Monday, September 26, 2016

Interestingly, I'm Conflicted

Tim Hurst

The Obvious

Including, but not limited to the realm of journalism, conflicts of interest are often thought of in a negative light, typically for good reason.  If a reporter who openly identifies as either a strict Republican or Democrat is assigned to cover the presidential debates, it will be hard for him or her to shed an unbiased light on the event. Similarly, if a reporter was a part of a group home years ago and is covering a story about that group home, there is a conflict of interest here.

Just the other day, a tech journalist was fired when editors found out he also worked for Apple. This was a clear conflict of interest, as the tech journalist frequently had to cover Apple as a part of his duties, and he didn't inform anyone of his new employment with the company. This brings up the transparency code for ethical journalism.

Conflicts of interest bring up ethical dilemmas for journalists. Bias is very difficult to overcome, even to seasoned professionals, and the unfortunate truth is that a large percentage of Americans are so heavily influenced by the media that they may not recognize bias, and instead take articles to be completely factual, giving them the entire picture.

Many Americans prefer to be blindly spoon-fed information by the media, and this can be very dangerous.

The Opposition

Conflicts of interest may not always be ethical in terms of practice, but they can lead to very positive results. Imagine a scenario where the sibling of a reporter was killed from a gang-led drive-by shooting in a dangerous part of town. The reporter was enraged and led an investigation on the gang activities in that part of town, hoping to notify the public of what was going on.

This was a clear conflict of interest, as the reporter has a personal interest in casting a negative light on the circumstances. Without this occurrence, however, this may happen again and again in the town. The reporter is fueled by one thing: passion. Passion is the human emotion which creates change.

The Verdict

Absolutism is an easy path to choose, pushing towards a journalist always doing what's right. According to Aimee Allenback, you have Deontological Ethics, pushing for a more absolutist mindset, Teleological Ethics, pushing for a more pragmatic approach focusing on the results rather than the means, and you have a middle ground she calls Situational Ethics.

As a journalist, how do you feel about Allenback's different ethical theories? Would a conflict of interest under all circumstances be a negative thing, or do you think more pragmatically and take a Machiavellian approach, believing the ends always justify the means? As with our presidential candidates, many choose to favor a more moderate approach.

All thoughts are welcome.

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