Who shapes the news? Conference explores future of independent journalism

March 19, 2013

Can journalists remain independent as the line between editorial and advertorial blurs, and as journalists write increasingly for corporations, academic centers and nonprofit agencies?

The question will be explored at the fifth journalism ethics conference, to be staged by the University of Wisconsin-Madison's Center for Journalism Ethics on Friday, April 5, entitled: “Who is Shaping the News? Academia-Corporations-Critics.”

Leading journalists and scholars will discuss the issues surrounding journalism in new environments. Some argue that good journalism can be done almost anywhere, and the economics of journalism requires new models. Detractors argue that journalists in new environments agree to restrictions that amount to self-censorship. Journalists, they worry, are losing their freedom to inform the public in a full and independent manner.

Lowell Bergman, one of America’s most respected investigative journalists, will deliver the keynote address, reflecting on his 48 years of “making trouble” as a journalist. Bergman is the Reva and David Logan Distinguished Professor of Investigative Reporting at the Graduate School of Journalism at UC Berkeley and director of the Investigative Reporting Program.

The conference will culminate in the awarding of the Anthony Shadid Award for Journalism Ethics to a Wisconsin journalist. Shadid was a 1990 UW journalism and political science graduate who died last year while covering the conflict in Syria for The New York Times. Shadid's international reporting won him two Pulitzer Prizes.

“Democracy is said to depend greatly on independent journalists who report without fear or favor,” says Stephen J. A. Ward, director of the Center for Journalism Ethics. “But do the norms of independence still hold for corporate journalism, nonprofit journalism, and other trends?”

Sessions will cover issues such as “brand journalism” — journalists who write for corporations to promote a brand — and the independence of nonprofit journalism in academia. The conference will hold workshops on starting a nonprofit newsroom and how mainstream and independent journalism are adjusting to today’s media climate. The Madison chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists will provide a practical ethics training session.

Conference panelists include media consultant Teresa Alpert, CBC producer Ira Basen, media historian James Baughman, CNBC senior correspondent Scott Cohn, CJE’s Katy Culver, journalism law expert Robert Drechsel,  Andy Hall of WisconsinWatch, Lorie Hearn of iNewsource, investigative journalist Brant Houston, NBC senior VP Greg Hughes, media consultant and Kent State professor Karl Idsvoog, journalist Mark Pitsch, media scholar Sue Robinson, Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jan Schaffer, USA Today’s Owen Ullmann, and media ethicist Lee Wilkins

Conference sponsors include the Gannett Foundation, Lee Enterprises, the Evjue Foundation, WPS Health Insurance, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, American Family Insurance, the Wisconsin Newspaper Association, WISC-TV, the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting, GreenLine Strategies, the Investigative News Network, and the UW-Madison School of Journalism and Mass Communication.

Information and registration can be found here.