Thursday, April 21, 2011

Unwritten Codes of Ethics: Fostering humanism or Giving up on objectivity?

Issues of ethics, more specifically conflicts of interest, arise daily as journalists struggle to toe the line between full disclosure and something. From the blatantly obvious infractions, such as Aaron Brown and Walter Cronkite's involvement in "American Medical Review", to the less motive driven slip ups like KATU-TV journalist Anna Song's eulogy speech, it is evident that the profession's own moral compass seems to be flailing. In the wake of this time of controversy, it is important to remember that these spark discussion and force individual journalists to re examine their own ethical codes.

However, as a question posed by writer Robert Boynton expresses, "Are the desires of the people we write about really so different from ours?" Furthermore, Boynton argues that transactions - whether they be "emotional, ideological, or financial" - have always been an undeniable driving force behind journalistic exchange. Unfortunately, that's not what readers want to hear when gauging the credibility of news outlets. While dishonest or morally unsound reporting shouldn't be tolerated - but then again, who gets to define 'morally unsound' - the idea that all reporters must somehow be held to a standard above reproach in the ethical arena is both unrealistic and unfeasible.

Editor Pam Platt of the The Courier Journal discusses several ethical scenarios in which journalists must toe the line between abject honesty and areas of gray.

In a society inherently incapable of complete objectivity, attempting to impose steadfast guidelines on what exactly crosses the line of reporter to subject interaction remains a tentative practice at best. As in the case of reporter Anna Song, at times journalists reveal their own perspective when trying to cover another. Empathy and attachment can be hard to avoid because at the end of the day reporters cover stories that they care about, that elicit emotion.

For the perspective of young journalists who fear other reporters' ethical crimes of today could spell trouble for the credibility of their burgeoning careers, please visit this link to The Blair Effect, piece concerning the Times scandal of Jayson Blair.

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