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Ethics by any other name: Why process is more important than verbiage

Posted by on Mar 6, 2013 in Blog, Law and Ethics, News, Scholastic Journalism, Teaching, Uncategorized | 5 comments

By Megan Fromm
This weekend, I had the pleasure of joining some of the greatest thinkers and doers in scholastic journalism at Kent State University to revise and update Quill & Scroll’s Principal’s Guide to Scholastic Journalism.

For two intense days, we sat roundtable and edited—line by line, word by word— the entire publication.

During the course of our work session, we often discussed the merits of certain ethical tenets, namely, “fair,” “balanced” and “objective.” Despite our collective and individual commitments to ethical and legal scholastic journalism, we could not reach a consensus about which tenets were more authentic, let alone how to interpret each of them.

Through a bit of lively, respectful debate, I learned that even those teachers, professors and journalism professionals whom I respect most have different beliefs about what makes ethical journalism.

I was adamant that the term “fair” gets a bad rap and covers a host of sins that “balanced” and “objective” often overlook. Others, preferring the latter terms to describe their ethical approach, thought the term “fair” was loaded because—after all—what could be fair to everyone?

After some reflection, I realized we were all talking about the same process, the same methodical and careful approach a journalist takes to ensure the very best, most accurate, inclusive and contextual content.

Ethics, then, is not as much a moving target as today’s media pundits might have us believe.  Quite simply, ethics is a conscious effort, above all other motives, to do the right thing for our readers, subjects and the public’s right to know.

As the spring semester unravels with full force and obligations such as state testing commence, it can be easy to compromise the ethical process for the sake of timeliness and self-preservation.

When it’s crunch time, it is easy to think you are satisfying the ethical tenets of your news organization (whatever they may be) without actually adhering to the process that makes ethical journalism flourish.

Instead of bearing lip service to those core beliefs, take some time this month to step back, discuss your publication’s ethical process and evaluate your work thus far. Where can your students do better? How can they be a little more careful? A little more accurate? A little more thorough?  Understanding how they make ethical decisions is the only way for students to value the end result, no matter what you call it.

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