Communicating the Negative Aspects of Pack Journalism to Media Reporters

Article excerpt

Introduction

The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate, through various discussions, how and why pack journalism is a negative and unethical media practice, and why the material contained herein should be read by journalism scholars and practitioners as a method of education in order to reduce journalistic propensity and usage of pack journalism practices. The first section is a definition of pack journalism based on scholarly, research-oriented sources as well as explanations given by professional, practical figures who study this area of journalistic conduct. The authors, then, delve into the general unethical aspects and implications inherent in the practice of pack journalism. With the intent to provide sufficient evidence to avert and sway journalists away from the practice, the authors offer individualized sections on how pack journalism (1) can render a loss of independent reporting, (2) can contribute to - through looking at actual, prominent cases (Michael Jackson trial, Scott Peterson trial, and Asian Tsunami disaster in 2004) - misfortune and unfairness to those targeted by the packs, and (3) how groupthink, a communication theory explaining the negatively perceived social behavior that can create disastrous outcomes, is related to pack journalism. What comes next is a description of Social Responsibility Theory, an original and historical model and series of recommendations of how journalists should ethically and honestly conduct themselves vis-à-vis the media. Through these various sections, and the discussions and arguments thereof, the authors believe that this paper is an educational tool and preventive strategy to influence and/or convince media personnel of the pitfalls of pack journalism, how wrong and harmful it can be, and how to avoid it, if and when possible, so as to serve the best public interest.

Pack Journalism: A Definition

Before specifically addressing strategic methods by which journalists can be educated and trained to avert pack journalistic practices, we find it necessary to go over pack journalism as a definition and description first and to clearly identify the conditions that constitute the practice. Protess et al. (1992) define pack journalism as "journalism of outrage," is a collection of behavior and conditions by which substantial groups of reporters from diverse and typically large media outlets collaborate in the same physical surroundings to cover the same story (Bloom, 2002; Breen & Matusitz, 2006; Broder, 2000; Frank, 2003; Matusitz & Breen, 2007; Ross, 1998; Stoddard, 2005). These "packs" cite or draw from the same available information, simultaneously, generally with the same intention (Breen & Matusitz, 2005a; Grimes, 1994; Kalb, 1994; Lauterer, 2000), with the same "pack-like instincts" (McNair, 2000, p. 137), and executing the same gathering and reporting methods (Kalb, 1994; Sanders, 2003). They flock like a cluster of birds where each journalist observes carefully what the other journalists are writing, doing, and highlighting. The journalists often transfer from mega-event to mega-event, lodge together in a closely linked group of hotels overlooking the streets, and congregate outside of courthouses, other government buildings, or at the accident scenes. Typically, their primary goal is to obtain comments from the important sources (Bloom, 2002; Frank, 2003; Glascock, 2004; Kalb, 1994; Knowlton, 1997; Matusitz & Breen, 2007; Stoddard, 2005).

Pack journalism has been observed as an actual practice for a considerable period of time (Breen & Matusitz, 2006; Craig, 1996; Gordon et al., 1999; Knowlton, 1997; Matusitz & Breen, 2007; Ross, 1998). For instance, it was documented in 1960 when herds of reporters pursued and covered incidents involving President Eisenhower. Steele, Babcock, and Johnson (1999), neophytes in their journalistic careers at that time observed: "Reporters were talking about what the story was; they were agreeing what the essence was before it even happened. …