Clashing values make teaching journalism ethics more difficult

Ethics is key in good journalism, so important that it has been the topic of lecture for, at least, one class period in every journalism class I have been enrolled in so far. I would not be surprised, either, if it continues to be so in future courses as well because ethical reporting, while being crucial, also seems easy to stray away from. I am always somewhat shocked to hear of successful journalists who have become trapped in a web of ethical dilemmas and who compromise their hard-earned positions as a result.

The current media landscape with its abundant social medias and new technologies has created many new questions about ethics in journalism and has, in some cases, made it even harder to report ethically. Not only has the digital age created new ethics issues for journalists, but also made it more difficult for ethics in journalism to be taught. A PBS article, “5 Principles for Teaching Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age,” raises some of the questions that have arisen and develops five principles to teach journalism ethics in a way that is in touch with the new media world.

Though I am not teaching journalism ethics (and will not be able to or have to do so for a long time),  I found it helpful to look at the issue from a teaching perspective. In the same way that, by teaching someone else how to do something, you can practice and hone your own knowledge, looking at the issue of journalism ethics from a teaching standpoint, I think, helps look at it differently and continue to think more critically about what being ethical as a journalist, no matter the medium, means.

What I found most interesting about the article though is the questions it mentions that have arisen from social media and other technologies infiltrating the journalism system and the problem of clashing values. The article states that old and new values clash in journalism ethics and that is largely why ethical dilemmas develop.

Journalists’ old values include a commitment to professionalism and accuracy as well as the ideal of minimizing harm. The new values include immediacy, transparency and citizen journalism. Does a trending topic on Twitter equal newsworthiness? Who is a journalist, only someone with a degree and bylines in a reputable paper or does the term also include bloggers who share accurate, journalistic-type information with followers?

As more and more of these questions arise, I think it will be interesting to watch how journalism ethics is altered. How do we find a balance in order to maintain our old ethical values while incorporating all the new technologies and sources of news?

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