Reflections on Ethics in Journalism

Ethical faux pas on display at Newseum 

Newseum guests challenge one another to a game of media ethics. Source: newseum.org

The Bancroft Family Ethics Center at the Newseum highlights notable ethical dilemmas in journalism, including Pulitzer Prize recipient Kevin Carter’s world renowned photo of a starving Sudanese girl. Each story demonstrates the ethical challenges that reporters face in covering the world’s news.

As a student studying the field of public relations, the exhibit demonstrated the importance of finding the right balance in covering emerging issues. It emphasized the importance of doing the right thing, not taking the easy way out, or choosing an unethical option simply for attention that it might gain with audiences. The examples ranged from the outrageous, the Dateline story that featured a rigged car accident, to the inspirational, Nellie Bly’s decision to pretend crazy for an investigative piece on the mistreatment of mental health patients.

The examples all featured journalist’s pushing the envelope to expose the truth, but sometimes these journalists pushed too far. The most egregious example was one photographer’s decision to morph two separate photos into one.

Brain Walski’s morphed stirred much controversy after being published in the Los Angelee Times photo Source: washingtonpost.com Credit: Brain Walski

The “You Make the Call” feature provided users the ability to input their own opinion on the matter. It was an interesting way for one to see how their moral opinion lined up with the public and journalists. It was surprising to see how often one’s opinion on whether the scenario was ethical or not was different from the majority, but similar to professional journalist.

The insight provided through by professional journalists and reporters involved in these examples provided more insight into the issues on display. It was easier to understand why some poor decisions were made in regards to these stories, and one was able to look at an issue less critically.  The commentators stressed the importance that solid moral guidelines and second opinions play in helping journalists avoid ethical nightmares .

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