Teaching Notes

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

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

What Puts the Musk in Muskrat? Courage

Have you ever failed to voice your opinion because you feared the consequences? What was the situation (try to make it a significant one)? Why didn't you have the courage to speak? After reading all the handouts related to Chauncey Bailey and the chapter in the text on crime reporting, please post your response by 4 p.m. Tues., Nov. 3.

(Remember that outlines -- or storyboards, if you're so inclined -- of your presentations are due by Wednesday, Nov. 4, before the start of class.)

29 comments:

Adrienne W said...

After racking my brain, I still really cannot think of one significant instance where I would not have spoken my opinion. I can surely say for a fact that there most likely have been many times where I may not have spoken up because I feared what people would think of my answer, or of me. I would be afraid that my answer may not be what people want to hear, or would be something they would not agree with and would argue with, so instead of arguing I would just keep the comment to myself. I guess I fear what people think of me or my thoughts and that keeps me from voicing them all the time. I know that I generally do this, but I cannot think of a specific significant instance.

Howie Good said...

ever backed down from standing up for what you thought was right? ever do something at work you wish you hadn't because you realized later it was ethically wrong? are you all brave and good all the time? what about cheating at school? or condoning cheating?

Michelle V said...

I work retail so this happens basically everyday. There is always a customer that is trying to get discount, switching tags, moving things to different places to convince us to give them the lower price, returning stolen items or just plain stealing stuff. It's pretty much never ending and impossible to ignore. As much as I would love to speak up and tell them no or to stop them from leaving with stuff it would be exhausting to keep up with and in the end no one would support me anyway. We live in the "customers always right" age and people use that to their advantage. The fight isn't worth it especially if a manager is just going to give them what they want anyway. Are the items that important to me? Of course not, I couldn't care less, but why should I be yelled at everyday so some lady can go tell her friends how she pulled a fast one on the cashier at the store as if it's an accomplishment.

AndreaV said...

I am currently living a sitiuation in which I feel that the actions of others are wrong and I am unable to voice my opinions. My sister is currently going through a divorce, her husband snuck out of their home on a Sunday morning abandoning their children, my niece and nephew. Since that day they have done nothing but torment each other and attempt to prove that they are the "stonger" one. They have been so wrapped up in their lives they have treated their children and family and friends even worse than they treat each other. But I keep my opnion to myself, as they ruin the lives of two smart kids for thier own selfish reasons because atleast I still get to speak to those kids and have some influence on them, this way they know someone is on their side. It also means I keep the peace, with my parents, cousins and grandparents.

GrobM said...

There are a few times where I have bit my tongue, knowing full well it would not make the situation any better if I said something. I was in a public speaking class a few years ago, and my teacher was a bleeding heart liberal. That’s okay, everyone is entitled to their own opinion. Unfortunately, at the time Nancy Pelosi was being sworn in as Speaker of the House. My teacher felt the need to go on and on, and praise this woman. She told us how she is going to change the Bush administration blah, blah, blah. I'm not a rocket scientist, but what does her political views have to do with teaching us how to speak in public? I chickened out, I said nothing swallowed my pride, ignored what she had to say and received a passing grade. The last thing I wanted to do was take public speaking again, just because I mouthed off to her!

Oh by the way... I do not cheat. I am a terrible liar.

GrobM said...

Even if I was a good liar, I know it is wrong to cheat. My whole life I was never able to pull the wool over anybodies eyes. So why try to now?

Howie Good said...

Of course, there's another way to get at the same topic -- have you ever done anything morally courageous? (was chauncey bailey morally courageous -- or just reckless?) is it possible to accomplish anything of significance without having courage? Is there a difference between physical courage and moral courage? What's the role of courage in ethics? All things we'll discuss on Wed.

GrobM said...

I have never heard of physical courage. I always thought courage was mental. What would even be an example of physical courage? I think Bailey is courageous. He liked to uncover things nobody wanted to touch. Unfortunately, he was killed trying to get a story. I don't believe he was reckless, although maybe he should of thought about carrying a gun. If you are trying to uncover the gangs, it would be smart to protect yourself.

Dirty Harry-
I know what you're thinking, punk. You're thinking "did he fire six shots or only five?" Now to tell you the truth I forgot myself in all this excitement. But being this is a .44 Magnum, the most powerful handgun in the world and will blow your head clean off, you've gotta ask yourself a question: "Do I feel lucky?" Well, do ya, punk?

Howie Good said...

the classic example of physical courage is soldier in combat; hollywood offers examples of it in action movies; physical courage is the oldest and most widespread conception of courage; the idea of moral courage is much later in development.

GrobM said...

Would Socrates and Kidwell be examples of moral courage? They both stood up for what they believed in and accepted the punishment eventhough it was not ethical.

Howie Good said...

yes, they are such examples.

nekaiya trotman said...

One of my friends got married straight out of High School because her boyfriend was joining the military. They were both 18 and after they got married they decided that they wanted to start having kids immediately. I thought that getting married at such a young age wasn't the right thing for them to do and that having kids so soon would hinder her from doing anything with her life but I kept my opinion to myself and went to both her wedding and her baby shower when she got pregnant.

I didn't think that it was my place to comment on how she wanted to live her life especially since both of their parents approved and the only people who seemed to have a problem with it was me and a few of our other friends.

I thought that if I said anything about it she would think that I was trying to tell her how to live her life. I thought that she would get mad at me and we would end up fighting so in order to avoid conflict I didn't say anything because I knew she would go through with it anyway.

Allison Sofer Says said...

My example is very similar to Nekaiya's. I have a friend who is from a very small town, and used marriage as a means of escaping right after high school. She did not love her husband, and ended up leaving him and moving in with friends. These friends took advantage of her, and she joined the military in order to escape all the problems she had. I'm usually a very verbal person, and I am not shy when it comes to voicing my opinion. My friend had the ability to hold a grudge and be extremely fickle: she stopped talking to me for a month because I advised her against a tattoo she was going to regret. I bit my tongue in telling her I thought she was making a mistake. I didn't want her to be angry at me before she went away, and I regret it. I should have told her, regardless of the consequences. This is the only example I can honestly think of in terms of not voicing my opinion. I still regret it.

Anonymous said...

Honestly, the most recent time I failed to voice my opinion occurred three weeks ago. I was at the executive board meeting where we plan events for an organization on campus. We were having a conversation about ideas that we should consider for our events and I disagreed with some of them. I understood where the ideas were coming from, however I just thought that we shouldn't put them into action.

The reason why I did not have the courage to respond was because the people with the ideas said that if the members of the organization did not like them then they are "ignorant." At the time, I honestly did not want to deal with two things. The first was being called a name because then it would become something bigger than it should have been and the second thing was being the odd ball who didn't agree.

After I thought about this situation I realized that I should not let someone else's opinion define if I speak up or not. If I feel a certain way, then I should voice it and not be afraid of how others will react to it.

Alyssa said...

I can't remember any times where I held my tongue at important moments. I'm a loud person when the time calls for it. But, I do remember times when I held my tongue because I was uncertain of the answer. During a triva game in High school there was a question no group could get right. I thought I knew the answer but another person in my group answered for us and got it wrong.If I had answered I would have gotten it right, but I held back becuase I didn't want to cause our team to lose points. Sometimes its hard to give your 2 cents in, beacuse you may be wrong or your advice may end up being the wrong advice for someone.I guess fear plays a big role in it, nobody wants to be wrong when it really counts so they say nothing at all.Sometimes your opinion no matter how honest can end badly. I think confidence is needed when your about tell someone something they don't want to hear. Also guts becuase that very same perosn may just walk away from you.

Sam Speer said...

For the most part, I have no problems what so ever voicing my opinions. There are some limitations, because you have to consider the implications your opinion will have on others. You have to know when to voice your opinion, because it can possibly make situations worse or more difficult. For example, I have a Professor who will go unnamed, who takes way to long to grade assignments and stories. The thing that really bothers me is that the professor takes anywhere from 3-4 weeks to grade work, but still assigns plenty of work. Now I have no problem with the professor assigning work, but the fact that it take the professor longer to grade the work then he assigns his students to complete it really bothers me. Now I could speak to the professor about this, but I fear it will affect my standing in the class, so it is best to keep it to myself. After really interpreting the situation, I figured its best to keep it to myself and just suck it up.

Lindsey Claro said...

I had the "pleasure" of taking Journalism last Fall semester during the election chaos. The first half of the semester, the professor completely devoted every class to discussing and writing about the election. Every assignment was writing about the election and the candidates in some way, shape or form. Fine. No problem. However, the classroom served as the perfect platform for her to constantly voice her very firm opinions, to the point where if you harbored a different opinion, you dare not speak up for fear of consequences.

She would often ask if anyone disagreed with her and on the rare occasion someone spoke up, she would not let it go. She would go on and on ranting about why she disagreed with them. Which, I suppose is her right as the Professor, but... it was exhausting and unpleasant. But who am I to complain and say anything after the fact? I never spoke up and voiced my true opinion. Even when completing my assignments, I wrote what I thought she would want to hear. I got an A.

Jaime Prisco said...

Though I consider myself a very outspoken person, I'm ashamed to admit that there have been many times in which I have kept quiet in situations that needed a voice. I remember one in particular when I was in high school. I went to an all girl’s catholic school and it was pretty brutal for some people. There was definitely a "mean girls" type clique and I was lucky enough to not be included in there ranting but I was witness to some of the extremely cruel things they did to other people. There were many times when I had to opportunity to say something but I didn’t because, well, I guess I was afraid they would turn to me and I would then be out-casted. Now that I think of it, it was pretty ridiculous. They weren't even my group of friends and their opinion of me shouldn’t have made a difference but when I was younger I just didn’t want to put myself in the line of fire. However, after a while, I got sick of it and decided to say something. I think it was about senior year and the girls in my school were maliciously picking on a girl with a learning disability. I guess it was just a breaking point for me and I made a comment to them about their insensitivity and cruelness. They all just stared at me and stopped. I can’t say that they stopped forever and I’m pretty sure they talked about me as soon as I left but I realized after that I felt so much better after getting it off my chest that I didn’t care what they had to say. I wish I could say that my comments made a difference in there lives but I’m pretty sure they didn’t. However, voicing my opinion definitely made a difference in mine. It's a pretty cliché example but I still think that it is a powerful one. I think that specific moment has made me the opinionated and outspoken person I became.

JulieMansmann said...

A member of my family had a drinking problem; actually, he probably still has one, I just can't confirm this because I haven't spoken to him in two years. He had always been a "big drinker," and his intoxicated antics became kind of routine at family gatherings and other events. When I was 16 years old, I began to realize that his alcohol consumption was past the point of normalcy. I saw the way he was treating my family members, the fights he incited with strangers in public, the dangerous decisions he was making, so on and so forth. However, I was 16 and I didn't think ti was my place to stand out against an adult family member when no one else seemed to be doing so at the time. I would hint around that maybe he should think about AA, but was always told to "show respect" for my family member. It was also emotionally taxing to come to this realization about my family member. I didn't want to think about someone so close to me in this way. Therefore, I avoided vocalizing what I knew to be truth. Incidents at Super Bowl parties and at barbecues continued to occur, but I bit my tongue. When I turned 18, I finally did speak out, but it was too late - the day I really let it all out, my family member decided to cut all ties to us. I wish I could have spoken to him sooner before he spiraled completely out of control. I can't say that I know he would have gotten help otherwise, but I guess I'll never know.

Colin V. said...

i wish i could find something of significance to mention,but i would like to think then when my opinion mattered or would help the situation, i speak it. im very stubborn that way. but there have been times where i have no said anything because i know it could only exacerbate the situation at hand. things that i find myself very passionate about i will never back down from, i have promised myself that.

i feel that Bailey was a very courageous person, and a little reckless. im sure he know what he was getting himself into, and maybe that added to the excitement of it. the idea of uncovering all this information on a large and colorful crime syndicate is like something out of hollywood. Maybe he also knew that the good of the community was more important to him than other aspects of his life.

also prof. good made a note in the article about a story being worth a life. im honestly not sure if a story is worth a life or not, maybe it depends on what the story is actually about, and who it could help/affect/save. However, i do feel that if you really care about your beliefs, you should be prepared to stand for them no matter what the consequences will be. That is true courage in a nutshell.

Kellie Nosh said...

Voicing my opinion is probably one of my biggest weaknesses because I seem to ALWAYS fear the consequences. I'm more of a lover than a fighter, so I find myself backing down a lot, and I recognize that I should change it. I can't think of a significant example, but I know for a fact that if I know someone is doing something wrong, I feel like I physically can't speak out of fear of what they'll think of me if I disagree with them.

Countless times I've witnessed people I care about do things that are unethical, questionable, or just plain wrong, and I have such a loud opinion in my head, like it's practically screaming at me, but I can't find the courage to say something (anything!) that might make me seem against them.

Vince said...

I remember in my senior year of high school my gym class was split between half seniors and half freshman which is a dangerous combination. There were one or two particular freshman that bared the brunt of the abuse from the seniors, they were targets in dodgeball and in just about every other activity. There were a few occurences in particular that I can remember were someone I knew went out of thier way to assault of embarass one of these kids and I didn't do anything. In addition to me not doing anything, no one else did anything, not even the gym teacher. I'm sure that at the time I was afraid of persecusion from my peers, high school is an unrelenting place for people who go against the norm so I guess I was just trying to perserve my normality.

Patrick Mattei said...

I can't really think of any one big example where I failed to speak my mind, but I'm sure there have been many times where it happened.

The only real example I can think of off the top of my head are political discussions. I'll usually be quiet and keep my opinions to myself should one of these discussions pop up because I don't really care to throw in my thoughts and sometimes I fear that if I do, I'll just be fighting an uphill battle against several other people with conflicting views.

Howie Good said...

has it occurred to anyone else the fact that very few of you can think of an instance where you courageously challenged the status quo is because a great many accept the status quo, no matter foul and messed up it is?

or maybe courage isn't a virtue schools and other institutions don't think is worth inculcating. . . a courageous citizenry would be a real pain in the ass.

Pamela A. said...

I know for a fact that when I comes to speaking with my mother I try to stop myself from voicing my opinions too often. I know this because I find myself thinking about an answer or respond however, not voicing them due to fear of the consequences. I guess I never have to courage to speak because my mother is an old-fashioned woman and does not approve of disrespect. If I spoke against her values or didn't like a rule she considered it to be disrespectful to do anything about it. We had to follow what she said no matter what. In a way, me and my brothers feared her.
Other than my mother, I try to voice my opinion every chance I get.

Colin V. said...

maybe we are all super modest, and what we may think is not a significant moment, many others would disagree.

or maybe we like to pretend those situations didnt happen and forget about the instances when we could have spoken up but didnt, just to hide the shame.

Howie Good said...

Just a reminder that failure to comment on the blog post by deadline and in a substantial fashion will affect your final grade -- and not in a good way.

Brian Coleman said...

I know its passed deadline and won't receive credit, but I figured I'd still respond..

I can think of many instances where I have failed to voice my opinion. Not because of lack of punishment necessarily, but because of a fear of being wrong. I like to argue, so I do pick up the other side of the argument sometimes, even if I do not agree with it.
Although I am not scared of failure, I like to make sure what I have to say/write is correct before saying or publishing it.
One example of this that I can think of, is when I was writing my paper for a class last semester. I had done my research but was not sure that my thesis was clearly backed up by the facts. Therefore I wasn't sure if I should continue writing the paper. Despite this I still wrote it, because my gut feeling told me it was correct, and that with more research, my thesis would be fine. It was..I guess the lesson is that you should always go with your gut.
Going back to the Chauncey Bailey story, I think it's a tragic symbol of how important journalism is. He has all the bravery in the world, and was killed for it. It shows how much effect journalists can have, and why it is such a impacting field.

mika said...

There're a lot of experiences that I could't speak my opinion because I was afraid of.
For example, especially after I came to US, I'm getting more afraid of speaking my opinion in the class room. I think it's simply because I'm afraid of being judged by everyone. I have no confidence that my opinion is what everyone thinks correct.
I think most of people are afraid of being minority or alone. Everyone tries to obey the mainstream and nobody isn't willing to be minority.

Especially in Japan, we rarely have a chance to speak our opinion in any occasion,and we put an emphasis on living in harmony with other people around us.
And so, almost all Japanese people isn't good at expressing themselves freely. We can get along with any people even if we don't like them actually.

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.