Just don’t do bad.

                    To me ethics and morals are the same thing.  If you feel bad about either you are most likely doing bad.  Some times you have to do things others think are ethically wrong, but how does it feel? Are you hurting anyone? Are you creating a bad or untruthful situation? Like I say it should not feel bad to do something.  We, being in a journalistic profession, constantly hear about being truthful and honest so we know we should not mess up.

                    Ethics is not just in writing it is in your life, but you could mess up and think you are doing right and you really are doing something wrong.  But you learn from you mistakes and you correct them (hopefully you do not get fired from your job).  If you question yourself ask someone you really trust or admire them for the honesty and truthfulness.

                   The worst thing you could do is just make stuff up, and unfortunately that happens a lot– thanks to the internet and people loving to blog about their opinions and others taking it seriously.  You now, as a writer, have a moral obligation to not fool your readers.  You want to gain their trust and you should never lead them into a lie.

                    If you writing seems like it would be better because of “lies” just look at the words you are using try to create a better story with better words– not false words just more exciting words.


Ethics. Let’s be honest.

Ethics:  a system of moral principles.  the rules of conduct recognized in respect to a particular class ofhuman actions or a particular group, culture.

Being ethical in the journalism industry is of most importance.  One of the most questionable lines journalist tend to cross in the line of fact and fiction.  In some instances, this line is clear as day, however, sometimes it is not as clear.  There are principles to help journalist navigate between these blurred waters.

1.  Be unobtrusive.  Work diligently to gain access to people and events so you are not on the outside looking in.  So you can obtain all of the facts clearly and avoid the “observer effect.”  The “observer effect” is a principle applied in physics, which states that by solely observing an event changes it.  So be in the event.  Live the moment.

2.  Avoid using anonymous sources.  Avoid it at all cost- except in cases where the news is very important and the source is especially vulnerable.  Whistleblowers quite often fall into this category, because they are exposing wrong doings.

3.  Never put something in your story that you have not checked out to be true.  There is always someone knowledgable and someone that knows the truth, so do not fall into the trap.  Check every detail out- you may find a story in that.

4.  Do not add.  Adding to a story is false and you can be held liable.  Career: over.

5.  Do not deceive.  This is obviously an ethical dilemma.  Be aware, sometimes you can deceive and not be aware you are.  Always check your word choice and how things come across.  My tip: read it aloud and let someone else read it.

What tips do you have for keeping yourself ethical 24/7?  What do you do in a sticky situation?  Have a great day and I look forward to your comments!



“The principles Do not add and Do not deceive should apply to all nonfiction all the time, not just to the text of newspaper stories. Adding color to a black-and-white photo, unless the technique is obvious or labeled, is a deception,” says Roy Peter Clark at the beginning of the reading. This analogy between words and photographs summarized the entire reading without question.

 As a journalist, our duty is to be a gatekeepers for the truth. People rely on us to provide credible information that they can take with them throughout their day. In feature writing, it can be difficult to stick to being accurate when writing a compelling story. The use of adjectives or painting a vivid setting may tempt those into falling along the lines of JK Rowling or Stephanie Meyer…but this isn’t Hogwarts and vampires don’t attend this University.

 As a broadcast journalist, I’ve always been told that if there aren’t any valid sources to support any claims in my story, the story simply DOESN’T EXIST. Journalism involves a heavy grasp on reality no matter how creative the story may be. I have to constantly remind myself that there is a huge difference between feature writing and CREATIVE writing.

 As much as you want to attract the reader to your story with massive suspense and attention to detail, you want to make sure it’s accurate or else you’ll be looked at as an unreliable journalist who should probably look into becoming a novelist. The reading also mentions a very important element of journalism we should all be aware of – FACT CHECKING. Nothing’s worse than reporting/writing a story and being caught red-handed with an article full of lies. Make sure you always double check… or else the reader will.

Better know your ethics

Photojournalists are sometimes forced to complete work or projects that are, to say the least, messed up. Crisis and conflict photography, although gruesome, is needed to tell the stories of the people involved through dramatic and moving images. In order to document these stories with as little involvement as possible by the photographer, a delicate balance of ethics must be kept. This is demonstrated in Isabel Wilkerson’s section of the book where she stated, “Caring about our subjects without sacrificing our narratives, while caring about our narratives without sacrificing our subjects.” When dealing with delicate situations or subjects, I think it’s important to keep one thing in mind as a photographer: Just because I can take the photo, doesn’t mean I should. There is a line that if crossed, we are sometimes forced to intervene and play the role of a human being rather than a journalist. This was demonstrated strongly in the recent Boston Marathon bombings. In a video that went viral on the internet, a couple of photographers were seen removing a massive amount of barricades that were tangled up around a person lying on the ground trying to get out. This was a situation where the photographers knew they needed to put down their cameras and help another human being.

All in all the great ethical structure is unique and lies within each individual reporter. The line they cross when confronted with a dangerous situation may be to protect them, their subject, or to not act at all. I don’t think it matters what kind of ethical codes a journalist has, just as long as they have some that they actively practice and live by when out in the field.


Ethics in feature writing

We will be discussing ethics in feature writing in class today. Here are some links we’ll be using.

Here is he Janet Cooke story that won her a Pulitzer Prize until it was revealed the story was a fabrication. She acknowledged she never interviewed any of the people in the story and that she made it up based on composite information she had gleaned from other sources. Cooke sort of explained on the Phil Donahue show why she lied.

We will be discussing this story in the context of the ethical decisions that reporters make at every turn that lead to true and accurate reporting or breaches. It is important to remember that no one sets out to be unethical. These lapses start as a series of misplaced choices, much as one small lie may lead to larger untruths.

Be thinking about what small ethical lapses you may make that could lead to bigger gaps.

Ethics is also about journalists’ decision to be impartial or stay out of the lives of subjects. When should a journalist step in?

Ethics: a hazy dilemma

At Southern Miss, I have not taken a media ethics class yet. So I am really glad the assigned reading was about ethics in journalism. I like to think of myself as a very accurate reporter. I only want to tell the story as a the truest sense of reality to the reader and to the subject. I always make sure to double check my quotes and observations in my notebook. When I took my first reporting class last semester, I learned how to be ethical through finding credible sources and asking open-ended questions.

But, nothing has prepared me for the grey areas of reporting until I read this chapter “In Telling True Stories.” I was not prepared when Anne Hull told her reporting experience with a family in deep poverty. I was completely dumbfounded. When Hull describes the scene when the family’s baby has a high fever and the parents could not afford to drive her to the hospital, I wondered what I would do in this situation. Human instinct would tell me to immediately offer to drive my car to the hospital. But, Hull stood back and did her job, even though I predicted this was one of the biggest ethical dilemmas she has dealt with. 

So where do journalists draw the line between remaining ethical and remaining human while reporting? I do understand how intervening the situation changes the story completely. In Hull’s situation, the universal theme of her story, a poor family living on the edge could have been altered by her actions. And if the baby’s fever would have gotten worse, she would have intervened. This reporter’s situation made me realize that the basic framework is we are here to do our job. We cannot let the story suffer because we altered a situation that distorted its context. 

The Right and Wrong of the Words You Use

At school here, everyone in the Mass Communications and Journalism department is required to take a class called Media Law and Ethics. It is supposed to give us a background about the way courts work and basic mass media law like copyright and libel. Of course this is just a basic class, so we can’t learn absolutely everything there is to know in the field.

Having this reading really opened my eyes to what could be considered unethical writing. As journalists we are told not to put a bias in our writing, even for feature writing. We can elaborate a bit more and really paint a scene, but we can’t show any particular bias in what we say. However, a lot of things can actually cause a bias.

Choosing to include this quote over this quote, keeping this source in the story but not using this one, and even using some sources can lead to some unreliable reporting. Memories aren’t crystal clear, so a source could be lying or exaggerating certain events without even realizing it. It might just be how they remember things happening.

Even journalistic attribution isn’t perfect. Sure we say the name of the person and what qualifies them to comment on the subject, but that isn’t everything. If I were to write a story and use a quote from John Smith, a resident of Hattiesburg, that isn’t much help if there are five men with that name in the city. Basically, reporting isn’t perfect, and a writer has be really careful about what they do and do not include in their stories. You never know when the past can come back to get you.

Outlines…. the death of me.

I have, unfortunately, received major deductions from final grades from not doing an outline.  I hate outlines.  I write like I speak and I do not speak in outline form.  I honestly can’t stress how much I dislike outlines.  I have never found them helpful, and they actually confuse me more.  I take a very liberal approach to writing and it consists of my throwing it together and then reviewing it after the fact– so honestly I could possibly benefit from an outline, but I sincerely doubt I’ll enjoy it. 

I understand the pro of outlines, but they are certainly more of a con for me than anything.  I never really organize my paper until after the paper is written on paper.  I feel like maybe we were so forced to do outlines so much that now I just hate them.  I know writers should be more organized than we usually are, but I just feel better if I don’t have to do an outline. Editors as said in the book would probably like an outline to see how we have organized our thoughts but until the I will stick with my writing style. I also understand the “you will need, most likely, more than one edit of a draft,” I recently edited a story about 5 times and I sent it back and forth to people who were helping me edit. My best draft is never my first and is usually never my second. There is always something else I want to add.

Outlines are essential

I find I cannot write a story without a structured and focused outline. Depending on if it is a short feature story or long feature story, the outlines will be different. The long feature story would be more detailed and possibly include more potential sources. Outlining can be tedious, but I find I write the best stories when my thoughts are clearly writing down and laying right next to my laptop. 

In “Telling True Stories,” I appreciated how the authors talked about the editor-writer relationship because it is good for writers to understand that the relationship is not meant to assert authority. I am an editor myself and I always find myself constantly improving my writing. Also, it was interesting how they said editing can take more than two or three drafts for a piece to be publishable. It is a process that takes patience and immense reflecting on myself. As far as style goes, I was intrigued how the author made the suggestion always keep Strunk and Whites, “The Elements of Style” nearby your writing desk. I also enjoyed the other style ideas presented such as embody the ideas in the nature of language, restore worn-out words, take an art class (really?), use concrete detail and compose the piece. These elements really make a feature piece coherent and interesting to the reader. Our audience, after all, is the most important. 

Reader Interest Plane: Enjoy your flight.

Structure is everything. Without a strong structure houses would tumble down around us, bridges wouldn’t hold anything much less a car, and skyscrapers would be piles of rubble. An outline is essentially your structure; where your piece is going to take readers and how. What’s more, the reader must know and understand where the story is going in order to retain a high interest level. This is one of the most important things I got out of chapter 10 from The Art of Feature Writing. The Reader Interest Plane is kind of like five-card draw: Don’t show your cards too early. Generating a clever hook to initially grab a reader, then keeping them on the line by slowly reeling them in is the name of the game. Putting everything into the first couple of paragraphs will be a good story, but the end of it will be cut and dry. Who knows, the reader might not even make it to the end to see how dry it is.

The ideas that the writer has need to be organized in a manner that flows well, while also not revealing everything at once. The secret is in how these are organized. The book says this is the same between a newspaper article and a magazine feature (narrative hook, idea and transition). But, the paragraphs must also have climactic elements that build and build all the way through to the end. This will guarantee a lingering impression with the reader, and leave them impressed but also none the wiser to your carefully planned out story structure.