Monday, April 4, 2011

A Sociological Look at Journalism Ethics

Julia Brown

Constructivist vs. Positivist Perspectives
What interested me most about Jay Black’s article, “Minimum Standards vs. Ideal Expectations,” was the portion that analyzed the difference between the two types of journalism ethics codes based on the human condition. This past winter intercession I took a sociology course on deviant behavior, and learned some basic perspectives that, interestingly enough, pertained to the assigned article and governed my mind throughout the reading.

Black says that, “ethics focuses on the voluntary nature of our behavior,” which is clearly visible after explaining the two types of journalistic codes: minimal standard codes and ideal expectations, or aspirational codes.

Similarly, when it comes to deviant behavior, there are two main perspectives:

1. Constructivist, and
2. Positivist

As described in the article, "What are Positive or Constructivist Theories in Crime and Social Deviance?" written by Natalie Petitto on, positivist and constructivist theories explain "not only the causes of deviance and crime, but society's role in constructing the deviant."

Loosely, the positivist perspective argues that deviance is often a product of causation and not necessarily of the person's will or choice. On the other hand, the constructionist perspective tends to look inward by studying society’s view of deviance.

Minimum Standards vs. Ideal Expectations
What all this ends up boiling down to, is the drawing of parallels between journalism ethics and the human condition.

From what I’ve previously studied, certain theories within the positivist perspective are similar to the basis of ideal expectations and aspirational codes.

Most positivists believe that humans are inherently good, and deviance is caused when certain forces get in the way of this (i.e. environmental or psychological). Similarly, ideal expectations and aspirational codes maintain a positive view of journalism, showcasing perceived ideals, offering guidance and defining “the virtuous journalist.” (For example the SPJ ethics manual, Doing Ethics In Journalism, is an example of an aspirational code.) As Black says, ideal expectations “indicate a faith in one’s fellow beings, [and] a recognition that inherently decent people are trying to do better.”

On the other hand, minimal standard codes are usually a more negative reflection of the journalist and, as Black mentions, tend to be written by management - rather than writers who would follow them on a daily basis. He says minimal codes "[seem] to reflect a world of neurosis if not outright paranoia. The fundamental assumption... that people are inherently flawed, and morally primitive.”

Due to it's negative outlook and managerial position, minimal standard codes can be seen as similar to the constructivist perspective of being an outsider looking in to describe deviance in terms of society.

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