Crash Course in Journalism Ethics

When it comes to journalism, something that has come up more often than almost anything else is, unavoidably, ethics.

Ethics are tricky because they are so dependent on your point of view. Something I may have done in a certain situation could be entirely different from the way another journalist may approach a situation. Like I wrote in my last post, we cannot claim objectivity as journalists because we, as humans, are subjective beings. And that comes into play more in ethics than anything else.

Journalists have to make ethical decisions every day, and often, it comes down to whether you believe that the public has a right to know certain information. Most ethical dilemmas come from covert information-gathering techniques. For example, Mother Jones published the infamous “47 percent” video taken by one of the waitstaff during a private Romney event during the last presidential campaign. Edward Snowden released classified CIA documents to journalists which were then published in The Guardian and The Washington Post, and exploded across the media landscape. Mayhill Fowler recorded Obama at a private event that she was only invited to because she was a large donor of his campaign.

This kind of information can only come from whistleblowers or sources that are close to the core of a situation. Does the public have a right to know information that is shared behind closed doors? What right do organizations have at this point in our quickly developing technological age to try and ban any press from their gatherings?

I believe the public has a right to know information, but to a point. Individuals who are private and not public figures have a right to privacy. But when journalism is supposed to be a check on our government and our celebrities, it’s important that the public is armed with as much knowledge as possible. Having experience in an administrative setting where we’ve been asked not to share information because it is not fully developed or kinks are still being worked out, it can sometimes be difficult for me to agree with sharing confidential information. But at a certain point (can you tell I’m all for the relativism theory of ethics?) I think it’s important to share critical information that affects everyone involved – especially when it comes to politics or government, it’s the role of the media to keep everything checked and balanced.


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