Teaching Notes

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

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Media Ethics.02

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


Yanna said...

I believe that the SPJ Code of Ethics provides a good guideline for journalists. However I do not think that most journalists would follow all of the guidelines 100 or even 90 percent of the time. We live in a society where people pay attention to "sensational" news. A lot of journalists might alter the details of a story in order for it to capture a broader audience. I am not saying most journalists would completely change the story yet they often times will elaborate on the facts which goes against the first guideline of the Code of Ethics: "Tell the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissble." That being said I believe that the SPJ Code of Ethics should be looked at as a perfect model for journalists to follow. But how many of us are perfect? In conclusion, I think that the SPJ Code of Ethics is ideal in theory but would not be considered practical for every journalist to follow ALL the time.

Dana said...

The Journalism Code of Ethics is a great indicator of what rules a journalist should follow, in a perfect world. In today's modern age of technology however, the journalist is not being asked to inform the reader on every aspect of the story, but to inform the reader on some details before any other news source has the lead. Unfortunately, there also are clear cut bias when it comes to news outlets, which seems to go against one's ability to "support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant". One would love to believe that the goal of all journalists is to "seek truth and report it" but in todays times of fast paced media coverage it's hard to believe that all journalists are living by these standards and not by the seat of their pants when reporting a "breaking news story", with more details to follow. Unfortunately, there are a lot more journalists whose names are in the news, not for the reporting they do, but for the standards they are failing to meet.

Anonymous said...

I agree with Yanna about the SPJ Code of Ethics being a good guideline for journalists. I also agree about journalists not following the code of ethics 100 % of the time. Although it may be the right thing to do, following the rules all the time may get boring for some people. Off hand, journalism is about honesty, integrity, and respect of privacy. Plagiarism is never an option and should not be questioned, but writers must always be reminded about this code. The SPJ Code of Ethics is concise yet detailed, it explains that a journalist should always seek truth, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable. It is important to remind writers of these ethics because they tend to forget simple things like keeping promises, being sensitive when dealing with children, and stereotyping. It provided adequate ethical guidance because it sets boundaries and makes it clear for writers where to draw the line.

Jimmy said...

The current theme so far of thoughts on the Code of Ethics is that it is good if we lived in a perfect world, but I say why not try. I also believe the SPJ Code of Ethics is a very good checklist for being ethical in journalism and I believe that it actually can be accomplished if we are willing to sacrifice the entertainment sensational aspect to journalism. Call me a romantic, but I believe if we try hard enough to follow this code of ethics we can put ethics back into journalism.

Daniel said...

In a perfect world, the "Society of Professional Journalists'" code of ethics provides a very good guideline for journalists. In fact, I would go so far as to say that this should be law and not merely a code.
With today's top headlines reading, "Britney's boob exposed" it's hard to imagine ethics and journalism in the same sentence. Too often I read stories with the terms "sources say" or "some people believe" to the point that I am so jaded by it all that I often refuse to read news articles or even watch nightly news. I am one of thousands of Americans who get their news from Jon Stewart.
Every bullet in this code is perfect and should be used. While reading it, sadly, I laughed. Mostly because I don't know when the last time these codes were used.
Ideally all of these codes would be applicable, and it is unfortunate that they aren't applied more.

Lisa said...

This finalized version of the SPJ Code of Ethics was adopted by the SPJ in 1996 (says so on bottom of page)... can't help but recall that Princess Diana died in an accident associated with paparazzi in 1997. Have these ethics really ever been truly followed in the world of tabloid journalism whole heartedly? The Code of Ethics seems logically an adequate ethical guidance because it promotes humanistic values with all encompassing ideals to aspire towards. I'm guessing TMZ and the like are not members of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Melissa Vitale said...

I think the SPJ Code of Ethics has set good guidlines for journalists to follow. However, lets be serious not many of them do. I feel that journalists may begin their profession with the intention of being honest, but that doesn't always mean that journalists get the story they want. So thats when they begin to embellish the truth. Journalism is very competitive and some will do whatever they have to do to get ahead.

ashley said...

Yes, I feel, we as reporters all have a very important job to do...we all want to uncover and tell the public the storys of injustices, that wouldn't be told if we didn't uncover them...The truth is very powerful and can change the lives of many...the Ethical Code keeps us from corrupting the truth...with the media world as it is today (profit seeking) we need to trun to a black and white, clear cut foundation...and then trust our own personily dveloped ethics and morals.

O said...

Every reporters have A important job to do in which they have to report news to the public of unjustices and justices.The truth is very powerful and can change the minds of many, so that why it important for every reporters to report the truth.The Ethical Code is created so that reporters would not corrupt the truth and give each reporters a guideline to follow by.

Jelena said...

In my opinion the SPJ Code of ethics provides very good guidance to journalists. This code supports many positive things that unfortunately are forgotten nowadays. If one journalist will follow this code then he will have high level of morality, understanding for all nations and cultures, and he will show his sensitive side by having consideration while publishing sensitive topics.It will be great if many journalists will follow this code nowadays, but sadly is not like that. But this is not only the journalists fault. Today the public feels hunger for scandalous topics , or informations about the celebrities private life,or even about some bad news. As a result of this todays journalists brake this code and pass any limit.So my conclusion will be that this code sets very good examples for journalists , but it is very hard to follow in the todays world.

Ian said...

I wrote this while bored in another class. Ethical? Sure, why not.

So I read this code a couple of times over. And I came to the conclusion that the concept of ethics can not be codified. You cannot make a specific series of rules for a person to follow in the case of morals. Yes, yes, we know "Killing Bad", but what if it's killing a terrible dictator? Or someone who's murdered alot of people.

("Hypotheticals" are the ethical weasel's best friend. But I digress.)

The point is, ethics cannot be placed in some locked form. Every situation, for every person, has a series of ethical and unethical outcomes.

A guideline as everyone else has been saying? Yes.

A firm set of rules? No.

coy pusey said...

Yes the the code of ethics provide a strict guideline for journalist to follow. Howver in todays society we can clearly see that those code of conduct are not being followed if we examione it carefully. Stories need a bit of spice to attract an audience and once a journalist starts to fabricate his/her stories its much difficult to stop

Ryan said...

I believe the SPJ Code of Ethics provides enough ethical guidelines for journalists to follow. It sets out specific ethical rules that journalists should follow to report their stories in an honest manner. Unfortunately I do not believe journalists follow these Codes of Ethics fully in today's media which is strongly based on sensationalism.

Jamie said...
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Jamie said...

After reading the SPJ Code of Ethics, I believe it clearly outlines a proper set of guidelines for journalists to follow. It covers many aspects and situations that can arise for a journalist. As an avid reader of many new sources, I find some of these ethical codes are followed and others are not. Many times journalists are put in situations where they need to exercise their judgment, even if it requires breaking an ethical boundary. I took particular interest in the ethical outline that stated, "tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even if it is unpopular to do so." Frequently, journalists report unpopular news, but aren't our own ethical boundaries based on what is the "popular" versus the "unpopular" in society? Although I would like believe that journalists follow this code religiously, it is unrealistic. We are drawn to the more controversial new stories, and without breaking some sort of ethical code, it is doubtful we would be able to obtain such news stories. And often times, those journalists who follow these codes respectfully, don't gain even credit.

Kristen said...

I'm going to go with the grain here and also say that the Code of Ethics is a great guideline for journalists. I'm also going to agree that it would probably only be effective in a perfect world. Unfortunately today's news has become purely a business: who can sell the most papers, magazines, etc. With so many options it takes a lot to get readers, especially when readers are less interested in hard new and more apt to read soft news that is more entertaining than informative. It is commonplace now for journalists to sort of spin a story to make it more interesting, to make it sell more papers. It has become less about information and ethics and more about the money it can bring in. Also, with the current state of corporatization within the media, there are less journalists reporting on more stories. Reporters are overworked and are forced to spend less time on fact-checking, reliable sources and ethical decisions. Until the environment of the media changes, it is almost impossible and almost impractical to follow the code of ethics. That is not to say that it shouldn't be followed, but it is just incredibly unlikely that it would be.

Kaitlyn said...

After reading the SPJ Code of Ethics, I do believe that they are a good guideline for journalists. Sometimes, actually most of the time, I believe it's very easy for journalists to get wrapped up in the story and seek additional and unecessary information that strays from their original purpose of reporting. What I mean by this is that if personal and controversial information is presented to them, it may be reported because of the entertainment it may bring readers. However, maybe this information was not the initial purpose or what the journalist needed to know. After reading the guidelines and the ten questions to make ethical decisions, I think they certainly remind one how to stay on track and not stray from the original purpose of the story. One of the questions I found particularly important was, Who are the stakeholders-those affected by my decision? I think one really needs to think about the postivies and negatives that can come from reporting a controversial issue and consider all of the ethical questions raised in the SPJ Code of Ethics. Like we discussed in class, I also feel it's important to weigh the good and the bad and which one is greater. Although there are always going to be people negatively affected, I think it's important to decide if it's really worth doing such.

Thomas said...

I can only imagine that with each new story arises new controversies. Journalists often come close to crossing the line between what is ethical and what is not. Sometimes, they even cross it. A good helpful way to establish the difference between the two is by reading the SPJ Guidelines. I think that these guidelines pose many good questions one should ask themselves when writing a story. However, a reason why one might not want to look at these guidelines is because it may take some of the entertainment and fun out of a journalists' work. Many times, a writer puts in information not needed because it will get better ratings and a larger audience due to its' entertainment factor. If a journalist doesn't wish to be this way, then the SPJ Code of Ethics is great to follow. Although this Code of Ethics is something that would put the truth and honesty back in journalism, I don't feel it's something that the majority of journalists would actually follow. Unfortunately, in today's society, people care more about getting the "dirt" on others then about actual facts and meaningful reportings.

Rachel said...

As previously mentioned, I too believe that the SPJ code of ethics is an ideal checklist for journalists. I think it’s unrealistic to think that journalists can always abide by these guidelines, because there are too many variables these days. I think it really depends on who or what you are writing for. If you are writing for a magazine that’s main focus is uncovering all the juicy secrets in Hollywood, than you probably wouldn’t care what the code of ethics says. However, if you are writing for a serious newspaper that focuses on world issues, then I would hope the SPJ code of ethics had some priority in your work.

lorraine said...

I do believe the SPJ Code of Ethics provides adequate ethical guidance for journalists, however, no matter how good it is, doesn't mean journalists will follow it. The material listed in the Code is quite detailed and provides a good structure for what journalists should do. It covers many topics and all seems to be "ethical." But then again, what is ethical to some people may not be ethical to others. That said, many journalists probably don't follow the Code. Like Yanna stated, people only pay attention to truly dramatic news stories, stories that are usually exaggerated or twisted in some way or another. While material to a certain story might not be added to "spice" it up, something might be left out to give it a different twist or spin. In a situation like that, it is "seeking the truth and reporting it," just not the whole truth, in a way, bending the Code.

asdf said...
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Jillian said...

Although outright lies and embellishments can be found in recent journalism (and even more so in journalism of the past - yellow journalism, etc) the problem is less that we are being lied to and more that we are being pandered to. It is easier to give the people what they want - sloppy sensational stories on the sloppy, sensational Ms. Britney Spears, secretly taped videos of a coked-up Heath Ledger - than it is to spend the money and the time on real issues that are truly meaningful to our lives. Even the election coverage is reduced to bitch-tastic “he said-she said” disses and squabbles. Whether or not these stories are unethical is beside the point that it is unethical to present these fluff stories at the expense of the real stories.

This is what the SPJ Code of Ethics fails to address. Although the Code is meant for all journalists, the actual reporters are the ones being “guided” here. However, when profits are the bottom line, the reporter is rarely allowed the chance to break out of the bubble of celebrity meltdowns and the latest mysterious disappearance of some cute white woman or another. The reporter will only get the assignments that will potentially rake in profit.

Seriously, with a few drinks in me the Code might bring me to tears; I’m a sap when it comes to idealism. “Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.” I mean, isn’t that just wonderful? I do think that the SPJ Code of Ethics is an important guideline and anyone looking to do good journalism is wise to commit it to memory. But, we’ll see how much it really means when we actually get out there in “the field.”

Asho said...

I think the SPJ Code of Ethics is a great guild line for journalist. I say guild line because no code is followed 100% of the time. Every new situation involves new ethics and choices. Every person is going to look at the situation different. But adding the Code of Ethics gives journalist a more structured foundation. It gives all journalists a common ground. When following the code, all journalist and the readers are all on the same page.

Jenn M said...

I like everyone else thinks that the the SPJ Code of Ethics seems like a wonderful guideline for journalists and also like everyone else feels that no matter how great it is, the problem isn't making up the rules it's getting people to actually follow them. There are ethicals guidlines for many professions and organizations, the problem is that those who are unethical will remain unethical. What we need is a guideline on how to make people follow the guidelines.

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.