Teaching Notes

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

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good Work

Please respond to question #3 under ABSENCE OF MALICE on page 167 of our text. Deadline for your response is before noon on Thursday, Oct. 2.

27 comments:

Nicole said...

With my personal experience at both work and school, technical excellence tends to get the most attention. Working at a restaurant, my managers praise myself and the other employees whenever we do a good job setting up the dining room, organize the shelves, or do a good job cleaning up and closing down at night. Usually if we get into a situation with a customer or another employee that involves morals, our managers follow “the customer” is always right and just ignore our sides of the situation. At school, however, it isn’t as bad, but most of the time Professors will lean towards the students that do better on tests or that hand in their work before or on time. I’ve had Professors who never took the time to care and bother asking why a report or assignment was handed in late, even if it was a serious situation.

Although I’m sure that both my managers and my Professors deep down inside want to care and want to let us know they care, it’s the technical excellence that will get us somewhere. Being morally right in their eyes might be a good thing, but it doesn’t show as well on a resume or transcript as maybe 5 years of experience or a 3.7 GPA.

As for myself, I sort of find myself mixing the two together. I won’t go out of my way to do something morally wrong to get a good grade or do well at work. I’ll put my priorities in line and usually work and school come first. Instead of going out the night before a test, I’ll stay home and study. If I know I’m closing the restaurant, I won’t skimp out cleaning and leave it for the morning girl to finish up.

Joseph said...

After thinking about this question for a while, I have come to the conclusion that moral excellence has no effect on if someone is considered a good worker. I defiantly think that in today’s world results is what matters. The road to that point is not important. Not saying that morals are not important, it just seems that it does not hold the same weight in this generation. To be honest what impresses me is the final product knowing how he or she got there really does not effect me. However, if I did find out that someone used questionable judgment to get to the position they are in now, I would think twice about that person, but I feel that most people would agree as long as they were not the victim of this immoral behavior they would not feel connected to the issue and ultimately would be okay with that person.

I wish that moral behavior was higher on importance of overall work ethics and skills, but we live in fast paced world. Questioning whether something is the correct ethical decision could leave you in someone dust. In my own experience, especially trying to break into the world of film, ethics and morals are the last thing on their minds. After doing a bunch of internships and random jobs, the way you get ahead is by not having any alliances or attachments to your fellow co-workers, but show how your skills and personal style is what is needed. To impress the “higher ups” sometimes takes you to do questionable jobs, so that you stand out above the people who couldn’t do it. I am not saying I enjoy this, but they sign the checks.

However, I do feel that school is a different story. If you need to cheat and lie to get ahead and to get good grades, then you will never make it. Lying and cheating will maybe get you in the door, but when they find out that you don’t actually know anything because you cheated all those years, they will slam that door right back in your face. You go to school to improve on your weaknesses, not just to tell people that you went to school.

Zuri said...

In my own experience and from what I have seen technical excellence gets more attention than moral excellence. Getting something done or completing a task has more precedence than how it was completed. A perfect example of where I have seen this was at my internship this summer. There were 11 interns and there was that one intern that all the producers loved but all the other interns hated. He would do cut throat things to make himself look better in the eyes of the producers. Did it matter to the producers? No.What mattered to them was that he was getting the job done. And to them he was a efficient, competent, reliable and an overall good intern.

This just goes to show the kind of society and culture that we live in. We focus on the finish product and not how it was made. It makes one wonder which is really more important. If technical excellence gets more precedence one might think that being moral and doing the ethical thing is pointless because it doesn't matter.

For me personally, I think that both go hand in hand. I want to obtain technical and moral excellence. I think that I achieve technical excellence by being moral and ethical in my decisions and choices that I make. I don't see myself nor do I put one over the other. It is important to me to do the right thing.

For example,this summer when the intern was deceiving and trying to over shadow the other interns I just made it my responsibility to do what I needed to do. And I made sure that I was making ethical decisions. And in the end it paid off. Yes, the other intern got his shine but at the end of the day I knew that I didn't step on any toes and I had nothing to be ashamed of.

katrina said...

I work in a boutique where the owners REALLY push sales. I get a lot of pressure from them to be on customers' asses and to tell them they look absolutely fabulous in whatever they're trying on. Here's where technical excellence prevails for me: I get the sale, even if I had to exaggerate my compliments to the customer, and I look good to my bosses. I don't really feel any remorse for this kind of work ethic since it's the nature of my job... and the people shopping in my store usually have way too much money to throw around anyway.

But in my journalism classes it's another matter.The nature of the work is not to exaggerate but to tell the truth. Here I think moral excellence wins out. I think it's because if you do something stupid and immoral like making up quotes or plaigarizing, you're likely to get caught, and your reputation goes down the drain, thus cancelling anything technically excellent you may have turned out. The workplace could be a completely different story. I've never had an experience like Zuri had (probably because I've yet to get an internship) however, so I may be in for a rude awakening when I start an internship or job.

Moral excellence is more important to me in terms of writing because I think it leads you to technical excellence, even if the road to respect is longer.

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

I would definitely have to say that technical excellence is what leads many to success. People who lack ability, but always do morally correct things rarely, if ever, get the same praise. You rarely hear a boss saying, "Well he never got anything done...but we didn't fire him because he was a really good person." There are of course those who always get by, but technical excellence is what gets recognition.

Unfortunately, especially in journalism, "technical excellence" can be achieved without the incorporation of moral excellence. On paper, what a certain journalist has achieved, such as getting a good story, may seem great, but their ways of obtaining it is not really "good work." Not that I consider it to really be technical excellence if it was achieved immorally, but many never see the immoral ways people act.

I also agree that I tend to mix the two. I strive to be moral in everything I do and I will not be immoral to achieve my goals, but I do strive for technical excellence. I want to do well on tests and be a good employee and receive praise for it. People, including myself, get rewarded for doing well technically. Doing well in school and exercising my technical skills is what will help me to succeed and one day get a good career. I intend to be moral along the way, but I feel that it will be the technical skills I'll have to show to get anywhere.

Laurent said...

I think technical excellence is preferred over moral excellence both in the work place and at school. I agree with Joseph’s comment that “results” are what matter to most employers in such a “fast paced society.” Workers and their employers don’t stop to evaluate their actions because of the “time is money” philosophy. Strong work skills get the job done, but the process of how it gets done is irrelevant.

I have encountered this situation twice in a news room as an intern. The editor wanted me to interview a man doing an art project to raise awareness for AIDS. Little did I know, the man had AIDS himself. As I was interviewing him about his project, he blatantly told me he was afflicted with the disease. Instead of being sympathetic to the situation and reacting to it, I ignored his statement in fear of approaching unchartered territory. Being sixteen years old at the time made me feel uncertain about discussing something so personal, but it was relevant to the story. When I went back to the news room, I asked several reporters about it, but ethics wasn’t mentioned. They didn’t seem to care that this man may have thought I was indifferent to his situation. Technically I got all the answers I needed, but morally I was left feeling confused and upset over the situation. I believe I came off as a reporter only there to make a name for herself.

Two honor society students I knew from high school landed in hot water when one student produced a plagiarized paper and the other was caught cheating on a spelling test. Both were verbally reprimanded, but no other consequences followed. It was slap on the hand and they were home free. They were rewarded for bad behavior by being allowed to stay on honor society. I believe because both boys were officers on the honor society, the advisor overlooked their shortcomings. However, other students got kicked off due to cheating and no appeals were made. There was a conflict of interest present and the fact that she preferred their technical skills as honor society officers.

There has to be a balance of both moral and technical excellence. You can’t have one without the other. A person should be able to do their job in a punctual manner without resorting to lying, cheating, stealing, etc. to make gains for themselves. I should be able to give an editor a story that was produced through honest work. In the chapter, addressing oneself as a reporter, using official sources and treating those sources respectfully can help produce good work. It is an obligation as a reporter to give the public a story that is free of deception. A reporter is the face of the newspaper and there is only one chance to get the story right.

Kilani L. said...

The personal experience that I have had with both work and school leads me to believe that technical excellence definitely gets more attention than moral excellence.
When I worked in a legal aid office, I was praised for the work I did(organization, data entry, etc.) My supervisors praised me for the final outcome. They were focusing on the technical excellence rather than the moral excellence. They didn't praise me for the long, work-filled hours where I didn't cut corners and did what was asked of me. What they noticed was the finished product.

I think it's so much easier for people to recognize technical excellence. Nowadays I feel as though moral excellence isn't even thought about when something is deemed as "good work." Society seems as though it is only concerned with getting the job done, versus the methods used to get the job done.

However, with school, I think that there is an overall feeling that moral excellence, supercedes technical excellence.I think that most teachers and professors are in a way, trying to help their students to become ethically sound individuals (no plagiarism, "do your best", etc). In courses such as this one and other journalism courses,moral excellence is a must otherwise failure is probably a doorknock away. Most educators will praise their students if they worked hard and did their best even if the final product isn't the best work. The education system seems to have a higher standard for what is "good work."

Personally I think that technical and moral excellence are equally important. There needs to be a balance of the two. I know that many times I have taken shortcuts to get the work done, whatever it may have been. However in the end, I felt a little guilt because I knew that I didn't do the best job that i could, in terms of moral excellence. I wasn't as thorough as I could've been.

Jess said...

I believe that in school technical excellence gets the most attention. Getting good grades, meant that you were a “good” student, and therefore a “good” person. Very rarely did people in my school get attention or acknowledgment for being a moral kid, it was the Valedictorians, the Salutatorians and the extraordinarily talented athletes who were in the limelight. It was not who you were morally, it what you did, technically that got you the respect of administrators and the whole town.

Personally, I’ve always been the type of person who would do what I was suppose to, get good grades, but there were times that I that would go up to my instructor if they miscalculated and gave me a higher grade then I deserved. People would look at me like I was crazy, and the instructor would be shocked to see someone so “honest” as they would put it. It was just how I was raised, never to accept anything unless you did the work and deserved the reward.

I do not think that one excellence should outrank the other. They should both automatically be hand in hand, and you cannot have “good work” without one or the other. I just do not think that I would live with myself if I lied or cheated to get ahead, even if I would receive many benefits of being well known. I suppose that in the “real world,” people will go to extremes and do no matter to get ahead and get what they want. But, most of the time it backfires and they end up with more problems than they had to start. It is more important in my opinion to do what is the right thing, instead of taking a short cut to try to get on top.

Gina Marinelli said...

I believe it is technical excellence that wins the most attention when it comes to both school and work. Many times, those who are in charge, such as bosses or teachers, usually only can judge work based on the final project and therefore may not even see if the work is both technically and morally sufficient. In any competitive work environment, tasks and assignments must be completed even if it means cutting corners or overlooking questionable morals. However, especially for myself, there is no real sense of accomplishment in knowing that the work you have produced is at the expense of your character.
For almost three years I have worked at Victoria’s Secret. My managers (not all, but definitely a particular few) only notice the final product of any workday. They want big sales and most importantly, to sign a customer up for their very own Victoria’s Secret credit card. While I can’t recall any major moral dilemmas that I had to deal with, I know that in any competitive sales environment it’s definitely possible to cross the line between good salesmanship and dishonest sales tactics. After all, I know I have definitely pushed someone to buy something that may have not looked so great on them or urged a young girl to sign up for a credit card that could run up a balance she may not be able to pay off.
In a school environment, the pressure to technically excellent work may also cross an ethical line. For example, in high school I would barely do assigned readings and handed in papers that were either recycled from a past assignment or filled with b.s. writing that hardly reflected by best efforts. Even though I would generally receive good grades, I wasn’t really proud or felt I earned it.
Even though technical excellence may gain more recognition, moral excellence is much more important and personally fulfilling. “Good” work is produced when both are met, even in an environment which can tempt us to choose one or the other.

Julie said...

I have to answer this questions in two parts because I consider school and my job in to be two different aspects of my life.
I work in retail, specifically at a technology store. At this job, hands down, my technical excellence gets the most attention, strictly because I really don't know anything about technology. I pretty much am just the cashier, but I'm expected to know things and try to persuade people into buying extra things that they don't really need. I find this kind of immoral, but I need to make money so I do it. However, there are aspects of the job that I do find my moral excellence getting attention. As I mentioned I'm not very computer savvy, so if a customer comes in and asks for a special part that I'm not sure about, instead of selling them the wrong thing I ask my manager to help me. Technical excellence is always more prevalent when working for a corporation that functions on commission based pay. The sales associates are supposed to act as a team, yet we all have to compete with each other for sales so we get paid more. It's pretty ridiculous.

In school however, I find that moral excellence gets the most attention, especially in journalism classes. When I am given an assignment where I need to go out and interview people I need to actually go out and do that, not make something up and then pass it off as a real interview because I'm lazy. Also, in terms of missing a class or not handing in assignments on time it's my moral responsibility to be honest with professors and classmates about certain situations. There are also times when technical excellence does get attention. For example if a professor is focusing strictly on the length of a paper rather than the content, it's obvious that that paper will have a lot of fluff in it just to get it to that word limit.
I guess this says that both moral and technical excellence are important to do "good work" depending on what your profession is. I personally feel that moral excellence is more important in any field of work, especially journalism, even if it is not practiced as much in modern times. As shown in the movie "Absence of Malice" a reporter focuses more on technical excellence and eventually it becomes a moral dilemma for her. In almost every job there comes a time when you need to make an ethical or moral decision whether it be giving a hamburger that fell on the floor to a customer at McDonald's or whether or not to submit information from an anonymous source. Making good moral decisions at work makes you a good worker, in my opinion. We are all faced with these decisions every day and what can define you as a good and honest worker is the way you go about handling them.

Brittany O'Hara said...

In my experiences in life so far technical excellence gets the most attention in my work and school environment work in a department store and my entire job is getting people to sign up for credit cards and to get customers to buy things they do not need.When I am working regularly we have weekly meetings on new gimmicks and different ways to get more money into the owners hands.The more credit cards that you get people to sign up for the more praise you will get from the managers. When I am not trying to get people to sign up for credit cards I am walking around trying to "assist" people in there shopping. I know when I am shopping I really do not like to be bothered by some employee so I get so embarrassed when I am the one bothering someone. At these weekly meetings the managers give us new things to try and get the customers to do things they really don't want too. If we ask any questions they will usually get annoyed. One time I asked them "well, people lately have been asking me if there are any benefits to having a charge card with this store"...my manager told me to say "yea... just tell them whatever sounds good that day...coupons, rewards,etc." After that meeting I never asked anyone to sign up for a credit card again. think in the work place people are not concerned about how they get somewhere only on where they want to get.

In school technical excellence also gets the most attention with most professors. There are a select few who will look at each student individually when problems arise,etc. In todays education system it is all about the grade on the paper. The students are so worried about each and every grade because those grades are what are going to determine the rest of there life. When things come to a level like that it pushes many students to do whatever they have to in order to get that certain grade, morally right or not.

I feel like in both environments people want us to be morally right but the way the world is today they can not help but put more attention on technical excellence. Your technical excellence is what people can see on paper and that it what is most important in todays world. I think overall it is pretty depressing that there is just so much pressure on people to succeed that it has driven people to be immoral.

I find myself mixing the two of these together but more more of the technical excellence is within in me now. I do everything I can to be a moral person in my school and work and just life in general. I do know the importance of how you look on paper so I will work hard to make sure it looks good but I wont do anything immoral to look better.

Brittany O'Hara said...

In my experiences in life so far technical excellence gets the most attention in my work and school environment work in a department store and my entire job is getting people to sign up for credit cards and to get customers to buy things they do not need.When I am working regularly we have weekly meetings on new gimmicks and different ways to get more money into the owners hands.The more credit cards that you get people to sign up for the more praise you will get from the managers. When I am not trying to get people to sign up for credit cards I am walking around trying to "assist" people in there shopping. I know when I am shopping I really do not like to be bothered by some employee so I get so embarrassed when I am the one bothering someone. At these weekly meetings the managers give us new things to try and get the customers to do things they really don't want too. If we ask any questions they will usually get annoyed. One time I asked them "well, people lately have been asking me if there are any benefits to having a charge card with this store"...my manager told me to say "yea... just tell them whatever sounds good that day...coupons, rewards,etc." After that meeting I never asked anyone to sign up for a credit card again. think in the work place people are not concerned about how they get somewhere only on where they want to get.

In school technical excellence also gets the most attention with most professors. There are a select few who will look at each student individually when problems arise,etc. In todays education system it is all about the grade on the paper. The students are so worried about each and every grade because those grades are what are going to determine the rest of there life. When things come to a level like that it pushes many students to do whatever they have to in order to get that certain grade, morally right or not.

I feel like in both environments people want us to be morally right but the way the world is today they can not help but put more attention on technical excellence. Your technical excellence is what people can see on paper and that it what is most important in todays world. I think overall it is pretty depressing that there is just so much pressure on people to succeed that it has driven people to be immoral.

I find myself mixing the two of these together but more more of the technical excellence is within in me now. I do everything I can to be a moral person in my school and work and just life in general. I do know the importance of how you look on paper so I will work hard to make sure it looks good but I wont do anything immoral to look better.

Doron Tyler Antrim said...

Certainly, technical excellence gets the most attention at both work and school.

In an academic setting, grades are paramount, and students are more often judged by what they can put on paper rather than the measure of their character. A student who cheats on tests or projects and are not caught, can be awarded the same grade as a student who is honest in performing the same task. To every observer, the two students are on the same level. However, this is obviously not the case.

In a professional setting, the circumstances are similar. A boss or superior doesn't often question whether an employee followed some sort of moral guidelines in completing a task or assignment. I think most are concerned primarily with the final product.

This seems to suggest that as dimensions of good work, technical excellence is of greater importance than moral excellence.

Although technical excellence is important and should be emphasized, moral excellence is of greater importance to me. When I perform or create something with a high level of technical excellence, I feel good. However, if while doing this I fail to meet my obligation of moral excellence, I feel as if I've cheated in some way. (Maybe because I have.) Even if my failing to exercise moral excellence is never exposed, I will always live with the burden of doing "bad" work.

Brianna said...

Its almost difficult to practice moral excellence in both work and scholastic situations.
On a very basic level—it is technical excellence that is met with a good SAT score, a good grade, a nice GPA, a big fat A. Teachers expectations for technical excellence among their students, in come cases, goes as far as taking away from the student’s moral intent. This means, come on, nobody (unless you’re malicious by nature) actually likes cheating, walking all over people, taking short cuts, plagiarizing, sucking up, or other cliché ways of morally misbehaving to get to the top.
Someone mentioned earlier in the blog the notion of handing in a lengthy paper, and getting a good grade merely because of the massive size. There was a physics teacher in my high school who was Known for grading this way. Kids in the grade above me would put inappropriate things in the middle of their 18 page long lab reports—curses, pictures hidden in diagrams—no joke—to prove the teacher was not even reading that far into it. The whole phenomenon of kids cheating in high school, and further in college, comes from such a high demand for technical excellence. There are handfuls of students who take unprescribed prescription medications to help concentrate and study harder, or write a paper more efficiently. Is this moral? No. Is it rewarded in the long run… Ah hah!
The better the paper- the better the grade, a student would much rather plagiarize to get a guaranteed A than to try their darndest with absolutely no outside help with the possibility of a lower grade. This is of course an extreme case, but also consider the thought of students cheating off people next to/around them in a test environment. This can’t feel good! Nobody wants to have to do that. In fact, for anyone whose ever been stuck in that situation, it actually feels pretty shitty. Once again, high demand for technical evidence leading to immoral behavior. Moral excellence in some scholastic situations is impossible to sense a hint of.
Learning about all this in media ethics now kind of makes me cringe about the cheating that I saw and experienced in my high school classroom settings. First of all, cheating is not an individual crime, its not a one man operation. I had a certain science class in high school I’m pretty sure at least half the class had the same copies of the answers from the round of kids who took the tests it in the morning. I didn’t cheat for the, I guess kind of dorky, worry that I’d get caught and in trouble. But I was friends with some of the kids who were cheating. I’d never ever think to tell on them. Honestly, it took this question for this blog in this media ethics class for me to even contemplate how immoral my 10th grade chemistry class behaved! Anyway, what I’m trying to get to is the fact that the morally correct thing to do in the situation is to not cheat, and maybe go as far as to telling the other students they’re wrong and alerting the teacher. That is really hard to picture happening. I have never told on anyone for cheating, or even lectured them or judged them for doing it. Does it make me morally un-excellent? Is practicing moral excellence and technical excellence really the equivalent of comparing right and wrong?
Work situations especially demand technical excellence. I personally have always found myself in jobs where the demand for technicality is to such an extent that I can’t be myself. I’m pretty sensitive- I don’t like telling people what to do, I don’t like confrontation, and I don’t like talking down to people. At one job one night, when I was new at waiting tables, I was training a girl even newer than me. The night was slow and a few hours into the shift a loud nosy table of this girl’s friends came in. They all proceeded to order complicated dishes, got free drinks, and other free sides that should have been charged. The chef’s were all rolling their eyes at the new girls behavior. She sat down at the table with her friends, and acted like a customer even though she was in her work uniform. Customers started to come in, and I could handle the tables without her, so I didn’t say anything to her. She was with her friends and I didn’t want to be the bossy witch ordering her to get back to work.
It haunted me even when I left work, because I didn’t have the guts to do the technically right thing, which of course would’ve been telling her how unprofessional and inappropriate she was acting (especially since I was “training her”). Because, by my moral calculator, or I guess my little internal voice saying “you don’t want this girl to think you’re a bitch”- I had to wait every single table. It even seems like people in some workplaces can smell moral excellence, or pure niceness and good intentions, from a mile away, and see it as a weakness. I guess its safe to say that technical excellence will get the job done, and get you to the top. But its no way of making friends, or staying friendly. Sometimes, you need to sacrifice your very comfort to succeed in a workplace. Moral excellence and good will get thrown out the window in some dog-eat-dog work situations. In the story I just wrote about work, its as if my morals were in my way of having an easier night at work…
Its tough to swallow. As I’ve been writing this, I’ve been making all kinds of crazy little discoveries, connections, and I’m even afraid what I’ve come across in my own thoughts is so complex/but at the same time so simple/ that I haven’t gotten in down in words correctly. By reading this question in a chapter of a textbook, I’ve realized that it is technical (and often times this means immoral) excellence that gets helps you achieve success in both the work place and in school. When I first approached the question, I thought I’d be writing about experiences in both cases. Not to say moral excellence is never recognized or rewarded, I’ve just had to come to the realization that its hard for me to remember a time when I practiced moral excellence and it helped me succeed or get further. Where do our priorities lie?
My priorities have always been structured by my morals, whether I can help it or not. In a society where it is clear that the other extreme is what will get attention and benefits, its empowering to know that I naturally feel better and more satisfied when I practice morals—do something the hard way, earn every grade, or be nice to people in the work place even- even when they’re not planning to be nice back. That is who I am.
A little anecdote about the kids who cheated with copies of the answers in my 10th grade chem. class- almost every single one of them failed the Chemistry Regents at the end of the year because None of them knew how to do ANY chemistry. The teacher was baffled…

Howie Good said...

All these stories about cheating in school and on the job ought to make us realize that the setting in which we work contributes considerably to lapses in an individual's moral judgment and actions. In other words, none of this happens in a vacuum (would Megan have been a better reporter if she had a better editor and worked in a better newsroom overall? no doubt).

I also can't help but think of the chaos on Wall Street as an example of what happens when technique becomes the only criterion in deciding what's good work.

Thereal2008 said...

In my personal experience, technical excellence gets the most attention.

I was an assistant manager at a department store not very long ago. I obtained the position after 2 months of being a sales associate, in a way that I would like to call “moral excellence.” I followed all the rules, and did exactly what was asked of me by my supervisor. Shortly after, things started going wrong in the work place and I knew it was because of a group of workers. I approached my supervisor on several occasions about the problems we were having, but they insisted on doing nothing. Because the numbers were up and things were done correctly at the end of the night, they said nothing. The core of the store was becoming greatly unorganized, but for some reason my supervisor just didn't’t see it. A short while after, I quit because I felt the bosses priorities were a little fucked up; just because things were done at the end of the night and numbers were good, I didn’t think they should look the other way and ask me to turn my head and not do the job that I was hired to do, the right way! I recently found out every employee that worked with me including my supervisor are now without a job. I say all this because, yes sometimes, maybe most times technical excellence gets the most attention, but in the end moral excellence goes even farther.

For me, moral excellence will always be the most important, just because I believe that if you’re morally excellent, then you’re not just being technically excellent, but you’re being absolutely excellent! People should stop looking at and for results and start looking from the core of what is right, and in the end you should see results. That’s how I look at it and always have, and thus far, looking at it this way has never steered me wrong.

Jesse Ordansky said...

In my own experience, it seems as though technical excellence is more important than moral excellence in the workplace and at school.

I have worked many jobs from dishwashing, to cooking, to retail, to media promotion, and the most important thing is always an exemplary final product. When working in kitchens, I learned that sometimes dishes can be cleaned with a dirty kitchen rag instead of going through the dishwasher. In a stressful environment cutting corners is almost expected, but I never thought about compromising a customer’s health for the sake of a quicker meal.

My high school experience also seemed to encourage accomplished ends without emphasis on means. Good grades were good grades no matter how they were obtained. In college, good grades are still a goal, but the importance of the path to good grades is more apparent.

I feel as though the lack of moral excellence in the workplace and in school can be accredited to the atmosphere and the players involved. When a prep cook gets orders from a head chef to do something, he/she does it regardless of its ethical implications. This appeasement of leaders occurs out of necessity – if you do not answer to your boss you might be out of a job. Public school also seems to harbor a lack of moral excellence. Masses of adolescents being in an academic atmosphere for 6 hours a day can encourage competition. Competition can, in turn, lead to things like cheating or other immoral behavior. These unethical acts then get validated when a student receives praise for his stellar technical excellence (good grades).

In my work experience, technical excellence has been more important than moral excellence. This is only the case because I have been encouraged to compromise moral excellence for technical excellence by my superior(s). In my journalistic works and in school however, neither technical nor moral excellence is more important. For me, a good grade would be tainted if I compromised moral excellence for an exceptional outcome.

tthomp said...

Based on experience, technical excellence has been more rewarded more overall. In high school it was strongly apparent that if you get good grades, and do well on the SATs that you were set. It didn't matter that the girl behind me in European History was using answers written out on a gum wrapper. Come graduation she had the higher GPA, and she was going to college with a full ride.
In the professional realm, it is also clear that technical excellence is awarded. My first job I worked at, my boss would comment how amazing it was that I could pick up the job so easily, and effectively. The moral excellence of not discuss patients files never truly arose for discussion, even though I worked for a doctor's office.
Even though its not encouraged, personally, doing moral excellence without technical excellence is not doing "good work." Technical excellence is all well in good, but still its like the overall picture. The moral aspect of "good work" is the small road on the way to the bigger picture. Some people will or won't pave their road with good intentions, and good morals.

With this image in mind of the road, I aim to agree with the author. You can't have one form of excellence without the other. The whole significance of "good work" chokes.

Nick Guzman said...

It is true in every profession that technical excellence is rewarded, while moral excellence is awarded. While no one has yet made this distinction between reward and award I feel as if it’s the base of this whole debate. What is the difference between a reward and award? While both are accompanied by a sense of achievement and significance, only the reward has true value in a workplace.
Regardless of the industry, there are rewards and awards, and although the both signify excellence, there are two different notions supporting each. With the reward, workers are being compensated for the ends, not necessarily the means to which the end was reached. Using current day Wall st. as an example, the bankers who built this crisis were rewarded through their salary and bonuses. However, in hindsight, what were the means required to reach those ends? The reward of their technical swindling skill is still present though, even if it is proved to be unwarranted.
An award though is less valued. You could become “employee of the month” and although that implies technical skill, it isn’t rewarded. Futhermore, awards are given for the means by which the ends are met. So although a worker had the worst sales figures for a month, he did everything by the book, so he is employee of the month: a moral example but not necessarily a technical example. Beyond that award where is the incentive? Even if he did everything right he still got the worst sales figures, figures which wont be rewarded.

Alyssa D'Angelo said...

In my personal life I tend to pay attention to moral excellence more than technical excellence. When I apply this concept to work I look at past waitresses who were perceived as "the best" because of there skill. I work at a diner, and being a fast waitress who keeps the customers coming is basically what the boss is looking for, that is technical excellence. However there a number of these technically excellent waitresses who in the end wind up being fired for stealing. This past summer a waitress who worked between seventy and eighty hours a week was fired because she was caught in a long term scam where she had been stealing for years. It was my roll to pick her the slack and take on a lot of extra hours. Now I am more than a technically competent waitress, after all it takes half a brain and a little bit of care to be a waitress ( thats a personal philosophy of mine) All summer my boss would yell at me and pressure me every time I made a mistake, as small as it may have been, and I left work very often upset, I wasn't losing customers, and more importantly I wasn't stealing. I do value technical excellence, but I think my work ethic shows that I value Moral excellence even more so.

Aside from work, I would consider school as well. I think its easier to look at High School, in my experience most of the people in my classes cheated on tests. the would prepare to cheat on the test instead of actually preparing for the test. If you compared my grades to the others in the class mine were always a bit lower, but what mattered to me was that I earned my grade with out cheating. I was more concerned with moral excellence.

I think nicole makes a really good point about school and grades. Especially in college, and after college, no one cares that you were morally excellent in getting your grades. If you cheat on tests and never get caught, all any one will know is your GPA. Writing that you were morally excellent and got a 2.5 during your undergraduate degree does not matter when it is compared to someone who has a 3.0. All that matters is the number. Even professors can sometimes put morality on the back burner. I have had plenty of professors that do not care how hard you tried, or how many hours you spent studying, or how hard you try in class. All they care about is the number, which in turn can force us to put morality on the back burner and just get good grades. I am not saying that I have resorted to cheating on tests, just that I will be the person with a slightly lower GPA who can also write morally excellent on my resume. Unfortunately that will not matter.

There are times I am not completely content with the outcome of a situation however if I know in my head that 'I did the right thing' I can honestly say that is what matters most to me.

JoshWhite said...

I think that in school, both sets of "good work" are asked of us. In every class there is always a harsh penalty for immoral behavior, such as cheating. While immoral behavior still occurs widely among students, it is still stressed vehemently.

Work is another story. I work at a restaurant as a server. I think that at a restaurant it would be immoral of the servers to touch food without either washing their hands or using gloves, yet it became a routine practice to do so when in a rush. The technical standards of this restaurant were higher than most others due to the exclusivity of the wealthy clientele. Things needed to be done perfectly. When the evening rush came, the servers and managers would, for example, pick up a piece of chocolate cake with their hands and put it on a plate.

This obviously shows the difference between different people's definitions of "good work." I think that both components, technical excellence and moral excellence, should be weighed together and should be stressed equally.

In my personal life, I definitely put moral excellence above all else. When I was in junior high school, I broke a promise to a friend and it upset her beyond what I could have ever imagined. As a result, I make it a staple of my conduct to never break promises (especially when I use the wording "I promise"). I would rather be broke and have value in my word than be a rich scoundrel.

ZK said...

From my personal experiences at work and school, moral excellence tends to receive the higher praise. To the managers and bosses i've worked for in the past, being an honest and moral person was more important than learning the techniques of the profession. In school, technical excellence equals to good grades, and a good gpa, yet getting good grades doesn't necessarily make you a good student. At the end of the day, your grades are what matters on paper, but being a moral and ethical person stays with you outside of the classroom and into the real world.

In order to be truly do "good work" a person has to maintain both technical and moral excellence. Employers look for individuals who can follow the rules of the trade, while practicing moral and ethical behavior.

From past readings in this book, I've learned that moral excellence is valued somewhat more than technical excellence in the newsrooms. Even good journalists and reporters cut corners and sometimes deceive in order to get the story. Yet, it's the great journalists who don't harm or jeopardize the lives of innocent people in process of seeking the truth.

ChrisDT said...

In my experience, I believe that technical excellence tends to get more attention than moral excellence. When I worked in Stop and Shop deli, I remember how my bosses would preach how the customer should never be disgruntled on our causes. So those workers who appeased the customers and got good reports from customers were the deli workers who were praised. Never did they question the methods of those workers, like the ones who would switch roast beefs so lower priced items were sold for higher prices (and sometimes the opposite).

This same theory applies to those in school. Good grades are followed with praise in all ages and years of education. But in journalism, moral excellence thrives. The story may not be perfect, but when a person uses all the checks and balances of ethics to correctly gather all information it shows that there is hope. It at least lets others in their class know that there isn't an unfair playing field like making up or changing quotes.

I feel that life needs to have a balance of moral and technical excellence. I know that I never cheated a customer or a source, and that is good enough for me. And for those that do compromise their ethics, I wish more was done to fix the problem.

ChelseaC said...

In my experience, I think technical excellence is stressed more times than moral excellence. Yes sure there are always those posters that teachers hang up in their classroom that say "stand up for what is right even if you stand alone." But honestly topics like those are never discussed in class. They are always concerned about teaching you the correct information so that you can do well on a test or write a paper correctly. I honestly cannot think of one specific experience in which moral excellence was discussed in class (except in college obviously).
This, to me, says that there is one dimension of "good work" and it is the kind that gets a great grade or perhaps good recognition from your peers and they don't need to know how it was done, all they need to know is that the finished product was fantastic.
Of course moral excellence is way more important than technical. If I really must go into detail why, then I fear for our society as a whole. Generally though, it is better to do the right thing and perhaps not get the honor i wanted and probably rightfully deserved, than to sit on top of my throne knowing I was not true to myself in getting there.

cfinn129 said...

Personally I think this is a difficult question for me. I believe that my personal experiences in the work place have had technical excellence and moral excellence go hand in hand. I never see myself reducing my moral standards to achieve or be rewarded for technical excellence. I do believe though that stereotypically technical excellence is rewarded more. A manager of a retail store is not going to praise an employee for being honest with a customer, that she or he doesn't need a certain item that they are looking at buying. The manager is going to praise the employee for keeping sales up. I can use my personal life experiences to create an example.

I worked in retail for almost six years at the same ski store. Many consider skiing an expensive sport, and the gear to go with it to be expensive. The area that the store was located in was upper class and you could tell by the demographic that would shop in the store. Our managers would always teach us that we need to sell. "Sell, Sell, Sell" the part owners would yell down the main isle in the mornings before we opened. The store was big on ad on selling, which means that if you are getting a coat, well then you need ski pants. I would then ask what they were going to wear under their ski clothing, and then I would point them in the direction of thermals, head bands, hats, gloves, socks, helmets, any thing that would make the sale bigger. I was always praised as being a great seller, and it was because of my technical experience with the merchandise.

Though working there for so long I was also praised with being an honest worker. I never stole, never came in late, and if I was I always called but never told a lie of why I was later. I never called in sick for stupid reasons, and I never told customers lies about products, I was very honest. My boss was a good judge of character and knew when someone was a good person and when they weren't. He would always say "your a good kid Finn" and that is how I know that my morals and technical experience went hand in hand.

As for the question, is one more important than the other? I would have to say no and that for me both play an equal role and should not be looked at as one being more important than the other.

Stephanie said...

In my experiences with work and school it seems to be technical excellence which gets the most attention. In this society we have been trained to compete against each other, and some will try to get ahead at any means necessary. And lets face it, those who get ahead whether it was by ethical means or not, usually get the most attention. I don't think most people know whether or not you have gotten your work done morally or not, therefor they don't care as long as the work gets done.
I personally have never had a job that required anything less than your best slave work, so there was no way of really getting things done with cutting corners. Either your all the money was in the register or it wasn't, either the floor was clean or it wasn't, either you were on time or you were late. In terms of school however it seems a lot easier to get away with a more technical excellence because of all the cheating and plagiarism that happens. I myself never needed to plagarise anything but i am guilty of cheating in some of my classes in high school.
I think that was this says about good work is that it will continue to be good work until proven its not. You cant be around someone all the time to make sure they are doing good moral work, so its a little difficult to tell the difference between technical and moral excellence.
As a person who believes in reporting truth and facts to the public i do think moral excellence is important because i myself wouldnt want another journalist to report false information to me. However if technical excellence will help to get me through a math or science class that i am being forced to take against my own will so i can graduate, then i am also willing to do that as well.

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.