Teaching Notes

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

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Group Project

After meeting and discussing your case, a representative from each group should e-mail me by noon, Tuesday, Sept. 29, the following:

1) What the group sees as the major ethical issue in their case (privacy vs. public's right to know; ends vs. means; truth-telling vs. spin, etc).

2) Whether the group approves or disapproves of how the media acted in the case.

3) What ethical criteria or principles the group intends to use to judge the case (please consult text, notes, and handouts).

Your response should be as complete and clearly written as possible. This will be first specific recorded grade.


Michelle V said...

Cost Cutting Group:

1. We decided it was experience vs. cost. What they save in money by only having new hires they lose in what people with experience bring to the job.
2. We disagree with how they are dealing with this. The medium is losing money and is only speeding up the process of losing customers by firing the best it has to offer. They are saving money at the expence of quality and the benefit of having the knowledge of people with experience.
3. We decided to start by using the Elliot model because we believe it can offer a detailed anayalsis that we can use to explore the case more in depth.

Adrienne W said...

Reality Star Group:

1. The primary problem is the public's right to information vs. privacy of the reality star (whether her sickness should be followed publically)

2. The media was not being unethical by covering her sickness because she never told the media she wanted privacy, and by covering her battle with cancer, more women were reported to have gone out and get tested for cervical cancer. The exposure in this case seemed to have a positive impact on people.
3. The potter Box seems to be the most logical way to explain the case because it will allow us to look at the many facts that need to be presented in the case.

Howie Good said...

on "reality star" case:

how is her situation different than that of stars of other reality shows, such as "my super sweet sixteen"? what makes this one ethically legitimate where others might not be?

Howie Good said...

on the "layoffs" case:

don't forget what code of ethics says the function of journalism is. . . can journalists fulfill it under work conditions emerging in newsrooms today in wake of layoffs and cutbacks?

GrobM said...

To Publish or Not?

1. The Major Ethical Issue is Privacy vs. Publics right to know.

2. Well so far we have 3 out of 4 group members that agree that the media was out of line running this picture. It is not because the picture was too graphic, it is because they went against the families wishes which is just distasteful. Also, Jacobson did not follow the rules of the form she signed while she was embedded. Which says, when taking pictures of casualties, they must be taken at angles so the casualty cannot be identified. There are more problems I will save for further discussion.

3. We can Either use the Bok Model or the Potter Box. Can we use both? As long as they do not contradict each other? We will also use the code of ethics and try to find the form that photographers in Afghanistan are required to sign.

Don't worry we will convert the 4th parties differing views, at least for this project. lol.

Sam Speer said...

Conflict of Interest Group:

1) The main ethical issue that we will address in this case is conflict of interest that sports writers have to deal with when covering a sports team. In our particular case, the New York Times are shareholders of the Boston Red Sox. Murray Chass, a former New York Times writer, talks about the automatic assumption of a bias when he would cover a story of the Red Sox. He brings up a very interesting point, saying that no matter what story he wrote there was a perceived bias. Once a newspaper is at least a minority owner, there is a "built-in bias"… Our ethical issue: Should there be an assumed conflict of interest, when a newspaper owns or partially owns a sports franchise?
2) Three of the four-group members, who were present in the last class, disapprove of The New York Times owning the Boston Red Sox. Journalists from the Times could have biased opinions about Red Sox baseball coverage. Under the code of ethics, journalists have to be free of obligations to any interest other than the public right to know, and have to resist pressures to influence news coverage. Overall, we disapprove how the media acted in this specific case.
3) Given the complexities of the situation, we were thinking of using either the Elliot Model because it offers an in depth analysis or the Potter Box because we can think of all the facts, loyalties, values and principles in order to get a better understanding of the issue and present us with thorough guidelines while applying the code of ethics to choose the best solution.

LindsayArden said...

Obama/Twitter - The Press and Social Networking

1) The major ethical issue in this case is privacy vs. the public's right to know. President Obama made this comment about Kanye West off-the-record to a reporter, only yo have it leaked on Twitter. The reporter may justify that they were attempting to inform the public. However, Obama made the comment during "off-the-record chatter" with a CNBC correspondent, meaning that his statement was not intended for the public.

2) We strongly disapprove of the reporter's actions in this case. He blatantly violated his journalistic duties for the sake of receiving a sensational public reaction. The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists says that reporters should "show good taste" and "avoid pandering lurid curiosity." This reporter's actions completely disregard this element of the code of ethics, as we was spreading gossip about the president.

3) To examine this case, our group could use W.D. Ross's moral theory. The reporter fails to live up to multiple prima facie duties, including (but not limited to) fidelity, justice and nonmaleficence. The Potter Box could also be used to break down the ethical wrongdoings of the journalist in this case.

Howie Good said...

lindsay, julie, vince:

i'm going to disagree and suggest that the social networks and attendant technologies raise broader questions than the one who identify -- 1) are the networks/technologies legitimate reporting tools? (this would depend on how you define legitimate, or ethical, news-gathering and what your definition of news is); and 2) do journalists who resort to their use exemplify ethically responsible journalism as measured by, for example, the SPJ code?

you can use the Obama-Kanye West case, as well as the Times piece on Washington Post's Twitter rules for news staff, as wedges into your analysis.

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.