Ethical Decision Making – difficult & subjective

Ethical Decision Making – difficult & subjective if left to your “gut,” but there are
guidelines to follow, competencies to develop and procedures to use that will help
you make the right ethical choices.
Rest assured that you will regularly face ethical issues in your work. Just as
interviewing, reporting, writing, and editing are skills you learn, “doing ethics” is
also a skill you must learn as a journalist. It is inevitable that you will face ethical
situations, and you probably already have.
In journalism, you as the reporter – and the editor – are continually making ethical
choices. Just in a process of creating a simple story – when there is controversy or
intense subject matter, the ethical choices get harder.
You are choosing a topic (is there a bias in which topic you choose. Do you already
know the conclusion you want to make. Do you have an ax to grind)
To avoid my own bias and opinions, I like to start a story with an unbiased open
ended question, such as What are the policies and possible issues with smoking on
Smokers need a place to smoke. Campus officials are unfair to smokers. Smoking is
stupid so why does the campus have smoking areas.
You choose whom to interview for your story. If all your interviews are only
professing one point of view, you are unfairly telling your story. Pat’s article on the
budget had a great quote by Kolina about how SGA is a waste of her money. I made
Pat go find someone who enjoys SGA events because they are out there and it
balances the article.
There are never two sides to a story, not even three sides to a story. 3 sources is a
bare bones minimum. To do a good story, you need multiple points of view.
You choose what to include in your story. You can slant a story by how you pick
and choose your quotes and copy. Photos are an element of choice too.
You can choose what to lead your story with – keep opinions out. At the Eagle’s
Eye, we have a tendency to attend an event and then try to imply whether it was a
success or a failure. That is not your job. Your job is to report. The reader can
determine if it was successful or not.
You can choose how to play your story – front page, inside page, sensationalize it.
Ethical decisions all the time.
A high school coach sits in the basement while his son has a party, which eventually
gets busted and MIPs are issued and the coach is arrested for contributing to
underage drinking. Where do you run that story in a small town like Incline?
A 16-year-old kid is pulling onto Country Club when a bicyclist riding very fast
downhill comes right in front of him. The kid hits the bicyclist and he dies. How do
you play this story? The mother of the kid asks you not to run it, the wife of the
bicyclist is demanding that you crucify the kid.
So what do you do?
Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has offered an ethical code for
Seek the truth and report it as fully as possible
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and
interpreting information.
Act independently
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right
to know.
Minimize harm
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving
of respect.
Be accountable
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and one another.
Everything you decide needs to be filtered by Accuracy and Fairness – the last three
are fairness.
Poynter Institute says a journalism think tank and training ground in St. Petersburg,
FL says: Your greatest ethical responsibility is to constantly strive for excellence in
everything you do. The more competent you are in ethical decision-making, the
more confident you will become in your ability to meet the tests you face.
Accuracy – getting it right
Wrong information is a disservice to the readers and hurts your credibility
Fairness means pursuing the truth with both vigor and compassion and reporting
information without favoritism, self-interest or prejudice.
True ethical decision-making is about public justification, the ability to explain
clearly and fully the process of how and why decisions are made.
Your readers must know that any controversial story or photo is ACCURATE and
also understand why it is FAIR, even if they don’t agree.
Sometimes fairness is a perspective, but there are 7 Deadly Sins where your
integrity and reputation will be harmed, and where you could get fired. First, we’ll
talk about these before we go into how to handle ethical issues that may not have
any absolute correct answers.
Deception - lying or misrepresenting yourself to get information
A growing problem in today’s journalism – digital photographs easily manipulated,
technology to easedrop, hidden cameras, reading email,
If mission of journalism is truthtelling, is deception ever ok? It harms the public’s
perception of journalists.
Is undercover reporting ok?
Are hidden cameras ok?
Is dodge (lightening) and burn (darkening) ok for a photograph? Patrick Schneider
of The Charlotte Observer had three awards taken back after he admitted to the
practice, NC press photographers assn.. practice used in old darkrooms, but
obliterated details,
To justify deception we must be pursuing exceptionally important information. It
must be of vital public interest, such as preventing profound harm to individuals or
revealing great system failure.
In Spain in Feb. 2012, a court ruled that journalists can no longer use them.
Conflict of Interest - accepting gifts or favors from sources or promoting social
and political causes
ABC pays sources
TV news reporter had to quit job when her husband ran for governor
Jason could not accept Leroy Hardy’s wife’s offer to pay for tripod’s medical bill
Bias - slanting a story by manipulating the facts
Pew Project for Excellence in Journalism finds that the ideological differences in
2012 coverage were “even more pronounced, and is no longer quite a mirror image.
MSNBC was more negative in its treatment of Romney than Fox was of Obama,
though both stand out significantly from the rest of the media studied.”
Cable news obviously, but Traditional Legacy media
NYT – not biased
Forbes – yes biased
En masse, journalists have leaned left for decades. What’s new is they don’t seem to
care that everyone realizes it now.
Carr also mentioned the chorus of conservative voices in talk radio and then noted
that they “have outdrawn NPR’s morning and evening programs by a wide margin.”
But that argument also is a red herring, because neither Rush Limbaugh nor Sean
Hannity nor local conservative radio hosts such as Milwaukee‘s Mark Belling
present themselves as anything other than apologists for the right. And when
viewers tune in Fox News, as well as MSNBC, they know what viewpoints they’re
agreeing to subject themselves to.
However, the government-supported, far-left hosts and reporters for NPR never
lead with their ideology — and that very pretense, unfortunately, remains enough to
lead many less-sophisticated Americans astray. Repeat that omission with the
dozens of other influential media mouthpieces for progressivism, and it adds up to a
tremendous and almost irresistible collective deception of the body politic.
Fabrication – manufacturing quotes or imaginary sources or writing anything
you know to be untrue
Janet Cooke won a Pultizer in 1981 about a 8 yo heroin addict Jimmy – it was made
up a composite of several child addicts, but still made up
Theft – obtaining information unlawfully or without a source’s permission
Theft is illegal, hacking emails in Britian, obtaining info legally without a source’s
consent, an ethical decision
The News International phone-hacking scandal — dubbed "Hackgate",
"Rupertgate", or "Murdochgate" by the press — is an ongoing controversy
involving the defunct News of the World and other British newspapers published
by News International, a subsidiary of News Corporation.
In July 2011 Murdoch faced allegations that his companies, including the
News of the World, owned by News Corporation, had been regularly
hacking the phones of celebrities, royalty and public citizens. He faces
police and government investigations into bribery and corruption by the
British government and FBI investigations in the US.[11][12] On 21 July
2012, Murdoch resigned as a director of News International.[13][14]
News Corp – 2nd largest media conglomerate, owns Fox News, Wall Street Journal and
20th century Fox
June 2012 – split into two publicly traded companies – news & entertainment – news
WSJ /Fox entertainment, includes Fox News
Burning a Source - deceiving or betraying the confidence of those who
provide information for a story
Can only burn that source once, they won’t let you get close to them afterward, a bad
reporter can burn a source and the entire newspaper suffers
Plagiarism – passing off someone’s work as your own
Always attribute, NYT Jayson Blair ; so easy on the internet
Plagiarism – ABSOLUTE
Fabrication - ABSOLUTE
Only three people – one was a bad employee, but one had plagiarized and anoher
was insanely biased and opinionated in his reporting, frequently burning sources
Which ones are absolute? The others are major red flags, however, that you cannot
take lightly.
What about situations that don’t have absolutes?
If you have the accuracy foundation, how do you ensure that you are fair?
"Doing ethics" mirrors the reporting process that is at the heart of journalism. In
both ethics and reporting, you keep asking good questions to better understand
what is going on, to learn key facts, to consider alternative approaches and to move
toward an action.
Journalists report and tell important stories. At the same time, journalists make
sound ethical decisions. That "doing ethics" competency is a blend of common sense,
critical thinking and moral reasoning.
Here are key steps you can take as you practice journalism and make ethical
The best time to deal with an ethical issue is before it becomes a problem. Anticipate
the ethical challenges you might face before you are in a minefield. Which is why we
are doing this.
* Don't try to "solve" an ethical challenge with a simple ˇ˝What should I do?ˇ˝
question. Instead, start your ethical decision-making process
Defining the problem.
Ask a series of questions that helps you
to understand the ethical issue
weigh consequences
consider alternative solutions - try to come up with 3 alternatives, so
you aren’t trapped in an either or, right or wrong choice.
Don't let your "gut" drive your decision-making. - not just a moral
dilemma, but an intellectual decision. Likewise, don’t let hard and fast rules
dictate your decisions.
Make time for making good ethical decisions, even on deadline. The
decisions you make carry consequences for you and for other stakeholders.
Avoid "doing" ethics alone. Collaboration produces better decisions.
Discuss and debate with colleagues. Listen to and respect other views and
competing values. Be willing to make a new ethical decision when facts change
giving greater weight to a different ethical principle.
Seek guidance from outside experts - wise individuals who bring
expertise and an independent lens to your ethical challenge. Poynter on call 877639-7817, email Poynter as a student; code of ethics,
Be willing and ready to make your point and justify your thinking.
Prepare for that conversation with your boss when you will challenge her/his
ethical position. Be clear and be concise. Also, consider writing a short story that
you would make public explaining why and how you made your ethical decision.
There's a problem if you aren't willing to share your principles and your process
with the public.
Use the 10 Questions to ask yourself.
Student press case studies