Journalism ethics is nothing more than a measure of the scurrilousness your brand will bear. That’s it. Ethics has nothing to do with the truth of things, only with the proper etiquette for obtaining it, so as to piss off the fewest number of people possible.
We in the newsroom should have no illusions. Our entire purpose is to fill the “news hole,” which is the space left over after the advertisements have been placed on the page.
Theodore Daws in The Fall of Journalism, American Thinker.
Dawes, a long-time journalist, criticizes idealism and naivete in young journalists (in other words: those who think the industry is something other than a business that needs to make money), as well as j-school and false understandings of journalism ethics:
Of course, everyone overvalues the academic training they’ve received. It makes the debt, hassle, and spent time seem worthwhile, or at least less futile.
And imagine the thrill of using “lede,” which is the new spelling of lead, as in the opening sentence of a story. Its use provides the pleasing sensation of possessing specialized knowledge, knowledge well beyond the ken of the average Joe.
That is particularly pleasant to those who know so very little about everything else.
For example, I always ask job candidates a second question: “What is the difference between regulation and legislation?
Only one j-school graduate has ever known the answer. That was because, he sheepishly provided, he had worked as a legislative assistant the summer prior.
Tell me, please. How do you prepare a student for a career as a “government watchdog” and fail to provide the most fundamental instruction in how government works?
As befits their lofty status and lofty purpose, journalists work under a lofty ethical construct. Unfortunately, it is as flawed and juvenile as their journalistic purpose.
On occasion the ethical imperatives are simply incompatible, for example: 1) saving the world and 2) journalistic objectivity.
This illustrates perfectly an important fact: journalistic ethics weren’t arrived at philosophically or accidentally.
As is the case with many codes of ethics, the ethics of those in the journalism industry have as one of their primary purposes the maintenance of the status quo, particularly the economic status quo.
FJP: Would love to see a rebuttal to this.
We received a question some time ago from theinsightfulmouse which went like this:
I am planning an undergraduate thesis on the effects of technology on journalism ethics and looking to narrow my topic. Do you all have any ideas or suggestions of interesting, complex issues to research relating to journalism, ethics and technology?
Well, insightful mouse, there is a universe of interesting questions in the realm of journalism ethics, especially regarding online journalism. We’ll offer you some starting points for research rather than fleshed out ideas, because those will very much depend on your personal interests and investments.
You might like to search our Tumblr archive for ethics posts. We’ve written, for example, about the ethics of news vs. reviews, privacy on social media, linking, curation, and Instagram, all of which are debates that have since developed and could use more digging. Also see our transparency tag, which is something that you can deep dive into for a number of questions. Other great places to explore for ideas are the Public Editor’s Journal over at the NY Times, and Poynter’s Everyday Ethics.
Very useful (and fun, if you geek out over this stuff like me) is reading the ethics guidelines of various news organizations (here is a great list), many of which address online journalism. NPR has a great ethics handbook in which the visual journalism section deals with issues of digital attribution and manipulation (not necessarily the most compelling research topic, but useful to bookmark if you’re a journalist). Finally, and arguably the mecca of these questions, can be found in this discussion that Poynter hosted on journalism ethics in the digital age, on which a book is also in the works—I wrote a reaction here. The people involved are also key people you might want to reach out to help focus your ideas.
You did ask this question some time ago, so if you’ve already narrowed down a topic, do share it with us! —Jihii
Have a question for us? Ask.
It’s a really hard time for newspapers of all kinds. This is the Voice‘s business model and I hate to undermine it. But for anybody who loves journalism: How can you fund that journalism with sex trafficking?
Nicholas Kristof, NY Times op-ed columnist.
Kristof recently published two columns (January 25 and March 17) criticizing online classifieds, especially Backpage.com, for their adult services section as a vehicle for pimps trying to sell girls. Backpage.com is owned by Village Voice Media, and in line with past criticism against sex ads on Backpage.com, Village Voice responded with criticism of Kristof’s fact-checking. In reality, can they afford to eliminate these Backpage.com ads?
Backpage.com rakes in $22 M. annually from prostitution advertising, according to media analysts at AIM. Backpage.com reportedly accounts for one-seventh of VVM’s revenue overall.
(full story via The New York Observer)
The paradox in this story is what Village Voice actually stands for. Kristof writes:
Village Voice began as an alternative newspaper to speak truth to power. It publishes some superb journalism. So it’s sad to see it accept business from pimps in the greediest and most depraved kind of exploitation.
His columns are a call to action:
True, many prostitution ads on Backpage are placed by adult women acting on their own without coercion; they’re not my concern. Other ads are placed by pimps: the Brooklyn district attorney’s office says that the great majority of the sex trafficking cases it prosecutes involve girls marketed on Backpage.
There are no simple solutions to end sex trafficking, but it would help to have public pressure on Village Voice Media to stop carrying prostitution advertising. The Film Forum has already announced that it will stop buying ads in The Village Voice. About 100 advertisers have dropped Rush Limbaugh’s radio show because of his demeaning remarks about women. Isn’t it infinitely more insulting to provide a forum for the sale of women and girls?