Why Ethics is so Important

If you are working hard to become a better journalist, do not forget to add ethical-decision making to the list. It is so important because you will be facing ethical issues all the time with work.

According to Poynter NewsU:

You will need the tools — a meaningful vocabulary (“stakeholders,” “alternatives,” “consequences”) for talking about ethics; practical guidelines to set the boundaries for behavior.

And you will need the techniques — the ability to recognize and define ethical issues, to ask the right questions, to collaborate, to tolerate ambiguity and contrary views.

You will need commitment and courage — to keep practicing rigorous and vigorous journalism in the face of difficulty and even danger; to honor your ethical principles when others are selling their souls; to challenge conventional thinking at the risk of being labeled a contrarian; to raise important concerns to your boss even if it could be a career-limiting step.

Ethics goes along way in journalism


Retouching Photos in the News

This photo was edited to remove a rival publisher; Liberty Times, December 2007

In the newsrooms, retouching of photographs tend to be limited to basic exposure and color correction, cropping, resizing, or conversion to grayscale.

Retouching may not seem like such a big deal, but it can have an effect on the way we remember an event, according to a 2007 study published in Applied Cognitive Psychology.

“Any media that employ digitally doctored photographs will have a stronger effect than merely influencing our opinion – by tampering with our malleable memory, they may ultimately change the way we recall history,” said researcher Dario Sacchi.

All Good Things Must Come to an End

The semester is finally over. It was hell at most points but the fact that I survived is good enough for me. I can honestly say that I have learned the most in this class so far than out of any of my other college classes. I have to be honest I feel pretty good about myself that I passed considering the amount that dropped out from the class. It certainly wasn’t easy getting to the end but honestly are things ever easy? Dr. Golombisky, I would like to thank you again for an awesome semester. Now that next semester I will officially be a mass communications major, I know that there is a lot more to come. I, personally, can not wait for the fun to begin.

Newsweek’s Controversial Palin Cover

This cover of Newsweek by many was thought to be biased and sexist. The shot is actually from a photo shoot that Palin did for Runner’s World Magazine. The photographer of the photo also supposedly breached the contract he had with Runner’s World Magazine.

And what did Newsweek’s editor Jon Meacham have to say about the cover: “We chose the most interesting image available to us to illustrate the theme of the cover, which is what we always try to do,” he said. “We apply the same test to photographs of any public figure, male or female: does the image convey what we are saying? That is a gender-neutral standard.”

Do you find the cover to be controversial?

Arthur Ashe AIDS story

Tennis great Arthur Ashe was at the top of the world. He became the
first African-American to win the U.S. Open and Wimbledon tennis championships. It was a great time for him. In 1979, Ashe
suffered a heart attack and went through heart surgery. He was eventually required to go through a second operation to correct
the bypass surgery. In 1988, Ashe began to feel ill and discovered he had contracted HIV during the blood transfusions he
received during the second surgery.

Doug Smith, a USA Today reporter, contacted Ashe and told him about a rumor that was phoned to the newspaper that Ashe had AIDS. After talking with Smith, Ashe talked with USA Today’s executive editor/sports, Gene Policinski. Policinski asked Ashe if he was HIV-positve. Ashe responsed with “could be.” Ashe kindly asked Policinski if he could wait 36 hours to publish the story. Policinski told Ashe that he could not promise him anything.

Ashe called a press conference. “I am sorry that I have been forced to make this revelation at this time. After all, I am not running for some office of public trust, nor do I have stockholders to account to,” Ashe said. “It is only that I fall in the dubious umbrella of ‘quote, public figure, end of quote.'”

It is important to realize that during this time, having AIDS was a major concern. It was associated mainly with homesexual men and drug addicts. It has been reported that other news outlets did know about Ashe but never published anything to protect him.

The Christian Century referred to this as a “tale of media irresponsibility and corporate greed,” an example of “entertainment posing as information.”

*Credit for “Arthur Ashe and the Right to Privacy” case study by Carol Oukrop

Ethics Checklist

When it comes to ethical-decision making, there are many different steps and lists out there. It is important to know that these lists all help in some way. One of the checklist’s that I found stood out to me the most. It is in the book Mixed Media: Moral Distinctions in Advertising, Public Relations, and Journalism by Tom Bivins. This is a 7-step checklist for moral decision making:

1) What is the ethical issue?
– Vital to realize that every issue is going to have different parts to it, and that not all parts contain an ethical decision.
2) What immediate facts are the most relevant on the ethical decision you must render in this case? Include any potential economic, social, or political pressures.
– It is important to not let your opinions get involved. Leave the biases out completely.
3) Who are the claimants in this issue and in what way are you obligated to each of them? Define your claimants based on the following obligations: fidelity, reparation, gratitude, justice, beneficence and non-injury.
– Imagine that you are walking in the other person’s shoes. This will help you realize if you are harming a claimant.
4) List at least 3 alternative courses of action. For each alternative, ask the following questions:
– What are the best and worse case scenarios?
– Will anyone be harmed if you choose this alternative, and how will this individual be harmed?
– Would honoring any ideal/value invalidate the chosen alternative?
– Are there any rules or principles that automatically invalidate this alternative?
5) Consider some of the following ethical guidelines and ask yourself if they are for or against any of your alternatives:
– Will anyone be harmed who could be considered defenseless?
– Is the “good” brought about by your action outweighed by the potential harm that could be done to anyone?
– Are you willing to make your decision a rule or policy that you and others could follow in similar situations in the future?
– Does the alternative show respect for the integrity and dignity of those affected by your actions?
6) Determine a course of action based on your analysis.
– Put all of these tools together to come to a conclusion.
7) Defend your decision in the form of a letter addressed to the person harmed the most.

Some of the above are my added comments; however, most of it comes from the book directly. I didn’t even change most of the wording for fear that it could be interpreted differently than the way it was written. Now that you have a checklist, it is time to look at some news stories that were handled unethically.


“Every news organization has only its credibility and reputation to rely on.”
Tony Burman, ex-editor-in chief of CBC News.

Mission Statement: The goal of this blog is to inform you of the importance of ethics in journalism. I hope that the following entries will give you a better understanding of ethics in the news.

Professional journalists still make unethical decisions. I believe that the earlier you learn about ways to be ethical, the more it will sink in and become habit. Nobody is perfect and we all make mistakes. Ethics is an everyday thing in journalism despite what people may believe. To build your credibility as a journalist, learning as much about ethics is one of the best things that one can do.