Monday, December 3, 2012

Journalism Ethics: Where Have They Gone?

Ethics and journalism, why do they go hand in hand?

We all know what ethics are, but do we really understand them at the root of their meaning? Ethics can be interpreted differently by different people, we all have our own set of beliefs, and they are what shape us as a person. While researching the definition of ethics, I came across a wide variety of meanings. The best definition I found, that incorporated all aspects of ethics was, “The basic concepts and fundamental principles of right human conduct. It includes study of universal values such as the essential equality of all men and women, human or natural rights, obedience to the law of land, concern for health and safety and, increasingly, also for the natural environment.” (Business Dictionary) The question that arises is, what does ethics have to do with journalism?

As a journalist, the most important thing to remember is to always remain ethical. Ethics are extremely important when it comes to any kind our journalism, be it print, broadcast, or photojournalism. The Society of Professional Journalists has a Code of Ethics that all journalists should follow. The code includes, seeking truth and reporting it, minimizing harm to public, acting independently, and being accountable. Citizens trust journalists to report the news, and they trust that what is being reported is 100% the truth. Journalists have a huge responsibility to maintain that trust with the public.

A look into the past: Journalism ethics 50 years ago

Let’s go back into time to a simpler place, a time where there was no internet, no cell phones, just televisions with a handful of channels. Life was quite different back then. In 1972 Walter Cronkite was determined to be the “most trusted man in America.”( PBS) No matter what your political stance was or religious belief, you watched Walter Cronkite on the CBS Evening News. He broke the news to America that Kennedy had been assassinated. He expressed his distaste for the Vietnam War in a somber broadcast, a broadcast that apparently made the President at the time, Lyndon Johnson say, “I’ve lost Walter Cronkite, I’ve lost Middle America.” That is the influence that Cronkite had on America. He reported the news in an ethical and easy way, so everyone understood what was going on. What happened to all the Walter Cronkite’s of our time?
A Nation split: Leading to more journalism outlets, and less journalism credibility? 

As an aspiring journalist, one has to be extremely flexible with our changing world. Journalism is totally different from what it used to be. We have a plethora of different news mediums that people receive their news from. Has this boom of journalism outlets caused the profession of journalism to be looked upon as less credible? I sat down with Deborah Nelson, the Pulitzer-Prize winning investigative journalist turned professor at the University of Maryland.

Nelson received a J.D. from DePaul University College of Law and a B.S. in Journalism from Northern Illinois University. She teaches media law as well as non-fiction war literature and investigative reporting. (Deborah Nelson) Her most recent publication, The War Behind Me, a non-fiction account from Vietnam Veterans about the war, gained national popularity.  Nelson and I discussed our changing journalistic world in regards to journalism ethics.
As I sat listening to Ms. Nelson discuss journalism ethics in relation with new media, it dawned on me that maybe we haven’t completely lost all ethics in journalism. When I asked, “Do you feel as if journalism ethics has diminished with new media?” She gives an optimistic view for journalists. Nelson states, “New media has forced us to think about the rules we’ve applied for years…the emerging media has really presented new challenges…” New media is affecting us in ways we can’t even imagine, but one thing that will always, and should always remain in journalism is ethics.

Have no fear; ethics in journalism will always be here!

Yes, we do live in a constantly changing technological world, with new advances coming out everyday. Journalism is a field that is changing as much as our technological world, one thing that should always remain it the set of ethics that journalists have to follow. With the changing time, of course new categories will be added to the Code of Ethics, but journalism ethics should always remain.

For another journalism class I sat down to interview Greg Vistica who is an investigative journalist. He has written many controversial articles on many pressing issues. Including a book titles The Education of Lieutenant Kerrey, which exposed Senator Bob Kerrey’s war crimes in Vietnam. I asked him, “What made you want to become a journalist? Was there something that sparked your interest?” His response was:

“My focus was international relations, so when I was in college and I had to take a few electives so I took an elective called Journalism Ethics. The class was fascinating, but journalism was never a passion of mine. The class was about when do journalist actually become real people, when do they interject into real life situations, like when do you intervene and do you steal classified papers for the greater good of humanity. So, it sparked an interest, I talked to the chairwoman and she convinced me to minor in journalism, so I did. While I was at San Francisco State I wrote for the school newspaper eventually becoming the editor of the paper. It was after college that I really gained a passion for 

This really taught me that not all journalists are cut-throat-money-hungry people. Vistica explained to me that sometimes you have to weigh your options to figure out if what you’re researching will be beneficial to the greater good of the people. The greater good of the people. That is what should always be the focus of journalism.

I interviewed Tanner Treschuk, an employer at Tempus Consulting. I was curious as to what he had to say about Journalism ethics. The results are below:


  1. The heading of this blog post is informative, as it allows the reader to understand that the rest of the post will be about a loss of journalism ethics, and probing because the author is immediately making the reader evaluate what they know about journalism ethics and how the ethics may have changed. Based just off the subheads, it is unclear as to what the general consensus of the post is. For example; the second subhead "A look into the past: Journalism ethics 50 years ago" informs the reader what the post will be about, but does not give any kind of summary of the main argument. As a reader with time to only skim I am left wondering; "What were the journalism ethics like 50 years ago and how does this contribute to the main idea? Where they better or worse?" The graphics used in the post were not exactly favorable. The first graphic was a video of Walter Cronkite, under the section reviewing ethics from 50 years ago. Putting in this video clip was a great idea, but the video was almost six minutes long, which causes the reader to have to take time to skip through the video and look for evidence backing up what was written in the paragraph above it. It would have been helpful if the author put a specific time to skip to, saving the reader time. The information in the interview video was informative and fitting to the post as a whole, backing up with a small descriptive paragraph. Unfortunately, the audio was a little hard to hear, I'm guessing because the interviewee was a bit too far away for good clarity. Also, the video goes on for over 2 and a half minutes, which makes it a little hard to stay focused on and not want to skip through. The lighting isn't terrible, but again, since the distance is a little too far, it is hard to clearly see the interviewee. The expert is looking off screen, which is credible.
    Overall the information is informative, and the author's voice was distinct and interesting. I thought it was a great idea to include the Walter Cronkite bit. I gained insight on where ethics stand in journalism: ethics will always be a factor. There were a nice amount of sources backing up the idea that although ethics have changed, they are not going to disappear forever. If I could make a suggestion, it would be to add in more graphics to keep the reader's attention, and also cut down on video time, allowing for a quick efficient read without a loss of interest.

  2. I thought that this post was very well written overall, and the author had a distinct voice that made it entertaining to read, and keeps the post interesting. The subheadings were all very catchy and stylized, however, they provided little insight as to the conclusions of the subsequent paragraphs. The author did a good job of hinting at the general content one might expect to find, but left it up to the reader to read the content themselves in order to answer the rhetorical questions she puts forth. The last subheading was the only one that was properly executed, and did a good job of being explanatory while still retaining the author's distinct personal voice. If all the headings were like the last one, it would be much better. Additionally, the relative lack of graphics detracted from the appearance of the post. There is only one picture in the article, and it appears at the end. The video of Walter Cronkite was an interesting idea, but was too long to have been used as part of the content of your paragraph. If you had used the video as merely a link or supplement to the material, or if you had specified a time that the reader could skip to in order to get the gist of the information, it would have made it more effective. Additionally, the expert video was shot too far back, was backlit, and went on for far too long. It is unreasonable to expect a casual reader to watch two and a half minutes of a video. I understand what the author was trying to do with combining all of the clips into a single video, seperated by written titles that explained the questions each segment would address, but the expert interview would have been far more effective if each clip was inserted as its own video. This would have also allowed the author to place each response accordingly within the article, rather than giving all the information at once. The expert did provide some good information, but I found myself losing interest fairly quickly once the titles appeared. Finally, the audioboo was presented as more of a second expert interview than a "man on the street", but the audio was good and it was well placed within the article. Overall, the strengths of this post would definitely be the author's engaging tone and writing style, while the weaknesses would be the lack of graphics, and length of the videos.