Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Ethics Adaptability

Sam Schooler

In "The New Ethics of Journalism," Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel discuss the changing face of journalism as something journalists need to be able to adapt to and grow with. As technology improves, people have increased ways of sharing information almost instantaneously, and in an era where the touch of a button can mean a mistake in validity or a split-second slip of a journalist’s good judgment, McBride and Rosenstiel suggest an improved code of ethics.

Out with the old, in with the new? Not quite. The suggested code keeps the original “golden three”--seek the truth and report it fully, minimize harm and act independently — and builds upon them, adding “be transparent” and “engage community as an end rather than a means.”

With the constant shift of technology and the constant shift in the way people consume news, McBride and Rosenstiel insist that journalists remain hooked into the community for which they’re reporting.

Truth is still the goal, of course—in journalism, truth is always the goal. The old code isn’t so much “old” as it is transformable: it can be added to as needed to encompass how journalism interacts with the world, and how journalists should walk in it.

Steve Buttry’s review of McBride and Rosenstiel’s book praises it as a high-standard manual of journalistic etiquette but suggests giving journalists-in-training specific, situational advice. 

Is this a good idea? Journalists nowadays are trained for the digital world—we’re digital natives, people who have grown up using advanced technology and who will continue to adapt as new technology improves not only the news media but the functioning of almost every part of our world.

With this expansion comes a harsher environment, so does Buttry have a point? Should our journalists be trained to better understand situations that could occur because of technological advances? It certainly wouldn’t be a bad thing to have journalists prepared for specific situations, but at the same time, it’s nearly impossible to train fledgling journalists for every difficult situation they will encounter.

Difficult situations, McBride and Rosenstiel advise, should be handled with transparency. Even more so now than ever before, news sources and journalists should strive to be transparent. Sources should be indicated and named as much as possible. Journalists should be transparent themselves — with the Internet, it’s as easy to make up a story as it is to fact-check.

Stephen J.A. Ward of MediaShift warns journalists off potential over-transparency, however. He argues that when transparency is over-commodified, it can distort other important ethics of journalism and be more harmful than positive. He gives an example: In “old” journalism, a reporter may say, “I am biased, but I am honest and transparent,” whereas, he argues, in modern journalism, a journalist often comes up with reasons to justify their biases.

Whether you subscribe to all these ideas, any of them or none of them, it’s impossible to deny that journalism is changing. It is a shifting beast, and in order to practice it to the best of our ability, journalists must maintain a strong core of ethics—adaptability included.

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