ONO Newsletter September 2019

This month’s topic…

Collaborating with the public – risks and opportunities.

A fascinating new report emerged in August examining the way modern newsrooms can collaborate and interact with their readers / listeners / viewers.

The report, which can be read here in both English and Spanish, labours under one of the more awkward titles I can remember in recent times: it’s called Making Journalism More Memberful. The fancy new word – Memberful – refers to the practice of involving your news organization’s subscribers, audience members, readers directly in the news process in any number of ways.

This might include asking them for suggestions on what stories should be covered and why, seeking their help in analysing data, proof-reading, fact-checking, etc., and looking for advice and input on how stories should develop and roll out over time.

The report outlines a range of different real-life situations where this is already happening in newsrooms around the world, and looks at the potential benefits in terms of improved transparency, trust, loyalty and even, ultimately, increased revenue. But as any news ombudsman or standards editor knows, there can also be risks and downsides in getting too close to those who might have biases and barrows to push.

The report acknowledges this in a section that covers risks, saying that “Some community members develop confirmation bias. Esther Alonso, head of marketing and development for El Diario, noted an effect of some members becoming so loyal that they expect all or most content to confirm their views and become frustrated when it doesn’t. The expectation that journalism would mirror their own opinions is unrealistic, of course.” (p. 43 of report). The research team have also published an article specifically dealing with times when being ‘memberful’ might entail editorial risks, including situations where stories and news agendas might be skewed to unfairly favour the particular perspectives of members.

So how does all of this work in practice? Is it already happening in your own news organizations to some extent, and if so, do you have policies or practices in place to ensure appropriate editorial independence and integrity?

We’d love to hear more from our members, so if you have made a recent decision that covers this ground or you have some thoughts you would like to share, email us at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com

Member Profile

Each month, ONO will profile one of its members in this newsletter, as part of our plan to increase awareness of colleagues around the world.

This month, our featured profile is Timo Huovinen, the Head of Journalistic Standards and Ethics at Yle, Finland’s national public broadcasting company. Timo t has recently become a Board member here at ONO.

Tell us about yourself. What is your current role and how long have you been in the position? What are your chief duties/responsibilities?

I became the Head of Journalistic Standards and Ethics for Finnish Broadcasting Company (Yle) in March 2017.

Here in Finland my role is different than a “normal” Ombudsman. We have a very good media self-regulation system. Our Editors-in-chief are of course responsible for Yle´s content.  However, any person who considers that there has been a breach of good professional practice by the press, radio or television may bring this to the attention of The Council for Mass Media (CMM). The majority of the Finnish media – like Yle – have signed the Council’s Basic Agreement, whereby the Council can directly handle any complaints that concern them. 

My task is to help our journalists to keep their working ethics so high that there will not be a breach of good professional practice or if there are breaches, that we are able to defend ourselves. My job is also to help Editors-in-chief to defend freedom of speech and Yle´s basic values. So I am working under their control. 

I am also helping our journalists to answer questions if viewers are dissatisfied with our content and if it had something to do with journalistic ethics. I also teach our journalists and I take part in a public discussion regarding journalistic ethics. So I help the responsible editors and journalists make sure that the law, ethical guidelines and other directions of the company are followed in the production and publication of Yle’s content.

What was your career/background prior to taking up your current role?

I have been a journalist from the early 1990´s and worked my whole full-time career for Yle. I´ve been a reporter, News Editor, Head of Sports, Content Manager and producer. I have produced several big events here in Finland, including working on 10 Olympic Games.

I have two University degrees: Master of Laws and Master of Arts.

What are the biggest challenges and/or opportunities faced by your organisation/the media in general in your country?

One of the biggest challenges is to maintain the trust and keep your ethical standards high. According to the recent Yle’s “value for Finns” survey (Taloustutkimus 10/2018) a majority of Finns believe that Yle has been very successful in taking care of its public service remit. But you have to be humble.

Nowadays we are not only publishing TV and radio content but also internet. Over the past 15 years the web has taken a bigger and bigger role, as well as social media platforms. That gives you extra issues to think about.

Feel free to share any of the most significant or challenging issues you have had to deal with recently in your role.

One challenge is the issue of hate speech, which we are grappling with almost every week. Fighting against that is fighting for the Freedom of Speech. 

Is there any question or comment you would like to make to the ONO membership generally as part of this profile? Something you would like advice or input on?

I have found ONO membership very important personally. One part of my job is very lonely. It is wonderful to find out that the challenges of journalism ethics are international and it is great to share these challenges and ponder together.

Over time, these member profiles will all appear on the ONO website. If you would like to be profiled in our newsletter, please send a photo and some biographical information (which could be based on the questions above or on any other matters you wish to discuss) to the ONO Executive Director, Alan Sunderland, at newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com

Ombudsmen decisions and news

Each month, we will aim to draw attention to recent decisions, comments and articles by ONO members and other ombudsmen/public editors/complaints handlers that may be of interest.

We are always on the lookout for new material, so if you have recently published something (in any language) you would like to share or if you have seen something of interest, please let us know via email to newsombudsmenorg@gmail.com and we will include it in our next newsletter.

  1. A fascinating piece from ONO Board member and NPR Public Editor Elizabeth Jensen on the sensitivities around newsroom staff reductions: https://www.npr.org/sections/publiceditor/2019/08/09/749747360/respecting-listeners-interviewees-and-staff
  2. Tim Pauwels from Belgian broadcaster VRT deals with a tricky issue in live broadcasting, when unexpected things can and do happen: https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/nl/2019/07/16/heeft-vrt-nws-goed-bericht-over-de-zaak-van-dijck/
  3. Sylvia Stead, Public Editor at Canada’s Globe and Mail, has some detailed advice on the challenges of covering political polls: https://www.theglobeandmail.com/public-editor/article-seven-suggestions-for-covering-political-polls-with-care/
  4. In Australia, SBS Ombudsman Sally Begbie deftly navigates the challenging issues of reporting on Middle Eastern Politics: http://www.jwire.com.au/aijac-complaint-to-sbs-upheld/
  5. Little things can have a huge impact. This month, an email about a spelling change from ONO member John Daniszewski, Editor-at-Large for Standards at Associated Press, made the news in Ukraine. Shifting from “Kiev” to “Kyiv” involved much more than just shifting a few letters around: https://www.kyivpost.com/ukraine-politics/kiev-no-more-ap-stylebook-changes-spelling-of-ukrainian-capital-to-kyiv.html?cn-reloaded=1


Industry News

Follow us on Twitter

ONO has a Twitter account and we are planning to bring it back to life this year and use it regularly to post items of interest to members.

If you have a presence on Twitter yourself, you can do two things to promote ONO on this platform:

  1. Follow us. The ONO twitter account is @ONOOrgOmbuds
  2. Use the hashtag. Whenever you are sharing something that you think will be of interest to fellow ombudsmen and standards editors, use the hashtag #ONONews That will make it easier for us to find your contributions and share them via our Twitter feed and our website.

Bjarne Schilling                                                             Alan Sunderland

ONO President                                          ONO Executive Director

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