News Reporting and Writing (Sixth Edition)

Chapter 22: Ethics


By Aimee Allenback


·        No “real” journalism code of ethics (vs. lawyers, doctors, etc.)

·        Most ethics are established by the organization


Three Ethical Philosophies

1.      Deontological Ethics

- (Absolutist) The person’s duty to do what is right…some things are always right, some are always wrong.  Choice never changes, no matter what the circumstance (ex. wrong to lie -Murderer wants to kill your friend… you tell him where to go).  Much stems from religious eliefs.


2.      Teleological Ethics

- (Pragmatist) Based not the act, but the consequences.  What some people would proclaim as unethical, some would do for a good purpose (ex. stealing is not always wrong). 


3.      Situation Ethics

- Based on the situation (It all depends.)

·         Antinomianism

·         John Merrill’s Deontelics

·         Mixed-Rule Deontolgoy

·         Love of Neighbor

·         Utilitarianism

·         Ayn Rand’s Rational Self-Interest

·         John Rawl’s Veil of Ignorance

·        Aristotle’s Golden Mean


Journalism Ethics- Chapter 22


Introduction to Ethics

Definition by Conrad C. Fink, professor of Media Ethics, "Ethics is a system of principles, a morality or code of conduct. It is the values and rules of life recognized by an individual, group or culture seeking guidelines to human conduct and what is good or bad, right or wrong."

Many professions have mandatory codes of ethics.

- Examples: Doctors, Lawyers, and Accountants

- If they violate their code of ethics they may lose the right to practice.

Journalism as a profession has been slow to enforce a code of ethics because:

- There is a fear of infringing upon the first amendment- freedom of the press.

- It is difficult to determine exactly who is a journalist.

News organizations and associations have established codes of conduct on their own, but they are usually very vague and broad.

- Critics condemn codes of ethics for being too general and ineffective or toorestrictive.

- Even if your organization doesn’t have a code of ethics you should devise yourown ethical values and principles.


Three ethical philosophies are derived from the answer to the question, "Does theend justify the means?"

If the answer is no: You are an absolutist and subscribe to deontological ethics.

- Deontology is the ethics of duty, or the person’s duty to do what is right.

- The absolutist journalist is concerned only with whether an event is newsworthy. -The duty of a journalist is to report the news. Period. Journalists are unethical onlywhen they withhold the news.

If the answer is yes: You are a relativist and subscribe to teleological ethics.

- Teleological ethics holds that what makes an act ethical is not the act itself butthe consequences of the act.

- The end can and often does justify the means, so the rules can sometimes be bent.

- The intention of the person performing the act determines if it is ethical orunethical.

If the answer is maybe or sometimes: You would subscribe to situation ethics.

- Situation ethics is the belief that the answer all depends upon the situation.


Here are some examples of different types of theories on situation ethics.

- Antinomianism is the belief that there are no laws and every person and everyethical situation is unique.

- John Merrill’s Deontelics is a combination of deontological andteleological ethics- One must consider both the act and the consequences of the act.

- Mixed-Rule Deontology is to follow certain guidelines are set that make someacts, usually considered unethical, ethical in certain situations.

- Love of Neighbor is based on the Golden Rule and the maxim, "You shall loveyour neighbor as yourself." Therefore always place people first.

- Utilitarianism is the belief that your choices are ethical if you alwayschoose the action that is likely to bring the most happiness to the greatest number ofpeople.

- Ayn Rand’s Rational Self-Interest is the opposite of utilitarianism. Her"Ethical Egoism" holds that one would never sacrifice one’s self for thegood of others but would always act entirely on what best serves one’s self. Whateverhelps you get good stories and thus advance in the profession is ethical.

- John Rawls’ Veil of Ignorance would have you treat all people the same,as if there is no difference in social or economic status. People would be more likely tolook out for themselves if they placed themselves in the position of others.

- Aristotle’s Golden Mean states that the best moral position is usually amoderate one that avoids either of two extremes. It doesn’t need to be squarely inthe middle, but if you avoid extremes you are more likely to find a rational and moralposition.

Solving Ethical Dilemmas

There is usually not one clear answer to a difficult ethical dilemma, but Principled Reasoning makes ethical decision making possible, by reflecting on ethical principles that will help you decide proper or moral ways to act.

To help in this reasoning is a model of moral reasoning called the Potter Box.

- Apprising the situation. You need all the facts from a variety of sources.

- Identifying values. What are your personal, news organization’s,community’s and nation’s values?

- Appealing to ethical principles. To be ethical you may have to choose theprinciple that doesn’t serve your personal interest.

- Choosing loyalties. You must find a balance in which you can be loyal to yournews organization, your readers, listeners, or viewers, and also your sources and those onwhom you are reporting.

This is a continuing ethical dialogue that will help you create ethical journalism, and after using it all the time you will know your values and which principles to apply. Journalism should be done by people who make informed, intelligent and prudent choices. 

Ethical Problems Protecting the First Amendment

Using Deceit to get a story.

- "Journalists demean themselves and damage their credibility when theymisrepresent themselves and their work to news sources and, in turn, to the public atlarge."- Everette E. Dennis, Executive Director of The Freedom Forum Media StudiesCenter

Conflicts of Interest.

- Friendship can be the greatest obstacle to the flow of information. Sometimesreporters get too close to their sources.

- Payola- News organizations frown upon reporters doing promotional work for peoplethey cover.

- Freebies- Can reporter remain objective? Do reporters write stories they wouldotherwise not write? Does the public perceive the reporter who has accepted or issuspected of accepting freebies as objective?

- Checkbook journalism- Good reporting would demand that you pay sources only whennecessary and only if you can get other sources to corroborate your findings. Your bossesalso better know you are doing it.

- Participation in the news. Is it okay to belong to different organizations as long asyou let your readers know?

Invasion of Privacy, such as reporting on crime victims or juvenile crimes.

Withholding Information. If you work as a journalist are you ever off duty?

Plagiarism. Give credit where credit is due.


Three Final Guidelines:

Be free of obligations to anyone or to any interest except the truth.

Be fair.

Remember good taste!