Teaching Notes

You must become the flame on the candle. - Thich Nhat Hanh

Friday, January 11, 2008


Why be ethical?


bexis said...

What is ethical? To me there is no right answer to this question, because what I could consider to be ethical the next person may not. To me, being ethical is doing something without trying to hurt anyone. It also is, doing what would be “right” giving the situation. Ethical is following the rules, regulations or any procedure that has been impost before. To be ethical a person should have a high principle of morality.
The way in which I judge what is ethical and what is not is by applying common sense to it. If it makes common sense to me that I or anyone else would do something then to me its ethical. It also depends on culture and how it would be viewed by my parents. I do not have any standards or specific process to find out if something is ethical or not because something may be ethical in one situation but not in another. The circumstances or situations make all the difference.

Lyndsey said...

It's hard to define ethics as one specific thing. If ethics are related to morals and laws, I believe that it is very important to be ethical then. If it means following the law, it is important to be ethical so that you stay out of trouble, while maintaining a positive reputation. If ethics means being moral in general, it is also important to be ethical from a perspective of "what goes around comes around." I personally believe that if someone is unethical, it will come back to haunt them. Being ethical is especially important in certain industries, where reputation, trust, and honesty play big roles- all of these relating directly to what I believe to be good ethics. So basically, I think that good things come to those who are ethical.

Leah said...

To be ethical one must follow rules and have a level of morality. Many times, rules are implemented to ensure that people/things involved will be protected. It is important to be ethical because the way that we act shapes our reputation. Even if the ethical decision to be made only effects that person, it is key to have values so that you know what you want and so that people have just as much respect for you as you do for yourself. The definition of ethics is not so cut and dry because I believe that they vary from situation to situation. However, ethics play a role in our lives every day and sometimes, we may not even be aware of it.

Alison said...

To be ethical is to conduct your life in an honest and moral way. I believe there are different levels of ethical conduct when it comes to the situation a person is in.
In the case of religion, the highest standards of honesty are of great value, while say in an inner city, where the standard of living may be lower, the morals of whether or not to steal food for ones family becomes a greater issue.
As ethics applies to journalism, it is important to tell the complete story when writing a piece for a newspaper or magazine, but maybe not the whole situation. In some cases telling every last detail is great when there are no ethical dilemmas. But when it comes to other stories, involving illegal or poor practices by others, judgment is needed whether to include certain aspects of the story. Being ethical all depends on the given situation and somewhat on the morals of the writers and publication themselves.
So why be ethical? Be ethical because being a credible reporter/writer is the key to success in journalism and any field in the media, because the truth will always be known.
I would say in most situations it is better to be ethical and follow the "right" course of action, even if the story you are writing does not turn out exactly the way you wanted it to.

Omari said...

Why be ethical? In order to answer this, we have to first find out what is it to be ethical. To be ethical means being in accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession. It's to know waht is right and what wrong. Ethical just means to be honest,and it all depends on your culture and how you are brought up because different cultures have different views on what is ethical

Ben said...

One would be ethical in reasoning and action, as determined by their culture, in order to fulfill the moral expectations of that society. By making an ethical decision one is following the guidelines of their culture in determining what would be the right thing to do. So to operate most fluidly or successfully in a society one would want to make the right ethical decisions.

Howie Good said...

There's a prevailing sentiment in these comments so far that ethics involves acting in concordance with the rules and values of one's culture. But what happens if the culture is depraved -- as in Nazi Germany?

michelle said...

One chooses to be ethical based on a personal belief and an understanding of what is acceptable and appropriate. Each individual has their own perception of what is ethical, and they choose to be ethical because they value that idea of behavior and think that it is right to act so.

Howie Good said...

On the other hand, if each of us is his or her own ultimate ethical arbiter, can decide, without regard to roles and rules and others, what's right, what's wrong, what's good, what's bad, how in the world is society supposed to function -- I mean, besides badly? And can something like journalism be a profession if there aren't any agreed-upon norms that separate the professionals from the amateurs and charlatans, if anyone can just decide for himself or herself that this is what is ethical and professional and because I decide that and think that, it is?

Alyssa said...

I believe that the definition of ethics is different for each person. To me, ethics in regard to jobs and the law is abiding by the rules and regulations set out by your workplace, profession, or community. Exhibiting ethics in the community means you follow the laws and regulations, therefore establishing yourself as a respectable member of society. What is good, what is bad, what is right, what is wrong?
In the field of journalism, ethics is an ever-present issue. To be a quality journalist, ethical investigation and reporting is a crucial part of the job; not only to KEEP your job, but because as a journalist you have an obligation to the American public to deliver them factual, unbiased, information. They then use this information to formulate their opinions about important issues facing our society today. Without being conscious of what is ethical in journalism, our job would cease to hold such importance , relevancy, and esteem.
Ethics in regard to society and personal life in general, is basically a set of values or morals one lives by. These morals might be formed based on what they were taught by their parents growing up or discovered for themselves as they grow. To me, being ethical is treating people and situations the way I would want to be treated. My parents have always stressed the phrase "what goes around, comes around" and "do unto others as you would have others do unto you." Growing up, this was a basic template for how I should act in society and I think it is a useful and relevant way to view ethics. Values that grew out of these 'rules' were honesty, respect, compassion, and an effort to always be conscious of your actions. Personal ethics will vary because everybody has different situations, grew up in different environments, and have dealt with different things.

Emily said...

In my mind there are one’s own ethical values or moral code and then there is that of the society they are a part of. Everyone has their own code they live by, but the one most important and most binding is that of society. The two can be the same, but one’s own code may differ from the one put forth by their government, work place, friends, etc. In many cases being ethical is necessary because it determines our credibility and reputations, especially for our social standing and employment opportunities.

Depending on the individual, being ethical may be important for moral conscience, but for many it is also crucial for personal gain. From many points of view, including a religious one, people succeed because they follow a righteous path. Part of that includes being truthful and following the laws and standards put forth by that establishment. This is important in journalism, as it is our job to seek truths and deliver them to the public.

Daniel said...

Ethics is a word whose dictionary definition remains the same, but if you ask 100 people "What is ethical?" You will get 100 different answers. "What is ethical?" is an internal decision. In media, what is considered to be ethical changes with the times. It's based on the moral constructs of the society in which its based.
The question "Why be ethical?" seems fairly straightforward. But the question is only pertinent with those who already want to be ethical. Those who choose to go down a non-ethical path have one of two ways in which it could go. Their reputation could be tarnished, they could lose their jobs; or they could be considered a trend-setter, or be hailed for their efforts. Examples being the first "paparazzi", or even the use of the word "damn" in "Gone With the Wind."
"Why be ethical" is relational. My answer, is that without some form of ethical boundaries, people feel violated. Despite the stigma that comes with being in media, people look to you for information, and to some extent, trust the people giving it. Without that trust, the people will not "tune in." And without those people, their will be no platform from which to spread your news.

Will said...

Why be ethical? I would say the reason to be ethical is so you can sleep at night. Each person may have their own belief about ethics and it is difficult to say what is right and what is wrong. So if ethics is such an individual idea then wouldn't people be ethical so they could live with themselves? I am not saying this is right, because I bet that Hitler thought he was ethical and did not have a hard time sleeping.

Cichy3535 said...

To be ethical means to have a moral code to abide by. So why be ethical? Well, when one acts ethical, it means that one has respect for oneself and others and, as cliche as it may sound, this makes the world a better place to live. Although ethics do vary from person to person, the fact that they have ethics shows that they do care about the world in which they live and the people who share it.

jcaputo12 said...

I think defining the concept of being ethical differs from one person to the next. What I think is ethical, may not be to another person. I think being ethical is doing something without intruding or causing harm on someone else. Being ethical should not make someone else feel as though they were violated in any way. It is also using your conscience to decide what the appropriate thing to do in the current situation. It is important to put yourself in the other persons shoes, if you wouldn't feel comfortable with the decision, then chances are, they wouldn't either. Being ethical is using your best judgement, and trusting that others aren't offended by your decisions, whatever they might be.

Kim A said...

Ethical means different things to different people, but in general, to be ethics are standards accepted as a whole by society or by the majority of society. Ethics are created in avoidance of lines being crossed and are based on specific situations. Ethics are important to maintain order because if you take away the ethics there would be more drama and chaos, there needs to be a set of standards people follow to maintain balance.

Marissa said...

One should be ethical because they know the difference between right and wrong;what is acceptable and unacceptable. Although society imposes ethics on us from the time we are young, it is up to the individual to practice ethical behavior. Most people act ethical because they want to fit in with society and to break the code of ethics would go against personal morals, thus affecting how a person views themselves.
In a profession such as Journalism it is important to be ethical in order to protect your reputation. In the world of Journalism, your reputation is what makes you a credible journalist and can often make or break your career.

Cisca said...

Being ethical is a matter of choice, whether it’s in ones personal or professional life. To be honest, that is something that each one of us has to decide on and implement in our lives. No one is forced to be ethical but we have somehow come to the understanding that being ethical would be beneficial to the greater good of mankind. Yes, we each have a different definition of what it means to be ethical but common sense also plays a role. Nazi’s actions can’t and shouldn’t be considered ethical because they victimized people that were doing no wrong. Human rights shouldn’t be jeopardized. So why be ethical? I can’t answer for anyone else but for me it brings integrity and worth to whatever it is I’m doing.

Samm said...

The dictionary defines ethics as "a system of moral principles". A person should keep ethics in mind so that a message can get across to the right public in the right way without hurting anyone else in the process. For example, a journalist revealing it's sources when they were told specifically not to would be unethical. They are exposing someone and could possibly be putting that person in danger for the benefit of his/her story. Although being ethical is not always the easiest thing to do, as everyone's definition of what is ethical is different, it is always the best thing to do. When you are ethical, you are honest and uphold a level of principles and standards to protect your sources and your reputation.

p.e.l. said...

We are ethical to keep order. We believe that being ethical means making the right decision for a certain situation but every decision has consequences and while a decision may benefit us and be the "right" thing to do, it may be detrimental to another. Thus ethics can never really be clearly defined because of the nature of human beings, different cultures, sets of laws etc.

steven said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
steven said...

We must be ethical for the sake of conscience. Our conscience, that of others, of the culture, of society, of history, etc. If we are not ethical in what we do, we risk altering, diminishing or offending people, institutions and tradition. However in order to be ethical and act ethically, we must first understand ethics. Part of determining ethicality is what we are taught from life itself, and what has become a personal code for ethical behavior. The other part of ethicality is adhered to through what is established in a certain field. However, ultimately, determining what is ethical is relative. We must judge based on each situation presented.

AllisonC said...

The idea of ethics and what's considered morally right or wrong can vary depending on a persons culture and how they've been raised. To claim things to be 100 percent either ethically wrong or right is a difficult statement to make. To define ethics is near impossible, which is why there are classes dedicated not only to ethics, but to variations of it, such as the "media." The media's ethical responsibilities can be very different then that of a member of society's because their ability to persuade and change things is stronger and seemingly more reliable. People generally trust the media, or want to be able to, so it's important that they have good intentions.

Sean H. said...

I feel as if it is very hard to define what is ethical. everyone hows their own opinion on what is right and what is wrong and even that can bend given a certain stituation. Ethics changing throughout cetrain cultures and has definetaly changed throughout time. It is almost certain what as a whole we will never be able to agree of what is ethical and what is might, but as long as their are still descent people in the world who still have their basic morals in tact ethics will always exist, but also will always be open to debate.

Is Media Ethics Education DOA?

It sounds like a joke Jay Leno would tell during his opening monologue on The Tonight Show. Hear about the graduate students at the prestigious journalism school? They got caught cheating on an ethics exam. Ha ha ha. Except that’s actually what happened at Columbia University in late 2006.

Students had been given 48 hours to sign onto a Columbia Web site to take the final exam in a required course called “Critical Issues in Journalism.” They then had 90 minutes to answer two essay questions.

The students were warned to not discuss the questions with each other, but apparently they did. As the headline over a story reporting the scandal put it, “Ivy J-Schoolers Fail Ethics, Ace Irony.”

No one admitted cheating despite pressure from the school’s administrators and pleas from classmates, who feared the scandal would damage the market value of their degrees. Meanwhile, the teacher of the course, New York Times columnist Samuel G. Freedman, refused to comment. But if the disgruntled posts on RateMyProfessors.com are any indication, his students hadn’t exactly been soaking up knowledge. “Maybe he could e-mail his ‘speeches’ to the students instead of making everyone suffer through the most wasted class in j-school. . . ,” one read.

There’s an old cowboy saying that goes, “When your horse dies, get off.” Journalism ethics education is a dead horse. Or else those aren’t vultures circling in the sky.

A Question for Socrates

The question of how ethics is learned, or even if it can be, is as old as Western philosophy. In Plato’s dialog Meno the title character asks, “Can you tell me, Socrates, whether virtue is acquired by teaching or by practice; or if neither by teaching nor practice, then whether it comes to man by nature, or in what other way?” Of course, Socrates, being Socrates, resists giving a definite answer. But we can’t. The sad fact is, students had better get an effective ethics education now or they may never.

Last summer I conducted an ethics workshop for some reporters and editors at the Poughkeepsie Journal, a small daily in upstate
New York owned by Gannett Co., Inc. The woman in charge of organizing the workshop had supplied us with several case studies to examine. I remember one dealt with a classic conflict of interest, a copy editor who moonlighted at a local radio station.

But what I remember most is the air of defeat that clung to the staff as we sat on hard plastic chairs in the break room discussing the cases. I could hear in their voices the bitterness and cynicism of employees forced to follow corporate policies they despised. Recently, for example, the paper had started running display ads on the front page and section fronts, a much more grievous ethical lapse, their mumbled asides suggested, than anything the case studies might have to offer.

I don’t want my students to ever wear the gray, defeated expression I saw that day on the faces at the Journal. But given the downward direction in which the media are moving, and fast, how in the world can I prevent it from happening?

Teaching Media Ethics by Telling Stories

A friend of mine who teaches at a big Midwestern university recounts in class the events of her first week as a reporter for the Minneapolis Tribune. She was sent to Duluth to cover Democratic presidential candidate Hubert Humphrey on the campaign trail. When they were introduced, Humphrey vigorously shook her hand. “Oh yes, Susan,” he said, “I read your stuff all the time.” He couldn’t have read her stuff, though; she hadn’t written anything yet. “Just a few words,” she explains to her students, “but words that taught this fledging reporter a great lesson about pols and the little lies they tell.”

I usually find occasion during the semester to quote I. F. Stone’s dictum, “Every government is run by liars and thieves, and nothing they say should be believed,” to make the same point. But Susan’s story makes the point better. That’s because it has existential force. Her story vividly captures in a way a secondhand quote can’t the realities of a reporter’s life.

Some might think telling “war stories” is a waste of precious class time. I’ve a colleague who didn’t want to fall into the “trap” of regaling students with stories ad nauseam (“which, let’s face it, is easier than teaching or grading,” he said). So one semester he kept track. When he toted it all up at the end, he was surprised that he’d used less than an hour - out of 45 – talking about his newspaper experiences. And yet, he admitted, it was his stories that students seemed to remember most.

“Stories teach us how to live,” Daniel Taylor said in his essay, “The Ethical Implications of Storytelling.” What he meant was that stories preserve our experience for contemplation and evaluation. Although not all stories carry a heavy message, there’s an entire category of stories, so-called “exemplary tales,” that are told to convey a moral.

Our war stories are potentially just such tales. They can provide evidence, in ethicist John Barton’s words, of “how real human beings live through various crises and trials and remain human.” My colleague who kept tabs on his storytelling has described his stories as cautionary. Most, he said, deal with “screwups I learned from.”

But sometimes the storyteller and the audience can’t agree on what exactly the moral of a story is.

When Susan was a cub reporter on the Tribune, she interviewed the Beatles, who were on their second tour of the States. She got into their hotel room by dressing up as a waitress in an ugly, mustard-colored uniform and accompanying an actual room service waiter upstairs. Ringo took one look at her little plastic name tag – it read “Donna Brown” – and snorted, “What kind of name is that?” The waiter nudged her in the side. “Tell them what you real name is,” he urged. She did, as well as her reason for being there. Rather than throw her out, the Beatles politely answered her questions. They even let her phone for a photographer. The next day her story ran on the front page, with a photo of John sitting at a table and looking up at her and laughing as she poured coffee in his cup. She still has a glossy print of that photo somewhere.

Many of Susan’s students think she’s nuts for not having the photo hanging up in her office. They also think she’s nuts for saying she’d never participate in the same kind of stunt today. To her celebrity-struck students, disguising herself as a hotel waitress to get an interview with the Beatles seems soooo cool. They lose all sight of the fact that it wasn’t a story of vital public interest that demanded undercover methods.

Susan intends one lesson when she talks about her hard day’s night, but her students, living in a paparazzi-saturated culture, draw another. “It may be a lost cause,” she remarked to me.

Or maybe not. Negotiations over what the point of a story is can be part of the point of the story. In the process of negotiating, we test different interpretations, try out different themes. This is helpful. This is educational. Lawrence Kohlberg, the Harvard psychologist famous for his research on the stages of moral development, contended that “the teaching of virtue is the asking of questions. . . not the giving of answers.” Stories don’t necessarily have to yield clear moral rules to be of value. It’s enough sometimes if they just give us something to think about.