Journalists confront ethical decisions throughout a workday.

Confidentiality, privacy and conflict of interest are issues that journalists must be aware of when doing their jobs. For a list if rules to work by, consult the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

In this segments, we learn about how journalists apply the ethical code to their work.

Exercises


Scenario #1

You are a crime reporter approached by a young man who claims that police roughed him up during a traffic stop. There were no witnesses, but the man provides a hospital report indicating he was treated for injuries that are consistent with being beaten up. You contact the police station and officers deny the story and threaten that if you run the story, they will never talk to you about anything else. This will obviously make it harder for you to do your job. What do you do?


  1. Discuss your options as a class or in small groups. Use an ethical framework such as the Poynter Institute Model to guide you in your decision-making. Before you watch the videos on Q2 and Q3 below, present and justify your group’s decision to the rest of the class.
  2. Play the video clip of Chicago Tribune reporter Oscar Avila discussing importance of independent evidence. Discuss Avila’s comments.
  3. Play the video clip of Chicago Tribune editor Peter Kendall discussing the need to continue reporting the story to glean more facts. Discuss Kendall’s comments.

Scenario #2

you are the editor of a small town newspaper and a single mother who is convicted of stealing groceries from a local grocer approaches you saying she will commit suicide if you run the story. She says she will lose her job and not be able to feed her children if the story runs. Your newspaper has a policy of publishing all local convictions in the crime beat section. If you do not publish the story, no one will know of her conviction. What do you do?


  1. Discuss your options as a class or in small groups. Use an ethical framework such as the Poynter Institute Model to guide you in your decision-making. Before you watch the videos on Q2 and Q3 below, present and justify your group’s decision to the rest of the class.
  2. Play the video clip of Noreen Ahmed-Ullah of the Chicago Tribune discussing why she wouldn’t run the story. Discuss Ahmed-Ullah’s comments.
  3. Play the video clip of Cincinnati Enquirer’s Annie-Laurie Blair advocating running the story but offering help to the caller. Discuss Blair’s comments.


Craig McCool of the Kalamazoo Gazette reported on a story about hundreds of college students arrested for being minors in possession of alcohol. McCool didn’t use the names if students who were arrested but still willing to be interviewed because the Gazette felt it was unfair to single out a few students from so many.

Play the video clip of McCool on the decision. As a class, discuss the Gazette’s decision and identify the ethical principles that were guiding that decision.


Working in a smaller community can sometimes make it difficult for journalists to separate their professional life and their private life.

List the possible problems a reporter might face when working in a smaller community, then watch Stephanie Ester’s video clip on how she handles reporting in such a small community.


In 2003, the news media covered several instances of child sexual abuse by priests in the Catholic church. Chicago Tribune editor Peter Kendall discusses the ethical issues involved in publishing the nmaes of priests who were identified by the church as abuses but not criminally charged.

Play Kendall’s video clip and as a class discuss the ethical issues involved in publishing the names of priests who were not charged.


Ethical situations can often teach us important lessons about being a successful journalist.

Play the video clip of Louise Kiernan of the Chicago Tribune discussing an ethical situation that she confronted when invited to the birthday party of a source’s daughter who didn’t want Kiernan there.

Kiernan learned about the value of giving sources space in order to ultimately get more information.


Chicago Tribune reporter Julie Deardorff, like many journalists, will share sources’ quotes with them to verify they are accurate. Particularly on technical stories, this is a good way to ensure accuracy.

Play the ciseo clip of Deardorff discussing why she does this.

As a class, talk about whether you should do the same to all sources for all stories? What if a source wants to reword a quote?