Journalists function as the middle man within our society. The majority of what people read, hear or watch is coming from the hard work of journalists. The morality behind what journalists publish is questioned now more than ever. What is ethical journalism? To what moral standards are we supposed to hold journalists?
It is a journalist's job to serve the public by delivering the news that we would otherwise not be given. In the book Moral Reasoning for Journalists by Steven Knowlton and Bill Reader, the first chapter covers ethics from ancient Greece to modern day. Journalists are held to a moral standard in which they are expected to maintain morality while providing useful and truthful information.
Money, spinmeisters, tabloid journalism, and political bias are cited as "reasons for the sorry state of the news business." Each topic has strong holds within the journalism community and it is clear that sometimes, they take ahold of the journalist. These reasons for unethical journalism play like a broken record. In an online publication, Columbia Journalism Review, an article titled "The Worst Journalism of 2014" highlights the low points of journalism. This article provides examples and, in my opinion, the most shocking are the ethical mishaps of CNN anchor, Don Lemon. In a time where there is a national conversation surrounding sexual assault, the insensitivity of a seasoned news anchor proves how easy the lines of ethical and unethical journalism can be blurred. An excerpt from Lemon's interview with an alleged rape victim of Bill Cosby's is as followed, "You know, there are many ways not to perform oral sex if you didn't want to do it... Meaning the use of the teeth, right?" Below is the full video clip of the interview.
The fine line that journalists walk in order to produce investigative and influential work has become increasingly easy to cross. Even seasoned reporters dip their toes, or dive head first, into an unethical firestorm.
In relation to the ethics of journalism, Knowlton and Reader make a point in Moral Reasoning for Journalists when discussing journalism as a profession or a craft. "Those who argue that journalism is a profession note its similarities to other professions. Journalism, medicine, and law all have important public service roles... including ethics codes." On the other hand, those who view journalism as a craft note that "...although journalists do have their own codes of ethical behavior, there is not governing body for journalists that has the power to prevent transgressors from practicing." While each argument makes valid points, it is important to remember that regardless of journalism being a craft or a profession, it is important to remain ethical in reporting.
At the end of the day journalists are at an ethical disadvantage. Protected by the First Amendment, journalists could be "unethical" if they so choose. Personally, I believe that journalists have a responsibility to themselves and the public to provide hard hitting, important and influential news while trying to maintain a moral high ground.