But, I have serious problems with the episode that unfolded recently in which a journalism student at New York University, Alana Taylor, authored a Sept. 5 posting as an “embedded” blogger on MediaShift, writing critically about her class content and professor at NYU without informing either the teacher or her classmates about what she was doing. The headline read: “Old Thinking Permeates Major Journalism School.” This column attracted a lot of online attention and controversy, not to mention attention by the professor, Mary Quigley, who was not happy. Glaser then wrote a follow-up column on Sept. 17 about the controversy, headlined “NYU Professor Stifles Blogging, Twittering by Journalism Student.”
The controversy was brought to my attention by Adam Penenberg, an assistant professor at NYU and chairman of the journalism department’s ethics committee, who raised numerous journalistic challenges to Taylor’s “embedded” role and reporting techniques and also questioned whether this was not a violation of PBS’ own editorial standards. That’s where I came in.
This is a complicated issue involving all sorts of free speech and privacy issues, respect for other students’ rights, private versus public institutions, and also whether the classroom should be a place where every word can be recorded, personal opinions introduced, and put on the Web without anyone but a blogger knowing about it beforehand.
I think that teachers and professors need to be accountable for what they say in class, and certainly student blogging (after class would be my preference) can be a useful tool in helping to improve struggling courses, reinforcing those that are really good, or simply expanding ideas and discussion.
But the issue here for me is that Taylor was not just an undergrad posting her observations on her own blog about her journalism class, called “Reporting Gen Y.” Rather she was hired — although not for money, according to Glaser — by Glaser as an “embed” to write for MediaShift. So Taylor’s post did not simply join millions of other postings in the blogosphere by individuals that may or may not have many readers. This one was sponsored by PBS’s MediaShift and had immediate access to the huge PBS.org audience.
Furthermore, this was a journalism student in a journalism department who did this without either telling the teacher what she was doing or who she was doing it for, without asking permission of the teacher or other classmates (one classmate is quoted anonymously, also not a great journalistic habit to get in to), without checking content or asking for the teacher’s views of the author’s critical assessments, and without, of course, identifying her national connection to PBS. Glaser, wrote Penenberg, assigned this NYU junior “to go undercover in one of her classes to blog about her impressions for PBS.” That is more straightforward language in this case than “embedded,” but it sounds right to me.
What do you think?