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!

 

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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?

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.

Is having a point of view unethical?

 

First of all, I found suggested origin of the definition of the word piping hilarious: the act of making up quotes or inventing sources which came from the idea that the reporter was high from covering the police busts of opium dens. As light-hearted as this is, I found that the book made very viable point about the ethical principals of telling the truth in journalism. It made the point that just because someone writes fictitiously, does not mean they are making something up on purpose. The memory can affect the truth unknowingly to a certain degree.

As journalists we are to report the truth, but the book brings up another good point- whose truth? Where is the line between hard fact and point of view drawn? If I was covering the same story as another reporter, I may choose to paint the subject in a different light or describe the scene in a different way according to my own personal history and overall point of view. The other reporter may paint a completely different picture of a person or a place, but does that mean that one of us is fictionalizing while the other is sticking strictly to the facts? No. Although subjectivity is necessary in journalism, I think it is hard to achieve since there is no on and off switch for a person’s point of view. I think the main ethical question a journalist has to ask himself is whether or not his story will deceive.