Vice – How does attitude substitue for ethics?

Posted: March 1, 2011 by Elizabeth Sullivan in #7 Ethics

Why are uncles so much cooler than dads? Oh yeah, uncles didn’t spend a quarter of a century with you up in their grill making them bald and shitty. - Vice Magazine

It is clear that the journalist of the 21st Century has a lot on their plate. In the natural discussion of what the journalist’s role in society should be, there are checks and balances bestowed upon the journalist in the form of “ethics” to which there has been an entire code developed and distributed by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). The SPJ is proud to outline a code that speaks of the personal integrity that defines the journalist as a “conscientious” and “credible” individual:

“The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialities strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”
– The Society of Professional Journalists, an excerpt from their Code of Ethics.

The Code of Ethics mentioned above outlines the specific scenarios that journalists should find themselves in if they’re doing it right, assuming if you don’t follow these specific guidelines, you’ve failed your public as a credible journalist. Under the “Minimize Harm” sub-heading one of the ethics was, “Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.”

This ethic caught my attention, only because I had recently been scouring the underbelly of the Internet’s various portals and happened once again into the vortex of Vice magazine’s “Dos & Don’ts” column. If you are unfamiliar with this particular column the aim is to point out characteristics of style and presentation one might take with their general persona, and chooses to break it down into “fashion” dos and don’ts… The method to all of this madness is for viewers to send in personal photos or photos they’ve taken, which are then critiqued by at least one writer at the magazine — in which critiques range from mildly offensive, to outright horrifying blurbs about people they have likely never met, who will likely never read the critiques.

Look at this little neon Beastie Boi. Did he not get the Jay-Z memo about “all-black everything”? This is exactly the type of kid who gets taken from the bus station by a creep pretending to look for his “muse.” - Vice Magazine

I would be hard pressed to find someone willing to call this “journalism”. The reason I’m mentioning Vice is because it’s regularly interesting and “journalistic” – however, any journalism is usually derived from the pursuit of the ridiculous. Besides being a pop culture magazine, they’ve been releasing documentaries under the series title, “Vice Guide to Travel”.

Like the “Dos & Don’ts” column viewers are subjected to the assumed personalities of the ‘documentarians’ as they pursue stories that involve inserting themselves within a culture and then critiquing it from their perspective, not unlike how journalists have been handling the protests in the Middle East. The subject matter is presented in a feature way, but is usually a serious topic, that would normally be covered in a non-biased sense.

Example: I recently watched the Vice Guide to Travel documentary where people from the magazine finagled their way into North Korea, and from there provided a documentation of their experiences within the military dictatorship – which included huge ceremonial meals at which Vice was the only attendee, a trip to the North Korean side of the Demilitarised Zone, and several state guided tours, which as I watched reminded me of the first few chapters of Jan Wong’s Red China Blues, where she was ushered around the countryside by Chinese liaisons. The Vice Magazine crew was getting the tour of North Korea that the Koreans wanted them to take.

Yes, the coverage was probably biased. Yes, they did not take the assignment objectively, or with journalistic ethics tied to their necks. And, because of the circumstances within North Korea, they likely didn’t even grasp the tip of the iceberg when it comes to cultural relevance, but the principles of public enlightenment, and seeking comprehensive accounts of truth were conveyed. And I, the viewer, was not disillusioned by the lack of professionalism on behalf of Vice.

The journalistic code of ethics is a valuable tool to the journalist reporting in the 2.0. I think there is much to be said that people are willing to submit themselves to a gruellingly precise code of practices that have spawned through a dedication to the field of journalism. In this case, I don’t think the issues that have arisen from reporting now-a-days are entirely new or all that different. I would say that current affairs have taken on a whole new face, and that face has substituted focus on ethics for focus on attitude. That again, does not mean that ethics are blatantly ignored, they’ve just been given an attitude change.

This is why I think the Dos & Don’ts are fairly representative of how Journalism can be dealt with — instead of separating one’s self from opinion, the goal is to immerse in them. I think the message here is if you can somehow handle the aneurysm you get while holding back simultaneous rage and laughter, you can appreciate the kind of coverage a media conglomerate like Vice has to offer.


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