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The Ethical Journalist Making Responsible Decisions in the Digital Age

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  • Edition: 3rd
  • Format: Paperback
  • Copyright: 2022-06-21
  • Publisher: Wiley-Blackwell

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The Ethical Journalist

Praise for the Third Edition of The Ethical Journalist

“A riveting examination of journalism ethics, updated for the seismic change that is now an industry constant. The Ethical Journalist is written to fortify journalism students, but real-life examples of everything from faked photographs to reporting on presidential lies make it valuable to all of us who care about the news.”

Praise for the Earlier Editions

“The book is superb — the definitive work on journalism ethics and practices. It should be a basic text in every school of journalism.”

“At a time when the internet has turned journalism inside out and blown up long-held traditions, the need for media ethics is even more critical. This is the book to help guide students and the rest of us through the revolution.”

The third edition of The Ethical Journalist is a comprehensive examination of current issues in the field of journalism ethics, researched and written by four journalists with experience in both the newsroom and the classroom. It gives students and professionals the tools they need to navigate the challenges of journalism today, first explaining the importance of ethics in journalism and then putting a decision-making strategy to work. The text is supplemented by case studies and essays, and two companion websites provide additional materials for educators and a forum for all users to discuss new topics in journalism ethics as they arise.

Author Biography

GENE FOREMAN managed newsroom operations of The Philadelphia Inquirer for 25 years, a period in which the staff won eighteen Pulitzer Prizes. He then taught for nine years at Pennsylvania State University as its inaugural Foster Professor.

DANIEL R. BIDDLE was one of three Inquirer reporters who won a Pulitzer Prize for investigative stories in 1986. Later he was an editor directing investigative reporting. He teaches at the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Delaware.

EMILIE LOUNSBERRY was a reporter for The Inquirer for 27 years, producing award-winning coverage of trials and legal issues. Since 2009 she has been an associate professor teaching journalism courses at The College of New Jersey.

RICHARD G. JONES began his reporting career at The Inquirer before moving to The New York Times, where he became an associate editor. After directing the teaching of journalism, ethics, and democracy at the University of Notre Dame, he was named The Inquirer’s managing editor for Opinion.

Table of Contents

Foreword xvi

Preface xviii

About the Coauthors xx

Acknowledgments xxii

Part I: A Foundation for Making Ethical Decisions 1

1 Why Ethics Matters in Journalism 3

2 Ethics: The Bedrock of a Society 17

3 The News Media’s Role in Society 25

4 For Journalists, a Clash of Moral Duties 43

5 The Public and the Media: Love and Hate 63

6 How the ‘Trump Effect’ Challenged Journalism 77

7 Applying Four Classic Theories of Ethics 99

8 Using a Code of Ethics as a Decision Tool 109

9 Making Moral Decisions You Can Defend 117

Part II: Putting Journalism Ethics to Work 131

10 Getting the Facts Right and Being Fair 133

11 Showing Empathy for People in the News 167

12 Avoiding Conflicts: Appearances Count 183

13 Lifting the Curtain on How Journalism Is Done 209

14 Navigating Social Media’s Uneven Terrain 227

15 Covering a Diverse, Multicultural Society 247

16 Dealing With Sources of Information 265

17 Making News Decisions About Privacy 285

18 Making Decisions About Offensive Content 305

19 Deception: A Risky, Controversial Tool 321

20 Ethics Issues in Visual and Audio Journalism 343

21 Stolen Words and Invented Facts 367

22 The Business of Producing Journalism 383

Thoughts to Take With You 398

Glossary 400

Index 406

Foreword xvi

Preface xviii

About the Coauthors xx

Acknowledgments xxii

Part I: A Foundation for Making Ethical Decisions 1

1 Why Ethics Matters in Journalism 3

Our society needs news professionals who do the right thing

• Contemporary journalists are keenly aware of the ethics of the profession, dealing frequently with ethics questions.

• In a profession that cannot be regulated because of the First Amendment, responsible journalists adhere voluntarily to high standards of conduct.

• The goal of this book and course is to teach you how to make ethically sound decisions.

• Discussing case studies in class is crucial to learning the decision-making process.

• The digital era, which has radically changed the way the news is gathered and delivered, has provoked controversy over whether ethics should radically change as well.

• Confronted with a daily deluge of information, the public depends on ethical journalists for news that can be trusted.

Point of View: A “Tribal Ferocity” Enforces the Code (John Carroll)

2 Ethics: The Bedrock of a Society 17

An introduction to terms and concepts in an applied-ethics course

• Ethics is about discerning between right and wrong and then doing what is right.

• Ancient societies developed systems of ethics that still influence human behavior.

• Though often related, ethics and law differ; law prescribes minimum standards of conduct, and ethics prescribes exemplary conduct.

• A member of a society absorbs its ethical precepts through a process of socialization.

• Our value system – based on the things we prize most – influences how we make moral choices.

• An ethical dilemma demands such a moral choice: a person may have to violate one ethical principle to fulfill another.

3 The News Media’s Role in Society 25

The profession has matured and accepted social responsibility

• Journalists generally agree that their fundamental ethical principles are to seek truth, serve the public, and maintain independence from the people they report on.

• Journalism, like other professions and institutions, owes society a moral duty called social responsibility.

• In the 1940s, the Hutchins Commission defined journalism’s social responsibility: to provide reliable information for the community.

• An ethical awakening occurred in journalism during the decade beginning in the mid-1970s.

• During this period of reform, many news organizations codified their principles, first addressing conflicts of interest and then refining news-coverage practices.

• Today’s journalism reflects decades of rising professionalism, but the transition to the digital era presents new challenges.

Point of View: The Essential Pursuit of Truth (Martin Baron)

Point of View: Decision-Making in the Digital Age (James M. Naughton)

4 For Journalists, a Clash of Moral Duties 43

Responsibilities as professionals and as human beings can conflict

• In the abstract, journalists should avoid becoming involved with the events and the people they cover.

• However, certain situations require journalists to decide whether they should step out of their observer role and become participants.

• In those situations, guidelines can help journalists reach sound decisions about whether to intervene.

Point of View: Journalists Are Humans, Too (Halle Stockton)

Case Study: The Journalist as a Witness to Suffering

Case Study: Protester Is Beaten; Reporter Steps In

5 The Public and the Media: Love and Hate 63

The goal for the journalist should be respect, not popularity

• Even as the news media mature and accept social responsibility, the public is increasingly hostile, and that is documented in surveys.

• As a journalist, you should be aware of this hostility and the likely reasons for it.

• You should treat the audience with respect and take complaints seriously; stripping away the rancor, you might find useful lessons.

• The public’s hostility has to be put in perspective; it may not be as bad as it seems.

Point of View: Journalism, Seen From the Other Side (Jane Shoemaker)

Case Study: A Journalist’s Trial by Social Media

6 How the ‘Trump Effect’ Challenged Journalism 77

The news media had never dealt with a president like No. 45

• As a candidate and president (2015 - 2021), Donald Trump vigorously tested journalism’s habits, tools, and tenets.

• Modifying their reporting practices, journalists adapted to Trump much as earlier generations had adapted to Senator Joseph R. McCarthy. But the transition was not a smooth one.

• To deal with a multitude of false statements, news organizations created fact-checking units and debated whether to use the word lie.

• Coverage of Trump and his administration ranged from hard-hitting investigations to snarky commentary that tended to confirm critics’ allegations of bias.

Point of View: Impartial Journalism’s Enduring Value (Thomas Kent)

7 Applying Four Classic Theories of Ethics 99

Ancient philosophy can be a factor in the decision-making process

• The strengths and weaknesses of four classic ethical theories in the context of editors’ decisions to publish government secrets.

• Rule-based thinking – doing the right thing, even if there are consequences.

• Ends-based thinking – choosing to do what brings the most good to the most people.

• The Golden Rule – treating other people the way you would want to be treated.

• Aristotle’s Golden Mean – finding a moderate solution when the extremes won’t work.

• The practice of journalism typically blends rule-based thinking and endsbased thinking.

8 Using a Code of Ethics as a Decision Tool 109

Written professional standards can be a valuable guide

• Ethics codes in journalism trace their origins to the early twentieth century, as some editors put word-of-mouth standards into writing.

• Codes adopted by professional associations of journalists are voluntary; codes adopted by news outlets for the direction of their staffs are enforceable.

• Codes can be useful as a part of the decision process, not as a substitute for that process.

• The Society of Professional Journalists’ 2014 revision of its code of ethics is a model for the profession. Its four guiding principles are: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.

9 Making Moral Decisions You Can Defend 117

How to apply critical thinking and a decision template

• A careful decision-making process draws on the practical skills of journalism: gathering facts, analyzing them, and making judgments.

• Critical thinking – thoughtful analysis – is an essential component of the decision process.

• A step-by-step template can guide you to a better decision.

• You must test your decision to see if it can be defended.

• In this course, approach the case studies as a laboratory exercise in decision-making.

Point of View: Avoid These Rationalizations (Michael Josephson)

Case Study: Deciding Whether to Identify a CIA Agent

Part II: Putting Journalism Ethics to Work 131

10 Getting the Facts Right and Being Fair 133

SPJ’s guiding principle of seeking truth and reporting it

• Accuracy and fairness are journalism’s fundamental ethical values.

• The digital era, with its emphasis on speed, entices reporters to take shortcuts and, thus, to risk mistakes.

• Journalists have to be alert for hoaxes, especially on the web.

• Problematic trends in the newsroom: less specialization, less editing.

Point of View: Declaring What You Won’t Report (Craig Silverman)

Case Study: A Story of Rape at Mr. Jefferson’s University

Case Study: A Double Disaster at the Sago Mine

Case Study: Richard Jewell: He Really Was a Hero

Case Study: The Football Star’s Fictitious Girlfriend

11 Showing Empathy for People in the News 167

SPJ’s guiding principle of minimizing harm

• Recognizing that the truth can hurt, journalists should weigh the information they are reporting against the harm it can be expected to cause. Sometimes that calculation might lead to a decision not to publish a detail of marginal relevance or possibly an entire story or photograph.

• Requests from the public to “unpublish” archival content create an ethical dilemma: a desire to protect the historical record versus consideration of the people hurt by that record, especially when it is flawed.

• Reporters should take particular care when interviewing children and survivors of a tragedy, or when reporting on suicides.

• Journalists should be aware that their presence can be viewed as intrusive.

Case Study: The Death of a Boy

Point of View: Reporting a Fact, Causing Harm (William F. Woo)

12 Avoiding Conflicts: Appearances Count 183

SPJ’s guiding principle of acting independently

• In an actual conflict of interest, journalists allow self‐interest, or a loyalty to any other person or organization, to take precedence over their duty to the audience.

• Because a conflict of interest gives the audience reason to doubt the journalist’s loyalty, it undermines credibility.

• An appearance of a conflict of interest can damage credibility even if the journalist’s reporting is honest.

• By following reasonable guidelines, you can avoid most conflicts, actual or apparent.

• Identifying situations that commonly lead to conflicts.

Case Study: A Reporter’s Son Joins a Foreign Army

Case Study: A Journalist’s Gifts to the Clinton Foundation

Case Study: The Columnist’s Other Job

Case Study: Carrying a Torch, Stirring Debate

13 Lifting the Curtain on How Journalism Is Done 209

SPJ’s guiding principle of being accountable and transparent

• News organizations should correct their mistakes promptly, prominently, and clearly.

• News organizations should have a system to invite, receive, and act on inquiries and complaints about news coverage.

• News organizations should be willing to explain and discuss how they cover the news.

• The audience can be a partner in reporting the news, but journalists have a duty to verify all user-generated content.

• There are limits to journalistic transparency, including the question of whether reporters’ personal opinions should be revealed.

Point of View: A Digital Dialogue With Readers (Mark Bowden)

Case Study: Roughed Up at Recess

14 Navigating Social Media’s Uneven Terrain 227

Connecting with the audience while maintaining impartiality

• Using social media helps journalists report their stories and promote them.

However, journalists’ comments about people and events in the news can damage their credibility and that of their news organizations.

• Social media policies are a common source of tension in newsrooms, and enforcement of those policies has led to staff protests.

Point of View: Race, Gender, Social Media, and Power (Ingrid Sturgis)

Point of View: A Journalist’s Duty (Bob Steele)

Case Study: A Reporter’s Tweet Hits a Sour Note

15 Covering a Diverse, Multicultural Society 247

An ethical duty to be inclusive in news coverage and in the newsroom

• Covering society’s diversity is an ethical responsibility, because news organizations have a duty to cover the entire community.

• Careful, sensitive reporting is required to analyze the complex issues of racial and ethnic conflicts.

• Journalists face challenges in their efforts to provide knowledgeable coverage of cultures other than their own.

• Reporters who cover new immigrants are confronting ethics issues such as protecting the identity of sources who are not documented.

Point of View: Gaining Respect by Showing Respect (Joann Byrd)

16 Dealing With Sources of Information 265

The fine line between getting close and too close

• Ethics issues arise in reporters’ efforts to cultivate sources while maintaining independence from those sources.

• If a journalist agrees to protect a source who provides information on condition of anonymity, honoring that agreement is a solemn ethical duty.

• Journalists must avoid placing their sources in any kind of jeopardy.

• Beat reporting requires reporters to balance their relationships with newsmakers whom they depend on for information but also may have to report on critically.

• Showing copy to sources and other situations in which ethics issues arise in source relationships.

Point of View: Sometimes, Different Rules Apply (Jeffrey Fleishman)

Case Study: The Strange Intercept at “The Intercept”

17 Making News Decisions About Privacy 285

The public may need to know what individuals want hidden

• Journalists often must decide between the public’s legitimate need to have certain information and the desire for privacy by the individuals involved.

• Although there are certain legal restraints on publicizing private information, most decisions are made on the basis of ethics rather than law.

• A three-step template, weighing the value of the information to the public against the degree of harm to the subject, can aid decision-making in privacy cases.

• Reporting situations in which privacy is central to decision-making.

Case Study: Tracing the Source of Web Comments

Case Study: Identifying a 13-Year-Old Rape Victim

18 Making Decisions About Offensive Content 305

The conflict between reflecting reality and respecting the audience

• Journalists often have to decide whether to publish or broadcast content that could offend a significant element of the audience.

• Offensive content falls into three categories: perceived insensitivity, offensive words, and offensive images.

• A two-step process can help you make decisions, weighing the content’s news value against how offensive it is.

• Although the internet empowers the audience to be heard, news organizations are struggling to find ways to curb incivility, and some are discontinuing online comments.

Case Study: A Vulgar List in the News

Case Study: A Killer Records a Video of His Murders

19 Deception: A Risky, Controversial Tool 321

When values collide: Lying while seeking the truth

• To decide whether to use a deceptive reporting practice, you first must acknowledge the deceit and not rationalize it.

• Before engaging in undercover reporting – pretending to be someone else – you must meet exacting standards.

• There are other situations, short of undercover, in which journalists could deceive or could be perceived as deceiving.

• There is a consensus in the profession that a journalist should never deceive the audience or the  journalist’s colleagues.

Point of View: The Truth About Deception (Brooke Kroeger)

Case Study: Rumsfeld’s Q&A With the Troops

Case Study: Spying on the Mayor in a Chat Room

20 Ethics Issues in Visual and Audio Journalism 343

Seeking truth with the camera or microphone while minimizing harm

• The public, aware how easy digital manipulation can be, must be able to trust the truthfulness of the news media’s photography and audio reports.

• News organizations have adopted standards to ensure the integrity of their photography and audio reports.

• The success of podcasts has created a new opportunity for audio journalism where ethics standards are still being formulated.

• Recognizing that some news photography can offend the audience, journalists weigh its news value against the likely offense.

• A number of news organizations are reducing their use of police arrest portraits because of fairness concerns.

• The use of aerial drones for news photography is increasing, and ethics guidelines are being put in place to protect privacy and safety.

Case Study: The Falling Man, World Trade Center, 2001

Case Study: Photographing a Man Pushed to His Death

21 Stolen Words and Invented Facts 367

Dishonesty can kill a career in journalism

• Plagiarism and fabrication are morally wrong. Plagiarism is stealing the creative work of another. Fabrication is making things up and presenting them as fact.

• The offenses of plagiarism and fabrication destroy journalism’s credibility and cost offenders their jobs and their careers.

• Committing illegal acts is unacceptable in the pursuit of news.

• Following sound work practices can help you avoid any hint of impropriety.

• Newsroom leaders have a duty to establish clear rules about journalistic misconduct and to enforce them.

22 The Business of Producing Journalism 383

Seeking financial stability in a turbulent era of transition

• Technological and economic transition has caused tensions in today’s news media.

• More people are getting their news digitally, but online sites are struggling to find stable sources of revenue.

• Although advertisers have historically paid for news coverage, consumers are now being asked to pay for digital subscriptions.

• Native advertising has found a home on news websites, where stringent rules are needed to protect integrity of news content.

• The business and news executives of media companies frequently have a strained relationship, mainly because their cultures are so different.

Case Study: Sharing Ad Profits, Creating a Crisis

Thoughts to Take With You 398

Glossary 400

Index 406

Supplemental Materials

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The New copy of this book will include any supplemental materials advertised. Please check the title of the book to determine if it should include any access cards, study guides, lab manuals, CDs, etc.

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