Monday, September 12, 2016

Three Keys for Ethical Decision Making

Emily Cunningham

Ethical decision making is a major component in the journalism field. Journalists all over the world make both big and small ethical decisions on a daily basis. These decisions not only have an effect on their work, but their company's brand as well. Ethical decisions are not always easy to make. In the article, “10 Questions to Make Good Ethical Decisions,” author Bob Steele does a great job at pin pointing questions one should ask themselves before they make any crucial ethical decisions. Although I agreed with all of his questions, three of them specifically stood out to me. I personally believe that these were the most important:

What are my ethical concerns?

This was the third question that Steele asked, but what I believe should be the first. If a journalist has to make an ethical decision, the first thing he or she should do is ask themselves what the ethical concerns are in the matter. What exactly are the ethical problems they need to confront? I personally would advise a journalist to write down every issue that even remotely makes them think that it could be seen as an ethical concern. Once they have everything written down, the next most important step is to think about their organization's policies and professional guidelines to help guide them.

What organizational policies and professional guidelines should I consider?

This was Steele’s fourth question. Once writing any ethical concerns down, this question is imperative for journalists to answer next. To be honest, some journalists may make their final ethical decisions by using this tool. Having organizational policies and guidelines, as well as having professional guidelines like the SPJ Code of Ethics, makes determining ethical decisions much easier. Organizations who do not have set policies, as well as journalists who do not consider professional codes, will seriously lack in the department of making ethical decisions.

A great example of this is TMZ, a celebrity gossip and entertainment news website. They have both a nightly show and an online site. When questioned if TMZ had its own code of ethics to help avoid international news crises, owner Harvey Levin stated, “oh yeah we would never do anything like that.” Organizations like TMZ, who report on controversial topics, should the be the first ones to have policies and codes of ethics in place for their journalists and reporters to reference. These organizations need to remember who their ethical decisions will ultimately affect in the long run.

Who are the stakeholders?

Although, this is the sixth question Steele asks, I believe this to be the most important. Who is affected most by poor ethical decision-making? For one, I think a journalist should always think about the company or organization they work for when making an ethical decision. How will their decisions affect the company's brand and image? Will the decision hurt or hinder them? Or will it help them?

The most important stakeholder to remember is the general public - the people who ultimately invest their time to read or watch a journalist’s work. Catherine Gicheru, Kenyan editor, makes an excellent comment in an interview that yes, anybody can be a journalist, but that journalists need to understand “that they are doing this [journalism] for public good.” Gicheru goes on to state how journalists are so caught up in “chasing numbers and audiences” to help themselves. It is imperative for a journalist to remember that their job is solely for the public good. They need to ask themselves how their audience will be affected before they make ethical decisions.

I cannot stress enough how much ethical decision making is involved in the journalism field and how critical it is for journalists to make the right call on these decisions. I thought Bob Steele did a great job highlighting vital questions that may need to be asked before making any ethical decisions. In my opinion, if a journalist remembers my three favorite questions: What are the ethical concerns, what are the the organizational policies and professional guidelines to consider and who are the stakeholders, they will undoubtedly be on the right path to making the best ethical decisions.

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