Journalism Ethics

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Journalism Ethics

Duggerman
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Someone just asked me why I avoided asking a famous athlete I interviewed if he used steroids.

My rebuttal is this: There's more to being a journalist than asking hard questions. Integrity and trust with your sources will take you a long way. Sometimes you may have to be patient and ask the "million dollar question" during the second interview. If you piss off someone important during your first interview with them, your reputation may take a hit. They'll never wanna talk to you again and tell their friends to do the same. My advice is to get a good reputation before you try to become Barbara Walters.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
Interesting read AJ!  Tyson did asvoid all those guys?  And you believed that Briggs would beat Klitchko then?  I admire that he admitted prime Tyson would definitely whip him, & 48 year olf Foreman hit him harder than anyone, wow.

Yet I must push you about a couple questions, there seems some cognitive dissonance between what the role of a journalist traditionally is defined as your self image as charaismatic, bold & cocky, & what you are willing to conclude or even ask about!

1) That there are myths about a guy does not address whether specfic allegations are true.
Ther HAS been official information about Holyfield, from a formal high level Federal investigation, & also similar reports from several major media outlets, as I wrote above.

2) Though you must acknowledge that sometimes athletes can lie, cheat, & drug like a fiend for YEARS & not get caught, maybe never get caught.  Even in sports whihc have far more PR about drugs (baseball), or are tested up the proverbial wazoo, like cycling & the Olympics!  MANY track & Field & endurance, not just strength, athletes cheat on tests for years, & something like Marion Jones & Tim Montgomery & soooo many others would not be found out WITHOUT major investigations.  If (Ph)armstorng had not the foolish arrogance to have an expose renowned documentarian follow him around he might still only have rumors swirling if I recall the sequence of his expose correctly.  AND he was extremely famous in a sport greatly known for PED use & even essentially managed the program & threatened the careers of those who might tattle!

Just like rumors do not mean truth, that firm evidence does not come out does not imply innocence.
Though there is a lot of evidence, much more than  innuendo, with Holyfield.

3) You describe yourself as bold.  But it is not even being remotely bold to make an allegation if the evidence is there.  And as a Journalist you may want to reserve judgement  in an interview, but why on earth not ask the question?

4) Studying Journalism a bit & reading about it over the years, it is very clear that journalists are supposed to ask the tough & uncomfortably questions.  And even follow up persistently (though politely & professionally) when questions are not answered or something seems unaccounted for or contradictory.

5) It can be psychologically UNCOMFORTABLE to ask, especially maybe to a giant HW, but inquiring is not remotely an accusation, & it gives a man a chance to confirm or dispel an account.  Why ever not ask a guy about it, since it is newsworthy to address, relevant, & if you believe PEDs are bad is not the greater responsibility to at least try to find out the truth by at least asking?




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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Duggerman
Administrator
I'll answer everything piece by piece.

And you believed that Briggs would beat Klitchko then?
Nope. Never said that. I said Briggs has more of a chance of beating Wladimir now. I still wouldn't bet on it but with Manny Steward gone and Briggs dropping so much weight and moving better he has a chance, especially a puncher's chance if Wlad overlooks him. I never said Shannon would beat Vitali either. Just wanted to clear that up.

3) You describe yourself as bold.  But it is not even being remotely bold to make an allegation if the evidence is there.  And as a Journalist you may want to reserve judgement  in an interview, but why on earth not ask the question?
I can tell you don't watch my interviews much. Did you not see me shamelessly plug my book in my interviews with Soledad O' Brien and Tariq Nasheed? Or how about when I asked Eddie Swanson, the strongest man in Tennessee and a movie actor if he used steroids? I am very bold, sir. For example, I was the only journalist at the event to get Soledad O'Brien one-on-one and I did ask her tough questions in the short time I had her. She said I'm just as ambitious as she is. Quite the compliment!

Remember in the blog I wrote, I explained that the interview with Shannon happened spur of the moment. I didn't even have a list of questions! Two more things: I had heard rumors of Shannon doing 'roids but didn't have time to research it beforehand. Lastly, (and most important) I build relationships with my sources. Journalists already have bad reputations. When people get interviewed, they are afraid that the journalist will do an expose, misquote them, etc.

On the contrary, a lot of people I've interviewed request me for interviews again because they trust me and know how I operate. NFL Legend Joe Theismann requested me!! His people called the paper requesting to speak to me because of an article I wrote about his father. He wanted to talk to me in person to get more information. He knew I wouldn't slander or offend him. That's just one example. If I were to interview Shannon again and had some concrete evidence that he was on something, maybe I would ask. But I wouldn't dare ask him that the first time. It's all about gaining trust first. If I'd offended him during the first interview, he wouldn't dare talk to me again and tell his friends to do the same. My reputation would take a huge hit and one question (about an unfounded allegation) would be the blame. I'm smarter than that.

4) Studying Journalism a bit & reading about it over the years, it is very clear that journalists are supposed to ask the tough & uncomfortably questions.  And even follow up persistently (though politely & professionally) when questions are not answered or something seems unaccounted for or contradictory.

5) It can be psychologically UNCOMFORTABLE to ask, especially maybe to a giant HW, but inquiring is not remotely an accusation, & it gives a man a chance to confirm or dispel an account.  Why ever not ask a guy about it, since it is newsworthy to address, relevant, & if you believe PEDs are bad is not the greater responsibility to at least try to find out the truth by at least asking?
I pretty much explained it above. I'm not gonna piss the man off in my first interview with him, especially over something unfounded. Journalists are supposed to ask tough questions, yes. And I do. But timing those questions and having a good relationship with your source will take you a long way. You may be studying journalism but that's one of the things they don't teach. It's something you learn with experience. You have to have integrity. There's more to being a journalist than asking hard questions.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
Ok thanks for the response AJ.

You wrote: "Shannon's chances of landing that brutal knockout blow and recapturing the heavyweight championship for a third time are likely".  I believe that these words technically mean that he is likely to KO Klitchko.  I think you meant that it would be more likely than otherwise given the circumstances of weight loss & landing a Steward gone.

I watched some of your interviews such as Mr. Nareed, I do not recall his answer, what was it?  I do not think anyone can be world's strongest anything when clean unless it is strictly & effectively tested, & few competitions are, because the disadvantage of not juicing is so steep.

 I was talking about the seeming disconnect about this issue.  So maybe you will eduate me here or I will get you to look at things a different way.  I said I studied journalism just a bit, not studying it now.  I know about building relationships.  But what is wrong with asking the question-even if it is phrased as a rumor, that gives them a chance to addres sit & dispel it.  That is not sandbagging anyone, are so many folks really that sensitive about just asking an open ended question, which has no implication that you believe it, & let's them answer how they wish?  Clearly some who drug up would be due to fear of getting caught & a guilty conscience.  Others too?

Now I could see maybe if someone was burned before, though the question implies no slander, that an innocent man might be so sensitive about even the inquiry.  Though that is a shame, just like you do not stay away from certain groups sue to a bad experience, better not to close down open communication due to a bad experience, that is an understandble but reflexive reaction to avoid.

I never heard the standard that you must wait for concrete EVIDENCE that someone used, but asking about rumors AND evidence of varying degrees of persuasiveness is routine, from politicians to celebrities to anyone, no?  At least if it might affect their profession/job, does not asking allow them a forum to shoot allegations down?  I see this on most done on TV & the radio for the most respectable shows since Time Immemorial.

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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Duggerman
Administrator
Entaowed wrote
Ok thanks for the response AJ.

You wrote: "Shannon's chances of landing that brutal knockout blow and recapturing the heavyweight championship for a third time are likely".  I believe that these words technically mean that he is likely to KO Klitchko.  I think you meant that it would be more likely than otherwise given the circumstances of weight loss & landing a Steward gone.

I watched some of your interviews such as Mr. Nareed, I do not recall his answer, what was it?  I do not think anyone can be world's strongest anything when clean unless it is strictly & effectively tested, & few competitions are, because the disadvantage of not juicing is so steep.

 I was talking about the seeming disconnect about this issue.  So maybe you will eduate me here or I will get you to look at things a different way.  I said I studied journalism just a bit, not studying it now.  I know about building relationships.  But what is wrong with asking the question-even if it is phrased as a rumor, that gives them a chance to addres sit & dispel it.  That is not sandbagging anyone, are so many folks really that sensitive about just asking an open ended question, which has no implication that you believe it, & let's them answer how they wish?  Clearly some who drug up would be due to fear of getting caught & a guilty conscience.  Others too?

Now I could see maybe if someone was burned before, though the question implies no slander, that an innocent man might be so sensitive about even the inquiry.  Though that is a shame, just like you do not stay away from certain groups sue to a bad experience, better not to close down open communication due to a bad experience, that is an understandble but reflexive reaction to avoid.

I never heard the standard that you must wait for concrete EVIDENCE that someone used, but asking about rumors AND evidence of varying degrees of persuasiveness is routine, from politicians to celebrities to anyone, no?  At least if it might affect their profession/job, does not asking allow them a forum to shoot allegations down?  I see this on most done on TV & the radio for the most respectable shows since Time Immemorial.
I get you now. Yes, I think Shannon has more of a chance now. I still wouldn't make him the favorite but his chances have gone up.

Eddie Swanson answered no. He's been clean his whole life. He got into body building at a young age. There's no evidence that he juiced up with anything and no allegations of it, neither. In fact, he tours and educates people on how you can bulk up without steroids. Part of his whole mission is debunking that myth.

There are some things you have to be careful with when you interview people. For example, Oprah Winfrey said that you don't wanna piss someone off. One bad question and all that bonding and trust goes out the window and likely won't come back. She made Michael Jackson upset when she asked him about his skin color change and it took her a while to "get him back." That's just one example. I'm willing to take advice from someone like Oprah.

My style is to play it safe and get their trust. It works. That's why I'm in demand so much. Then, after we have a solid relationship, I can slip in a dangerous question or two. Shannon Briggs was one of my first celebrity interviews. I was blessed and honored to have the opportunity and I wasn't gonna ruin it with one question. If I talk to him again I may ask, but it isn't smart to do it the first time. Some reporters hit hard the first time, but those reporters have bad reps because of it. The sad part is that they don't care.

Me personally, I wait for the facts to come in. I don't like to report rumors. If time permits, I sometimes give my source the list of questions before hand so they can prepare. This puts people at ease also. There are all kinds of ways to do it. Also, I've interviewed rapists and pedophiles before. And obviously, I had to ask detailed and personal questions in those cases and stay objective. Imagine how hard that was!! But in those situations, for example, if a man pleaded guilty to raping a 12 year-old girl, the facts are there. He admitted it and was proud of it. So I can ask tough questions directly. But it's different in situations where it's just hearsay.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
OK thanks AJ.  I still believe though that some (huge guys ironiocally) are delicate flowers.  Sometimes due to being corrupt/dirty.  I would never say report rumors as facts, but just asking the question should not get anyone angry.  Jeez, if I was accused, I wouldf WANT to get the word out I was clean!


I would never say someone is guilty just without evidence, but IF Swanson is clean that is exceedingly unusual & impressive.  I do not care how hard you work, others do so & train scientifically & have great genetics.  If he is clean he must have absolutely amazing genetic potential, assuming the competition is well attended with real strongmen-who would be usually using PEDs if not tested or seriously tested.

 
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Duggerman
Administrator
Entaowed wrote
OK thanks AJ.  I still believe though that some (huge guys ironiocally) are delicate flowers.  Sometimes due to being corrupt/dirty.  I would never say report rumors as facts, but just asking the question should not get anyone angry.  Jeez, if I was accused, I wouldf WANT to get the word out I was clean!


I would never say someone is guilty just without evidence, but IF Swanson is clean that is exceedingly unusual & impressive.  I do not care how hard you work, others do so & train scientifically & have great genetics.  If he is clean he must have absolutely amazing genetic potential, assuming the competition is well attended with real strongmen-who would be usually using PEDs if not tested or seriously tested.
He has good genes. The man is 55 years old and looks my age!! Would you believe he sometimes gets carded? Crazyness.

Normally when people are accused, they ask you to ask that question before hand. They want that question asked. When people were accusing Briggs of using 'roids on FB, he blocked them. He obviously didn't like to hear about that kind of thing. He kept things positive. So no, I wasn't gonna go there, especially the first time.
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Re: Journalism Ethics

Rachel
In reply to this post by Duggerman
Duggerman wrote
Someone just asked me why I avoided asking a famous athlete I interviewed if he used steroids.

My rebuttal is this: There's more to being a journalist than asking hard questions. Integrity and trust with your sources will take you a long way. Sometimes you may have to be patient and ask the "million dollar question" during the second interview. If you piss off someone important during your first interview with them, your reputation may take a hit. They'll never wanna talk to you again and tell their friends to do the same. My advice is to get a good reputation before you try to become Barbara Walters.
Well said. But even Barbara Walters is a shady journalist.
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Re: Journalism Ethics

Becky
Rachel wrote
Well said. But even Barbara Walters is a shady journalist.
That is very true.

Good topic. I used to be a journalist myself and I agree with the way AJ does things. Sure, you can ask important people explosive questions but if it backfires your career could be over right then and there. It's best to build relationships then you can ease into the huge questions. Asking Shannon a question like that in your first interview with him would have been stupid, especially knowing that he blocked people on FB who accused him of it.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Duggerman
Administrator
In reply to this post by Entaowed
I wanted to say this as well, regarding being "bold." Journalists have to be bold. Sometimes I have to call complete strangers as late as midnight to get a quote or two for a story. You can't be shy. You have to be assertive but cerebral.

Take a look at this video I made about my journalism career some time ago. You'll find it informative and entertaining all at the same time.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Becky
Yeah you gotta be a tough cookie. Entaowed I think you've got the more stylized view of journalism. If you got a big interview with someone like that and asked such a personal question (especially when its a subject they tend to avoid) then you could lose all credibility on the spot. You are right that sometimes people go out of their way to clear their names. But it's not smart to bring it up yourself first.

EDIT: Watching your video again AJ. You are too funny!!
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
Maybe Becky, but if so that perception of loss of credibility is unfair & an immature reaction.  
To just ASK & allow a response should be considered an opportunity to clear one's name or at least provide your perspective.  If seeming contradictions are aggressively challenged I can see that reaction, still a fully secure man/woman would be fine with apporpriate Professional inquiry.

Reporters have often chosen to sacrifice professionalism & credibility to keep access to crucial & often political sources, & been co-opted by glamor & privilige.  Not that this describes AJ...

Some are just anger management cases or easily offended/wounded ego even when innocent.

But many are guilty as sin so cannot handle questions they may not be able to provide a plausible lie to, & it creates fear & psychological stress, also to their image as an ethical competitor relying only on theri talent & hard work.

 
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Becky
Entaowed wrote
Maybe Becky, but if so that perception of loss of credibility is unfair & an immature reaction.  
To just ASK & allow a response should be considered an opportunity to clear one's name or at least provide your perspective.  If seeming contradictions are aggressively challenged I can see that reaction, still a fully secure man/woman would be fine with apporpriate Professional inquiry.

Reporters have often chosen to sacrifice professionalism & credibility to keep access to crucial & often political sources, & been co-opted by glamor & privilige.  Not that this describes AJ...

Some are just anger management cases or easily offended/wounded ego even when innocent.

But many are guilty as sin so cannot handle questions they may not be able to provide a plausible lie to, & it creates fear & psychological stress, also to their image as an ethical competitor relying only on theri talent & hard work.
So...would YOU have asked Shannon about PEDS considering he blocks people who accused him of it? If you're fortunate enough to get an interview with someone of that stature you better not ruin it with a question you know will make him mad.

Your comments concern me. So let's say Michael Jackson was alive and about to release new music. You'd probably spend the interview asking about little boys, right? Thats irrevelant to the new music. It's just like how reporters ALWAYS ask Chris Brown about the Rhinanna fight. That was in 2009 but people still ask about that instead of his songs.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Phantom Punch
In reply to this post by Entaowed
Entaowed wrote
Maybe Becky, but if so that perception of loss of credibility is unfair & an immature reaction.  
To just ASK & allow a response should be considered an opportunity to clear one's name or at least provide your perspective.  If seeming contradictions are aggressively challenged I can see that reaction, still a fully secure man/woman would be fine with apporpriate Professional inquiry.
You'd find yourself blackballed in the journalism industry real fast with an attitude like that. Reporters are already vultures to a degree. I wouldn't wanna ask a question I knew could end my career. Duggerman was smart to avoid asking Briggs that question especially when its a known fact that Briggs blocks people on Facebook when they bring it up or simply stops responding. It doesn't matter if you think this makes him look guilty or not. What matters is showing respect when someone of that magnitude is willing to talk. Besides, man, there's so much ELSE to talk about in Shannon's career than unfounded PEDs allegations.

Duggerman you were bold asking Larry Holmes about the Tyson fight. When you mentioned George Foreman's name I was expecting Larry to curse you out but he was gracious and cool. You're a smart reporter. You know WHEN to ask the challenging questions and when not to. That can be life or death to a journalist.

Being an up and coming journalist of the future myself I love discussions like this.
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
This post was updated on .
To respond to you Becky & Phantom Punch:
Unless it is something like an autocracy, how would a blackballing even be implemented, even assuming a subject is malicious enough to try?  If you are mean, biased, invent stuff or quote out of context, that could fairly be the effect.  But sports figures are confronted with such allegations continually.  

My own "concern" is an assumption that I would "spend the interview" confronting MJ about one issue.  There is nothing I have said that makes it logical to assume I would make that one issue even first amongst equals, let alone more important than music & all else in his life.

It is not just an Edward R. Murrow though that would completely rebel against teh idea, usually involving fear, that "you better not" ask something, or better shut up.  And that was a very different time, he opposed a powerful Congressman who ruined many careers & created a climate of fear & paranoia.  If he was seen as improper his career could have been torched.

Now I acknowledge a gray area.  First, we are talking a retired boxer & not a matter of public service corruption. If you KNOW he blocks or ignores those who ask about PEDS, then it seems reasonable to do what is fairly common: ask beforehand IF you can bring up the issue.  You can phrase it accurately as not the central concern & also as a chance for them to get their side out.

And it seems quite fine to proceed if he says no.  This is very respectful, but never fear folks due to some "magnitude", even powerup to the President.  The CONGRESS wimped out on Clinton, he acted like it was undignified to answer details about sex w/Lewinsjy, BUT someone should have had the cojones to insist on asking if he was saying "I did not have sex" as a technicality, which as his comment "it depends upon what the definition of "is " is" suggested it might be...It was.

Of course, that never should have been a literal Federal case or impeachable offense in the 1st place, that was a joke.  Another story there entirely...

But since whether Briggs was one of a good # of juicers when active is not a crucial matter forthe public trust/good/corruption of public funds...And he has been likely asked in offensive or at least insenstive ways, & since he may be innocent...

It seems fair to proceed even if he refuses to speak on that issue.

AJ did great, but I would not think Homles would curse out anyone who ASKED about Foreman, when has he done that?  But he might have cursed ABOUT Foreman or shown the old contempt & anger.  He seems to have mellowed, may be managing his image, + AJ handled it with Grace.

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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Duggerman
Administrator
Larry never cursed out anyone who asked about Foreman. But Foreman is normally a tough subject for him. He's given lectures bashing Foreman (once calling him a big fat phony) and has publicly put George down plenty of times in the past. Larry has been rude in the past, especially on sore subjects such as Foreman and the loss to Mike Tyson.

He could have easily said "The hell with you!" or "This interview is over!" If I'd asked him those questions 10 years ago he may have. But he's gotten much nicer lately. This, along with my gentle approach, made for a smooth interview.

As far as Briggs goes, honestly the steroid allegation wasn't really worth asking. It's not like there were headlining stories all over the world that Shannon was juicing up. It was a minor rumor in the boxing community. You have to pick questions wisely, especially in a first time interview with someone. I didn't wanna risk making him mad, and secondly it was an unfounded allegation and not as important as the other things I asked him.

Entaowed, yes, you can get blackballed in any industry. Suppose a journalist was caught plagiarizing or fabricating? It's over. No one will hire him/her. Or if they did a bad interview or wrote a bad story. The subject can easily tell their friends to stay away from that journalist.

If I'd asked Shannon a bad question, he could have easily told his friends to avoid interviews with me. If that had happened, I'd never gotten the chance to interview Marvis Frazier and Larry Holmes.

BUT in my case it went the opposite. For example, the Marvis Frazier interview led to the Larry Holmes interview. Larry was impressed by the work I did for Marvis in promoting the book. Joe Theismann read an article I wrote about his father and loved it and called the TN Tribune office requesting to meet me and give me a follow-up story. Examples like these are why I play it safe in first time interviews.  
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Re: Evander Holyfield & the Question of Illegal PEDs.

Entaowed
I know about Larry & his reactions.  I just never heard him terminate an interview or be more than crany TO an interviewer, though was very tough about folks sometimes, such as Foreman.
Your strategy was understandable, as would have been asking if the subject could be broached.  As I said, no reason to think the rumor was crucial to address.  Though best if a guy can & will answer it.

My 2nd sentence in my last post here shows i know that a guy might get blackballed-for certain crimes.  Whether an unhappy subject who could not cite said violations could enforce anything like a blackball is a big question though.  Losing a subject or friends with one is still bad, though a far cry from an acroos the board ban informal banning implied by "blackball".

You did very well indeed with Holmes, Briggs, Marvis...