I’m no journalist. People who have read my articles may have seen me say that line over and over again, but it’s true; I’m not a journalist who’s been trained classically in the art. I’m no Milo Yiannopoulos, nor am I David Streitfield. However, I have done my best in my own opinion to try to understand the basic ideas of journalism and to apply what I see to be the best ethical practices in the field to my coverage of elements. I also apply the best practices I see from YouTubers like TotalBiscuit when it comes to disclosure and informing the audience when doing videos on TechRaptor and my own YouTube channel.

And one of those resources I use on a daily basis is the SPJ Code of Ethics, which indicates on it’s page that “Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.” Now that is made up of several elements, but the one in particular that’s the main cause of this article is the following:

 Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

The New York Times has a special place within the journalism industry; it’s one of the biggest publications on the planet, and it’s clear by the many different references to the organization and the SPJ, that it’s a powerhouse in the world of journalism. And with that said, it’s important to keep it under the biggest of microscopes, as when the big dog of an industry does something incorrect, it should be highlighted as a possible problem within the industry. Needless to say, as we’ve seen in the field of not only gaming journalism but online journalism as a whole, to say there has been a problem would be a massive understatement in my opinion.

Even some of the biggest publications can fall into the traps of modern day online journalism.

Even some of the biggest publications can fall into the traps of modern day online journalism.

But it’s important to understand exactly where the issue of journalism lays with the piece in question and understand why exactly that article is a major problem for publications everywhere. In particular, noting that the initial article really did a great job in keeping up with ethical standards upheld by the SPJ, and noting that it presented an unbiased and informative article for people to take the information in.

However, what the article transformed into is a completely different story, and I have taken it upon myself to highlight the numerous guidelines that were broken within that article specifically, and how, in my opinion, the New York Times should be ashamed at what they did to the pursuit of ethical journalism in that one piece. So, without further ado, here’s all the guidelines that they broke with that piece.

Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.

Well, this one should be obvious regarding what it’s breaking. Now, the fact of the matter is that if you are correcting or clarifying a story, you should be indicating exactly what you changed. And here, with absolutely no indication of an edit of any sort, and the clear evidence regarding the difference between what was released and the article that’s present today, the article should have a clear indicator that it was edited in some way prominently shown somewhere. But at this time of writing this editorial, there is no indicator, which is a major problem in my book.

The difference between the start and ending of the articles without attribution is astounding.

87% of the article was changed without indications of changes.

Now, this is specifically referring to the word clarification, which means that any context that was added or additional evidence and information that was added needs some sort of indicator that the article has been changed. In fact, with the amount of information that was changed, it seems like an editorial on the article should have been done by Mr. Streitfeld, and it would have been just fine—to a certain extent.

But to fail to add any disclosure on the changed nature of the article unfortunately creates a new set of issues regarding the industry, because it raises questions about what other articles may have changed as well. This isn’t an issue that is confined to this specific article: it gets applied to others as well.

Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

This one should be very clear on the stereotyping portion, regarding in particular the language used referring to the user base of Reddit and the lack of clarifying language. Let’s take an example:

The dispute at Reddit, which arose from the dismissal of a well-liked employee earlier this month, drew much of its intensity from Ms. Pao’s lawsuit — and her gender.

However, let’s consider the exact element of what caused the latest incident regarding Reddit that caused several moderators to set some of the biggest subreddits to private and what ended up being a common theme of those who made a statement about the manipulation of subreddits. Many of the moderators in question indicated that this was a long time coming, due to the lack of mod support and mod support tools that had been promised by higher ups over and over again. And what was cited specifically was a lack of communication and understanding from the higher up reddit chain of command, particularly the lack of communication and organization regarding Victoria’s dismissal and the necessary arrangements for transition.

While you can indicate that part of the issue came from her lawsuit and the information that people reacted to, it is disingenuous at best to say that the latest incident drew “much” of its intensity from the lawsuit itself. That implies a majority, and frankly, without evidence that you are pointing to back that up, it’s something that leaves a lot to be desired in terms of proof. Let the facts and the data that you have accumulated during the investigation of the story speak on their own behalf, as opposed to attempting to draw a specific weak interpretation out of it. And the elephant in the room is the fact that the catalyst for this event on Reddit was about a female employee being let go, which seems problematic if you’re claiming that those who are coming to attack the decision in letting her go are misogynistic at nature. In fact, it’s flawed at best.

While many users were angry, it was incorrect to stereotype the majority of them.

While many users were angry, it was incorrect to stereotype the majority of them in regards to problems with Ellen Pao’s gender.

Of course, it played a part, but how big of a role that played is undetermined. No factual evidence nor stats are put here, and those who disagreed with Pao’s decisions, regardless of her gender or not, are stereotyped with this kind of statement. Is it possible, and likely, that some users of Reddit were more harsh on her than they would be others because she was a woman? Most assuredly, but the percentage of those people is definitely at question and definitely does not back it up with a majority or any evidence to prove specifically.

You set up a situation where you’re stereotyping the main audience of Reddit, while it may not be anywhere near the truth for the majority of users. Those who may be unfamiliar with Reddit may be incorrectly dissuaded from joining it, despite it having subreddits that contain various beliefs.

Label advocacy and commentary

I always find this one a little bit difficult to define straight up with a set of rules and facts due to the way that writing can be used to support opinions in non-direct ways. But I think under the guidelines, this article still runs into problems with this regardless, due to the wording within the first several paragraphs of the article:

Late Friday she fell victim to a crowd demanding her ouster as chief executive of the popular social media site Reddit.

Note the use of the word “victim” here. Now I want to go on record saying that within the linked portion, it is indicated that she has received death threats, and that could be the reason why this specific language was used. And there is no situation that death threats are appropriate.

However, it’s the prevalence of advocacy regarding the issues woman face in the tech world in the first several paragraphs that make it clear Streitfeld is advocating a certain stance:

Ms. Pao’s abrupt downfall in the face of a torrent of sexist and racist comments, many of them on Reddit itself, is quite likely to renew charges that bullying, harassment and cruel behavior are out of control on the web — and that Silicon Valley’s well-publicized problem with gender and ethnic diversity in its work force persists.

What’s the specific problem here? Well it’s actually a specific word that he uses: renew. If you look at the articles he’s written about Ellen Pao over the last several months, it’s been clear that’s been an ongoing theme that hasn’t gone away, and, in fact, is more in the spotlight than ever before. Renew is a specific word as a call-to-arms-like situation, telling people who really want to face the issue of the treatment of woman in tech that they need to redouble their efforts. I want to make this clear: if this was an editorial, I would have no problems with the language at all. But this was presented as news from the get go, and that’s where I have the major problems with it.

Death threats are not something anyone should have to face, but being critical of someone's decision making does not mean misogyny.

Death threats are not something anyone should have to face, but being critical of someone’s decision making does not mean misogyny.

What’s the better way of handling this? Again, it’s the use of language that needs to be taken interest in here. Indicating that there were harassing comments against her is fine, and should be pointed out, but the language around it has to be used carefully. Indicate that the comments exists, let the facts speak for the situation in question, but make the point and move on.

Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

Now the thing about this is that no specific names are mentioned here, however, with the specifics on some of the ones in question, it’s clear that a labeling of those redditors who are in favor of the Pao decision were painted with a wide brush:

More than 213,000 people signed a petition demanding Ms. Pao’s resignation. After her departure was announced, Reddit users celebrated in an over-the-top fashion. “Rejoice internet brethren,” wrote one. “The great evil has been slain.”

What’s not done here is clear: Mr. Streitfield did not attempt to contact at least some of those who were on the petition—good sources to contact would have been the petition owner himself, and the person he quoted—to give specifics on why they felt the decision was reasonable. Instead, he decides to avoid that and just present a one-side statement of information here. He dismisses those who believed that Ellen Pao was bad for the state of Reddit in terms of concerns about censorship and changing of the core of Reddit’s philosophies and beliefs. And while I’m on that:

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

For example, the petition that he referenced should have been linked to so those who wanted to take a look at it would have had an opportunity to provide context for some of the reasons that some redditors were upset. And in particular, previewing a different story and providing context to it should have been key here in this portion of the story:

The dispute at Reddit, which arose from the dismissal of a well-liked employee earlier this month, drew much of its intensity from Ms. Pao’s lawsuit — and her gender.

No information, links, or even understanding of what the main problem at the time was provided here, which is critical because it would have shown a problem with one side of the argument here: the gender of the employee that was terminated—here’s a hint, Victoria is a woman. That misrepresentation/oversimplification of the story leads to a bad perspective for those not involved in the decision, which would likely not be the case if they were aware of the context. Part of that context being how integral many moderators felt Victoria was to their various processes, which would help to explain some of the strong reactions from those moderators.

Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

OK, this one is a tough one to prove. But as mentioned in the SPJ guidelines, the questions of ethical decision making is a prime guideline to undertake, and given the history of Mr. Streitfield regarding the coverage of elements centered around Ellen Pao from before this article, I do have to wonder if special treatment was applied to this article, particularly the tone. He’s written about the case on several occasions prior to this edit of this article, and what I’ve read is someone who’s sympathetic to Ms. Pao. The way several of the articles are worded, I do think that as someone who’s covered the elements in question, that Mr. Streitfield has developed an opinion regarding the situation, as opposed to remaining unbiased:

Maybe, if by “family” you mean one of those clans where everyone is fighting for power and wealth. In Superior Court here, the case of Ellen Pao v. Kleiner Perkins is beginning to look at little like “King Lear,” or at least “Keeping Up with the Kardashians.”

Ellen Pao became a hero to many when she took on the entrenched sexist culture of Silicon Valley.

In this telling, Ms. Pao is less a victim of discrimination than a difficult and conniving employee who rejected advice to improve, and whom Kleiner clearly wishes it had tossed overboard sooner.

I hard at times not to have the empathetic side of a person come out in the nature of those people who you are covering, especially on a regular basis. But that’s also part of the point: that there’s a line where maybe you’ve been too closely involved with researching and understanding the person at a basic level. In that element, you might have created your own bias during your interaction, and as a journalist, you need to understand that maybe it’s better to have someone else get involved.

Considering this was an edit of an already existing article by another writer, Mr. Streitfield might have been asked to take a look at the article given his expertise, but the editor should have taken a look and realized that maybe his coverage of the subject has biased Mr. Streitfield over the long haul.

Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

Needless to say, that question has been posed several times over to the New York Times and those involved with the article. But I want to indicate that there’s Mike Isaac, the one who wrote the original article, has seemingly responded—well, sort of.

Mike Isaac Response to Tim PoolAnd there’s something specifically I want to pull out of the SPJ’s guidelines on that, “Ethical journalists should – for the most part – have nothing to hide about their stories. They should also be able to explain their actions and decisions.” Now, I’m not indicating that Mike himself has anything to hide, as it seems to me that it’s possible that the revised article was done without his decision making involved, and that he has asked those who made the decision to change the article to answer the question behind it. I’ve ran into that in the technical world, where I would have loved to answer a question, but had to give it to those who actually made what I believed to be the wrong decision the chance to answer.

But we have heard nothing regarding a response to this explanation of the changed news story at this point in time, hence why the “quickly” part exists in the guidelines. Stories like this get into public attention, then fade due to moving on to the next story, so it’s important to answer those ethical questions quickly. Waiting for the clock to run out isn’t an excuse in this case, as hoping that the issue will go away over time is not a valid strategy, as shown by the guidelines of the SPJ ethics policy.  It needs to be answered quickly and promptly.  Now, no name regarding the editor was given in this case, but I did follow up with Mike Isaac on Twitter to hopefully get an answer on when a public statement regarding it would be made in terms of the re-editing of the article in question. There has not been a public statement about the article at this time.

The combination of the above issues stands as a major problem for the landscape of online journalism as a whole, especially when a bigger site is starting to bend the rules and going against some of what I would consider common sense in the reporting of news to the public. Look, let’s not beat around the bush: the world of online journalism is in a world of hurt. With AdBlock and revenue decreasing all over the place, it’s hard for these sites to not only make some sort of reasonable profit over a long period of time, but to be able to pay those reporters reasonably for the time and effort they go through to make these stories.

More and more journalistic outlets are turning to alternate forms of reporting. But in that pursuit, what can’t be lost is the pursuit of the basic elements that make up journalism, and the fair and accurate reporting to the public. If you lose that, then one thing becomes clear: no one can trust anything you say with any reasonable degree going forward.

Shaun Joy

Staff Writer

YouTuber Dragnix who plays way too many games, and has a degree in Software Engineering. A Focus on disclosure on Youtubers, and gaming coverage in general.