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Crippled by Principles

by on September 27, 2015

Journalists have the ethical dilemma of reasoning with the consequences that follow their publications. Teleology for journalists is the consideration of cause and effect when reflecting on the goals oriented by their presented story. Such decisions could influence the writer’s sources, subjects, coworkers, the public and even themselves. The journalist must consider the harm that trails distressing stories in the way that they present the information, the language that they use and the photos that they attach to the storyline. In the Society of Professional Journalists’ SPJ Codes of Ethics it details that journalists must “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort”. This insists that journalists must question if their story holds enough significance for the public to find use of or is the knowledge potentially damaging for those affected. These influences must be weighed out. i ask, what dictates if content is substantial enough to cover? What is great enough of a toll to worry of consequences? Should journalists live in fear of the harm that could come of their writing?

When publishing stories, journalists “must consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication” (SPJ Codes of Ethics). To connect this concept to our class discussion I think back on the burning of the Quran news from 2010 that we discussed. Should journalists publish such claims by one Floridian pastor knowing the consequences of protests in reaction to such doings? Lead news sources including the New York Times and the Washington Post published stories about the pastor’s actions. Should the news sources be accountable for updating the public on the pastor’s actions which led to deaths during the protests in the Middle East and Asia? An interesting article that I think complicates this ethical dilemma is the Washington Post‘s “Manifesto Poses Ethical Dilemma for Two Newspapers“. The journalists, Sharon LaFraniere and Pierre Thomas use a quote from the head of the Media Center at Columbia University, Everette E. Dennis who comments, “A news organization should really not be in the business of public safety and police work”. Then who is the rebound of such effects? The SPJ Codes of Ethics says that journalists must “Be accountable and ready to explain your ethical decisions” behind the reasoning for publishing a piece that could bring about harm. These two quotes heavily contradict each other. Sure the journalist is not in charge of police work and they are not on the forefront of the upheaval from their words, but they can prevent such occurrences.

I think one must bear the consequences of their own actions no matter how indirect or long term of an effect they cause. Though, if journalists live in fear from the destruction that they could cause, than nothing written would have value or edge. Somebody has to tell of hardships. The journalist must keep in mind that they have to report courageously for the sake of informing, that is their job.

Jay Rosen argues that journalists are becoming too ridged with this idea of complete neutrality as we discussed in class. Guidelines of transparency and fairness trap the journalist in a tight space. I believe that to be neutral and fair is to present all sides of a story. Though i don’t find it a wrong doing if the journalist shows sides of a story in a different light. This strategic wording could prevent harm as a result of their writing. With the case of the pastor and the Quran, I don’t feel it wrong to make the pastor seem as an outsider, not sharing common ideals. In doing so the protests could of had less hatred towards this conceptualized grouping of “Americans” being the enemy when in reality it was a slim picking of Americans. I think such mediation of wording could still strategically make a piece objective. Then in the pastor’s case, making him an outsider would not further speculate that “Americans” are the enemy. Same with the writing assignment we did concerning the non-believers of the Holocaust. If written in a certain way, people could find it upsetting and targeting to their emotions of the subject. But if the journalist portrays the Holocaust taking place as a truth and puts the opposers in a different angle as “alternative”, making it apparent that such opposers are outsiders. This action and choice of wording could avoid hurt feelings that could come about with complete neutrality.


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One Comment
  1. Jay Rosen discusses issues of ethics in journalism that have been rising problems for years now. Where do we, as journalists, draw the line. Rosen believes in a “view from no where” the idea that all sides of the story deserve equal treatment. This idea of neutrality can often leave journalists in a tight space. What is the most fair and effective way to introduce and discuss every angle of the story, especially if your dealing with multiple.

    I disagree with this idea of equal display of every opinion because I think there will become too much focus and air time for outlandish sources, or even conspiracies. As journalists I believe we should have the freedom to decide the most logical and popular parties from a story and highlight those. Presenting the outlandish ideas and conspiracies without biased, not saying their wrong, but bringing all the facts and proof to illustrate how they really are inaccurate and unrealistic.

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