prof. e.

Mass Communication, [multi]media, methodology and much, much more!

Citizen Investigative Reporter in Hot Water

Posted by prof e on January 27, 2010

Free-agent investigative reporter James O’Keefe has switched professions from pimp to telephone repairman. O’Keefe gained fame (or notoriety) last year when he posed as a pimp to record ACORN employees advocating illegal and unethical practices. His undercover sting won him praise from conservatives who have long suspected ACORN and led to congress cutting off funding for the community organization with links to Obama.

However, O’Keefe’s  use of undercover cameras and deception raised red flags for journalism’s leading ethicists. Journalists have a long-standing tradition of investigative reporting practices, but they also have strict guidelines that must be followed to avoid the pitfalls associated with this ethically gray area.

Now, it appears, O’Keefe’s questionable practices have landed him in hot water. Yesterday O’Keefe and several of his partners were arrested on charges of tampering with phones at Democratic Sen. Mary Landrieu’s office. While we do not yet know their motives, there may be a tie to the healthcare reform deal that Landrieu struck with her Democratic partners. The deal reportedly gained her state millions in additional Medicare funds in exchange for her vote of support.

What’s the lesson for students of journalism? As exciting as investigative reporting may appear on TV, the practice of investigative journalism is a lot more difficult, tedious, and boring than it seems. To do it right, you’ve got to spend a lot of time ensuring that your methods do not cross the line that separates good journalism from shoddy and unethical vigilantism. One more thing…if you want to be a citizen journalist, best to focus on straight news reporting for awhile and leave the investigative reporting to seasoned journalists who understand the ethical issues involved.

P.S.  The name of O’Keefe’s video company is Veritas Visuals. We’ll have to wait and see if veritas (Latin for truth) comes to his defense!


5 Responses to “Citizen Investigative Reporter in Hot Water”

  1. […] A good summary of Okeefe’s stunt and resulting situation can be found here, written by Samuel Ebersole, professor of Mass Communications at Colorado State University – Pueblo: […]

  2. […] Mass Communications Professor Samuel Ebersole […]

  3. Tina Twilleger said

    These investigation are halarious to the public, but inall realty the are a big deal and I think the strait forward reportingis what should be uased. Leave the real stuff to the people who actually know what is going on to prevent yourself from getting into trouble for false reporting. don’t stick your nose where it doesn’t belong If you don’t know the truth then don’t reprt it
    “if you want to be a citizen journalist, best to focus on straight news reporting for awhile and leave the investigative reporting to seasoned journalists who understand the ethical issues involved.”

  4. Stefan Creighton said said

    One thing that is not hard to report is the truth, This is what should be reported no matter how difficult it may be this is the news, this is journalism this is straight news reporting if a car is black then the car is black you don’t need to spend a lot of time learning how to say the car is black, if thing are reported the way it happen good or bad it up to the reader to separates good journalism, there are no ethical issues in reporting the truth.

  5. Gina Ortega said

    I think that in almost every situation the truth is overlooked and is considered boring. Nobody wants to hear the truth they want to hear the juicy details that could potentially ruin someones life.

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