Teaching Notes

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

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Media Ethics.01

Carefully read the SPJ Code of Ethics. Do you believe it provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists? Why or why not?

20 comments:

Omari said...

After reading the Code of Ethics, I believe that this is ethical for Journalists. The Code of Ethics simply says, be responsible and be accountable for your own actions, and this code of ethics can go for the general population as well as journalists. As I was reading this, I had to look at the title again because I just couldn't see this only being for Journalists. It also felt as if I was taking a course because of some of the things that was in the code. For example , "Have open views", just like you would do would a course, you would do hear. After all, you cannot be a close-minded journalists because you are expressing yourself to the world and people are reading what you write.

Lyndsey said...

I believe that the SPJ Code of Ethics provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists. It pretty much states the facts and tells journalists what they SHOULD do. All of the listed items that journalists should consider definitely come under the heading of ethical decisions, for example, accuracy of information. As far as journalism goes, being accurate is being ethical because a good journalist would never mislead or deceive their audience. Everything in the Code of Ethics is clearly stated and is good guidance. Many of the points are simply common sense, which some ethics are. If all journalists followed the Code of Ethics, I believe that the media would gain much more respect and trust.

Marissa said...

The SPJ Code of Ethics is the best comprehensive guide for journalists. It answers every question a journalist, new or old, could have about how to research and publish a story properly. Although some of the rules seem like common sense, some people still need to be reminded of the simple things, such as "never plagiarize" (something that is taught from a very young age in school and in homes). The SPJ also reminds journalists that they are responsible for themselves and their work. No one else can take the blame for something they said or did under the guidelines of the SPJ. If all journalists followed the Code as it was laid out, the state of the media would be improved and journalists would again top the lists of trusted individuals to the public.

Ericka said...

I believe that the Code of Ethics was made in order to not only protect the lives of journalists, but also so that people would not look to them as deceivers, but as we all know this has already happened. I feel that sometimes journalists bend those codes to justify what they do. The Code of Ethics should serve as a guidance to journalists. They should not only been seen as good writers who get good stories, but also those who tell the truth and go by it in an ethical way.

Sean H. said...

I believe as if the SPJ Code of Ethics delivers a very just guideline for journalist to follow. It not only advocates expressing the truth in many different facets it assigns each journalist with a sense of responsibility for their own work. The SPJ Code of Ethics also assures that the journalists always act morally and above all treat subjects, sources and colleagues with respect as human being and not just as a story. I feel as if the SPJ Code of Ethic gives great guidance to journalist because it is stern enough that the journalist can act a very professional manner, but is also flexible enough that they have the ability to report the story to the best of their ability while upholding their integrity.

Leah said...

After carefully reading over the SPJ Code of Ethics I would say that it does provide adequate guidance for Journalists. It is clear cut what is expected of them. There are headings that have key points by using bullets, which makes it an easy visual to follow. Some of the rules are common sense and some are very insightful. One of my favorites was "give voice to the voiceless" which basically means that even if there are people who typically aren't "in the spotlight" not to rule them out because their voice matters as well. It is a great thing to have a code of ethics like this because not only does it give Journalists a legitimate guideline for their work but it also protects the people/organizations etc that are being written about.

Howie Good said...

So here's my question -- if the SPJ Code is such a great ethical guide, then how come so few journalists seem to actually follow it? How good can it be if it's largely ignored? This is the crux of the situation in media ethics, isn't it? That there are ethical guidelines for the media, but the media seem to act as if there aren't any at all?

joe said...

The SPJ Code of Ethics does provide adequate ethical guidance for journalists because it clearly states what ethical journalism is. It is the journalist's obligation to refer to the code whenever there is a question of ethics. In regards to the photographer Kevin Carter, I believe that by not helping the Sudanese girl to the food center he was acting unethical. The Code states that "ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect." After documenting that child, he should have helped her to the food center; she was a human being who was on the verge of dying.

bexis said...

After carefully analyzing the SPJ Code of Ethics, I realized that it is a document to which much thought was given. The Preamble clearly estates the primary duty of journalists and how important it is to have professional integrity. The ethics or rules that journalists must follow are acknowledged in a simple way so that no one could misinterpret it. It defiantly provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists to follow and help us be ethical. I love the fact that they are put in bullet form because it makes it easier to read and follow.

Alison said...

The SPJ Code of Ethics does provide any journalist with basic guidelines to follow when interviewing, writing, or taking pictures for an article. I believe these guidelines are very important as to respect the privacy of the person being interviewed or photographed. But there are many cases where this code of ethics isn't followed, especially when it comes to celebrity gossip and the paparazzi. The reason journalists don't always follow these guidelines is because they want to get that "great" story, and will stop at nothing to get it. And we often wonder why Brittney Spears ends up on magazine covers, she makes a great story, even if the content is not truly ethical.

michelle said...

I think it does provide enough guidelines for journalists, and in even some cases too elaborate of guidelines because there are many times when these guidelines are ignored. The simple concept of a black and white set of rules is simple however, too many times they are excused for some “world changing, revolutionizing” reason. There are exceptions to every rule, as the U.S. has showed many times but, should something as unbiased as journalism be given exceptions? Or is honest, complete news so vital to our society that the SPJ is more of a suggestible boundary to be guided with instead of set principles that are mandatory to abide by?

Emily said...

The Code of Ethics is certainly a necessary and clear cut guide for journalists. Some components of it must be followed or we will lose our jobs, but other parts are more flexible. I think the flexibility of ethics in journalism depends on what kind of publication you write for and also your reputation. If you are already a well-known, established journalist, perhaps you can get away with more. Tabloids avoid these ethics because they are in the business to make a profit and create gossip, not necessarily to deliver accurate truths. Nonetheless, I think it is vital to have this guide, to hold journalists accountable and maintain a level of reliability.

AllisonC said...

I found SPJ's code of ethics to be both thorough and informative. Some of the rules listed may seem simple but they are necessary in keeping a common idea of what a journalist's integrity is. When a Journalist is in the process of writing it is important that there is a universally accepted set of codes for them and their colleagues. If journalists had different standards and codes of ethics it would inadvertently result in chaos in the media.

Cisca said...

I do believe that it provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists. It provides a guideline that, I think, tries to uphold what journalism is all about...or at least, what it aims to be. I do, however, think that it not as easy to actually apply these guidelines when one is actually out there reporting or in an ethical dilemma. I do think many journalists do follow these guidelines because if they didn’t that would almost be saying that journalism is full of corruption and deception….I think that is being too pessimistic. With every Jayson Blair out there, one can find a dozen Edward R. Murrows or Walter Cronkites in the mix. (Perhaps not as good but still…good enough). To those who ignore it…perhaps than they shouldn’t be called journalists.

Ben said...

Upon reading the SPJ Code of Ethics (1996) it is appears to be an adeqate guideline for respecting journalists. Saying, report to the story to it's fullest extent while not compromising the validity of the story by cheating to get the information. Remaining unbiased while delivering an all encompassing view on the subject. Showing good taste and compassion in dealing with the public. Unfortuanlty, getting the story will lead a journalist to use any means nessesary, sometimes. In todays media there is a degradation of mutual respect. When money rules, upholding a reputation doesn't pay the bills, unfortunatly.

William said...

I feel that the SPJ Code of Ethics is appropriate for journalists. From reading though it it seems as though all questions could be answered by reading this code. But at the same time, not being a journalist and from never working on the streets covering stories it is hard for me to judge. I feel it would be different if I was in an actual situation and had to refer to this code of ethics because unusual problems and personal differences may come up they make it difficult. From first glance though this seems to cover every problem that I can think of.

jcaputo12 said...

I think that the SPJ code of ethics is something in some parts very simple, but necessary. It provides a list of things that journalists should be doing, so if something happens later on down the road, they cannot claim that they didn't know. The code is definitely preventative, and helpful. I think it's completely necessary to have this. I also think that it provides journalists with a reference, something to look back on if a problem or question arises concerning ethical decisions. I think that if we didn't have this code, there would be some gaps within the reporting field.

Alyssa said...

I believe the SPJ Code of Ethics provides effective guidance and guidelines for journalists and could also pertain to the general public. It basically says that you must report truth, take responsibility for your actions, and be accountable for everything you report. In life you should always take responsibility for your actions and hold yourself accountable for things you say or do. Being honest and truthful is also a good virtue to have, so the Code of Ethics just reiterates some basic values or ethics of life. Every profession has a set of regulations or guidelines, documented and undocumented that one must abide by. The Code of Ethics does this for journalists. It states common sense but is useful to have as a reference.

Raizza said...

I believe it provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists. More or so, it identifies what an ethical journalist should do in most and specific situations while researching, reporting, editing, and evaluating news stories.

But as you've said also in the text, "just because you know which principles apply in a situation doesn't guarantee you can follow them precisely." -Just like bagging groceries.

Kim A said...

The SPJ code of ethics provides standard rules than any "moral" journalist should follow. It does provide ethical guidance for journalists. I don't agree that most journalists don't follow, I just think that journalists use these morals as situational morals. They bend them according to the situation at hand. Is this wrong? That's a question that I'm not sure I have the answer for but I do agree with providing a standard code of ethics that should be followed, so that there are price ceilings and price floors

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.