Tuesday, November 3, 2009

The Ethical Journalist

In a newsroom Journalist deal with ethical decisions every day. Depending on how you view the world your ethics might be different compared to the next person. Ethics affects how journalists carry themselves when choosing, writing and presenting stories. In class this afternoon and in the reader we talked about different principles of ethics: deontological and teleological. We also talked about Merrill beliefs on journalism ethics, all have different ideologies and foundations and one does not stand out above the others. These different ethical ideologies affect every journalist in a different way and it is up to you and only you to decide what your journalism ethics are.

Nobody can tell you what to believe and how you should go about getting a story that is our choice as journalists.

Deontological is better described as duty bound ethics. Immanuel Kant, the poster boy for the deontological ethicist, thought that only an action taken out of self-imposed duty could be ethical and that consideration of an action’s consequences, either to self or to others, wipe out any moral significance such an action might have. (Kant, 192) This meaning that what is ethical for a journalist to do is what that journalist would want everybody to do. It is closely related to the golden rule: do on to others… Kant, and many professors have taught us this way of thinking in our college careers, and while I see the point of treating everyone with respect sometimes as journalist we must step on people’s toes and rub people the wrong way to get information we need to fully tell a story. We must tell the truth even when the truth hurts.

On the other side of the road is the belief in teleological ethics formed by John Stuart Mill. Mill believed that journalists should report on the greatest good to the greatest number of people. This means reporting on a story that is going to have the most impact on the greatest population, something that a nightly newscast does on a regular basis. The teleological theory also states that it wants to always consider the consequences before you act and to minimize harm. This is an issue for journalist simply because almost every story we publish will in some way shape or form have a negative effect on someone, the real issue is journalist will never see the negative effect in advance, instead they will see it after the point making it very hard for journalist who believe in this theory to really branch out and write stories that have the potential to be controversial. Personally I feel that this theory is what professors teach us the most. Constantly we are given assignments and told to pick a story idea and when we present our ideas the first question we are asked is who does this effect? And most of the time if it is not a large population of people we are asked to choose another topic or change the angle to grasp more people. While it is smart to report on the greatest good to the greatest number of people journalist should not forget about the little guy, even though they are not part of the big picture they are still part of the picture none the less.

Finally, there is Merrill’s belief in ethics which is different from both the deontological and teleological beliefs. Merrill’s ethics are based off the certain pragmatic goals; he feels that journalist should not worry about the consequences of a story. Merrill feels that you should do what you have to do to get the outcome you want. In relation to a real world situation, if an editor tells you to get the story, you get it by any means necessary. Rather that is by being polite and courteous or being crude and rude to get the information needed.
It seems that most people believe that this is unethical and is something that professors tell their students to shy away from. However, I feel that Merrill is speaking from real world experience. Most of us know that once we get in a real newsroom that most of the things we were taught in school are going to be thrown out the window and that to move up in both the newsroom and on the payroll we are going to have to report stories that are going to make people unhappy. It is harsh reality but then again so is the real world.

I personally cannot categorize myself in any single ideology; I feel that I am a mixture of all of them. Most journalists might feel the same way, these are the extremes of journalism ethics and not everyone is going to lean to one side or the other, however it is still our job to take parts from all of these ideologies and form them into our own journalism ethics code by which we live by.

1 comment:

  1. I'm in Professor Craig's Ethics class, so this section of our class is not really new to me. For the past couple of weeks, like you I have been trying to categorize myself among one of the ethical thought. I think that I most fit with is Kant's deontological ethics. I personally feel that deontological ethics allow journalist more freedom to report (they are not always worried about the consequences of their actions) and as long as you are not performing to where any of negative behavior would be universal norm, I think that it would naturally follow that harm and negative consequences would be minimal.