Elements of Journalism: Preface & Introduction
I think the book’s preface adequately justifies the need for updates in the face of a changing journalistic landscape and ever-advancing technology. I am especially glad about the addition of the tenth principal, The Citizen’s Rights and Responsibilities. Whether we like it or not, citizen journalism is a real part of the industry that isn’t going away anytime soon, and it needs to be addressed. In any case, I’m happy to see a textbook that releases a new edition for good reason, rather than those that seem to change a few words here and there just to hamper the used book market. There’s an ethical issue for you. But I digress.
Media Ethics: Chapter 1
This chapter outlined five major ethical philosophies, roughly in order of their inception from Ancient Greece to the modern day. As I read through them, each seemed to be the “right” way of looking at things, only to be challenged by the next. Aristotle’s Golden Mean seems like a tidy way of looking at ethical dilemmas, until utilitarianism makes you realize that the former has little to say about consequences of actions. Likewise, utilitarianism seems too rigid, even cruel, when compared to the pragmatic and social justice-focused view of communitarianism. Obviously that’s the point of the chapter: these are all guidelines, and none of them are more correct than the others.
In the case of the United Way scenario, I would publish the information about the executive director’s actions. The alternative would be to publish an incomplete story, possibly allowing the individual to commit similar actions in the future. While it would definitely hurt the executive director’s reputation, and might tarnish the organization’s image, it would benefit the public by informing them of the wrongdoing.
Case Study 1-A
In the 1976 Pulitzer-winning photo, you have an example of what comes up in virtually every journalism class when the subject turns to ethics: a published photo of someone dying. This one adds another layer in that it is a child who is dying. I will say that, on first thought, I feel that both taking the photo and publishing it were ethical, but let’s see how I feel after this.
- I feel that publishing this photo was ethically justified. The photo is a fitting and accurate portrayal of events, and, as the text stated, helped bring attention the issue of poor fire escape maintenance.
- Another way to achieve the goal of portraying the event might have been to publish a photo of the building on fire, sans the falling girls. Even then, this is a more generic photo, and it doesn’t have the same public service affect as the original.
- Obviously, the family of the deceased girl might have objections to the photo, and this, in my view, is the biggest ethical roadblock to publication. Some readers, too, might take offense to the depiction of death, though since the photo is not overtly graphic, I feel this is less of an issue.
Aristotle’s Golden Mean: The main issue here, I think, is decency. In that case, the golden mean would be between self-censorship and obscenity. Being that the image is not gory or overly graphic, nor does it even show the actual death, this falls well short of being obscene. To not publish the image would, in my view, constitute unnecessary censorship, so the publication of the photo falls in line with the Golden Mean.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative: This model says one should treat individuals as ends rather than means. In that case, when taking into account the feelings of the girl’s family members, it might not be ethically justified to publish the photo.
Utilitarianism: I think this guideline offers the strongest case for publication. While the girl’s family might suffer emotional distress from publication of the photo, it has the potential to bring an important issue to a wide audience and thereby bring about positive change. In that sense, it works for the greater good.
Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: Based on this principle, I would likely publish the photo. The duties of fidelity to the family and to easily offended readers, and of not injuring others inform me against publication. However, the duties of justice, beneficence, self-improvement, and veracity inform me in favor of publication. I feel that the duties of reparation, gratitude, and nurture are not applicable in this situation.
Communitarianism: I think that, since this philosophy focuses on social justice, it supports publication. Not only would the photo provide information that could help society at large, it would specifically help a group of people who may be particularly in need: poorer people living in inadequately maintained inner-city buildings.
So, at the end of the day, I would still publish this photo, though I have a few more reservations in regards to the family. I think I would at least discuss it with them before publication, time permitting.
Ethical Issue of the Week
The ongoing “knockout game” issue has been one of my favorite points of discussion for a while. Despite increasing media attention to the “game”, there has been little, if any, real evidence that it is a trend. This story, like many others, is written in a sensationalist way that takes the existence of the trend for granted. It’s not until halfway down the page that the reader finds out that the only one implying a connection to the supposed game, other than the writer, is the victim. The ethical issue here lies not only in exaggerating the existence of the game without proper evidence, but also in the fact that extensive media coverage might actually help cause the trend by giving it wider exposure. I the best ethical choice in this case would be to take the emphasis off of the knockout game allegations, and focus on what the story really is about: alleged assault and battery. Of course, this would probably make the story unworthy of a national news site like cbsnews.com, but that’s another problem.
Are all five ethical guidelines equally valid today? If yes, explain why. If no, identify which you consider less valid, and give reasoning.
Ethics vs. Morals: Ethics is a rational process founded on certain agreed-on principles, while morals are the often religiously based distinction between right and wrong. Contrary to morals, ethics often focus on the conflict between equally compelling options, or on choosing the lesser of two evils.
Aristotle’s Golden Mean: Aristotle’s philosophy of ethics can be reduced to the idea that virtue lies at the mean between two extremes of excess and deficiency. To determine this mean, he said that one must be aware of his or her actions, select an act for its own sake, and that the act must spring from a firm and unchanging character. In example, skepticism might be seen as the mean between gullibility and cynicism. This is similar to the Buddhist “Middle Way” between self-denial and self-indulgence.
Kant’s Categorical Imperative: Immanuel Kant’s well-known imperative can be stated in two ways. First, that an individual should act as if the choices one makes for oneself could become universal law, and second, that one should act so that he or she treats each individual as an end and never as just a means. By calling them categorical, Kant meant that the rules’ demands were universal and unchanging. The imperative rests on the notion that moral force resides in an act rather than the actor.
Utilitarianism: This ethical philosophy, originating in the 18th and 19th centuries, is based on the idea that the consequences of actions are important in deciding whether they are ethical. Utilitarianism focuses on bringing the most benefit to the most people, meaning that it may be ethical to harm an individual for the benefit of the many. According to Media Ethics, this is the basis of investigative journalism.
Ross’ Pluralistic Theory of Value: The 20th century philosopher William David Ross believed that there is often more than one ethical value competing for preeminence in our ethical decision-making. Ross claimed these ethical claims, or duties, are equal, and include fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, beneficence, self-improvement and not injuring others. Media Ethics recommends two more: veracity and nurture.
Communitarianism: Rooted in political theory, this ethical philosophy seeks to provide ethical guidance when confronting the wider issues of current political or business activities. It focuses on the outcome of individual ethical decisions analyzed in light of their potential impact to society, and asserts that social justice is the predominant moral value.
Jovahn Huertas, firstname.lastname@example.org