Sunday, January 25, 2015

Violations of the SPJ Code of Ethics: More Yellow Journalism by Margaret Menge

Ethical lapses abound in the latest issue of our new "rag" in town and we will get to those in a minute. Let's examine one of her latest 'articles' as a background. On Friday, January 23rd, the latest issue of her free Lake Worth newspaper, Ms. Menge writes a story titled, "Townhouses Are Back!" This is written not in the tone of welcoming the possibility of new investment and quality housing in an underutilized area of the city, in and around the downtown, and on the city's edge. It is more written in a tone as if a new scourge had descended on a city unprepared.

Here is how Ms. Menge describes the location of one townhomes project that was approved: 
"They'll be built on land north of Wayne Akers Ford, just across the water from Lake Clarke Shores, west of Detroit Street."
It would have been much more clear to readers to write, "off 10th Ave North behind Wayne Akers Ford", would it not? To be clear, here is a city-produced map with labels added to show the location of the Townhouses to be built:
On January 7th, at the Lake Worth Planning & Zoning board meeting, as reported by Margaret Menge "A woman" and "the woman" was there at the meeting. Here is the video of the Lake Worth 1/7/15 P&Z meeting. I haven't watched the video yet but you can. Did "the woman" and "a woman" speak at this public meeting? Margaret Menge didn't indicate in her article that "the woman" requested anonymity. Then why not give the name of this "woman", Ms. Menge? That is a standard requirement of anyone providing testimony or comment on items being reviewed by a board. The chair says something like, "Please state your name and address for the record." Most comply. Some notable people leave out their address number, like the ones that stand up and say they are so-and-so from "North Lakeside Drive" or "Lake Osborne Drive." Those are the exceptions. Even still, they speak and one has a sense of where they reside.
Here is what Margaret Menge reported "A woman" said in her news story:
"A woman who attended the meeting, whose backyard will be looking across the water at the townhomes, disagreed.
     "You cannot get through. Its just total gridlock," she ["the woman"] said of traffic on 10th Avenue North."
Here is where Margaret Menge's "the woman" resides:
The unidentified, anonymous "woman" Margaret Menge references (a Will-o'the-wisp?) lives in one of six houses in Lake Clarke Shores. How would one deduce this? There are only six houses in Lake Clarke Shores that have backyards "looking across the water at the townhomes". Here are those six houses on East Mediterranean Road in Lake Clarke Shores (courtesy of the Palm Beach County Property Appraisers website):
The strangest thing is, unless Margaret Menge's "woman" has a boat or a zipline over the canal, she is completely unaffected by what happens across the canal, in another municipality. Look at the map above! Margaret Menge's "the woman" would need a GPS device, and a working knowledge of same, to get her from Mediterranean Road in Lake Clarke Shores to 10th Ave. North. Margaret Menge couldn't find one single Lake Worth resident upset about these townhomes? So she includes anonymous testimony just because.

In response to Margaret Menge's "A woman" our Lake Worth Sustainability Director, William Waters outlined how, "It will get better" due to infrastructure upgrades. Then Margaret Menge quoted 'the woman' saying, "I lived in Miami and they said that too". Hmmm, Margaret Menge, could that be considered Advocacy? Or is it Commentary? Either way, Margaret Menge, what "the woman" said is NOT NEWS. And Miami is a big place. Who is "they" and what was "that" which they said? And how can we interpolate whether whoever said what applies in this instance? Are we just to read between the lines and know?

By including that ONE LINE Margaret Menge, by an anonymous source, a self-described reporter/editor/journalist discredits themselves and any professional integrity they may have. 

Margaret Menge violates these 4 codes in the long-standing Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics:

1: Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

2: Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

3: Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

4: Label advocacy and commentary.

And consider this my Dear Fellow Citizens in Lake Worth:

Margaret Menge is publishing a newspaper. She is paying for an office and at least two staff members. She has bills to pay.
She is not charging for advertising.

Question: In full disclosure shouldn't a journalist disclose who is paying for this venture? 

Or are rules for other people?