The UMass-Boston BINJ Journalism Ethics Institute
As a major part of our journey with BINJ, we are documenting the procedures, processes, and ideas that emerge in our grand experiment, from the technical to the ethical. In recording and considering the latter at great length, we have had significant help from Craig Newmark of craigconnects, who in January 2015 awarded us a $25,000 grant and challenged us to put all ethical concerns and conversation front and center. That led us to hosting a colloquium for BINJ contributors to tackle questions with philosophy and journalism scholars, and also to a partnership with the UMass Boston Philosophy Department to found a community journalism project within the UMass Boston Ethics Institute.
In the fall 2016 semester, BINJ journalists provided UMass Boston students the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of applied ethics by applying it to cases cited in investigative reports and columns. We envision developing a pedagogical model similar to the one used by ethics students who accompany medical doctors on their rounds, appropriately modified for investigative journalism, and will release a report on ethics in early 2017 in addition to continuing our work at UMass.
The following is excerpted from:
BINJworthy: Rethinking Truth Through Authenticity at a Boston Alternative News Organization, a thesis presented by Cole Edick to the Department of Anthropology in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree with honors of Bachelor of Arts.
Harvard University, Cambridge, Mass, March 2017
Chris and Jason are regular guests for a class on media ethics at UMass Boston. On the first class, they gave a broad overview of why they found the media to be morally bankrupt today, and how news consumers were the main agents in fixing the damage. Following this, they asked those in attendance where they get their news. The first person to respond was a middle-aged woman with a thick South End accent: “I just don’t know what to believe anymore,” she held her hands up as though exasperated. “You flip through the channels and they’re saying Trump does one thing, then another.”
Previously, the class had been quiet, but this comment got everyone started on more familiar ground: the election. Suddenly, what had been a tepid conversation became electrified by the panic of the 2016 race. Another student spoke up, explaining that she read something that said President Barack Obama won’t leave office if Trump is elected. Others claimed that there’s no way anybody believes Trump, and that the media is blowing it way out of proportion.
The following is excerpted from our proposal for a community journalism program at UMass-Boston:
BINJ’s mission includes a strong emphasis on community engagement and education. Our Community Journalism Project will provide UMass Boston students and others the opportunity to strengthen their understanding of applied ethics by applying it to cases cited in investigative reports and columns BINJ journalists. Many of these cases involve topics currently taught in ethics courses by the UMass Boston Philosophy Department. We envision developing a pedagogical model similar to the one used by ethics students who accompany medical doctors on their rounds, appropriately modified for investigative journalism.
On the basis of formal training and practical experience, professional journalists make ethical decisions every time they produce an article. Students in the Community Journalism Project will study this process by learning from working journalists writing about hot-button issues of the day, including prison reform, surveillance, energy, structural racism, housing, urban renewal, gentrification, immigration, global warming, economic inequality, government corruption, neoliberalism, and the use and abuse of police power. Students will be able to follow BINJ journalists as they are working on stories, and discuss in real time the ethical decisions they make.
Another purpose of the project is to provide training in applied journalism ethics to professional journalists, students interested in journalism, and community media makers (“citizen journalists”). This is a subject that is no longer widely taught in journalism departments, although it is vital to a democratic society that depends on journalism to guide political decision-making.
The Community Journalism Project will run one-off workshops, multi-week seminars, speakers series, conferences, and eventually full courses. For that we will require access to UMass Boston classrooms or lecture halls on weekday evenings, weekends and/or vacation periods, when they are not otherwise in use.
Founding project faculty will include BINJ staffers Chris Faraone, MS, Haley Hamilton, MA, and Jason Pramas, MFA - all experienced journalists and journalism professors - and Prof. Gary Zabel of the UMass Boston Philosophy Department. Other UMass Boston faculty are encouraged to join us as well. We also plan to build early relationships with the Society for Professional Journalists, other relevant professional organizations, and Boston neighborhood advocacy organizations in the BINJ Community Advisory Board.
We would like to launch the project with a trial run of one six-week seminar during the second 2016 summer term, and plan a series of workshops for the fall 2016 term.
BINJ is interested to engage in joint fundraising with partner institutions. We recently received $25,000 from a major funder to hold our BINJ Journalism Ethics Colloquium at the Community Church of Boston in May. We have every reason to expect that larger donations are in the offing if we launch a project with the UMass Boston Ethics Institute.