Teaching Notes

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

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

What Is Good Work?

Please answer question #3 on page 167 of our text by 6 p.m. Wednesday.


K. Carroll said...

In my experience, I’ve noticed that moral excellence will always garner more praise than technical excellence. When someone reports on a story, and does a thorough job, and goes about doing it the right way, that person will receive more accolades than if he or she fabricated sources in the interest of writing a more entertaining piece. As soon as it is discovered that the piece was half-assed and not truthful, the reporter loses credibility and respect. To me, it reinforces the idea that it’s important to go about things the right way, and really try to do the best job I can, even if it’s easier to fake it and skate along.

I assume the term “good work” is interchangeable with “quality work,” meaning it is an engaging piece that is well reported and factual. I believe that, while difficult at times, it’s necessary to have a balance between moral and technical excellence in a story. The story has to be good, and worth reading, but it has to be reported in the right way. Unless it’s labeled as fiction, it needs to have the proper facts in it, and they need to have been obtained in an ethical way.

If I had to choose which was more important (moral or technical excellence), I would say the former because I’d rather be known as a mediocre reporter than a world-class bullshit artist.

beth said...

I hate to say that technical excellence, at least in my own experience, tends to get more attention than moral excellence. High school, of course, requires everyone to write countless numbers of bullshit papers, most of them completed the morning before they are due. I can honestly say that, out of laziness and a lack of time, I did not truly think about most of the things I wrote -- unless the subject particularly interested me or I loved the teacher. However, I ended up receiving A grades on the bulk of them, probably because they were done technically well -- good vocabulary, sentence structure, proper "MLA format," etc.

Like a lot of my high school teachers, I don't think that most people look at what is really being said in publications. If it's written well, they tend to trust it. I, for one, do not, but that's a different story.

I remember one particular instance during my junior year of high school. My English teacher was, to put it lightly, a real moron. She rambled on about literature as if she knew all there was to know about it, and then, would grade papers written on stories that she had never even read. I wrote a paper on Poe's "The Black Cat" and was extrememly proud of it as I handed it in. Yet, I received a B- on it (not so hot, for me,) because it was not in the "proper format". And also because my teacher had no idea what the plot of the story was.

Anyway, it's things like that that make me believe that, today, technical excellence is more highly regarded than morality. When a journalist writes a really powerful story that uncovers injustices, corruption, etc. he or she is not always received well -- unless they are digging up dirt on a celebrity, which is a different story. Similarly, if a journalist uses deceit in order to put out a well-written article, most people turn a blind eye and say "it's part of the business." Ethics, it seems, is always second to technicality. I, personally, always value morality over technical shit. What does it matter how something is written if what it is actually saying is ethically wrong, or if it was achieved through immoral practices? This class is definitely making me realize that bullshitting is just that: bullshit. It doesn't benefit anyone. I can honestly say that I couldn't care less about being technically excellent. Morals are where things are at, for me.

beth said...
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Malcolm Harper said...

This is a very easy question to answer as from my experiences in work and school has led me to believe that technical excellence tends to receive the most attention and is therefore, more important. Technical excellence is highly praised in today’s society as it can be compared to a standard and used to weed out the weak. High school students are given tremendous amounts technical work and the students who are able to complete this work with great success, go to the good colleges and end up with the good careers. To achieve this technical excellence, students may bend the rules by cheating to ensure they are in good standing. I agree with what Beth said in her blog post as she referred to receiving good grades for work that was technically done well rather than work that was done with good effort.
I believe that “Good Work” in today’s society refers to work that appeases the institution in which it aim to please. This work doesn’t require that much effort is placed into it but rather that it completes all of the objectives in a technical manner (no errors, follows the rules). Personally, I would like to live in a world where moral excellence was valued higher as it would lead to a better breed of human beings. People would be focused more on helping their fellow brothers than getting ahead of them.

Jenn Von Willer said...

From my experience, the strive for technical excellence is put first before any moral excellence is questioned. For example, a death of a subject, underage or fragile source or in Keith’s case, a story that reeks suspicion causes moral correction, if it’s caught first. Even use of deception is put on the back burner but both are equally important to me as a writer. I was never told to directly deceive, however, I’ve been under lackluster guidance when it comes to completing a story on time and with perfect technical excellence. Making the story flow and grabbing attention is treated as a top goal which usually causes a problem for me with relative importance because I care about helping people with stories even if the center is aimed at exposing a bad person to create justice. Of course, I’ve had some really great mentors that take both seriously and know what they’re doing because it’s their job to teach efficiently.

“Girl reporter” Meg Carter (aka wrinkle free Sally Field) wanted to do the moral “good work” by exonerating her former flame, Michael Gallagher. But she thought there was only way to do this which got her into a complex, unethical problem with source Teresa Perrone. Carter clearly disregarded her morals or the morals of her family without realizing how fragile and vulnerable her source was.

She didn’t want it published, pleaded for an anonymous name and Carter was too caught up, and was selfish because she knew everything else she reported was always deemed as “bad work”. In the chapter, the author makes a point that her character could have used hotel receipts, but her head wasn’t in the right place.

Again this story casts blame at strict deadlines and a lousy editor yet I hate to see that as an excuse for anything. If you don’t follow every SPJ code and epistemic responsibility then you can’t consider yourself accountable for any work.

Jon Cappetta said...

I think that technical excellence for the most part gets more attention in todays society because there are so many people doing so much of the same stuff that instead of looking for the most moral or unique articles or stories people just look for what they perceive as most important. In this case, a lot of times, its the better written story, regardless of whether or not it was morally sound. I think that moral excellence only really comes into consideration when something bad happens. & then everybody acts like it was the only thing they were thinking about the whole time. Using the first example that comes to my head, think about Tiger Woods, in his sport he was technically excellent, but the second he did something morally unsound all of a sudden he was looked at as a monster. While people didn't necessarily care about his morals before, or at least didn't make a big deal out of them because he was just a good golfer, when something like his affairs were exposed all of a sudden the world was concerned with his lifestyle and no longer his technical excellence.

That kind of got off topic, but what I'm trying to say is that I believe people generally think the most important thing is want what they believe to be the best, or the most technically excellent. Until something controversial comes up, and then it doesn't matter how technically excellent it is, because people will always believe any entertaining articles are "good work".

Marietta Cerami said...

In my own personal school experience, I feel that technical excellence receives more praise and attention than moral excellence. I notice that when teachers and professors get caught up in fancy language and good writing skills, sometimes the actual content of what their students wrote does not even matter. As Malcolm said, the kids in class who are able to complete the technical work best are the ones that get the good grades and go to the good colleges, even if that meant they had to bend the rules. Our school system puts so much pressure on students to be the best at everything, and for the students who do not do so well, cheating seems like the only way to meet these standards. I believe that some educators and professionals base "good work" on appearance. If something reads like a lot of hard work and intelligence was put into it, then it will get the approval of others. Even though I think good technical work is appreciated more than good moral work, people are outraged when they find out a writer has fabricated a story or a student cheated on something. It's one of those things that is bad only if you get caught.

For myself, moral excellence is more important than having the best technical work because I am more concerned with learning. No one wins when we lie about our work. I have never been the best writer but at least I can stand behind every paper I've ever written and say that it is the truth or the conclusions I've drawn from real facts. I know tons of kids who cheat or copy people's work and I really feel like their only hurting themselves. Maybe if we placed more value on morals or on doing the best to our own ability, students would not feel the need to cheat of feel ashamed to ask for help.

AGRAPS said...

My high school consisted of a majority of bratty, misbehaved, unambitious "students" that cheated their way through graduation, and often relied on the assistance of teachers to help them do so. If a student was given detention, they talked their way out of it. Often times, a student determined their own deadline of a paper and commonly made up their stories, knowing their teacher would not be concerned to double check. If a student was caught plagiarizing, they would be asked to re-write the assignment without repercussion. A group of students with poor grades were given the answers to regents (3 years in a row) by a trusted science teacher. Consequently, all of these students graduated and were sent off to college. They had left high school unscathed, deceiving college officials and family members for having done "good work".

At my part-time job, my boss frequently condoned lying to customers about the quality of our inventory in order to make the extra buck, although we knew the item was broken and not returnable. Kids were caught stealing on multiple occasions, but somehow managed to keep their jobs. So long as the customer made no complaint, we were "doing a good job".

It is impossible for me to believe that moral excellence makes the slightest difference in any given situation, being in the work or school field. Quite frankly, my personal experiences lead me to understand that regardless of how I choose to achieve a certain goal, so long as it is accomplished, I have succeeded. Not only have the people around me encouraged such behavior, but the officials one expects to execute some authority don't give a shit either.

You could imagine how eager I was to leave such a toxic environment. My authenticity was constantly undervalued due to the lazy student body my district created. Having actually learned something in my years at New Paltz, I believe that both moral and technical excellency are equally significant- one concept does not exceed the other, in my opinion. If there was no need for technical excellency then what the hell would make our world go round? If we choose to ignore the moral aspect of our choices, then are pretty much warranted to step on everyone's toes and cheat our way to the top, so long as we GET to the top.

AGRAPS said...
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AGRAPS said...
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Kaitmint said...

I agree with most of the posts before mine. I believe that technical excellence is the most noticed and praised. I'm not saying moral excellence is never praised. From my personal experience in high school and college, I feel that when I had teachers where moral excellence was praised more than technical I actually learned more. I gain more experience and learn more about myself when my opinion or the point of a paper is considered more important than the format. I don't know how many times I've had entire class periods filled up with MLA format lectures or trips to the library to properly learn how to research. It seemed like the most important thing is formatting. I remember writing my first paper as a freshman in college and turning to my friend and saying that I'm scared to write this because I don't want to get kicked out for improper MLA format. Thinking back on that moment I still feel the same whenever I write a paper. I don't focus on my point, I focus on whether the format is correct, and I think it's absurd. For me moral excellence should be more appreciated and paid attention to than formatting.

Pamela said...

The most rewarding feeling is to achieve success through moral excellence. I think that by trying to abide to all the socially constructed rules and regulations that define technical success, many people tend to lose themselves. Because technical excellence is praised in school and work, the pressure to achieve it can lead people to put their values aside.

In Jackie’s e-mail to Prof. Good, she spoke of a woman who was hungry for success. In the eyes of her editors and her readers, Michelle achieved technical excellence but what they did not know is that she did it through extremely unethical means. Evidently, Michelle’s only goal was to live a glamorous life and she got to it by deceiving and lying to the people who trusted her. Targeting technical success also affected Michelle’s editors and led them to ignore her wrongdoing. No way were they going to ruin their credibility and technical excellence by admitting to their public that they overlooked the lies of one of their employees. Unfortunately, achieving moral excellence can hinder the socially accepted and constructed vision of what is respectable or technically excellent. By doing the morally right thing, the publication’s credibility and technical excellence could have decreased.

Personally, I rather achieve moral excellence than technical. I doubt my decision to study journalism every day because technical excellence is so established in the profession’s culture. Although I know a lot of people want to practice traditional ethical journalism, I am afraid of feeling stuck with a staff that is money-hungry and dishonest. Because so many publications are trying to achieve that technical excellence, I am afraid that I will get stuck writing stories just to fill the page for the rest of my life. I want to achieve moral excellence. I want to help people whether it is through journalism or human services, or both. A community is what I’m looking for, a community is what I want to create,not a competition-driven bunch.

Jackie Northacker said...

To find out about cleanliness of food preparation, the condition of the kitchen, and any health hazards involved in a restaurant, I would apply to work at the restaurant. By working at the restaurant I’m not being deceiving to the restaurant because if they were in violation of health codes, their employees would obviously know about it. There are no contracts for employees stating that they cannot speak about what goes on inside the restaurant or the condition of the kitchen or food prepared to the press. By working for the restaurant, I would be an employee and complete the duties involved with the job, and would not be harming the business in any way. Not only could I seek the truth about the restaurant, I could also get to know the other employees who work in the same conditions and hear their take on what goes on. I don’t think it would be justified if I came to the establishment and acted as if I were a city inspector to make my way into the kitchen and see the conditions. I would be an imposter and using the wrong means to get the story.

I would just follow her trail. I would get to know everything about her day, similar to what paparazzi does, and just follow her. Of course, I would keep a safe distance because I wouldn’t want to be labeled a stalker. After going into a club or bar, I would try to get some feedback on her activities, maybe from a bouncer. I even would disguise myself and attend the same event she did. As far as pregnancy goes, there is a patient confidentiality agreement with medical professionals, so it would be difficult to figure that out. Possibly a paparazzi would see differences as far as body weight or a ‘baby bump’. I could even pose as a paparazzi instead of relying on their information. There is nothing illegal about following someone, as long as it is reasonable and never puts them in harms way (car accident, walking into traffic, who knows…). I don’t think it would justified to go to their medical office and steal records or bribe nurses into giving away information. I firmly believe that medical records should never be revealed unless with consent from the patient.

The best way to finding out corruption with government is definitely the paper trail. Money is the root of all-evil and if you can connect missing money or huge amounts of cash flowing into the pockets of politicians, you got a story. I would look into the contracts that the city had with the construction company, and from there, look into the finances. I would then see who the top players are in the big picture scheme and try to connect them all. I would try to see what records are open to the public first, then I would do some background checks on salaries and see where the money trickles down from. I’d try to speak with secretaries and see if they would talk about seeing anything suspicious. I’d also investigate the construction company by talking to previous contractors that worked with the city, but now have been booted out of the way by the new construction firm. People who lose money tend to have grudges and are more willing to speak about what happened to them, so their story could be heard. I don’t think I would necessarily have to say I was a reporter, but maybe some kind of worker at a fake construction firm who also has a grudge. I would use my utilitarian judgment in this case. When dealing with money and politicians, I think the public has every right to know where their tax money is going, so whatever the end is, justifies the means to get there.

Zan Strumfeld said...

I'd personally think that I would lean toward technical excellence...only because I've been taught that way when it comes to school. I appreciate good work and when I work hard at it and really care for what I'm doing, it feels good in the end. It's cliche, I know, but when you can really appreciate what you do, I find that extremely important, when it comes to school. I can still see myself using these ethics when I'm outside of school and more into the work place, whether that be teaching English, working for a book publishing company, or at a newspaper [we'll see]. Technical excellence is so important and I think nothing below should be accepted.

However, on my more daily schedule, I look toward more moral excellence when making a decision. My decision making skills must be thought through in an ethical matter and therefore benefiting me and others.

The two go hand in hand, and are hard to say which is technically "better." If both are being put into consideration and are looked at in importance, that's all that really matters.

Liz Velez said...

I feel that technical excellence gets the most attention. It depends on the individuals involved of course, but typically there is an attitude of get it done no matter how just do it. I fall victim to it myself at times, not that getting it done is inherently unethical (part of being responsible and accountable is getting things done on time) but getting it done simply for the sake of getting it done without putting real effort or thought into the work that is being produced I would have to say is almost always unethical.

I believe what this says about "good work" in terms of those two aspects is that technical proficiency trumps morality. I feel like things have always sort of proceeded in this way, do the work well even if you sacrifice ethics for it. Get the best story, consequences be damned.

For me I would have to say I think that moral excellence and technical excellence are kind of interrelated in the sense that if a piece of work is a rush job and not technically good but was put together using moral means, it is still not completely moral because you are not putting out the best technical work that you can put out. In that sense, it is a disservice to whomever you are doing the work for even though it was done ethically, you are violating a principle that work should be "good work" and fulfill both qualities, not just one.

Samantha Minasi said...

Most of the time, things that are technically, or aesthetically excellent, do get the most attention. Often times, work that's only excellent on these terms- was done with little effort or consideration. The thing with me is, its really hard for me to actually do well in work or in school. Good grades, and good work, does not come easy for me, I put hours of work in which in turn, is why I value the importance of moral excellence as well.
Its important to me that myself and my peers to be held to that standard, because it creates a competitive, but fair playing Field.

Having said that, there are those people that we've all come across that seemingly can bullshit their way though everything, somehow never getting called out for it. It's always is infuriating when someone like this gets condoned for "good work". Work that you know, was not agonized over, deeply thought about, or carefully constructed. Yet somehow, there's one of these types of people everywhere you go.

Which brings me to my conclusion about the relative importance of these two dimensions of "good work". And that is: it depends on who you're talking to. Universal standards seem to be out the window, at least in the professional world. Standards of good work, morally and technically vary from publication to publication. I think the book was right in hinting at there's more upholding of journalistic values in classrooms now then there is in newsrooms often times. The importance of moral excellence isn't completely lost, but its weighted importance undoubtedly.. fluctuates, from person to person, publication to publication.

Annie Yu said...

In the battle of technical versus moral excellence, I would say that technical excellence receives more attention in my work and school experiences.

From a young age, I’ve learned that some teachers are not given the chance to care about their students; they have to meet certain requirements to satisfy the Board of Education. This becomes a problem when all that students are trained for are results, results, results. I have heard of teachers helping their students cheat on state exams, which I see as immoral, and zooming through lessons to make sure the topics on the curriculum have been covered, but not necessarily understood. In turn, the students are praised for receiving high marks and encouraged to cheat.

Technical excellence dominates moral excellence even more in work situations. The “American Dream” has the population fantasizing about holding executive positions in large companies, regardless of who they have to screw over to get what they want. This also relates back to our cheating discussions during class – we cheat to get ahead.

For me, I would say that moral excellence is more important than technical excellence. It is definitely more important to be a good person than to produce good work. However, I hate to say that “actual-self” does not always align with my “ideal-self.”

Brianna McDonald said...

In my experience in work and school, I would have to say that technical excellence gets the most attention. Throughout all my years of schooling, since elementary school, there have always been so many awards given out for the highest grades and the best work. There were weekly awards in my elementary school for the "Student of the Week" which was based on behavior, but that recognition would only last for a week, whereas academic excellence was recognized for much longer. Because we live in such a competitive society, it seems to be accepted that the end justifies the means. If you achieved good grades or if you produced excellent work, any unmoral actions taken along the way seem to be overlooked. While it is always appreciated when someone is morally excellent, it will always take a back seat to someone of technical excellence.
I think this says a lot about how we view "good work". While morality should play a larger role in judging the quality of one's work, the technical aspects seem to always take precedent.
To me, I believe moral excellence is more important. Because I've always been one to care about how I do the work I do, it is more important to me than being perfect. If I'm working on a project of any kind and I know that I did the absolute best I could do and I was the best person I could be while I was working on it, then I can accept anything below technical perfection. At the same time, I am a perfectionist when it comes to most situations, but I would rather see something less than perfect created with care and respect than a perfect creation built unfairly.

Dave Cohen said...

Personally, in today's world, I think the focus is not "How" things are done, just "That" things are done. Ethics has suffered in an age of instant gratification. The best way to do things is the fastest way now. Technical excellence beats out moral excellence now. Just think of the case we studied last class. Jackie followed her morals and ethics in the end and Michele left the company only to recieve a recomendation from her former boss for a nice new job. Michele was still rewarded in the end. Morals and ethics didn't win out there.

kiersten said...

Technical excellence most definitely receives the most attention. Students are always in such a hurry to get their work done that they will often skip over things that are a part of the process of learning. For example, if a student is given an assignment to write a review of a piece of literature, many students will write the paper without reading the literature because they can. Becoming a bullshit artist has become a more important goal for students than to become a well educated person is. That is because professors, teachers, bosses, etc seem to take the technical excellence as success. Therefore, in today’s world attaining technical excellence is more important than attaining moral excellence because it has better outcomes.
In the text, there was a line that said “creating the appearance of fairness to demonstrate absence of malice”. I feel as though this is a perfect explanation of what occurs in the real world. I think that people make it seem that by demonstrating technical excellence that are also acting in the aspect of moral excellence. The sad part is that I think just as much effort goes into cheating or creating some kind of front that it would take if you actually completed a task the right way, demonstrating moral excellence. I think that the idea of “good work” has been skewed by our society in the past years. I think that it is a result of corruption and competition and it will be very difficult if not impossible for people to work towards moral excellence and for that to become the norm.
Personally, I try to have a balance between the two. I think I have a pretty good idea of morality and I know what is right and what is wrong. A lot of my ideas about that have changed since high school. I have realized that, ultimately, if I go about my work in a moral sense, I personally will learn and gain more and will benefit in the end. The problem is that this realization that I am benefiting myself will not be seem by employers, or professors, etc. Because I feel that for the most part, what they look for is technical excellence and that creates the problem of deciding if you would rather benefit yourself, or show off to other people that you are working well.

Kevin said...

In my experience in work and at school technical excellence is held to a higher standard than moral excellence, although I personally hold moral excellence to a higher standard than technical excellence. I'm the last student to cry over whether I get a B- over an A. It personally doesn't matter to me what grade I receive so long as I know that I did it to the best of my ability and completed the assignment honestly without cheating. I believe that moral excellence will get you further in the end than technical excellence. Cheating your way through school might land you a better job initially but a morally excellent person will usually wind up with a higher position in the end in my opinion. I have personal experience with seeing this proven true, time and time again.

It doesn't really matter whether you graduate from Harvard, because a person from Hartford has the same potential to succeed. You don't receive letter grades in your career, only in school. Moral excellence is held to a higher standard in the corporate world because it is rarer to come by, and trust me people WILL take notice. Don't get me wrong I do care about my grades but I'm the last to really argue about them. They're simply a reflection of how a professor deems a student in completing what they've been asked in a format they've been told. I feel that following a format is cool, but I personally feel better in the end in receiving a B over an A if I feel I did a better job in getting my point across.

Brandon said...

In my experience, more attention and to put it directly, more accolades are given to those who possess technical skill, regardless of their moral excellence.
In high school, those who were praised were the star athletes, and the kids at the top of the class, despite the fact that many got there in a dishonest fashion. They possessed an excellence in one regard or another in order to distinguish themselves from the pack, while those doing good, moral, ethical, just work recieved none of the limelight.
In college, much of the same is perpetuated. The star athletes are given all the attention by the athletic department, while others are looked over for their student-athlete achievements.
What this says to me about the importance of both avenues that can lead one to good work, both moral and technical excellence, is that while you can get to the top and "succeed," with technical skill, only with both will you be able to enjoy it.
To me they are equally important dynamics to creating good work, because on could be the best writer in the world, and if hes cutting corners and making up white lies, he is misinforming the public and discrediting his work.

Atkin said...
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Atkin said...
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Atkin said...

Questions like this bother me, and I feel like prof Good asks a lot of questions like this in class. They bother me because the answers are so obvious and so descriptive of the problems in our society. I guess it's not the question itself that bothers me, it's the simplicity of the answer that I feel ignores the complexity of the problem.

Anyway, this question of technical prowess vs ethical prowess garnering more praise has an obvious answer. Technical prowess receives more widespread praise than moral triumphs. This, I feel, is because of something I expressed in my first blog entry. People, including myself at one point, don't consider ethics in day-to-day situations. They consider what impresses them, what entertains them, what looks good on the outside and what has good presentation. Every day we are graded on the technical excellence of our research papers, presentations and so forth--no one is praised for obtaining information for research independently or writing the whole paper with no help from others. Rather, we are punished if it is found out that we plagiarized or received help from a friend. If you think about it, the system encourages backhanded dealings. Only if you get caught, will you be punished. But there is no reward for proving you have done the right thing.

I'm going to spin off onto something because I feel it really addresses this question pretty well. Yesterday, I really pissed off my friend Andrew, who is a working reporter for the Spotlight News in Albany. He had written a story, and sent me the link, as he usually does. The comment he sent along with the link read "I love that deadline allows me to do this." The story was about a public official who had allegedly called a local resident a racial slur. The information was obtained from a letter sent from the resident's wife to the town supervisor. The article was long, but included no comments from the man accused, or the accuser, and anyone who was actually there when it happened. The only proof this even happened was the letter, and the letter was written by someone who wasn't even present. The story was written well, and there were 2 sources. Andrew said he had called everyone, but deadline was in a few hours and he had to go into print. His editor liked the story and wanted it in that week's paper.

I told Andrew that I thought his story was ethically unsound. I told him I thought he should have waited on the story, that publishing that with nothing to back it up was tarnishing this man's reputation as a public servant, that the article helped no one the way that it was presently written. He said, "well, my editor wanted it, and he liked it. And it's the reality of the journalism business, you have to get things in on time."

After a few weeks in this class, I'm sure you can imagine what I said to that. He was pretty pissed off at me, and felt really insulted. But he cooled off after a while. He said, "Emily, I'm hate you. But I'm glad I can count on you to keep me in check."

That night and this morning, Andrew did some great reporting. He spoke to everyone involved in the case, but no one wanted to talk to him. In fact, they were pretty hostile about it, and offered no comment. So he starting pouring through documents and letters, anything he could find. Finally, he found a letter that got the public official pretty much off the hook. It was from the man who the public official had called a name, and that man said it was a private matter that happened between two friends that was blown out of proportion by the news media

Atkin said...

This being a pretty big story that many news sources were reporting, Andrew's story got on the front page of the CBS6 Albany webpage. When we spoke today, he told me how relieved he felt, and how proud of himself he was. I was really proud of him, too.

The point of this is, yeah, Andrew's first story was technically fine. It had three sources of info and it was written well. But morally, it was horrible. When his second story came out, it was short and only had one source. But it was the right thing to do and it was obtained by searching diligantly through public documents. That, to me, is good work, and is so much more important in the journalism world.

Here are the articles:
The first:http://www.spotlightnews.com/news/view_news.php?news_id=1285691802
The second: http://www.spotlightnews.com/news/view_news.php?news_id=1285774955

Howie Good said...

we're going to purse this in class tomorrow, but cheating or deceiving or publishing poorly sourced stories isn't technically good work. technically good work is competent work, work that's done with genuine craftsmanship. scientists can do technically fine work when they clone, for example, but morally, perhaps, the work is questionable.

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.