Ethical Approaches to Computational Journalism

Authored by: Konstantin Dörr

The Routledge Handbook of Developments in Digital Journalism Studies

Print publication date:  August  2018
Online publication date:  September  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138283053
eBook ISBN: 9781315270449
Adobe ISBN:


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Since the implementation and evolution of the personal computer and the internet in the 1980s and 1990s, the way that news is selected, produced, distributed, and consumed has changed significantly (Domingo and Paterson, 2011; Mitchelstein and Boczkowski, 2009; Powers, 2012). Today, algorithms are supporting and replacing work autonomously as operations, decisions, and choices are increasingly delegated to software (Acemoglu and Restrepo, 2016; Arntz et al., 2016; Autor, 2015; Just and Latzer, 2016). Algorithms decide which news is visible on Twitter and Facebook. They determine the results from a Google search query; they also recommend which news items are worth reading and how they are consumed (Anderson, 2012; Bucher, 2012; Latzer et al., 2016; Resnick and Varian, 1997; Rieder, 2005). They predict the demand for specific journalistic products as well as observe the audience. They are news producers, demand predictors, and gatekeepers (Napoli, 2014; Vos and Heinderyckx, 2015). Thus, the border between professional actors, as well as between the intersection of production and distribution technologies, is vanishing (Neuberger, 2009; Weischenberg and Hienzsch, 1994: 478). Algorithmic applications, e.g., WordSmith for automated text creation, can select, contextualize, and assign relevance to certain pieces of information, generate journalistic value, and consequently fulfill the functions of professional journalism, e.g., with automated sports reports (Caswell and Dörr, 2017; Dörr, 2016b). As journalism has the task of selecting, processing, and publishing news in accordance with professional norms and values (Brosda, 2010: 259), algorithmic applications are to be evaluated not only in terms of design – to fulfill the task they are programmed to complete or respectively to proceed toward a pre-defined goal – but also ethical norms (Moor, 2006: 17). This increasing complexity in human-computer-interaction is challenging the ways in which professional journalism, the public, and communication studies assess and analyze the normative and ethical challenges of digital news production like objectivity, accountability, and transparency from a technical as well as theoretical perspective (Dörr et al., 2017; Ward, 2017). Along with this advent and variety of algorithmic applications and the datafication of news production, the values and responsibilities assigned to journalism and journalists are changing accordingly and must be addressed from an ethical perspective (Brosda, 2010; Culver, 2016; Ward, 2017).

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