Sunday, November 1, 2009

Ethics: The Struggle that Never Ends

Ethics: the driving force between moral and reality. What seem to be easy concepts at first are not so much once one dives into them and tries to make sense of them. For journalists, we struggle with these concepts in the workplace, out in the field, and even in our own work. Ethics are what we “should” do. We struggle with the ethics of doing what is right when it comes to being assigned to a story and the boss tells us to do something that goes beyond what our own ethics call for. We don’t want to lose a job over it but the question becomes then how would one handle his/herself if the person when through with it?

There is the struggle mentioned in Kovach and Rosenstiel of making stories relevant and engaging without fabricating and sensationalizing the information. Unfortunately, this has become so-called “normal” practice amongst the media today. Where is the ethics in that? Kovach and Rosenstiel mention that “if one feeds people trivia and entertainment, one withers the appetite and expectations of some people for anything else.” This destroys the media’s authority to deliver serious news and drives audience members away. So, where do ethics come in? It comes in when journalists stick to what they have researched and know what it the truth of the story. Merrill mentions the dialectic struggle journalists have when it comes to telling the story and to separate the emotional from the rational so that the audience gets the truth that the journalist wants them to see and hear. In hindsight, journalists should tell the story but keep the news comprehensive in proportion to what is being told.

Why does this sound so easy but it isn’t? One thing that journalists have to keep in mind is for one to continue to be vigilant. Being vigilant means sticking to one’s guns and knows that it is truth that the audience wants, not fluff or trivial stuff. One wants to have a great story but ethically needs to recognize what is right in writing the story and what is wrong in terms of sensationalizing. There are too many examples of that type of media such as "The Daily Show" and "The Colbert Report" that do the sensationalizing for us. Journalists don’t want to struggle and fall into the category of infotainment because that not what they do or work for. They work for their audience and getting the truth they need. The struggle with ethics isn’t going to go away but having a better understanding of what is right and wrong journalistically might make things a little easier.


  1. This entry reminded me of a discussion my broadcast class had recently. An ABC affiliate in Washington, D.C., ran a package Nov. 1 raising awareness about breast cancer and the importance of women performing self-exams. In an effort to show exactly how to do these exams, the news station showed a woman performing a self-exam at the instruction of an oncologist.
    The station chose to not blur out any of this footage and the woman's breasts were completely exposed. The news director wanted to show exactly how to perform these exams because their research had shown that most women didn't actually know what they were supposed to do.
    So, the images of a bare-chested woman are controversial by itself because it's on ABC and not a cable station. But the real controversy is that the date they chose to air this package happened to be during sweeps week, even though it was clear that the piece had been filmed several weeks in advance. Now, the station has been accused of airing the piece not just as a public service, but more for the ratings it would bring.
    So what's ethical in this situation? What would you have done as the news director? Regardless of where you stand on the issue, it just reminds me that these are the kinds of situations that we aren't going to role play in our journalism classes. Which is why as journalists we have to be aware of our own ethical beliefs because big ethical questions are not going to disappear.

  2. The idea that “if one feeds people trivia and entertainment, one withers the appetite and expectations of some people for anything else” seems especially relevant in today's cable news climate. If people are presented with infotainment over and over, as we commonly see on Fox, MSNBC and CNN, they become accustomed to believing it is the news standard. In many respects, sadly it may be. It seems like a self-perpetuating cycle. People are given the news in an entertainment form and come to expect entertainment from their news.

  3. I believe every journalists struggle through some ethical problems. There could be many ethical dilemma the journalists face, but the common ethical problem I see is in covering the stroy that means to the every community. I think as journalists, it is important to write the story that matters to each individuals and not to leave out certain community.