Sunday, October 26, 2008

What is Newsworthy

Chapter 5 of Controversies in Media Ethics talks about influences in media content. So I took it from a journalistic standpoint. This way it is more applicable to my profession. When I look at it like that, I think of things that might make a news story worthy of going on air or in print or what would make it unworthy. From our very first journalism class we are taught the basic things to follow that make news worthy. They are in no particular order: prominence, proximity, strangeness, impact, conflict and timeliness. But are there other factors a journalist must look at ethically speaking?
Accuracy is one big point. As moral journalists it is important not to publish something that is untrue. One of my teachers always talks about double checking facts. It is important that journalists check the facts that they got in an interview or from a press release, just to cover their backs and to be ethical. 
Unbiased reporting is another key. Journalists must read over their work or better yet have someone else read it over, to make sure the article presents an unbiased opinion. As Merrill says in the textbook, being inaccurate and unbiased is not only unethical, but is also a sign of lazy and poor reporting. 
It is important to note that it is not just the journalists who manipulate the content of the media. Companies that release information may not release the bad with the good. That is why it is an ethical responsibility of journalists to check the facts and to dig deep when covering a press release. Lawyers and politicians who release information can also manipulate their content. This raises the point of weather it is not only the journalists job, but these people have to look at their ethical standards when releasing information. 
This article in the NY Times shows what can happen when media content is manipulated

Sunday, October 5, 2008

The Whole Truth and Nothing but the Truth

Journalists have a responsibility to tell the truth in their stories. Ethical problems arise in this when varying versions of the truth exist. Journalists are faced with questions like is it necessary to tell both sides? Is one side more credible? What is my responsibility to the audience? What is legal? What is ethical?
There is a lot to take into account when writing a story and trying to get all the facts. I believe, if it is true and relevant to the story, it should be in the story. Gordon says this is a time when not to publish every aspect of the truth. He gives a real life example a politician who is running for office and something embarrassing happened to him, there is no need to publish it if it has no connectivity to the rest of the story, even if it is true. 
I believe our responsibility as journalists to the audience has a big impact on what to and what to not publish. We know that the audience expects the truth and all the facts of a story, so we try to deliver that. This can make for a lot of work trying to find the facts digging through the two sides of the story. But it is what the audience expects us to do, and is our duty as journalists to tell the truth. 
There are also legal issues that can dictate what we publish. Journalists do not want to publish a false statement, so they do research to make sure they have the truth. This is a good way to keep journalists in check. But it can create fear in a journalist thinking that they will be sued for every little wrong sentence they write, so they just avoid writing those sentences or doing the research. 
It is important to inform citizens about what is going on around them, and journalists have their duty to dig deep and find all the relevant and credible facts. This website contains a definition about libel from the standpoint of the media. It is a good idea for journalists to know what consists of libel so they do not get sued.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Codes of Ethics

There are many code of ethics these days. Not only in media professions, but also in many companies. I think it is a good idea to have these codes of ethics. Sometimes people get into some sticky situations and it is nice to have reference, like a code of ethics to look at in those times. I believe these codes should be more like guidelines, and do not need to be taken to the extreme in making sure people follow them. For journalists, in particular, a lot of the codes are common sense. They just reiterate what journalists already know. Like we have a responsibility to report the news, well yes we do because that is our job. They also say things like tell the truth, well we have a responsibility to do that, we do not necessarily need a code of ethics to tell us that. But in case you find yourself in a sticky situation, it is nice to have a code to fall back on. 
Codes of ethics for journalists started in the early 1900's. But they became much more specific in the 1970's. There are separate codes for different types of journalists. For example there is a print code, radio code and TV code. But there are also all encompassing codes that cover all the bases. 
One question we have to ask about these codes is who makes them? Who has the authority and the morals to write a code that everyone is supposed to follow? Well codes were first made because media organizations were afraid that if they did not make the code, the government would. But more often than not, it is a group of professionals who get together to make a code. This is the best way to do it in my opinion. To gather people who have worked in the field and been in some ethically straining positions would be the best people to write a code. The Society of Professional Journalists is a good example of a group of professionals getting together to make their code. Their code can be found at:

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Origin of Ethics

Chapter two of Controversies in Media Ethics by Gordon and Kittross discusses the origin of ethics. It discusses mostly ethics on the individual level in media. Since I am a journalism student I will focus on how the journalists develop their ethical values and what influences the decisions they make. First we will start with how journalists and more broadly people in general develop their ethics. Fred Endres did a study in 1985 with newspaper journalists. In his study, Endres found that parents and early home life was the biggest influence on their ethics. The next biggest influence was experience. I think that these are two things that have had an influence on me as well and can see how they would affect journalists. I would say that my upbringing has a big influence on me more so than my experience since I am relatively inexperienced.

            Weaver and Wilhoit did two studies of media professionals to get an idea of their ethics. They came up with the typical journalist: “A married white protestant male in his mid thirties with a bachelor’s degree from a public university with 12 years of experience.” This typical journalist had some of the same values that shaped his ethics as discovered by Endres. One main thing that Weaver and Wilhoit found was that this typical journalist believes he has to tell the citizens about the activity of the government and other public service aspects of the job. This can pose a problem to the ethics of a journalist. If they feel so strongly to serve the public they want to tell the public, but by doing so they may put the public at risk. For example when there was the sniper in Maryland the police kept saying that the shooters were in a white box truck, but journalists knew the police were not looking for a white box truck. The journalists printed what the police told them to help their investigation, but this did not serve the public any good. This is an ethics standpoint that they developed. Perhaps from their experience or maybe from even earlier in their childhood. Ethics are very interesting and impossible to tell where they are truly inherited. I think it varies from person to person. It is important to get a grasp of our roots and influences to really understand our ethics.


the following link has an essay that contains some of Weaver and Wilhoit’s material:

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Free Expression

This is a very big topic in any media category, so it is no wonder it is a topic in ethics. First of all should the government be able to put limits on the media's right to free press and speech? As written in Controversies in Media Ethics the government can set regulations when "publications are obscene or directly incite violence, or they clearly threat national security." Do these circumstances validate government interaction? I think it can be necessary, but I also think it is up to the journalist. A journalist should have the ethics to not print or say something thing that would put the nation in danger or incite violence. Sometimes though it is hard to tell how people will react. 
Ethically speaking the real question is, is it right for the government to impose these regulations? Is this really what a democracy, like what we have in the United States is about? Journalists should understand that with great power comes great responsibility. And know that their articles or broadcasts will have an effect on people, and they should be prepared to deal with negative reactions, or know what not to talk about in order to avoid these riots. But this raises another point. The media has a responsibility to the citizens to be watch dogs and report on the bad things that happen to inform the uninformed. So they should report the things that will make some people angry. But I don't think it is up to the government to decide what will make people angry. 
There have been many court cases concerning the first amendment and the media and there has been a lot of different decisions, there are cases about libel and lots of other issues that I will not delve into yet. But the fact that reporters have to work so hard to keep their first amendment rights seems a little out of control.  
Here are some cases that have to do with the first amendment:

Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Ethics

Since I am studying ethics it is important to show what group I fall into. Understanding my ethics and morals will help me make decisions once I enter the working world, hopefully the right decisions. Everyone has some ethical standards and there are several categories that everyone falls into. Most often a person is in multiple categories. As stated in Controversies in Media Ethics there are three major categories of ethical behavior one fits into. First is the Deontological Theory. This is the duty based ethics. It has to do with following rules and principles. Second is the Teleological Theory. This is very consequence based. A person thinks about the consequences of their actions and decides if that action is ethical based on what the consequences might be. Lastly, is the Personal or Subjective Theory. A person's ethics in this theory are based off of highly personal moral factors like intuition, emotions, or religious ideas. 
As far as my ethics go, I fall into both the Deontological (duty based) and Teleological (consequence based) theories. For the most part I follow the Deontological ethics. As a journalist, or soon to be journalist, I think it is important to deliver the story as it is without opinions or biases. I feel that is my duty as a journalist. If I use a quote in a story it should be exactly what the person said, not something I made up. I feel like it is very important to show both sides of a story, that is just the job of a journalist. As far as the Teleological theory goes I do think about the effect my actions will have on others. I think before I act. If I don't show both sides of a story I may be looked down upon or fired. If I misquote a source, I might loose that source forever. 
This a glimpse into my ethics using the theories from Controversies in Media 
Ethics. I hope you can use this explanation to help you find what theory fits your ethics.
I believe there is a little if each theory in a person, but one that is more dominant.
This website from the university of Davidson has more information and more 
theories that may help you find your the theory behind your ethical behavior.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Media Ethics

Throughout this semester I will be writing about chapters in the book Controversies in Media Ethics by A. David Gordon and John Michael Kittross. The first chapter is an overview about ethics and different theories that try to explain ethics in the media. The theory I have chosen to focus on for this blog entry is the Social Contract Theory. This theory links morality to the state or society. In this theory people are used as moral agents. They affect other people to decide what is moral or immoral, ethical or unethical. This is very imaginable in todays day and age when so many people are worried about what others might think, or are concerned about every little thing a person does. Sacramento State University gives a nice lay out of social contract theory at                                                  

This website helps enforce the idea that people are worried about what others will think. 

         Another aspect of social contract theory is the fact that people in media do what is deemed ethical because they have nothing to gain by breaking the rules. People rely on one another to follow the rules. This is what helps keed things in order. People are expected to make the ethical decision.

         I believe this is a very applicable theory because it holds true to what modern people believe in. There is a conscience in everyone telling them to do the right thing, and they are expected to follow that. In doing so they encourage others to do the same thing. And thus people act as moral agents, keeping each other in line. We as humans are social creatures, so it is natural for us to interact and make good decisions in the presence of others. This is run of the mill ethics. People always want to get ahead, but they can’t always do that by being unethical, so they are ethical. They follow the rules and that encourages everyone to follow the rules.