Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Walking a Tightrope: Ethics in Journalism

Nicole Dascenzo

In most professions, ethics are generally cut and dry. Physicians take the Hippocratic oath, lawyers adhere to ethics set in state bar associations, the list could go on. In journalism, ethics become much more of a subjective topic.

In the first chapter of the reading, one of the elements of what makes someone a journalist is listed as someone who has an "obligation to exercise their personal conscience," (9). While this might seem like common sense at first, journalists have to make ethical decisions every day. But what happens when one journalist's personal conscience differs from another's?

"Get off it!" 

One of the most profound examples I found was the car chase broadcast by Fox News, as detailed in chapter ten. The cable news station was airing a live broadcast of an Arizona car chase, supposedly on a delay, when the suspect ran out of his car, into a grassy field and shot himself in the head, which was followed by a series of muttered "get off it" demands from anchor Shepard Smith.

Such a graphic scene being shown to a significant number of viewers, all of whom did not give consent to the nature of the content, is clearly an ethical dilemma. If the broadcast was on a five-second delay, why was the suicide shown? Why air car chases at all?

In this article from Poynter, Al Tompkins argues that car chases need not be shown at all - at least not on a national level. This, in and of itself, is an ethical decision.

While this may not have been considered news to some, other publications such as Buzzfeed and now-defunct Gawker argued that it is the media's duty to publish and let the viewers make their own decisions. But, in some cases, isn't it our job to protect? Maybe not protect, but at the very least, give viewers the option to see graphic and disturbing content before shoving it in their faces?

I go back and forth on this, personally. While graphic content is unsettling, we live in a world where acts of violence seem to happen increasingly frequently. Some may argue that people are more desensitized to death today than ever, so would our stories have the same impact if we told the story without actually showing the story to the viewer?

Citizens and Journalism 

The reading finishes up by discussing the role of the citizens in journalism. They carry a role, interestingly more impactful than one might think.

The author argues that if citizens aren't satisfied with the content they are receiving, nothing is stopping them from demanding more desired content.

Typically, this would be accomplished through tweets, comments on articles and letters to the editor. But what if they take it one step further?

This is where citizen journalists come into play.

Social media is a huge part of many people's lives today, especially in terms of receiving news and gathering information. If a citizen isn't satisfied with the news they are reading, what's stopping that person from taking on the role of a journalist on their own?

And if they do take on this role, should they be expected to adhere to their own ethics code?

Without citizen journalists, we would likely not have content such as the video shot by Abraham Zapruder of President John F. Kennedy's assassination or the horrors experienced in natural disasters, all which help to paint a picture for the rest of the world.

But without careful consideration for ethics, those pieces can come at a cost.

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