Thursday, May 21, 2009

Where Do Our Ethical Boundaries Lie?

Kim Suntala

I feel as though I can bring interesting perspective to many journalistic ethical issues. As a public relations major, earning a bachelor of science in journalism degree, I learn about the "right" way to portray things in one class, and fall in line with fellow journalists to discuss ethical publishing practices in another. While watching "The Paper" in this ethics class today, I found myself drawn to a specific ethically-questionable action, one that in turn resonated in the entire subsequent plot of the movie.

Here's a little background for those who haven't seen the movie; Henry is the Editor at "The Sun," a self-proclaimed sensationalistic 'newspaper' constantly struggling to be the go-to commuter paper. During an interview for a job at "The New York Sentinel,"(A New York Times-esk derivative), Henry pokes for information from the managing editor on an up and coming story. After an initial denial, Henry puts his journalistic training to work and investigates the other editor's notes, when he's not looking, and steals a look at their to-be-published lead. The ensuing plot has Henry running with new information, chasing down the story and *PLOT SPOILER* playing the ethically-responsible hero by saving the day and not running an erroneous story.

Now, really, don't we see this as somewhat contradictory? He makes a decision to step over a boundary and snatch the story from the highly-respected paper to make himself, and "The Sun," look better. But post-story stealing, Henry is miraculously the ethically responsible editor who stops the presses (mid fist-fight with a woman, may I add) to publish the true story for the sake of the truth, not the sake of money.

Of course, the viewer learns this is an exclusive story for "The Sun," success ensues, and we're lead to believe financial obligations are not the primary problem at hand any longer.

Where this leaves me, I don't know. However, and correct me if I'm wrong, I see the entire thing as slightly incongruous, and not to mention, idealistic at best. Is my view skewed because of my academic training being somewhat-contradictory itself, or am I not the only one on this tree branch of skepticism...?

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