Teaching Notes

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

Monday, November 29, 2010

Final Blog Response - Fall 2010

How has your concept of media ethics (and of ethics in general) changed since the beginning of the semester? What accounts for the change? Is the change valuable? And if your concept hasn't changed, why hasn't it? Does that mean ethics is unteachable? What are the consequences of that for society?

Your response should be as detailed and complete as space for a blog comment allows. It's due by Sunday, Dec. 5, by 6 p.m.

Before responding, read the "Afterword" to our textbook. Please be thoughtful in your response. Grammatical, too.

37 comments:

K. Carroll said...

Throughout the semester, we have examined different cases in which the ethics of an action are called into question. From Veronica Guerin’s “bravery” to the WikiLeaks, we have seen a variety of situations, and more often than not, were able to come to a class-wide consensus as to whether it was ethical or not. What I’ve noticed, and it could just be me, is that we all seemed to find it ethical or unethical for our own personal reasons, not necessarily because of an ethical principle. I don’t want to speak for anyone else, so I’ll say for me, I still think of ethics as a gut reaction. I may use the principles we have discussed to help me be sure of a decision, or to allow me to see all sides of the situation, but in the end, I still go based on gut.

I think the principles are an innate thing, one that we can identify through discussion, but something we just know. I may not have known the name of Kant’s Categorical Imperative or the Potter Box, but I knew what they were talking about. I may not have mentally organized the components of the TARES model in that way before, but I knew they were an important part of decision-making. When I would read a case, I would make the decision if I thought something was ethical or not based on my gut, based on knowing these things subconsciously, and then go from there.

K. Carroll said...

With that being said, I think the discussions we have had in class are very useful, and important ones to have. It’s not just enough to think something is ethical or not. You have to know why you think that. “Because I said so,” isn’t a valid answer here. I think it’s absolutely necessary to back up your argument with fact, which is where the models come in handy. So, to properly answer the original question, my concept of ethics has been enhanced, building upon groundwork that was already there. Ethics, in my opinion, is teachable, because analyzing the cases is what helped me to identify what those ideas I had already.

As for the Afterword, I thought it was very compelling. I liked how you worked in the main points of the book into a regular, simple situation. It puts things into perspective in a sense, because if all of these guilt can come from something as mundane as destroying a bird’s nest, imagine how bad one might feel if he or she messes up on a larger, more public scale. If he or she has a conscience, they should feel ten times what you felt about the bird’s nest.

Marietta Cerami said...

Before responding to this question, I went back to reread the first post I wrote for the blog this semester. The professor asked us to explain the processes we used in order to make ethical decisions within our own lives. In my response, it basically came down to two things; I said I tried to incorporate the point of views of others involved, and I listened to my gut, or conscience, which is influenced by my religion. I still agree with what I originally wrote however, I now have a more mature and in depth understanding of my decision making process. Instead of just imagining an ethical dilemma from another person’s eyes, I now have Rawls' Veil of Ignorance where I completely remove my own role in society in order to do what is best for the most vulnerable member of the situation. Rather than just following my gut and possibly doubting myself, I have the Judeo Christian Ethic: Do onto others what you would want done onto you.

As I said before, I do not believe that my view of ethics has really changed, I just believe that it has matured, which I think is a worthwhile thing. There are always going to be the money or the power hungry people out there who, no matter how many ethics lessons they sit through, will never appreciate the purpose of ethics. For those of us who have yet to be tainted, I think this class will have had some sort of lasting effect.

One thing I have learned from this class, and what I think the “Afterword” of our textbook points out, is that ethics is complex and solutions are never fixed. Every decision we make, whether we think is good or not, has consequences that we might not have expected. Either way, the nature of ethics challenges us to reflect on those decisions and ultimately learn and grow from them.

Annie Yu said...
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Zan Strumfeld said...

To make a vast understatement, this has been one of the most enlightening classes I’ve taken at SUNY New Paltz. Maybe that’s a critique on the university, but really, this class should be absolutely mandatory for anyone, especially in the field of any sort of media-related topic. Although I’ve been a part of the newspaper realm since high school, I can admit that I never knew the first thing about ethics. Sure, I think about my morals and ethics on a constant basis in life- but when it comes to the actual real world and applying real, theoretical ideas, I began to branch out of my sheltered world of ethics.


I think with each different method presented to us in class, including the Potter Box, TARES, act/rule utilitarianism, etc., I’ve broadened my perspective on the realities around me, especially realizing that there are way too many people who don’t have ethical boundaries or, really, that think. On a daily basis I find myself thinking about the topics we discuss in class, expressing anger or excitement to people about the world and how my views have either changed or expanded.


However, maybe unfortunately, maybe not, this class had made me realize one major fact: I am scared shitless to enter the so-called “real world.” It is too easy to slip up on just small things, which can climax to grander, scarier situations. People are mean, stupid, and don’t know right from wrong, or at least it is proven that they don’t care. I want to work at a place where people value their workplace, their surroundings, etc.

Zan Strumfeld said...

Also, with studies like Kevin Carter, I’m a little afraid that I could see myself in that sort of position, not exactly sure whether it is ethically right to help out, whether from a journalistic standpoint or from an ethical human being one.
I want to continue studying ethics, as they are extremely important to be taught and discussed. Although it could be a subjective task, we can all make decisions that would offer greater good to others and ourselves.


Like you explained in the “Afterword,” ethics are tricky and complex, and all of our decisions have consequences. This may make us want to walk on eggshells, or be skeptical of everything, but I think it is justified information that will help us in our future careers and in life.

Michelle P said...

First off, I'd have to agree with Zan about this class being one of the few that I fully gave a shit about, not only because it was thought provoking, but also because it truly made me sit back and analyze what the heck I was going to do when and if I encounter a situation that requires me to do so. In every journalism related class I've taken, we've always mentioned the general idea of ethics, but to delve even deeper into it and examine situations that really make you wonder what you would do and how you would act really sets one up for the "real world." I do believe that since this class, my understanding of ethics has evolved and I have a deeper understanding of the decision making process. It doesn't necessarily mean that I'll instantly know what to do, but there will, at least, some guidance along the way.

The discussions in class were definitely effective in gaining perspective and fully comprehending the principles and applying them to real life situations. And of course when making an argument, one has to back it up with support and reason in which the result will be something that "feels good after." Even after all of this insight and my values being reinforced, it still scares me in the future when I'm faced with specific situations, I'll make a well-thought out decision, but end up with unwanted consequences. But I guess that's part of life, you simply cannot please everyone- you sure as hell can try, but that involves much dispute and even then, a decision's going to be hard to come by. What does comfort me, though, is that I'll be prepared for it in the long run.

I do believe you can teach ethics, but to get someone to actually practice them is completely different. Ultimately, it's up to the individual whether or not he/she will care about them enough to apply them to real life. Without ethics being involved in society, I think we'd all do whatever the hell we wanted, make stupid decisions all the time and let the consequences take over, leading to a questionable lifestyle. But it's important to keep your head on your shoulders and put forth your best attempt at making ethical decisions.

Jackie Northacker said...

In the beginning of this course, I figured that the ethical thing to do was to make good choices that do not affect others in a negative way. In class, I really enjoyed going over the case studies to see everyone's opinion on the situation. Collectively coming to a conclusion or at least raising questions about the ethical principles involved. I think my favorite part of this semester was the poem and chapter on empathy. Empathy is such a profound and complicated emotion. It has everything to do with moral ethics, to be able to feel for someone else, to understand their position. I really think this is what ethics is all about. I also believe the Judeo-Christian rule of do onto others what you would want done to you, helps us raise awareness of the well being of those surrounding us.

I never really took into consideration what ethics truly meant in the field of Journalism or PR. I thought that it was just doing 'the right thing'. However, in our class discussions, learning about the different models of ethical decisions, it really opened up my mind. It's not just about doing the right thing, its something so much more. Its about character.

I do believe that ethics is teachable, however it really depends on the student. The student's attitude towards ethics is what this class is dependent on. You have to want to understand, to learn, to care. Ethics is a course that is geared toward people who are willing to let their character grow, and are mature enough to see both sides of any situation. Unfortunately, many people, young and old, are often too ignorant or too proud to truly appreciate what it is to be ethical. However, in this class, whether some students genuinely cared or didn't, I believe this class at least imprinted questions in our minds that allow us to better understand ethical standards.

In the Afterword I read something really profound and that I already have written down and taped to my desk. It says, "Failure is usually assumed to be cause for despair, but, actually, it's cause for hope - hope because we can emerge from failure wiser, less arrogant, more human." I think this really sums up what I 'got' from this class. Ethics is what is to be a human being. Making choices can never truly be a terrible thing, unless you don't learn from it. You must reflect on all decisions, ethical or not, and grow from them. For if we do not grow, we wither, we lose hope. I can truly say this class has impacted me in a really positive way. It was thought-provoking, challenging, and overall has made me a better person. Wherever my life ventures to, either professionally or personally, I think the concepts learned in media ethics will stick with me, and hopefully allow me to make a positive difference at some point in others lives and/or my own.

Howie Good said...

i just want to thank all who've commented so far for their encouraging comments. as you know, i feel the class isn't mine, it's ours. if it's been even a partial success, it's because you helped make it so.

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Liz Velez said...

My concept of media ethics has changed considerably since the beginning of the semester. For one thing, in conducting interviews I feel I am much more sensitive to the subject's right to privacy and respect due to the many things we've discussed in class regarding privacy and the SPJ code. I feel like I've become more aware of what constitutes an ethical problem and more readily acknowledge them. I don't necessarily think the class has made me more ethical, but it has made me more aware of what values are most important to me and made me want to honor them much more consistently than I have in the past.

I think what most accounts for the change is my personal reactions to various case studies we've examined in class and those strong feelings sort of taking a deeper root in my consciousness. I think the change is invaluable because it's changed the way I react to and "solve" ethical dilemmas and my overall perspective of ethics in general. My perspective now is ethics is present in basically all aspects of life, whereas before I may not have been as aware of it or believed it as much as I do now.

I think ethics is teachable, as long as the student is willing to learn and not just take it as something else they have to get a good grade in.

Liz Velez said...

I have to agree with Jackie that the concepts of media ethics I learned in this class will stay with me throughout my life, both professional and personal. I definitely feel as though I have come out better from this class than I was going in.

Kevin said...

I think my concept of media ethics and ethics in general has gotten more insightful. I never realized how many steps one may use to judge whether something is ethical. I’ll be quite honest I never knew there were so many models to judge whether something is ethical before I took this class. That being said I think there’s a reason for the array of models. Ethics is complex and the models used to judge whether a situation is ethical is multifaceted. Every person comes to a situation with a set of morals that we attain through our life from situations we come in contact with. We all lead different lives and experience different things, so we all bring our different ideas and biases to a situation. It more or less has to do with the environment in which we’re raised than anything else. Raise a person surrounded by violence they’re likely to hate and fear. Raise a person with love they’re likely to feel an obligation to spread that trait and lead life with more sincerity. Ethics can’t be explained in one sentence or from a single person’s perspective. That’s the reason why there may be so many different models. Different situations call for different steps to judge whether something is ethical. I agree with Keith and think ethics is more innate, but disagree that it can be taught but rather reinforced and built up through teachings. There are consequences for society that ethics can’t simply be taught, but it’s rather experienced and I believe one attains there groundwork in understating ethics through simply living. I believe it’s every moral person’s obligation to seek out people in need and help them in any way that they can. It’s how you choose to live your life and what you conceive your purpose to be, that will have the greatest affect on what principles and ideas you bring to every situation.

There are two lines that stood out to me in the afterword. The first was “Sometimes we confront an ethical problem without realizing we’re confronting one, which only compounds the problem.” This may be true, but I believe taking this class has enlightened me and will help to make me more aware when it is that I’m confronting one. The second was “Failure is usually assumed to be cause for despair, but, actually, it’s cause for hope-hope because we can emerge from failure wiser, less arrogant, more human.” It resonated with my own belief that I don’t’ regret a single moment in life because I see every moment as a way to reflect and understand every other moment with more wisdom and clarity.

I think it’s best to leave off with a short verse I wrote back in April of 2009 after having an enlightening conversation with three of my good friends from home. “People have a limitless quest for knowledge, but everyone has a limited ability for knowledge. There's only so much one person can attain. The only thing that separates society is where people choose to allocate there time, energy, and passion. Some people choose to be well rounded while others choose to devote their entire lives to one thing. And some people choose to waste their lives by not maturing; but then again that's only someone's perspective of someone else's situation in life in which they have no prior knowledge. We're only byproducts of the environment in which we've been raised. What makes one person better than another is not what hand of cards they were dealt, but how they utilize their talents or passion to better the world in one aspect or another.”

Pamela said...
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Annie Yu said...

(Sorry if this is shown twice but I’ve had difficulties posting this over the weekend.)
Walking into the windowless, white-walled room every Monday and Thursday, I never knew what to expect, every class was so different – in a good way. Often, I walked out thinking, “WTF. Why is society so malicious and screwed up?”

This class helped me reflect on my own principles and how important they are to me. For example, my roommate and I had plans to watch Schindler’s List together but when I returned to the room after a long day at the library, she had started the movie without me and I instantly became upset. I wasn’t upset because I missed parts of the movie or that she didn’t bother to tell me she was starting the movie. I was upset because she made a commitment that she didn’t follow through with – she violated a principle.

What interested me the most about this class was the applications of principles. It seemed as if the class would come to a unanimous agreement on the resonance of a principle (ex. One should always keep a promise) but there are situations in which this principle was swept under the rug. Should a principle be universal and extend to all our actions? Instead of picking and choosing when we practice the principle? I’ve realized that this is something I began thinking about constantly. If I behave this way in one situation and exhibit this principle, shouldn’t I always exhibit this principle? In my social psychology class, I learned about an experiment in which researchers wanted to measure “helping behaviors.” The subjects were asked to perform a task that involved passing from one building to another. In between these two buildings, there was a “victim,” an actor slumped against the side of a wall, coughing and groaning and in need of help. The researchers examined whether or not the subjects offered their assistance. Their results showed that only 16 of the 40 subjects offered to help the victim and situational factors, whether or not the subject was in a rush, instead of dispositional factors, a moral obligation to help those in need, had an effect on the subject’s helping behavior.

Annie Yu said...

I do not think that it is possible to teach someone ethics in a class, I believe morals and values (the ingredients of ethics) are taught at a young age but I do believe that a class in ethics can help someone reflect on their ethics. If we were able to teach ethics, the world would be much more peaceful. The consequence of this lack of peace for society is what we’re currently experiencing – flawed, malicious, and in desperate need of an ethical cleansing. Yet, it still manages to function and work together somehow.

Atkin said...

I laughed when I read this question, because at the beginning of the semester I said, “I don't have a concept of ethics.” It's truly crazy how things have changed in just a few months.

In the big picture, my basic understanding of media ethics has taken over my understanding of media. It's become the most important thing for me to consider when analyzing it. It's taken over my concept of society and why people and things are the way they are. It's like I've tapped into some part of my brain that's never had blood flowing to it. It's made more than a few of my friends say, “Boy, you're really a pain in the ass sometimes.”

I think becoming a pain in the ass is the whole point, though. It's easy to neglect the implications of our actions, especially because there aren't many people promoting otherwise. It's easy to adhere to precendent and not bother to question it, especially because doing the opposite can be jeopardizing in myriad ways. This is markedly true in the media world.

So with that said, the most important thing I've learned in this class comes way before learning how to solve ethical problems — it's how to recognize the situations that need solving, and then thinking about them. Like, really thinking about them.

This is why I've become such a pain in the ass. I see things I've never seen before; I read news articles and become outraged; I snap at my newswriter friends for not sourcing thoroughly; I think a lot about other people — those close to me and those I don't or will never know. I talk about things being 'fucked up' more, and I try to be as honest as possible, even with people I'm not close with. I see and think and feel all these things and then I talk about them to people I know.

This class forced me to question my decision-making processes and think in ways I didn't know I could. It's like, I keep thinking about last class when everyone was yelling at me for thinking a certain way, telling me I was wrong, and I wouldn't budge. And then professor Good ended the discussion by presenting a point I hadn't thought about. No one else had brought it up yet — we had just had a 20 minute argument about this and I was still positive that I was in the right. Then Good made a point about how fucked up the government is and I had to completely reassociate myself. And then I felt bad about not thinking about that. But it made me feel a lot better when I read this: “We may never know for sure whether we've made the right choice or the wrong one, but it's good in and of itself, like truth or beauty, to reflect on the terrible responsibility that comes with choosing.”

Maybe the worst part of this class is how depressed I've become since, just about the state of people and things. It's a mental burden to care about it. Sometimes it's physically painful. You feel knots in your stomach or tightness in your throat or pressure in your skull. You think about the “terrible responsibility of choosing” and how many people there are that will never consider the word “choice,” -- just how meaningful, terrible, wonderful, whatever, it is.

So yes, what I've learned has been valuable, probably more than valuable, some word that I can't think of that's more profound. And I've learned, so it's obviously teachable. But I guess only to those who are willing to be taught. You know, I came back to college after working in a newsroom for six months, thinking to myself, “What the fuck am I doing back here?” I seriously considered dropping out for a little while. At that time there was nothing worthwhile any class or any person could teach me that I couldn't be taught in a newsroom. I've learned since that I've been wrong about a lot of things.

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Brianna McDonald said...

Since the beginning of the semester, I've grown a much greater appreciation for the idea of ethics in general. Because I am a Radio/TV Production major, I haven't really encountered many issues with professional ethics, but throughout my life I have, of course. I've always considered myself a pretty ethical person with a strong sense of morals. Taking this class has brought a lot more to my attention and legitimized the issues of ethics in my mind. Because I feel like it should not be difficult for people to be ethical and moral about most situations, the idea that it has to be studied and there are models to follow in order to make a decision that should just be innate was a difficult concept for me to grasp.
The case studies that we went over usually brought many issues to my attention that I didn't realize existed or as important to a journalist's profession. Personally, I think ethics is teachable but not an easy thing to teach. I agree that it is a societal thing and it should be more important to everyone's attention that isn't just in the field of journalism or Public Relations.

Honestly, I really appreciated this class. Although I may not have participated as much as other students, I did completely enjoy the time I spent in class. I enjoyed that we talked about a lot of the things that most classes avoid, and we were much more realistic about how shitty the world truly is. It did devastate me some days, and like Zan said, it makes me even more terrified to enter the real world knowing that not everyone is as ethical or fair as they should be in order to have a society that always gives back as much as you put in. Nothing is really as fair as it should be, and that is really unfortunate. Generally, no one is as respectful to their peers as they should be, and everyone is so much more concerned with their own well being than the well being of others that ethics are almost impossible to be taught and truly followed in all of society. Bottom line is that until ethics can be integrated more easily into the depths of society, it is up to the individual to make their own decisions and be responsible for their own actions in hopes that the consequences work out in the right way.

Kaitmint said...

Walking into Media Ethics on my first day of classes was slightly daunting, I had no idea what to expect, except an ethics class, what ever that is. After the first class I found myself intrigued with the subject and wanting to come to every class as to not miss a beat. I had no real concept of media ethics before, only personal ethics and my personal ethics was based off of my morals and how I was raised (my family, my religion, my schooling). BEfore entering this class I thought I had a pretty good grasp of ethics being that I'm somewhat of an animal advocate, and the summer of my 21st birthday I took in two baby kittens I found outside and an adult cat literally the day before. This entire summer proved to me that nothing is more important to me than helping better a life, in this case an animal life. So that was my ethics concept, but this class showed me what media ethics was, and all the fucked up things that are going on right under my nose. The fact that certain journalists just care about themselves and don't really give a damn who it is affecting in what way. Then we studied the extreme cases of Veronica Guerin and Chauncey Bailey and saw the ultimate prices some journalists pay to speak the truth to the people.

Through this class I've learned that as a PR major I have a lot to keep in mind in terms of ethics, even though I recall you saying there should be different ethics classes for different majors, I still took everything just as seriously and plan on applying principles to certain decisions in my career. Speaking of my career I also appreciated what you said about us probably not becoming journalists or doing exactly what our major is, I've known this for a few years now as I've tried to find something that sparks my interests and having an educator say this comforted me because now I feel ok about being one major but looking into another for grad school.

Overall this class has greatly educated me in proper decision making and how I can better my community by writing the truth and making decisions that positively affect others. Of all the principles we've learned the Categorical Imperative stuck with me and I think will continue to stick with me for a long time. I believe it is a brilliant tool for making an ethical decision. I am excited to apply all that I've learned in my future classes at this school and thankful that I took this class when I did, it was perfect timing.

As for the "Afterward" in the book I agree that ethics are very complex and decision making is difficult, but from what I've learned through the book and in class will no doubt make the process slightly if not completely easier.

Samantha Minasi said...

I wouldn't say my view of media ethics changed, exactly, because I honestly was not as educated about media ethics as I probably should have been before this semester and didn't have strong views about ethical issues. But now that we're at the end of the semester I can say I've started to understand how to look at ethical issues and analyze them, I've learned decision making processes, and the people who created them, whom I can reference if I ever came across a situation I didn't know how to deal with. I've started to sharpen my personal opinions and standpoints about some classic kind of ethical media dilemmas about things like privacy and research methods, media practices etc, and I think that's so valuable.

I always thought that "ethics" or “ethical” decisions were made primarily based on morals, good values and personal standards of behavior. I do still believe that a strong and clear understanding of right and wrong and good and bad are pretty much always necessary for a person to make ethical decisions, however I now realize that sometimes they’re not the only thing that should be considered before coming to a decision or conclusion about an issue. I also realize now that even if you have all that, even if you're a good intentioned person who sets out to do right, and considers the details before making a decision, sometimes there can be unforeseen circumstances. As it said in the afterward of the book; "even when you try to do what's right, the results can be problematic."

I had a really hard time trying to write how I feel about the question of whether ethics is teachable or not. I keep going back and fourth with what I think. But, in the end I guess I think it is. Mainly because, as the "afterward" in the book says, often times, results that are ethically wrong, can sometimes occur because of the "incompleteness" of ones knowledge. Or often times, complete lack of knowledge all together. If people aren't informed, its no surprise they're going to make bad decisions. But anyone can be taught, if they're willing. I think people can not only be taught what we've been taught; decision making, philosophies, philosophers, models and all of the information side of things. People can also be taught right and wrong. And they can also be taught to take the time to consider all this before making a rash decision. After that, it is up to the individual to implement it all and actively try to make informed, ethically sound decisions for all involved.
I think this means that society has a great responsibility to itself, to seek out a more sound, educated, and responsible way of making decisions. Like I said, I do think its possible for people to be taught ethics and be taught how to make ethical decisions but I just question what the majority of people would do with the information. You can give people all the tools they need to do right, but that's really all that can be done. I guess in this sense I'm a Little skeptical still.

kiersten said...

In the beginning of the semester, I thought of ethics as a very black or white abstract value. I thought it was easy to define ethics and what it means to be ethical. This class really opened my eyes completely.

At the beginning of the semester, I would leave this class with extreme anxiety. I had never realized how difficult certain situations could be to determine whether it was ethical or not.

All of the methods that we learned about to determine is something is ethical or not including the categorical imperative, golden mean, golden rule, TARES, potter box etc have really given me a new way to look at different situations. I think that learning about the different methods is what accounted for the change in my opinion on ethics.
Situational and universal ethics is something that I really enjoyed talking about and had a lasting effect on me.'

This change is extremely valuable, when I used to make decisions, I used to base it purely on my gut and what I felt would benefit everyone most. Now, I really think about the consequences of every option I have. I sincerely do think about what the golden mean would be and act upon it. When I see things in and on the news, I pause to think about how the publication is affecting every member involved in the reporting of that topic.

I think that ethics is teachable and I think that it should be mandatory for people to learn about it. A lot of people think that they know what ethics is and this class will really open your eyes to what ethical means. It allows you to see that ethics is not a simple thing to talk about.

I think that the reason I got such anxiety in the beginning of the semester was because I was realizing how complicated ethics could be and it made me nervous that not everybody thinks about what they do before they do it. There are so many people who need to know and understand what it means to be ethical and because it is such a complicated thing, people don't always act appropriately. This leads me to think that the consequences, of not being informed of ethics and what it means to be ethical on our, to our society is that there are going to be reporters, tv personalities, etc that make unethical decisions because they don't fully understand the depth that comes along with being ethical. this already happens everyday, and it scares me.

Again, this is one of the best classes I have ever taken and I really appreciate everything that I learned in the class. It is one of the few that have affected me to e point outside the classroom It has really shaped my opinion and made an impact on my future ( I think) and I want to thank Professor Good as well as the class for giving me this experience.

kiersten said...

In the beginning of the semester, I thought of ethics as a very black or white abstract value. I thought it was easy to define ethics and what it means to be ethical. This class really opened my eyes completely.

At the beginning of the semester, I would leave this class with extreme anxiety. I had never realized how difficult certain situations could be to determine whether it was ethical or not.

All of the methods that we learned about to determine is something is ethical or not including the categorical imperative, golden mean, golden rule, TARES, potter box etc have really given me a new way to look at different situations. I think that learning about the different methods is what accounted for the change in my opinion on ethics.
Situational and universal ethics is something that I really enjoyed talking about and had a lasting effect on me.'

Jenn Von Willer said...

I believe that my concept of media ethics has changed very much because of the class discussions and the prominent examples of Veronica Guerin and the founding mother of journalism, Elizabeth Cochrane/Nellie Bly. Still, it seems anyone will do just about anything for a great story, like Stephen Glass.

I didn't really know too much about the SPJ Code of Ethics or what a code of ethics is all about until this class. I didn't have too many legal cases regarding media ethics and what journalists and PR professionals can say or do. There is no Miranda Rights for journalists conducting interviews or obtaining sources properly with a preamble, but ethics is teachable and still very, very necessary in my opinion.

A lot of philosophy is hard to comprehend, however, if it's never taught or presented as correlating examples to a class discussion, nobody can learn how to prevent unethical mistakes and avoid brutal consequences. I used to think ethics in general was too broad and vague to understand or prove a few examples to others when mentioning why this or that is ethical. Now after this semester, my idea or what's right or wrong doesn't have to always include ethics. I don't think ethics has to be included with religion or family upbringings anymore and I feel much more enlightened with the knowledge I have about different philosophical models like the Bok and TARES.

kaleighgriff said...
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beth said...

I read this question and a thousand thoughts immediately popped into my head; it's difficult to describe just how much my concept of ethics in general has changed over the span of this semester. Walking in to class on the first day, I was nervous and intimidated and, honestly, I seldom thought about ethics in regards to myself and the world around me.

But, after learning about, analyzing, and discussing various moral codes, the philosophers, the case studies, etc. I have come to realize that the subject of media ethics has implications that stretch far beyond the press, impacting our everyday lives. Talking about media ethics has made me think a lot more about the way I act and the decisions I make. I can't say that I always make the right decision now, but I definitely have a better grasp on how the choices I make affect many more people than I had originally considered. I find myself thinking about the things we talk about in class in my spare time, and I can definitely say that I'm significantly less selfish than I used to be. Where I used to judge a situation quickly and without much real deliberation, I now find myself looking beyond what feels good at that moment and considering whether I'm still going to feel that way afterwards -- I guess I am trying to make sure I always end up doing "what feels good after". I had no ethical code before, and I'm not going to say I have a very specific one now, but I certainly have a more lucid outlook on everything.

Like Jackie, the afterword's section on failure really hit me:

"Failure is usually assumed to be cause for despair, but, actually, it's cause for hope - hope because we can emerge from failure wiser, less arrogant, more human."

I couldn't sum up the way I feel after taking this class any better than that. I've made a whole lot of mistakes, done stupid things, hurt people without meaning to, but now I don't look at those things as absolutely terrible, like I used to. Instead, I appreciate everything that I experience, all of the choices I make, whether they be right or wrong. I take the bad and I learn from it, and in the end, that's really all you can do. To make mistakes is to be human, and to admit those mistake honestly and without any selfish motives is even more human.

I rarely enroll in a class that I look forward to or enjoy. I actually learned things in this class that I can apply to "real life" (whatever that really is). I'm scared out of my mind to graduate and go into the professional world, where people are ruthless and arrogant, driven by greed, etc. I know, however, that I will do good, and always be empathetic, no matter what.

Jon Cappetta said...
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Jon Cappetta said...
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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.