Ethical thinking and decision making are an important function of journalism. At Gaylord, we are taught how to conduct interviews, how to eliminate jump cuts and how to avoid libel lawsuits. The gravitas issue that is lacking from our journalism education is the assessment of values and ethics within our writing and producing.
Our inherited worldviews make it difficult for us to write objectively; but to question ethics is to question individuality. Merrill defines several types of ethics in his chapter “Main Ethical Roads.” His divulgence into each category provides the idea that humans maintain different ethical codes. Thus, how is the journalist to decide what is universally ethical?
Each individual’s thoughts and actions are unique, coinciding with the belief that our personal ethics are unique, as well (Merrill). Asking what is moral or ethical allows us to assess the broader scheme of ethics in journalism such as attribution, truth, word choice, etc. (Craig). Each of these topics involves a reasoning that deduces objectivity and ethical consideration. For example, a journalist’s voice carries heavy implications. The voice must remain detached from bias and maintain simplicity to “help readers understand the political and social world” (Craig, pg. 183). The ethical dilemma occurs when a journalist’s voice gains judgment (Craig).
“Professional journalists and journalism organizations have consistently held up truth as an important ethical value” (Craig, pg. 177). Truth in journalism implies research, fairness and accuracy among many things (Craig). While these standards seem clear it is sometimes hard to gauge their accuracy within its given context. A quote within a story may indicate prejudice and harm the speaker’s reputation; analysis of complex issues may allow the journalist’s values to permeate into the story (Craig).
In response to these ethical dilemmas, Merrill provides a pseudo guide of ethical definitions for the young journalist to regard. Ultimately, our ethical decision-making is our own, but the precedence of journalistic “professional ethics” and others may serve as a guide.
Pragmatic ethics “focus on the professional goal of providing the best story” (Merrill, pg. 187). This role of ethical behavior has been seen through the journalistic approach of the ends being more important than the means (Merrill).
Machiavellian Ethics define the sly reporter, stating one only “obey[s] laws if they don’t harm their success” and seek to provide the truth where it is hidden (Merrill).
Through all of this, “the best journalists are sensitive to how their work affects others without being enslaved to their work” (Craig, pg. 178). While every individual is entitled to their own code of ethics, it is important to understand the process by which journalists and society function. Ultimately stating that the element of truth within journalism cannot be cast aside.