Teaching Notes

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

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Media Ethics .01

Please place descriptions of group cases & issues here by next class.

12 comments:

Alison said...

Controversial Photo group: Alison, Raizza, and Steven.
Case study: As life passes by: a Journalist's role: watch and wait.

Ross Baughman, a photojournalist, has taken many controversial photos, one example being of soldiers who burned down homes, and also took photos of monks sacrificing themselves as a protest during the Vietnam War.
According to the author, Deni Elliott, when you are on the job, the photojournalist has the obligation to take the picture. It is better to watch from the sidelines as an observer then to get involved, because it is a conflict of interest to get involved in the scene and distort the event.
According to the SPJ Code of Ethics, you must seek truth and report it, and never distort the content of news photos and videos. In order to follow the Code of Ethics, it is necessary to step back from the scene and just take the picture.
In the W.D Ross's Moral Theory of prima facie duties, it is the photojournalists duty of fidelity to fulfill their promise to their boss to take the picture, never minding the current situation.

Howie Good said...

While the photjournalist might have a duty of fidelity to his or her employer, he or she alos have a duty of fidelty to readers or viewers, don't they? And can't those duties, while bearing the same name, possibly come into conflict? And what about other duties that come into play in the situation you describe above -- such as self-improvement and beneficence and justice?

Lyndsey said...

Controversial Photos Case Study: Of Life and Death- Photos capture woman’s last moments
Group members: Lyndsey, Allison, Kimberly, and Omari

This case focuses on a photographer from the Lawrence Eagle-Tribune, Marc Halevi, who went to the shores of Plum Island to capture shots of stormy seas and the highest tides in 60 years. The pictures he ended up capturing instead were of a woman’s last moments before death. The woman had been drinking heavily prior to the incident and saying things like “let the ocean take me,” according to witnesses at the scene. When she stood dangerously close to the edge of the shore, a wave crashed near her and pulled her into the stormy waters. Despite rescuers’ efforts, she met her fate and her body washed ashore later that day.

The central dilemma in this case asks if the photographer was correct in taking pictures of this woman’s last moments and then not making an attempt to rescue her when he saw that she was in obvious danger, but instead calling out to others on the shore to try to help her. This is where the lines get fuzzy between someone doing their job of simply taking pictures for the paper or doing the morally right thing by rescuing a person in danger. Haelvi’s original intentions were to take the picture of the woman because he liked the idea of having a person in his shots. He did not expect for the woman to be swept into the water, yet he continued to take pictures even as she was drowning. The other dilemma asks if pictures like the ones Halevi captured should even be run in the paper because of their controversial nature. As it turned out, the editor of the paper, Alan White, did decide to run the pictures, but to tell a story of a storm and heroic efforts of rescuers on the scene, he said.

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

Sensitive News Topics: Alyssa, Francisca, Joe, and Marissa.
Case Study:Handle With Care: Priest Murder Story Required Extra Sensitivity.

Father Mario Ross,from the St. Louis area was shot and killed while attending a conference in Knoxville, Tennessee. Father Ross was found with what the media called "sexual paraphernalia" and in an area well known for prostitution. The St. Louis Post Dispatch ran into a major ethical dilemma when they had to make a decision on whether to run a story based solely on his funeral or to incorporate the new information surrounding his murder.
The story was already being wired through AP, so they faced the decision of not running the Knoxville information and looking like liars, or running both and upsetting local parishioners. They ran both stories and received a lot of outcry from the community.
We feel that the newspaper was right for running both stories at the same time because according to the SPJ Code of Ethics, journalists must seek truth and report it. Also since Father Ross was a well known figure in the community, Libel Law applies to the situation, because if you are a public figure the news has a right to publish incriminating information against you.

Howie Good said...

Slain priest case is a good one, but it doesn't involve libel so much as privacy and sensationalism. One way to start thinking about the case is whether the way the St. Louis paper handled it was an example of the Golden Mean. It's also important to realize that the case doesn't entail one decision, but several, and that the St. Louis paper's decision can be contrasted with the coverage afforded by AP and the Knoxville media.

Marissa said...

We plan on discussing more than just the issue of covering both the funeral and the scandal. Because there is also the fact that the paper decided to run it on an inside page and not a front page. Also in reguards to AP and Knoxville, they didn't really have the community factor to weigh in the decision to run the story or not, that is why it was harder for the St. Louis Dispatch to figure out how to run the story, what to focus on, and how to inform the public in the best way possible.

Emily said...

Covering Politics: Emily, Maria and Pierce
Case Study: Truth or Consequences

This case focuses on a candidate who was running for political office for a small position on a county board. A newspaper was doing a routine check on the candidate and found out that he was once a member of the Ku Klux Klan. The man had turned his life around, but the newspaper knew running this story would end his political career. They did not know whether to publish the story or not when they dug deeper and found that he was actually an FBI informer in the Klan. With this bit of information the newspaper wasn't sure what story to print because his being in the FBI was classified information and if printed, could endanger him. So if they printed the story about him being in the KKK it would only be partially true. The man ended up dropping out of the race so no story was ever printed.

The main issue in this story is what is ok to print when the consequence could mean the cost of someone's safety. The other issue is if it is acceptable to print only a partial truth. Either way, the newspaper had to consider the effect of the story on the man's political campaign and also his life. At the heart of all of this is what the public deserves to know and what it meant if the paper dismissed the story. What mattered more--this information being released to the public, or the man's life?

Julie said...

Sensitive News Topic Group: Julie, Chloe, Sean, and Ericka

Case Study: Colorado media’s option play
Most passed; did they also fumble?

This case focuses on a star football player getting his coach's daughter pregnant, while this player is dying of cancer and the two weren't planning to be married. A local paper broke the story and pushed it farther by saying that the coach couldn't control his own team or his daughter. None of the other papers would go near the story even though they had known about it for a while. The coach was upset because they're attacking his beliefs, his family, and his player.

So the big question is should the paper have reported on this very personal issue? While it is a journalists duty to seek truth and report it, this is an incredibly sensitive topic and very personal. We don't think this should have been covered and that opinion is shared by the other papers in the area who wouldn't touch this issue. We're backing this up by using what our text says on page 69 "the harm prevented does not out weigh the harm done." This was reported on in a very unprofessional way by using nameless source, and by not respecting the privacy of the family during this difficult time. The daughter is not a public figure, her father is. No newspaper should bring a coach down because of a decision made by someone in his family.

John said...

Military Issues group: John, Ben, and Ruben.

Case study: Rallying ’round the flag:
The press as U.S. propagandists.

Journalists all over the country have been supporting the war and showing their patriotism by wearing ribbons and pins, and printing full page american flags in color. Author Deni Elliott believes journalist should instead report on the harsh realities of the war, like the bombs that miss their target and the civilians that get killed and impact of the war here at home when soldiers are brought home either injured (both physically and mentally) or dead.

Howie Good said...

There's a bit of problem with this case; she's referring to the first Gulf War. I have no problem with you doing a similar case, but ti should be from the current war in Iraq and Afghanistan, I would think.

Leah said...

We chose "For Personal Reasons" under Invasion of Privacy. A gray sedan was pulled over by a deputy. The deputy was surprised to find out that it was Mark Whitfield, the Medina County commissioner, because he was wearing a blond wig, heavy makeup and lipstick. He was stopped because he was the suspect of a burglary call received by the deputy. The commissioner was taken home to change and then brought in to the police station to question. There were no charges filled either any arrest made. However, Whitfield’s secret was out. A reporter found out about his problem, and wanted to report it. He was given the weekend to tell his family and the story was to appear in the Beacon Journal on a Tuesday. On Monday he resigned for “personal reason” given this situation the reporter didn’t publish the article. This was the right thing to do because he was no longer a public figure so that now his right of privacy were stringer than the peoples right to know. This case raises a very strong ethical issue, where do you draw the line between people’s right to know and an individual’s right to privacy. It is unethical for journalist to use the “people’s right to know” as an excuse to invade peoples private lives. The journalist made the right decision by not covering the story because he was not a public figure anymore he was now a citizen, with complete right to privacy.

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.