York Times and other major media outlets mentioned that according to firefighting division of the Chinese

Screenshot of @央视新闻 on Weibo

Screenshot of @央视新闻 on Weibo

Public Security Ministry, there were four firefighters were injured and two are missing at the scene, while @PDChina and @央视Screenshot 2015-08-12 18.45.31新闻 announced six were injured.

I immediately tweeted to the reporter of CNN, Steven Jiang and Dana Ford who cover this event, questioning if the number is accurate. But I have yet got any response.

Then I kept myself updating on Weibo where I usually turn for breaking news, and soon found out that the latest update on the injuring number of firefighters are four @People’s Daily on Weibo. (The odd thing is that they announced six first, and then four in the following post).

Screenshot 2015-08-12 20.55.05

This one said “four were injured” which is the latest one.

Screenshot 2015-08-12 20.55.12

This one said “six were injured” which is the older post. @People’s Daily didn’t delete this post.

Now it seems like @PDchina and @央视新闻 might be the one who were wrong about the number, but since there’s still no official statement has been released regarding casualties among firefighters. I’ll just keep myself updating.

However, I found an article done by Joel Hruska on ExtremeTech which is obviously wrong about the number because it says “at least two firefighters died, and six more are out of contact”. I haven’t seen any state-run news outlets or local police department announced any death on firefighters, and only two missing firefighters were declared not six.

Screenshot of ExtremeTech.

Screenshot of ExtremeTech.

So I found the reporter, Joel Hruska’s email address on the website, and sent him an email pointing out the mistake. Still waiting for his response.

Screenshot 2015-08-12 20.31.44

Stay tuned for more updating on this case.

Update #1:According to the latest post on @People’s Daily on Weibo, nine firefighters have died and more are out of contact. Bless Tianjin and R.I.P. heroes.

Update #2: Joel Hruska replied my email.Screenshot 2015-08-12 22.27.04

Ethical Issue: It’s easy but no right to be one-sided

The top-rated Chinese swimmer Sun Yang who was also an Olympic champion has been attracted controversy in these two days.

Discussions among audience and news organizations are not merely about his withdrawal from the men’s 1500 freestyle final on Sunday, but mainly on “a physical altercation” that he involved with a Brazilian female swimmer, Larissa Oliveria, in the warm-up pool prior to the final session.

Many U.S. news organizations have reported on this issue quoting testimony only from Brazilian sources.

Screenshot of Reuters

Screenshot of Reuters

A Brazilian sports news website reported that the coach of Brazil’s national swimming team, Alberto Pinto da Silva said Sun Yang pulled the Brazilian swimmer’s foot and tried to elbow her and kick her. According to an article “Brazil coach blasts Chinese Olympic champ Sun” on Reuters wrote by Andrew Downie.

Another article on International Business Times directly put the Brazilian coach’s quote on the headline: “Controversial Chinese Champion Sun Yang Tried to Elbow And Kick Female Swimmer: Brazil’s coach”. In this article, the reporter also mentioned that the Brazilian Screenshot 2015-08-11 21.41.06Aquatic Sports Federation has already filed a formal complaint with the International Swimming Federation (FINA).

At the end of the article, the reporter, Justin Gloria also “reminded” the audience that this is not the first time that Sun has been put on the spot for attracting controversies. He mentioned the car crashing and banned drug using (which is for treating his heart issue) cases that Sun has been involved in 2013 and 2014.

Although many readers were questioning on how confident those news websites feel about this story, and many of them also pointed out that Oliveria in fact has completed all her events and was not supposed to show up in the warm-up pool, due to the fact that Chinese Federation and FINA have yet to make official comments towards accusation, only comments and testimony from the Brazilian’s side were almost all of the American news websites that take into account.

Screenshot 2015-08-11 20.34.34

Screenshot from SwimSwam

Screenshot from SwimSwam

So I turned to Weibo to find relevant news sources and comments from Chinese audience. And I found a interview video that CCTV 5 conducted with Sun Yang after the incident in warm-up pool and his withdrawal from the 1500m final.

(Link of the interview)

During the interview, Sun Yang explained that he was trying to ask Oliveria to take off her flippers, because FINA banned any equipment that would potentially hurt the swimmers to be used in the warm-up pool such like flippers.

“We as a team, I have the obligation to protect my teammates, “ said Sun, “ and her flippers had already kicked us.”

Screenshot of the interview on the official account of CCTV 5 on Weibo.

Screenshot of the interview on the official account of CCTV 5 on Weibo.

But Oliveria responded aggressively in terms of “heated words”, Sun said. He also said the Chinese Swimming Federation has

filed a complaint to FINA (Brazilian Federation also said they filed a complaint. Who really did? Both or none of them?)

Other than the incident, Sun explained in detail about his heart issue that prevents him from attending the final in this interview as well.

The video was posted earlier today but still no update on any news website regarding what Sun has said.

I assume objectivity should be the number one rule that guide journalists when they cover such issue that has more than one stakeholder while many American news websites disappointed me by merely quoting from Brazilian’s side instead of continuous action of seeking for Chinese Federation and Sun’s response.

When I put myself into the shoes of reader’s, I feel like I would need to listen the voice from both sides before I make a comment. And it made me feel that this story won’t be considered to be complete as long as Sun’s interview is not included.

Most impressive to me, and also the most professional website that specialized on swimming coverage is Swimswam, they keep updating their sources and information on this issue and the editor responds to readers in the comment section wherever raised a criticism or doubt. And Swimswam is the only website that didn’t end up their story with Sun’s previous controversial issues.

The editor of SwimSwam respond to a reader on comment section. Screenshot from SwimSwam.

The editor of SwimSwam respond to a reader on comment section. Screenshot from SwimSwam.

I remembered a discussion in my journalism ethics class this Monday on readers might judge public figures according to their relative’s behavior. And I found this case similar because a person’s past could be his “relative” which would affect audience’s opinion toward him no matter whether he has indeed elbowed or kicked Oliveria or not.

It’s logical and rational for people to judge a person depending on his past behaviors, but I, as a journalist, will think carefully about a proper place to put this fact in a way that will minimize its influence on audience’s independent thinking. And I, as a reader, believe that previous behaviors cannot be automatic indicators of anything.

Ethical Issue: Partial truth hurts journalism

As a journalism student, I was taught to tell the truth from the beginning of my program. But is that enough? Partial truth is still considered to be “truth” yet hurts journalism in some ways.

The case I’m about to discuss in my final paper is the two Chinese USC students murdered in 2012, and my major criticism for the Chinese news organizations was that they deliberately mentioned their car’s model in the headlines in order to sway audience’s opinions towards the victims.

It’s difficult to judge whether their decisions in the headlines were right or wrong in terms of journalism ethics because they were telling the truth. The car was indeed a BMW.

But, what they have “omitted” was the fact that it’s a used car which only cost Ming Qu (the victim) $10,000. The hidden fact had swayed many anti-rich audiences in China resulting in their hate comments towards the victims.

There’s a quote from Media Ethics and Society, a blog from Ohio University.

“Journalism is supposed to be about presenting truth, and not presenting it in a way that would trick readers. If important, relevant information is being hidden, then the whole truth is not given.”

– – Lynsie Dickerson

It turned out that the car’s model didn’t make any sense regarding the case itself, not to mention those articles also didn’t provide relevant information about the car in the content. There’s no doubt that they only report partial truth—in a misleading manner—which prevent the readers from deciding for themselves how they feel about certain people or situations.