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Article contents

Journalism ethics.

  • Patrick Lee Plaisance Patrick Lee Plaisance Department of Journalism & Media Communication, Colorado State University
  • https://doi.org/10.1093/acrefore/9780190228613.013.89
  • Published online: 09 June 2016

News workers—writers, editors, videographers, bloggers, photographers, designers—regularly confront questions of potential harms and conflicting values in the course of their work, and the field of journalism ethics concerns itself with standards of behavior and the quality of justifications used to defend controversial journalistic decisions. While journalism ethics, as with the philosophy of ethics in general, is less concerned with pronouncements of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain acts, it relies on longstanding notions of the public-service mission of journalism. However, informing the public and serving a “watchdog” function regularly require journalists to negotiate questions of privacy, autonomy, community engagement, and the potentially damaging consequences of providing information that individuals and governments would rather withhold.

As news organizations continue to search for successful business models to support journalistic work, ethics questions over conflicts of interest and content transparency (e.g., native advertising) have gained prominence. Media technology platforms that have served to democratize and decentralize the dissemination of news have underscored the debate about who, or what type of content, should be subjected to journalism ethics standards. Media ethics scholars, most of whom are from Western democracies, also are struggling to articulate the features of a “global” journalism ethics framework that emphasizes broad internationalist ideals yet accommodates cultural pluralism. This is particularly challenging given that the very idea of “press freedom” remains an alien one in many countries of the world, and the notion is explicitly included in the constitutions of only a few of the world’s democratic societies. The global trend toward recognizing and promoting press freedom is clear, but it is occurring at different rates in different countries. Other work in the field explores the factors on the individual, organizational, and societal levels that help or hinder journalists seeking to ensure that their work is defined by widely accepted virtues and ethical principles.

  • minimizing harm
  • public service
  • global ethics
  • newsgathering standards
  • framing effects
  • journalism culture
  • media technology


Potential harm posed by news accounts, the use of deceptive tactics to secure stories, and the increasing prevalence of infotainment content are all examples of journalism ethics issues. In addition to specific practices, the field of journalism ethics also addresses broader theoretical issues such as what roles the news media should play in society, whether the idea of patriotism poses a conflict of interest for journalists, and what might constitute a set of universal or global values to define good journalism across cultures. As a field, journalism ethics spans a wide range of issues from examination of specific case studies that raise questions of privacy and editorial independence, to abstract, normative arguments about how concepts from moral philosophy such as realism, relativism, and the Aristotelian notion of eudaimonia , or flourishing, should inform the work of journalism.

As the idea of journalism has evolved over the centuries, economic imperatives and the desire to be seen as performing “professionalized” work have motivated news publishers and journalists to embrace various standards of behavior. Depending on its cultural context, the idea of journalism emerged from commercial or political “hack” work, where newspapers were entertainment or party organs, to its role in most developed countries as an autonomous broker of information and “watchdog” of power centers on behalf of citizens. As a result, publishers, editors, and writers recognized the value of embracing standards of conduct to build integrity and commercial viability. Journalism ethics scholars and researchers have explored the philosophical underpinnings of these standards, the recurrent failures of news workers to meet them, and the moral obligations of journalism on a societal level.

Ethics and the Journalistic Mission

While ethics is conventionally understood as the work involved to discern “right” actions from wrong, it is more precisely a field of inquiry focused on examining the quality of our deliberations when dealing with moral dilemmas. It is about asking the “right” questions to best illuminate our duties and potential impacts on others. As such, ethics rarely provides clear answers about the best way to handle quandaries. Rather, ethics serves to help us highlight morally relevant issues and come up with optimal defensible decisions. This also describes the field of journalism ethics: while there are some clear rules and standards about how journalists should operate, more common are abstract statements of value that are intended to inform good behavior. Journalism ethics is a distinct subfield of media ethics in that it addresses behavior and dilemmas unique to the practices of gathering and presenting news content. It works within the context of journalism culture that assumes a critical public-service function of the work in a professional or semi-professional setting distinct from marketing or promotional media content. While journalism ethics scholarship draws from moral philosophy in its use of concepts such as autonomy, harm, and justice, it also represents an applied ethics approach, focusing as it often does on case studies and analyses of situations that pose dilemmas involving protection of journalistic credibility or potential harm to story subjects. Ethicists in media often call for a deontological approach in journalism practice—for journalists to be more mindful of these broad duties and less concerned about the consequences of providing the news to the public. True public service, they argue, requires journalists to report the news, as explosive, discomforting, or controversial as it may be, and let the chips fall where they may. The public must decide how that information will be utilized. These ethicists insist that journalists should resist paternalistic impulses and pressure to “sanitize” the news. Despite this general tendency, many journalism ethics codes and standards also include explicitly utilitarian concerns—a recognition that journalists must, of course, be mindful of the consequences of their work, particularly when it comes to potential harmful effects of some information. The tensions created by these two approaches often constitute the heart of many journalism ethics controversies, just as they do in other areas of applied ethics. A look at codes of ethics embraced by various journalistic organizations around the world illustrates how both approaches are invoked. These codes most often avoid clear declarations of prohibitions or required actions, and instead provide aspirational calls for journalists to report the news courageously, to be accountable to the public, and to minimize harm as much as possible. All of these imply a special covenant with the public and an obligation to act in ways that serve more than the commercial interests of individual journalists or news organizations. This includes, as one of the first publishers of the New York Times famously said, to report the news “without fear or favor”—in other words, without being cowed or intimidated by powerful people or institutions who might want to shape the news for their own interests, and also without any agenda to promote any single individual, cause, or policy in the course of reporting. In commercial media systems, the specter of corporate conflict of interest is a recurring journalism ethics issue: corporate media conglomerates use their journalism divisions to promote, in the guise of news content, products or services (such as a film or musical artist) produced by another division. Similarly, nationalized or party-owned news outlets subject to government or political control are typically perceived as lacking sufficient editorial autonomy to report news that may adversely impact those in power. Accountability in journalism most often refers to fulfilling a public-service role in the dissemination of news. It calls for journalists to respond quickly to questions about accuracy, and to acknowledge and correct mistakes. It also implies the notion that journalists wield considerable power in their ability to spotlight and scrutinize the behavior of others, and that they must use that power judiciously. Journalists, consequently, are expected to acknowledge their own ethical lapses, and to apply the same standards of behavior to themselves that they hold for news subjects. Most journalistic ethics codes also call for minimizing harm in the course of news work. Note that the call to minimize harm is distinct from imperatives to “prevent” or “avoid” harm, which are virtually non-existent in journalism. This semantic distinction is deliberate and reflects an acknowledgement that harmful effects are occasionally inevitable in the course of good journalism. Journalistic harm is most conventionally understood as materially “setting back” an important and legitimate “interest” of someone or some group that is the focus of news. Some such harms might be easily defended, such as the economic harm caused by an investigative report on the questionable or illegal practices of a company. Other such harms are more difficult to justify, such as the damage created to someone’s reputation by the disclosure of personal facts not considered very newsworthy. But harm can take many other forms. Ill-considered behavior might result in harm to the individual journalist’s reputation or that of his or her news organization. As with most other lines of work, the ethically questionable behavior of individual actors can easily reflect on—and harm—the profession or field as a whole, reducing trust. The public also can be harmed with misinformation and sensationalistic coverage or content that leaves people with an inaccurate understanding of a topic or issue. In most cases, journalists minimize potential harms by articulating the public value of published information and by considering withholding information that might be less important or relevant for a story. Journalists also consider story “play”—how images and graphics are used as well as story placement and prominence. More recently, journalism ethics discussions and scholarship have emphasized additional values. One is transparency, or being aboveboard in explaining news decisions. For example, recent efforts to revise the code of ethics of the Society for Professional Journalists in the United States resulted in adding the imperative that journalists “be transparent.” In some cases, this has meant inviting the public to observe, either personally or via streaming video, editorial meetings of news organizations. In others, it has meant allowing digital access to databases and other files that are used in building news stories. Another value that has gained in prominence in journalism ethics is community engagement. More journalistic organizations, particularly digital-only news sites, have expressed an obligation to move beyond mere reporting of the news and to make efforts to foster civic participation. At its most basic, this manifests itself through active story comment lines and forums to discuss stories and issues. But it also can include the sponsorship by news organizations of public meetings to address specific issues of concern as well as inviting audience members to “sponsor” an investigative effort, which a news organization, once receiving sufficient financial support, “pledges” to publish.

Journalism and Ethics Frameworks

Much work in journalism ethics is rooted in two predominant strains found in the philosophy of ethics. One is consequentialism , in which much of the moral weight of decisions is placed on the goodness of the outcome. In journalism, this is most clearly illustrated by the focus on possible harms resulting from newsgathering and publishing. The other predominant strain is deontology , or duty-based ethics. Many news outlets and journalism associations have embraced ethics codes that itemize the various duties that responsible journalists must carry out: duty to serve the public, duty to scrutinize centers of power, duty to be as transparent and accountable as possible. But the “third way” in ethics, virtue theory, has recently been gathering prominence in journalism practice as well. Rooted in the work of Aristotle, this approach focuses instead on identifying “virtues”—what it means to be courageous, charitable, honest, and so forth—and articulating how such virtues ought to be manifested in our lives if we are serious about the promotion of human “flourishing.” Insisting that journalists should “be virtuous” may sound like a less-than-useful platitude, but recognizing and living by virtues is far from simple. We would not still be discussing them thousands of years after Aristotle if it were. And as we have seen, ethics is rarely black and white. We must juggle competing claims, weigh various possible harms, articulate often multiple duties—all in the course of just one ethical question. In moral psychology (discussed later in this article), the idea of “moral commitment” is an important one—the degree to which individuals internalize moral principles, or virtues, into their very self-identities, so that those principles almost reflexively inform daily behavior. Moral “exemplars” are those among us who not only internalize these principles, but whose moral development has given them what might be called a highly developed skill of discrimination: the ability to make fine-grained distinctions among similar situations and to thoughtfully respond with just the right mix of appraisals, beliefs, and behavior that still reflect one’s broader moral commitments. This is the more character-driven approach that preoccupies virtue ethicists. One of them, Rosalind Hursthouse ( 1999 , p. 154), argued that the virtues “are not excellences of character, not traits that, by their very nature, make their possessors good and result in good conduct.” Rather, she said we must remember the “Aristotelian idea that each of the virtues involves practical wisdom, the ability to reason correctly about practical matters.” It is more of a “ground-up” approach, rather than the “top-down” approach of duty ethics or the “ends-focused” approach of consequentialism. And for a growing chorus of journalism ethics scholars, it may be the most useful one. “By building from our appreciation of ‘particular facts’ about how the media operate in the contemporary world, we have a more useful starting point for the tangled problems of media ethics than by relying on supposedly consensual norms, rights or obligations,” wrote media ethicist Nick Couldry ( 2013 , p. 42).

A notable example of virtue ethics applied to journalism is offered by media ethicist Sandra Borden. Borden draws on the work of philosopher Alistair MacIntyre, who argues that the ancient Greeks understood the notion of virtues as qualities that were critical to have if one were to perform well in his or her social roles. Aristotle described virtues not as ends in themselves, but as tools to achieve what he said should be our broader aim: “the good life,” or eudaimonia . As individuals, we not only contribute to our own well-being but help bring about such flourishing for all through specialized work that is often referred to as professional behavior. In his landmark book, After Virtue , MacIntyre ( 2007 , p. 187) called this type of work a practice :

By ‘practice’ I . . . mean any coherent and complex form of socially established cooperative human activity through which goods internal to that form of activity are realized in the course of trying to achieve those standards of excellence which are appropriate to, and partially definitive of, that form of activity, with the result that human powers to achieve excellence, and human conceptions of the end and good involved, are systematically extended.

Such practices, he argued, involve “standards of excellence and obedience to rules” that are aimed at attaining internal goods, or things that contribute to the common good regardless of who actually receives them. Media professionals, when deliberately informing their work with the “standards of excellence” that are attached to their “practices,” are able to deliver public goods such as providing information and analysis that enables the public to participate in a vigorous democratic life. As Borden ( 2007 , p. 16) summarized, “an occupation’s purpose provides it with moral justification, from a virtue perspective, if it can be integrated into a broader conception of what is good for humans.” In her book, Journalism as Practice , she made the compelling case that journalism should indeed be treated as a MacIntyrean practice . Another media ethicist, Victor Pickard ( 2011 , p. 76), eloquently described the “practice” of journalism having internal goods as its aim:

[Journalism] is an essential public service with social benefits that transcend its revenue stream. In its ideal form, journalism creates tremendous positive externalities. It serves as a watchdog over the powerful, covers crucial social issues, and provides a forum for diverse voices and viewpoints. As such, journalism functions as democracy’s critical infrastructure.

Implications of Specific Practices

Due to the ongoing nature and recurring tensions inherent in news work, several specific types of questions and controversies regularly surface. Yet it should be clear that ethics provides no clear-cut solution to cases of the same type; indeed, ethicists often argue for very different resolutions or optimal decisions among similar cases, depending on context and factors that may have more or less importance in different situations. It nonetheless is valuable to note several broad types of journalism ethics questions:

Conflict of interest. As noted previously, corporate and political conflicts of interest commonly raise questions of journalistic autonomy and adherence to ideals of public service. Conflict of interest can also occur at the individual level, where the interests or values of a single journalist might tempt him or her to compromise his or her news judgements. Most journalistic policies require news workers to treat potential appearances of conflict of interest as just as much a threat to credibility as actual conflicts, and, in cases of the latter, to take explicit steps to acknowledge the conflict and to either minimize or eliminate it. In most cases, journalists are expected to recuse themselves from activities that might pose a journalistic conflict. This includes policies that prohibit reporters covering politics from featuring political bumper stickers on their private vehicles.

Minimizing harm. Also as noted, the concept of harm can take many forms, and journalists are regularly called upon to justify their decisions that arguably cause harm to individuals or groups. Photojournalists in war zones and those covering sites of humanitarian tragedy have been challenged, for example, for their decisions to maintain their role as dispassionate witnesses to scenes of human suffering, rather than setting down their cameras and helping those in need. News organizations also have drawn criticism when disclosing secret or classified information that, in the course of informing the public, may arguably harm or undermine national interests.

Balancing privacy interests. Generally, theorists agree that everyone requires a degree of privacy to allow for self-development and to enable individuals to manage their multiple social roles. But with the value of privacy regularly being contested, journalists confront the dilemma of the extent to which respect for individual privacy should determine news coverage. While some scholars have argued that protecting privacy should never be considered the job of the journalist because of myriad and shifting definitions, others emphasize that journalism that respects privacy can encourage civic participation and engagement. Ethics arguments frequently flare over when disclosure of personal information is merited as well as when story subjects arguably seek to dodge accountability by invoking questionable or ill-informed privacy claims.

News frame effects. News content that may have negative effects on society frequently raises ethics questions. For example, psychologists have long warned of the “contagion” effect of coverage of suicide that focuses on the method of death and emotional state of the subject, which may prompt others in a similar emotional state to “copy” the story. Journalists have embraced media guidelines for responsible coverage of suicide as a social-health issue rather than as spectacle. The way an issue in the news is “framed” by story narratives, using factors such as sourcing, point of view, emphasis, and description, can leave audiences with a particular understanding of that issue. Framing of hot-button topics such as gun violence, gender roles, or obesity can serve to emphasize or favor one perspective over another and thus raise ethical questions.

Stereotypes. Relying on or perpetuating gender, racial, or ethnic stereotypes in news stories also can be considered a framing issue, and journalists must be mindful of inadvertent stereotyping. Expediency, narrative brevity, and the press of deadlines often discourage thoughtful considerations of the descriptions used for story subjects, be they local celebrities or police suspects. Research has suggested a consistent gender bias in news descriptions of physicality, emphasizing clothing items for women but not men, for example. Also, consistent focus on race often leaves skewed perceptions of crime patterns in the mind of the public.

Newsgathering techniques. What methods are justifiable in the collection of information valuable to the public? Classic what-ends-justify-the-means questions regularly confront journalists. While absolutist policies are rare, many news organizations refuse to pay for news or interviews, though tabloid outlets commonly do so. The concern is that sources with a financial incentive may be tempted to embellish, alter, or even fabricate facts and events, thereby undermining the journalistic enterprise. In some developing countries, such as Kenya, China, and India, money is regularly passed to individual journalists to curry favor and secure positive treatment. With celebrity periodicals, where exposure has created its own competitive market among a finite pool of public figures, payment for attention has become more removed from objective newsworthiness standards. The use of deceptive tactics, such as hidden cameras, also raises ethical questions. Several journalistic organizations have adopted policies stating that hidden cameras should be used only as a last resort and only when the information sought has high potential value for the public. Similar policies apply to journalists misrepresenting themselves to access information.

Graphic images. The publication of photos that depict gore, violence, and suffering regularly raises ethical questions for news journalists. Such questions become particularly heated during times of war or conflict, and when patriotic sentiments may bring added pressure to bear on journalists to depict the “right” story and avoid using images that audiences might perceive to be demoralizing. Claims that graphic images can be offensive, harmful, or unnecessary clash with concerns that avoiding such images risks sanitizing or propagandizing the news, which can easily undermine journalistic credibility. As with other journalistic ethics issues, the controversies over the publication of graphic images reflect diametric approaches within ethics itself: A utilitarian concern focused on minimizing harmful consequences of a decision versus a deontological ethos that calls for depicting the news with courage and relying on audiences to make their own decisions about the value of such images.

Ethics and Journalism Sociology

A variety of factors influences and even determines the behavior of journalists. The professional, cultural, and organizational environments in which journalists work have been referred to as their “moral ecology,” a recognition that news workers, like everyone else, do not operate in a self-defined vacuum, and that individual beliefs and predispositions are routinely subsumed by broader processes of socialization that can both help and hinder the exercise of ethical reasoning skills and moral autonomy. Thus, normative claims about what journalists should or should not do in the course of their work must rest not on assumptions that journalists are guided solely by personal beliefs but on an appreciation of these socialization processes. For example, journalists are criticized for advancing a “news agenda” reflecting their personal biases, but such claims often ignore how the broader constraints of the news decision-making process (e.g., the requirements of video production on deadline), organizational structure (e.g., the allocation of resources intended to produce one type of news content over another), or professional culture (e.g., the internal system of sanctions and rewards from editors based on impartiality of work) function as much greater influences. That moral ecology, of course, varies widely around the globe. Journalism sociology research over the years has identified broad “levels” or categories of factors that influence the production of news, generally distinguishing among individual-, organizational-, and societal-level spheres. For example, the ongoing “Worlds of Journalism” project examining news work across cultures has identified six levels of influence:

The individual level includes personal opinions, values, and demographic data as well as information on specific roles and occupational characteristics within a news organization.

The media routines level includes deadlines, production procedures, and standards and other constraints posed by newsgathering practices.

The organizational level includes technological imperatives, advertising or revenue considerations, and editorial decision-making.

The media structures level includes the economic model of news that entails profitability and resource allocation as realities in the relatively high costs of news production.

The systemic level includes national-level data such as regulatory policies, ideological assumptions, and degree of press freedoms.

Reference groups constitute a dimension that spans professional and personal domains to include competing news organizations, audiences, colleagues, friends, and family members.

In much research on journalism culture since the late 20th century, organizational- and societal-level factors have been found to be stronger influences on news content than individual-level factors, suggesting a hierarchical structure of influences in which the higher the level, the stronger the influence. However, no definitive model of influence has emerged.

Media Technology

The proliferation of online media has resulted in a host of new complications for journalists and news organizations. While traditional ethical concepts do not fundamentally change when information is delivered online, the ease and ubiquity of digital media provide new ways of interacting with audience members and story subjects. And everyone is tempted to do things he or she may not otherwise contemplate without the speed and ease of media technology. As one media ethics scholar noted, “Deceptive behavior in cyberspace is . . . not a new moral issue though it raises the problem of ‘moral distance’ with extra urgency . . . The speed of digital communication does not create new forms of immorality, but makes it possible to commit immoral acts so fast one hardly notices” ( 2000 , pp. 34–35). For example, the issue of corrections and retractions in digital journalism has received considerable attention.

Generally, many journalistic organizations, such as the Canadian Association of Journalists, have adopted policies against “unpublishing” erroneous reports from their archives and instead amending corrections to them. News organizations also have felt increasing pressure from story subjects who are embarrassed by content and argue that it is unfair for the news organizations to archive material long after it is no longer relevant. But allowing individuals to “scrub” the public record for their own interests raises deeper questions about the value of independently curated public information, and it also can threaten a key aspect of the journalistic mission, which is to document history. As one journalism educator has said, “Source remorse is not a reason to unpublish.” Unpublishing material also does little to eliminate the “echoes” that likely exist all over the Web on search engines, blogs, and other news sites. Better to correct or amend the existing archived material, which both preserves the integrity of the journalistic process and also fosters credibility through transparent action. For instance, editors at the Boston Globe cited the latter for their decision to correct, but not remove, a live blog post erroneously stating that an arrest had been made shortly after the Boston Marathon bombings in 2013 . In rare cases, a news organization may consider unpublishing a story that is judged to be unethical or even be questionable legally, or when continued accessibility of an archived story may pose a real threat to someone’s well-being. In such cases, many policies urge journalists to look for evidence of concrete harm, such a doctor’s opinion, and for any such decisions to unpublish to be made by consensus, never leaving them to a single person.

The immediacy provided by media technology has enabled journalists to increase their relevance and value and to foster new forms of interaction with audiences. It also can encourage broad collaborative efforts with non-journalists whose perspectives and information can augment journalistic efforts. But that very immediacy can threaten to become deterministic —the value of now can displace ethical concerns of credibility, verification, and care. In the rush to be a part of the conversation and buzz on breaking stories, many news organizations have fallen victim to all stripes of hoaxes. “The development of social networks for real-time news and information, and the integration of social media content in the news media, creates tensions for a profession based on a discipline of verification,” said journalism technology scholar Alfred Hermida. News sites around the world, for example, circulated what turned out to be a fake photo of Osama Bin Laden’s body soon after his death in May 2011 . The immediacy of digital technology tempts journalists to post, share, and verify later—often at the cost of their long-term credibility. This risk of compromised integrity or even partiality is a serious concern reflected in the social media policies of most news organizations. The notion of technological determinism—that values emphasized by technology such as convenience tempt us to set aside other values such as respect, conscientiousness, and even safety—has resulted in abetting the perilous impulse in a competitive media system of getting it first rather than getting it right. Critic Evgeny Morozov ( 2011 , p. xvi) calls this “cyber-centrism,” or our tendency to “prioritize the tool over the environment.” The integration of social media also has required journalists to resist the temptation for informality. Several news organizations have adopted explicit policies that reinforce how traditional concerns of ethics as well as etiquette apply to social media. For example, the Associated Press cautions its writers about the peril residing in too-informal use of Twitter:

Twitter, in particular, can present some challenges—with a tight character count and no way to modulate your body language or the volume and tone of your voice, requests that are intended to be sensitive can come across as cold or even demanding. Think about how your tweet would come across if spoken with an angry voice, because that’s just how the recipient may hear it in his head.

Media technology has collapsed time and space in the exchange of information, but it also has arguably initiated a reformation of communication structures. No longer is the news media system a “closed” one in which journalists serve a central gatekeeping function; now we have an “open” system in which the sourcing and distribution of information has been radically democratized and globalized. As many theorists have said, we now have a networked society. Journalists and journalistic brands are now just single nodes among a constellation of voices and sources, all moving in a “shared” information space. This, writes scholar Ansgard Heinrich, “sketches the evolution of an interactive sphere that, at least in theory, fosters a greater level of interaction and exchange. Connection, interaction, and collaboration are the markers of this shift.” This transformation, however, poses many questions for journalism as it has been conventionally understood, in the form of print newspapers and broadcast networks. Who do you link to? How do you distinguish between activist bloggers and more dispassionate collaborators? Do these distinctions matter anymore? And in this new “network journalism,” how are journalists to act responsibly in what is now a global sphere? Scholars have begun insisting that journalists have a responsibility to be more cosmopolitan in their outlook and their framing of news, and to work harder to transcend the “nationalistic” lenses that have traditionally dominated news narratives. As Heinrich argues, “This nationally inward looking focus of news reporting, however, does not do justice to a world (1) where events in one corner of the world might affect the other; (2) where news stories produced by one outlet are not restricted in access to ‘local,’ i.e., national audiences; and (3) in which many voices roam through the spheres of a digitally connected world that might provide an alternative take on a news story.” Globally responsible journalists, then, must break out of the tradition of foreign correspondent narratives that focus almost exclusively on elite or official sources and on how events impact a particular nation, instead engaging in the multitude of activist and “unofficial” sources that provide often competing narratives.

Global Journalism Ethics Theorizing

Much journalism ethics theorizing since the end of the 20th century has been preoccupied with the desire to establish viable ethical norms that transcend cultural boundaries and reflect what one researcher referred to as an empirical trend toward “ever-increasing globalization of journalism standards.” Some of this work calls for a media system that relies on a framework of international human rights, or a general veneration of human life, to guide news work regardless of culture. Others have called for a “modified contractualist” approach that would respect differing cultural manifestations of broad principles. Still others insist that any such global framework reject Enlightenment assumptions of the primacy of individual rights and rationality. Too often, claims of journalism standards of behavior remain rooted in Western cultural assumptions and are imperialistically imposed onto non-Western cultures in which the values of social stability and collective well-being replace individualistic models. As one scholar observed, “It is a global reality that the common concerns we have as human beings coexist with differences of ethical thinking and priorities in different cultures. This coexistence of common ground and different places plays out in the work of journalists across the world.” Notwithstanding the rarity with which the value of press freedom is enshrined in Western media systems, American and European scholars and journalistic organizations continue to dominate journalism ethics discourse. As a result, that discourse is focused on protecting journalistic functions with the rule of law and insulating them from power and identity politics. The European Federation of Journalists, for example, released a report in 2015 examining the effects of chronic corruption in 18 countries, noting how “media managers are doing ‘deals’ with advertisers to carry paid-for material disguised as news, how editors are being bribed by politicians or corporate managers and how this whole process makes it increasingly difficult to separate journalism from propaganda from public relations.” But voices from other parts of the world are joining the discourse on press freedom and journalism ethics. Many sociology and philosophy scholars on the African continent have offered critiques of postcolonial systems to promote journalism institutions (e.g., Kasoma, 1996 ; Wasserman, 2006 ). In 2015 , the Journal of Media Ethics published a special issue devoted to the notion of ubuntu as a guiding framework for media practice—the idea common among several south African cultures that individual flourishing is possible only through community belonging and social identity. The widespread practice of journalists accepting gifts and cash in exchange for favorable treatment—called “brown-envelope” journalism in Nigeria and “red-envelope” journalism in China—is receiving an increased amount of attention by journalism sociology scholars around the world (Xu, 2016 ). The practice in China was an intrinsic part of the commercialization of the media system in China beginning in the 1980s, and was actually initiated by foreign companies to entice journalists to attend press conferences (Zhao, 1998 ).

Cultural diversity notwithstanding, research worldwide has identified several key areas and concepts that concern journalists across cultures. These include truth-telling, accuracy, factualness, objectivity, credibility, balance, verification, independence, fairness, accountability, honesty, and respect. Of course, many of these overlap, and they can apply to one or more of the influence levels referred to previously. But many journalism ethics scholars agree that these are not enough. It is shared moral principles, rather than agreed-upon practices, that can bind responsible journalists around the world in ethical solidarity. As scholar Clifford Christians ( 2010 , p. 6) argues:

Without a defensible conception of the good, our practices are arbitrary. How can we condemn violent practices such as suicide bombings in the name of jihad except through widely accepted principles? We are stunned at the blatant greed and plundering of the earth, but without norms we are only elitists and hot-tempered moralists. Conflicts among people, communities, and nations need principles other than their own for their resolution. A credible ethics, as a minimum, must be transnational in character.

Christians and others argue that such a global media ethic cannot start with conventional morality that assumes a superior rationality, such as that of Kant. Instead, it must begin with a much more “naturalistic” principle: universal human solidarity, which prioritizes human dignity, truth, and nonviolence, all of which are grounded in the notion of the sacredness of life. In addition to this notion, scholars point to the fundamentally social reality of human existence—that despite the predominance of Western individualism, our realities and even our identities are arguably rooted in interaction and community belonging. In this reality, communication is central, as it is through exchange that we understand ourselves and we see the importance of “the Other”—individuals we encounter who may not share our culture or perspective, but whose existence requires respect and validation. Again, Christians, drawing on a long line of earlier philosophers, explains: “Communication is not the transference of knowledge but a dialogic encounter of subjects creating it together.” This leads us to a framework of “anthropological realism” that provides a hopeful basis for a global media ethic. It is anthropological in nature because it is rooted in the realities of human existence rather than claims about any rationalistic ideals. It is realist in that it insists morality has an explicit character that exists independently of our perceptions and judgements. For the moral realist, moral claims of rightness or wrongness are true regardless of any beliefs an individual might have about them. The casual observer, however, might see an immediate problem with such a framework, a problem wrestled with by philosophers since antiquity: what exactly is the nature of the “good” and how do we apprehend it? Is there more to a moral claim than a sort of intuition that we just know right from wrong? And how might journalists articulate this framework of moral realism in the judgements they make about news, about ethnic conflict, about graphic images? In journalism ethics scholarship, these debates continue.

Moral Psychology Research

Broad-brushed, deductive theorizing such as that discussed previously is one active area of journalism ethics research. But other researchers are increasingly acknowledging the need for more empirical work that seeks to better understand ethical reasoning processes on the ground by bringing long-established psychology measurements to bear. This moral psychology research draws on important philosophical concepts as well as instruments that assess beliefs, attitudes, and dispositions to explore possible patterns and relationships among factors in ethical decision-making. Recent cross-cultural research involving interviewing journalists around the globe, led by German researcher Thomas Hanitzsch, suggests that they perceive notions of objectivity, accuracy, and truth-telling as “core elements” of a widely accepted ethic for journalism practice. Journalists, of course, have been socialized into these norms through formal journalism education as well as through immersion in the newsroom culture, with its internal system of sanctions and rewards by peers and superiors based on the perceived quality of one’s work. Other researchers emphasize that social psychological processes resulting in bias perceptions, such as social validation and attitude stabilization, also must be recognized as evident in the work of journalists.

Moral development theory provides several models to help explain how individuals’ moral agency and sense of morality evolve over the course of a lifetime. The most widely cited moral development theory is that of Lawrence Kohlberg, who has argued that our moral development is tied largely to two factors. One is the degree to which we internalize moral principles that apply to all and move away from relativistic thinking—the notion that moral decisions regarding what is “right” are strictly “relative” to one’s own personal values rather than any broader moral principles. The other, closely related to the first, is the sophistication and scope of our understanding of the concept of justice. Our moral development, Kohlberg argues, can be assessed as existing in one of six stages. Based on Kohlberg’s theory, researchers have refined and widely used a survey instrument that measures one’s moral reasoning skills based on these two factors. By assessing the frequency with which respondents draw on higher-order justifications when presented with a moral dilemma, the Defining Issues Test (DIT) has enabled researchers to assess the moral-reasoning skills of various populations such as professional groups. Media researchers Lee Wilkins and Renita Coleman pioneered the application of the DIT to journalists and other media workers, concluding that, because journalists routinely encountered ethical questions in the course of their work, their moral reasoning skills were relatively high compared with workers in other professions.

Another moral psychology instrument that has proven useful in journalism ethics research is the Ethics Position Questionnaire (EPQ) developed by Donelson Forsyth. Because people’s responses to ethical dilemmas are influenced by their worldviews, understanding the basic elements of their outlooks can illuminate the thrust of their ethical judgements. Two such basic elements are key to individuals’ “ethical ideologies.” One is how idealistic they are—that is, to what extent are they optimistic about the actions of others, and to what extent are they concerned about minimizing harm or are more accepting of harmful effects if positive consequences are believed to outweigh them. Another basic element is how relativistic they are—whether they tend to make judgements based primarily on their own interests and perceptions of “rightness” that are relative to their own standing or views, or whether they tend to draw on broader, universal principles to decide what’s ethically justifiable. Using some key items from the Forsyth instrument, the “Worlds of Journalism” project found that most journalists in the 20 countries surveyed tend to embrace universal principles that should be followed regardless of situation and context. They also agreed on the importance of avoiding questionable methods of reporting, even if this means not getting the story. Much less approval—although the extent of it varied between countries—could be found regarding how much personal latitude journalists should have in solving these problems. This desire for flexibility reflects the longstanding tension in ethics between desirable ends and questionable means, as discussed. Many journalists think that in certain situations, some harm to others would be justified if the result supports a greater public good. News workers in Western countries are more likely to disapprove of a contextual and situational ethics. This attitude, however, also exists in non-Western contexts, though less strongly. Chinese, Pakistani, and Russian journalists, on the other hand, tend to be most open to situational ethical practices. Consistent with this result, interviewees in Western contexts showed little support for the idea that journalists should be allowed to set their own individual ethical standards. Similarities between journalists from Western countries also exist with regard to idealism. Although journalists in all countries agreed on the view that questionable methods of reporting should be avoided, those working in Western contexts appreciate this idea more than their colleagues in a developmental and transitional environment. Regarding the acceptance of harmful consequences of reporting for the sake of a greater public good, journalists in most Western countries—but also their colleagues in Brazil, Indonesia, Pakistan, Turkey, and Uganda—tend to keep all options on the table. Journalists in Bulgaria, Chile, China, Egypt, Romania, and Russia, on the other hand, exhibit a greater willingness to accept harmful consequences in the course of newsgathering and reporting.

In a study of journalism “exemplars” in the United States—reporters and editors widely respected for their accomplishments and ethical leadership—media ethicist Patrick Plaisance used both the Defining Issues Test and the Ethics Position Questionnaire, along with several other moral psychology instruments. Regarding the journalism exemplars’ moral reasoning, Plaisance found their DIT scores were indeed higher than that of journalists on average. Regarding the EPQ, the journalism exemplars uniformly rejected relativistic thinking as well. There was also a negative relationship between the journalism exemplars’ DIT scores and their degree of idealistic thinking. That is, the higher the exemplars score on the Defining Issues Test, the less they appear to embrace idealistic thinking. This may first appear counterintuitive; it might stand to reason that people with higher DIT scores, associated as they are with greater application of universal principles in moral judgements, also would be rather idealistic in their outlooks. However, it is important to remember that all of the exemplars scored low in relativistic thinking; so the issue is not that the exemplars would be more or less Machiavellian depending on their DIT scores, but to what degree their belief in universal moral standards, and perhaps primarily their concern for harming others, could be applied rigidly or not. The negative correlation with moral-reasoning scores, then, arguably reinforces the suggestion of comparatively greater moral development in that exemplars with the higher DIT scores exhibit a greater ability to adapt their principles to best fit the often complex range of contingencies in which they find themselves having to work. In other words, they are too wise to believe they can insist on a rigid application of moral rules that can fit all circumstances and have become more adept at making the kind of carefully considered, fine-grained distinctions frequently found among moral exemplars of all walks of life.

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Expert Commentary

Code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists

A good place to learn about journalists' rights and responsibilities is the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, which is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior.

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Creative Commons License

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License .

by Leighton Walter Kille, The Journalist's Resource March 30, 2009

This <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org/home/code-of-ethics/">article</a> first appeared on <a target="_blank" href="https://journalistsresource.org">The Journalist's Resource</a> and is republished here under a Creative Commons license.<img src="https://journalistsresource.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/cropped-jr-favicon-150x150.png" style="width:1em;height:1em;margin-left:10px;">

Journalists have both rights and responsibilities. A good place to learn what these are is the code of ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists . The society’s code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior.

The code is intended not as a set of “rules.” It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution — legally enforceable. Instead, it is intended as a resource for ethical decision-making.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

Seek truth and report it

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
  • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
  • Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
  • Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
  • Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.
  • Never plagiarize.
  • Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
  • Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
  • Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
  • Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
  • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
  • Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
  • Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
  • Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be accountable

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other. Journalists should:

  • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
  • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

This information was adapted from the website of the Society of Professional Journalists. The original page is here . Answers to frequently asked questions about the code are available here . Tags: ethics.

About The Author

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Leighton Walter Kille

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Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach

Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach

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Since the introduction of radio and television news, journalism has gone through multiple transformations, but each time it has been sustained by a commitment to basic values and best practices. Journalism Ethics is a reminder, a defence, and an elucidation of core journalistic values, with particular emphasis on the interplay of theory, conceptual analysis and practice. This unified text on journalism ethics begins with a sophisticated model for ethical decision making, devised by two of the nation's leading ethicists, which connects classical theories with the central purposes of journalism. Top scholars from philosophy, journalism and communications offer essays on such topics as objectivity, privacy, confidentiality, conflict of interest, the history of journalism, online journalism, and the definition of a journalist. Theoretical essays are paired with practical essays in order to better inform the discussion. The result is a guide to ethically sound and socially justified journalism, in whatever form that practice emerges.

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Journalism Ethics

  • First Online: 24 September 2023

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essay on journalistic ethics

  • Julie Firmstone 2  

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This chapter explores the role of journalism ethics as fundamental to the practice of journalism. Considering what ethical judgements are and when they are necessary, the chapter introduces the areas of news making where ethical decisions come into play and highlights the ethical tensions and dilemmas faced by journalists. It explores how ethics are observed, enacted, and adhered to in practice by considering journalists’ perceptions of the impact of codes of ethics on their work, the relationship between the ethics of individuals and professional values, and the role of the organisational cultures and ethos of news organisations in shaping ethical practices. We see that journalistic standards and ethics are not simply based on individual or personal beliefs, or regular consultation of codes. Rather they are collective practices that operate in the context of institutions which have their own ground rules and ethical cultures.

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Firmstone, J. (2024). Journalism Ethics. In: The Shaping of News. Palgrave Macmillan, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-031-21963-4_6

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Global Media Ethics

by Stephen J. A. Ward

What is global media ethics?

Global media ethics aims at developing a comprehensive set of principles and standards for the practice of journalism in an age of global news media. New forms of communication are reshaping the practice of a once parochial craft serving a local, regional or national public. Today, news media use communication technology to gather text, video and images from around the world with unprecedented speed and varying degrees of editorial control. The same technology allows news media to disseminate this information to audiences scattered around the globe.

Despite these global trends, most codes of ethics contain standards for news organizations or associations in specific countries. International associations of journalists exist, and some have constructed declarations of principle. But no global code has been adopted by most major journalism associations and news organizations.

In addition to statements of principle, more work needs to be done on the equally important area of specific, practice guidelines for covering international events. An adequate global journalism ethics has yet to be constructed.

The global media debate

The idea of a global media ethics arises out a larger attempt change, improve or reform the global media system to eliminate inequalities ion media technology and to reduce the control of global media in the hands of minority of Western countries. This attempt to re-structure the media system have been controversial, often being accused of being motivated by an agenda to control media or inhibit a free press. The debate continues today.

Beginning in the 1970s, there was an attempt to establish a “New World Information and Communication Order (NWICO)” prompted by concerns that Western media and its values were threatening the cultural values in non-Western, developing nations. The main players in NWICO were non-aligned nations, UNESCO, and the Sean McBride Commission. The recommendations of the McBride report in 1980, One World, Many Voices , outlined a new global media order. The report was endorsed by UNESCO members. The USA and Great Britain left UNESCO in the early 1980s in opposition to NWICO.

The dream of a set of principles and policies for equitable and responsible dissemination of information worldwide has not died. More recently, the United Nations has held two meetings of a movement called “World Summit on the Information Society.” At a summit in Geneva in December 2003, 175 countries adopted a plan of action and a declaration of principles. A second summit was held in Tunisia in November 2005 which looked at ways to implement the Geneva principles. At the heart of the summits’ concerns was the growth of new online media and the “digital divide” between the Global North and South.

On the history of the NWICO debate, see Gerbner, G. & Mowlana, H. & Nordenstreng, K., eds., The Global Media Debate . Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1999.

The attempt to reform the global media system is much wider in scope than an attempt to construct a global media ethics. The former looks at what norms should guide media practitioners when they face difficult decisions on what to report. The latter goes beyond ethical reflections to include the economics, politics, and technology of media.

Why a global ethics?

There are at least two reasons:

(1) Practical: a non-global ethic is no longer able to adequately address the new problems that face global journalism, and

(2) Ethical: new global responsibilities come with global impact and reach.

News media now inhabit a radically pluralistic, global community where the impact of their reports can have far-reaching effects — good or bad. News reports, via satellite or the Internet, reach people around the world and influence the actions of governments, militaries, humanitarian agencies and warring ethnic groups. A responsible global ethic is needed in a world where news media bring together a plurality of different religions, traditions and ethnic groups.

One responsibility is to report issues and events in a way that reflects this global plurality of views; to practice a journalism that helps different groups understand each other better. Reports should be accurate, balanced and diverse, as judged from an international perspective. A biased and parochial journalism can wreak havoc in a tightly linked global world. Unless reported properly, North American readers may fail to understand the causes of violence in Middle East, or a famine in Africa. Biased reports may incite ethnic groups in a region to attack each other. A narrow-minded, patriotic news media can stampede populations into war. Moreover, journalism with a global perspective is needed to help citizens understand the daunting global problems of poverty, environmental degradation, technological inequalities and political instability.

For a systematic study of global media (and journalism) ethics, see Stephen J. A. Ward, Global Journalism Ethics (in bibliography below).

New stage in journalism ethics

Since the birth of modern journalism in the 17th century, journalism has gradually broaden the scope of the people that it claims to serve — from factions to specific social classes to the public of nations. The journalistic principle of “serving the public interest” has been understood, tacitly or explicitly, as serving one’s own public, social class or nation. The other principles of objectivity, impartiality and editorial independence were limited by this parochial understanding of who journalism serves. For example, “impartiality” meant being impartial in one’s coverage of rival groups within one’s society, but not necessarily being impartial to groups outside one’s national boundaries.

Global journalism ethics, then, can be seen as an extension of journalism ethics — to regard journalism’s “public” as the citizens of the world, and to interpret the ethical principles of objectivity, balance and independence in an international manner.  Journalism ethics becomes more “cosmopolitan” in tone and perspective.

Components of global media ethics

The development of global journalism ethics has the following tasks.

Conceptual tasks

New philosophical foundations for a global ethics, which include:

• global re-interpretation of the ethical role and aims of journalism

• global re-interpretation of existing journalism principles and standards, such as objectivity, balance and independence

• construction of new norms and “best practices” as guides for the practice of global journalism

Research tasks

More research into the state of journalism, amid globalization:

• studies of news media in various regions of world

• studies on the evolution and impact of globalization in news media, with a focus on ownership, technology and practice

• studies on the ethical standards of new media in different countries

• studies on news coverage of international problems and issues

Practical tasks

Actions to implement and support global standards:

• application of this global perspective to re-define the coverage of international events and issues

• coalition-building among journalists and interested parties with the aim of writing a global code of ethics that has wide-spread acceptance

• initiatives to defend and enhance free and responsible news media, especially in areas where problems are the greatest.

How would a global ethics be different?

Philosophically, the distinct conceptual element of a global ethics can be summarized by three imperatives:

1. Act as global agents

Journalists should see themselves as agents of a global public sphere. The goal of their collective actions is a well-informed, diverse and tolerant global “info-sphere” that challenges the distortions of tyrants, the abuse of human rights and the manipulation of information by special interests.

2. Serve the citizens of the world

The global journalist’s primary loyalty is to the information needs of world citizens. Journalists should refuse to define themselves as attached primarily to factions, regions or even countries. Serving the public means serving more than one’s local readership or audience, or even the public of one’s country.

3. Promote non-parochial understandings

The global journalist frames issues broadly and uses a diversity of sources and perspectives to promote a nuanced understanding of issues from an international perspective. Journalism should work against a narrow ethnocentrism or patriotism. What do these three imperatives imply for specific standards of journalism, such as objectivity? Under global journalism ethics, objectivity becomes the ideal of informing impartially from an international stance. Objectivity in journalism has usually been understood as the duty to avoid bias toward groups within one’s own country. Global objectivity takes on the additional responsibility of allowing bias towards one’s country or culture as a whole to distort reports, especially reports on international issues.

Objective reports, to be accurate and balanced, must contain all relevant international sources and cross-cultural perspectives. In addition, global journalism asks journalists to be more conscious of how they frame the global public’s perspective on major stories, and how they set the international news agenda. The aim of global journalism should be more than helping the public sphere “go well” at home, as civic journalists say. The aim should be to facilitate rational deliberation in a global public sphere.

Global journalism ethics implies a firm journalistic response to inward-looking attitudes, such as extreme patriotism. It was disturbing to see how some news organizations during the Iraq War of 2003 so quickly shucked their peacetime commitments to independent, impartial reporting as soon as the drums of war started beating. Cosmopolitanism means that the primary ethical duty of a global journalism in times of conflict and uncertainty is not a patriotism of blind allegiance, or muted criticism. Public duty calls for independent, hard-edged news, along with investigations and analysis.

Problems and obstacles

Universal values.

Among advocates of global ethics, there is disagreement over whether ethicists need to identify “universal values” among all journalists, or humans. Do such universal values exist? What might they be?  Recently, a growing group of ethicists have attempted to identify a common core of values in various places: in codes of journalism ethics, in international treaties on human rights, in anthropological studies of culture.

One view is that neither universal values nor universal consent is required for a plausible, global code. This view sometimes stems from a contractual or ‘constructionist” view of ethics. The constructionist does not believe that ethics depends on “finding” or “discovering”, through empirical means, a set of universal values that all rational people acknowledge. Rather, the correct method of global ethics is to see whether all or most interested parties are able to “construct” and agree upon a set of principles through a fair process of deliberation. On this view, it is also not clear that a set of values must gain universal consensus — a demand that seems unduly strong, given the variety of new media in the world. A weaker requirement would aim at the construction of a set of principles agreed to by most major journalism associations and news organizations.

Note: On a constructionist approach to universals, see Ward, S. J. A., “Philosophical Foundations of Global Journalism Ethics,” Journal of Mass Media Ethics , 20(1), (2005), 3-21.

Also, see Black, J. and R. Barney, eds., Search for a Global Media Ethic. [Special issue] Journal of Mass Media Ethics , 17(4), (2002).

Getting specific:

Global journalism ethics will have to amount to more than a dreamy spiritualism about the brotherhood of man and universal benevolence. Conceptually, there is work to be done. Global journalism ethics must show, in detail, how its ideas imply changes to norms and practices. What exactly do journalists “owe” citizens in a distant land? How can global journalists integrate their partial and impartial perspectives? How can journalists support global values while remaining impartial communicators?

Reforming media practices

The slow, complex, practical task of developing better media practices is no less imposing. Exhorting individual journalists to be ethical will be futile unless supported by an institutional climate that encourages global values in the newsroom. Aware of such difficulties, some journalists may accuse global journalism ethicists of being unrealistic in thinking that news organizations will provide the education, expertise and extra resources needed to achieve a high-quality cosmopolitan journalism.

Select bibliography

Black, J. and R. Barney, eds., “Search for a global media ethic.” [Special issue] Journal of Mass  Media Ethics , 17(4), (2002).

Callahan, S. “New Challenges of Globalization for Journalism.” Journal of Mass Media Ethics , 18, (2003), 3-15.

Christians, C. G. “Ethical Theory in a Global Setting.” In Cooper, T. W. & Christians, C. & Plude, F. F. & White, R. A. Thomas, eds., Communication Ethics and Global Change , p. 3-19: White Plains, NY: Longman, 1989.

Christians, C. and Nordenstreng, K. “Social Responsibility Worldwide.”   Journal of Mass Media Ethics , 19(1), 3-28.

Christians, C. & Traber, M. , eds., Communication Ethics and Universal Values . Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage, 1997.

Cohen, J., ed., For Love of Country: Debating the Limits of Patriotism , Martha C. Nussbaum with Respondents. Boston: Beacon Press, 1996.

Cooper, T. W. & Christians, C. & Plude, F. F. & White, R. A. Thomas, eds., Communication Ethics and Global Change . White Plains, NY: Longman, 1989.

Gerbner, G. & Mowlana, H. & Nordenstreng, K., eds., The Global Media Debate . Norwood, NJ: Ablex Publishing, 1993.

Merrill, J. C. Global Journalism , 2nd ed. New York: Longman, 1991.

Price M., Rozumilowicz, B. & Verhulst, S., eds., Media Reform: Democratizing the Media, Democratizing the State . London: Routledge, 2002.

Seib, P. The Global Journalist: News and Conscience in a World of Conflict . Lanham, MD: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002.

Ward, S.J.A. Global Journalism Ethics . Montreal, Que.: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2010.

Ward, S.J.A. “Philosophical Foundations of Global Journalism Ethics” Journal of Mass Media Ethics, 20(1), (2005), 3-21.

Ward, S. J. A. The Invention of Journalism Ethics: The Path to Objectivity and Beyond . Montreal: McGill-Queen’s University Press, 2005.

Weaver, D. H., ed., The Global Journalist . Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press, 1998.

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Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists

The IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists was adopted at the 30th IFJ World Congress in Tunis on 12 June 2019. It completes the IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists (1954), known as the ”Bordeaux Declaration".

The Charter is based on major texts of international law, in particular the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It contains 16 articles plus a preamble and defines journalists’ duties and rights regarding ethics.

The right of everyone to have access to information and ideas, reiterated in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, underpins the journalist's mission. The journalist's responsibility towards the public takes precedence over any other responsibility, in particular towards their employers and the public authorities. Journalism is a profession, which requires time, resources and the means to practise – all of which are essential to its independence. This international declaration specifies the guidelines of conduct for journalists in the research, editing, transmission, dissemination and commentary of news and information, and in the description of events, in any media whatsoever.

1. Respect for the facts and for the right of the public to truth is the first duty of the journalist.

2. In pursuance of this duty, the journalist shall at all times defend the principles of freedom in the honest collection and publication of news, and of the right of fair comment and criticism. He/she will make sure to clearly distinguish factual information from commentary and criticism.

3. The journalist shall report only in accordance with facts of which he/ she knows the origin. The journalist shall not suppress essential information or falsify any document. He/she will be careful to reproduce faithfully statements and other material that non-public persons publish in social media.

4. The journalist shall use only fair methods to obtain information, images, documents and data and he/she will always report his/her status as a journalist and will refrain from using hidden recordings of images and sounds, except where it is impossible for him/her to collect information that is overwhelmingly in the public interest. He/she will demand free access to all sources of information and the right to freely investigate all facts of public interest.

5. The notion of urgency or immediacy in the dissemination of information shall not take precedence over the verification of facts, sources and/or the offer of a reply.

6. The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any errors or published information which is found to be inaccurate in a timely, explicit, complete and transparent manner.

7. The journalist shall observe professional secrecy regarding the source of information obtained in confidence.

8. The journalist will respect privacy. He/she shall respect the dignity of the persons named and/or represented and inform the interviewee whether the conversation and other material is intended for publication. He/she shall show particular consideration to inexperienced and vulnerable interviewees.

9. Journalists shall ensure that the dissemination of information or opinion does not contribute to hatred or prejudice and shall do their utmost to avoid facilitating the spread of discrimination on grounds such as geographical, social or ethnic origin, race, gender, sexual orientation, language, religion, disability, political and other opinions.

10. The journalist will consider serious professional misconduct to be

  • distortion of facts
  • slander, libel, defamation, unfounded accusations

11. The journalist shall refrain from acting as an auxiliary of the police or other security services. He/she will only be required to provide information already published in a media outlet.

12. The journalist will show solidarity with his/her colleagues, without renouncing his/her freedom of investigation, duty to inform, and right to engage in criticism, commentary, satire and editorial choice.

13. The journalist shall not use the freedom of the press to serve any other interest and shall refrain from receiving any unfair advantage or personal gain because of the dissemination or non-dissemination of information. He/she will avoid - or put an end to - any situation that could lead him/her to a conflict of interest in the exercise of his/her profession. He/she will avoid any confusion between his activity and that of advertising or propaganda. He/she will refrain from any form of insider trading and market manipulation.

14. The journalist will not undertake any activity or engagement likely to put his/her independence in danger. He/she will, however, respect the methods of collection/dissemination of information that he / she has freely accepted, such as "off the record", anonymity, or embargo, provided that these commitments are clear and unquestionable.

15. Journalists worthy of the name shall deem it their duty to observe faithfully the principles stated above. They may not be compelled to perform a professional act or to express an opinion that is contrary to his/her professional conviction or conscience.

16. Within the general law of each country the journalist shall recognize in matters of professional honour, the jurisdiction of independent self-regulatory bodies open to the public, to the exclusion of every kind of interference by governments or others.

Click here to download the Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists in  PDF

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The Importance of Ethics in Journalism

The Importance of Ethics in Journalism

The digital revolution simplified many areas of our lives while adding layers of complexity to others. Journalism , the collection, preparation, and distribution of news and related information was originally applied to current events in printed form. Newspapers, magazines and books captured journalism until the advent of radio and television. Journalism in the digital era is increasingly complex. With universal access to podcasts, social media, e-mail, blogs, and video-based apps, virtually anyone can create and distribute “news” online. 

The importance of ethics in journalism has never been more critical. Studies show that half of the Generation Z population in the United States use social media as their primary news source every day. They also turn to online-only news sites and podcasts to stay informed. Given that the next generation relies almost exclusively on online news sources, it’s essential to develop and follow a code of digital journalism ethics to promote truth, transparency, and accuracy.

Learn more about the importance of ethics in journalism and how the next generation of digital journalists can be advocates of truth.

Why Do Digital Journalism Ethics Matter?

The expression “fake news” grew in popularity during the 2016 election in the United States. Fake news refers to the spread of misinformation, often through digital channels. For example, during the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 80% of surveyed Americans reported seeing fake news about the pandemic. 

However, this 80% only captures the Americans who were aware that they were consuming fake news. The following statistics paint a more comprehensive picture of Americans’ interaction with misinformation:

  • 26% of Americans are very confident that they can recognize fake news when they see it
  • 67% of Americans who believed fake news in the past experienced a great deal of confusion
  • 10% of Americans reported that they knowingly shared fake news

Unreliable news websites saw more traction and significantly higher engagement on social media in 2020 than in 2019. Without adequate filters, people share inaccurate information and misleading headlines. Why does this matter? Fake news affects the way people interpret reality and can influence everything from election results to climate change initiatives. Journalists can help the public navigate the complex and ever-changing landscape of news, with truth, and ethical reporting.

Case Study: How Gambling Affects Sports Media

Dr. Brian Moritz is an expert in sports journalism and the associate professor and director of the online journalism MA programs at St. Bonaventure University. Dr. Moritz recently covered the topic “What Happens to Sports Media When Everyone’s a Gambler?” for Global Sport Matters where he explored the impact of legalized sports betting on aspects of sports coverage and consumption.

Dr. Moritz says, “Currently, there is no industry-wide prohibition against journalists betting on the sports they cover.” He went on to say, “The journalists and experts interviewed for this story all felt that the biggest potential conflict of interest for reporters was so-called “insider trading” – journalists using information they learn and placing a bet based on that information before reporting the news.”

Sports journalists play a unique role in journalism ethics to convey honest sports coverage without allowing personal gain or gambling to interfere with transparency. Those enrolled in SBU’s MA in Sports Journalism and MA in Digital Journalism learn how to navigate both traditional and digital media platforms based on the highest journalistic standards.

Whether a journalist is covering sporting events, entertainment news, the stock market, or current events, they have a collective responsibility to abide by a code of ethics to avoid conflicts of interest that may compromise their integrity or impartiality.  

How Can We Encourage Journalism Ethics?

Journalists play an important role in seeking the truth and reporting it to the public. As we experience a media revolution during the era of digital-first news, journalism is more democratized, interactive and instantaneous than ever before. Anyone with an internet connection can open Twitter and make a statement that others may perceive as truth.

As a result, professional journalists have an even greater responsibility to champion the truth, disprove fake news, and fact-check trending narratives to ensure the public has access to reliable information online. Where does one start identifying and applying journalism ethics? 

According to the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics , journalists assume four primary responsibilities, including: to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. 

1. Seek truth and report it

One of the most significant responsibilities journalists have is to verify the accuracy of their reports and communicate truth. Journalists must convey the truth in every format and provide context to avoid misrepresenting information. For example, ethical journalists should avoid clickbait headlines that intend to oversimplify or misconstrue the truth. In addition to providing clarity, journalists should always verify sources and check for reliability and impartiality.   

2. Minimize harm

Journalism ethics is founded on the belief that human beings deserve respect and truth. Journalists must exercise compassion and avoid unnecessary intrusiveness. They must also gain legal access to information and respect an individual’s consent and right to refuse information. Journalists have an even greater responsibility to minimize harm when it comes to covering sensitive topics that involve juveniles, victims of crimes, or interacting with inexperienced or vulnerable populations. 

3. Act independently

Journalism is intended to benefit the public. Ethical journalists must act independently and should avoid conflicts of interest. In the case study covering sports gambling, Dr. Mortiz explored how conflicts of interest can compromise a journalist’s integrity and impartiality. Journalists must refuse gifts, fees, special treatment, and avoid political activities that could influence their coverage.    

4. Be accountable and transparent

When journalists publish their work, they have a continued responsibility to answer to the public and promptly correct any mistakes. In addition, journalists must be open to providing follow-up information, clarity, and answering the public’s questions. A journalist’s job is not done when their content is published; it continues as the content is consumed and reviewed by its audience.  

Join the Future of Journalism Ethics in the Digital Age

Journalists in the digital age tell stories that matter across digital media and broaden important global conversations based on truth and transparency. St. Bonaventure University’s (SBU) online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism or online Master of Arts in Sports Journalism will prepare you to meet this need. 

Offered at the ACEJMC-accredited Jandoli School of Communication, our journalism graduate programs go beyond traditional journalism skills, such as writing, reporting, and editing, and allow you to master the art of digital media. Learn to connect with audiences on a wide range of platforms by incorporating photography, video, design and audio. 

Our journalism master’s programs provide an unparalleled education that combines traditional journalism with digital innovation, all shaped within a moral and ethical framework reflecting our Franciscan values. Whether you’re a seasoned journalist looking to upskill or entirely new to the field you will benefit from a long legacy of journalistic excellence, and a curriculum that adheres to the highest standards in the industry, including in areas such as diversity, inclusion and ethics.

Develop practical skills that allow you to navigate the current and future state of journalism ethics and provide coverage founded in truth, integrity, and transparency. 

Learn more about St. Bonaventure University’s Online Master of Arts in Digital Journalism or Online Master of Arts in Sports Journalism.

*Please note that information contained in this blog post may be subject to change per program or regulatory requirements.

Whether you have a simple question or need advice to determine if this program is right for you, our knowledgeable advisors are here to help. They can chat with you on your schedule and guide you through the entire admissions process, so you can feel confident moving forward with your online St. Bonaventure University program.

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An initiative of NYU’s Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute committed to advancing ethical journalistic practices.

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Ethics and Technology

Nyt’s seward shares missteps and potential of ai use in newsrooms.

Zach Seward, the editorial director of AI initiatives at The New York Times, shared what's working and what's not in AI, as well as what we can learn from both, in a talk he gave to an audience of NYU students, alumni, faculty and professional journalists at NYU's Ethics & Journalism Initiative.

Published Apr. 09, 2024

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Everyday Ethics

The markup’s syed leads workshop about bi coverage and ackman.

Nabiha Syed, chief executive of The Markup and a media lawyer, led an Ethics & Journalism workshop for students in February through a case study focused on privacy, news judgment, and the role of corporate ownership in overseeing editorial decisions.

Published Apr. 03, 2024

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Letter From Director Stephen J. Adler

Published Feb. 01, 2024 by Stephen J. Adler

Guest Column: Being Transparent With Sources Is Key to Building Trust

Dan Levine, Reuters Correspondent

Published Apr. 26, 2024 by Dan Levine Reuters Correspondent

Journalism Prize Groups Mull How Use of AI Should Influence Their Decisions

Published Mar. 21, 2024

Ethics Codes

How-to guides, articles and research papers, resources for events, ai guidelines, best practices, our areas of focus.

Journalistic ethical standards that form the profession’s foundation.

Ethical implications and challenges that arise from evolving technology.

Ethics and Diversity

Ethics and democracy.

Ethics, journalism and the democratic process in an increasingly polarized world.

Zach Seward of the New York Times

“AI News That’s Fit to Print”

Event | April 8, 2024

Zach Seward, editorial director of AI Initiatives at The New York Times, will visit EJI to share how news organizations are "using AI in both supremely dumb and incredibly smart ways -- and lessons we can draw from both types of examples that illuminate the most ethical and effective applications for journalism." Read more here about how to attend this free, in-person session, where lunch will be provided.

essay on journalistic ethics


Home > Ethics > SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers

Ethics SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers This collection of position papers, produced by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Committee, is intended to clarify SPJ’s position on specific ethical themes that frequently arise in journalism, and also to provide better guidance for journalists, academics, students and the public when consulting the SPJ Code of Ethics . The following papers are available for reference, with more — on using anonymous sources, undercover reporting, dealing with victims of tragedy, handling diversity coverage, privacy and news media accountability — to release over the coming months.

Using the SPJ Code The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists is an open document. The more it’s distributed — and used — the better. The code is not intended to be arcane or cryptic. It is not like a secret handshake intended for use only by the members of some mystic order. If it were, we would put something at the bottom similar to what is run in television ads for zippy cars: “Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.” Continue reading Using the SPJ Code

Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims A city truck collides with a motorcycle, killing the cyclist immediately and tying up traffic for a half hour. The local newspaper’s photographer, by happenstance, is at the scene minutes afterward. A man holds two individuals hostage. Police surround the house in the standoff for nearly two hours before the man takes his life. A reporter/photographer is at the scene. What do these incidents have in common? They are being talked about in the community. They have an impact on people. Continue reading Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims

Anonymous Sources Few ethical issues in journalism are more entangled with the law than the use of anonymous sources. Keep your promise not to identify a source of information and it’s possible to find yourself facing a grand jury, a judge and a jail cell. On the other hand, break your promise of confidentiality to that source and it’s just possible you might find yourself on the receiving end of a lawsuit. Continue reading Anonymous Sources

Accountability The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself. Continue reading Accountability

Plagiarism The digital age we’re currently in offers both the most opportunities to verify the authenticity of original work and also misuse it without giving credit to the original reporting source. With databases, Web searches and other online research, it has never been easier to research the source of a story or other original material. On college campuses, for example, students who choose to plagiarize and buy a term paper or have someone else write it for them (the same work also submitted by others), can be caught much more easily than 30 years ago. Continue reading Plagiarism

Checkbook Journalism Money can corrupt almost anything it touches, and that certainly includes the news. The practice of paying for information, known as checkbook journalism, threatens to corrupt journalism. Paying for interviews, directly or indirectly through so-called licensing fees, is now accepted practice in Great Britain and has been used by tabloid publications in the United States. Recently, broadcast networks also engaged in the practice. Continue reading Checkbook Journalism

Political Involvement The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself. But it’s a bit more nuanced than that. Continue reading Political Involvement

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Zócalo Podcasts

Zócalo An ASU Knowledge Enterprise Digital Daily

For Political Journalists, Neutrality Isn’t the Goal

It’s objectivity, and being on the side of the truth in an intellectually dishonest era.

Two people, Governor Gavin Newsom and Republican challenger state senator Brian Dahle sit at the desk to the left. The desk has the California state symbol in front. On the desk on the right is Scott Shafer and Marisa Lagos. Their desk has the letters "KQED" on the front. The background large digital screen reads "California Gubernatorial Debate."

Political journalist Marisa Lagos argues that now more than ever, reporters cannot remain neutral in the face of untruths. Marisa Lagos (far right) co-moderates the California gubernatorial debate on October 23, 2022. Courtesy of Aryk Copley/KQED.

by Marisa Lagos | May 16, 2024

Can we, and should we, ever really be neutral? In a new series, Zócalo explores the idea of neutrality—in politics, sports, gender, journalism, international law, and more. In this essay, political reporter Marisa Lagos argues that journalism’s goal isn’t neutrality.

My ability to be neutral as a political journalist depends on the intellectual honesty of the people—and the society—I cover.

But in an era when one side of the political spectrum is not always operating in good faith, and when people in my position are increasingly losing the trust of the audiences we serve, I don’t think neutrality should be the final goal. Instead, perhaps, we should think about neutrality more as a means to an end: uncovering the truth, without fear or favor, and presenting that truth to the public.

The dictionary defines being neutral as, “not aligned with or supporting any side or position in a controversy.” There are certainly aspects of my job where this is core to the work, such as in reporting, where being neutral means asking open-ended questions and dispassionately following facts, wherever they may lead.

Take criminal justice policy, one of the most challenging beats that I have ever covered. When I began reporting on the topic 15 years ago, California was grappling with prisons so crowded that, eventually, the U.S Supreme Court stepped in and ordered the state to reduce the populations.

This record incarceration was the result of a “tough on crime” movement that correlated safety with long prison sentences. But that correlation wasn’t borne out by the facts: People were receiving decades-long sentences for drug possession or property crimes, taking state funding away from schools and other core state services. California also had a very high recidivism rate, meaning most people who were released from prison would quickly return—but it often wasn’t for a new violent crime, rather for a simple violation of their parole rules.

I felt it was crucial to tell this story from all angles—and not just from the perspective of crime victims or law enforcement, who had dominated the discussion during the “tough on crime” era. I wanted to capture the points of view of the people who were incarcerated, and their families and communities who were impacted by their crimes and the punishment meted out. I tried to center my reporting not just on anecdotes but on data and research—even if that research did not comport with widely accepted assumptions and beliefs.

It was not always popular to do so, even with my editors, who were used to relying on conventional sources and well-worn narratives. Now, a decade or so into the reforms sparked by the prison overcrowding crisis—and as we face new challenges around property crimes and drug use—I am digging back into this issue to assess whether the reforms worked, or if they are to blame for the problems so evident in California.

I don’t yet know what I will find. But I do know that my job is to report it, no matter who likes or dislikes the findings.

Eventually, I’ll come to the point in my work when I have to leave neutrality behind and seek objectivity. Once I have answered the questions that I set out to ask, I have to make a call about what I found.

That doesn’t mean taking a side in the political sense. It means taking the side of the truth.

This can be a challenge in itself. It’s particularly hard when you are interviewing someone on live TV or radio, where you must push back against falsehoods in real time. Recently, we had U.S Senate candidate Eric Early, someone who believes that the 2020 election was stolen from former President Donald Trump, on my radio show.

This is not an intellectually honest argument to make, even if many Americans agree with it: The facts don’t bear out. So, when I am in the studio with Early in that moment, it’s not my job to stay “neutral” and simply listen. It’s my job to question, to push back—and, yes, call out the lies when they are uttered. It doesn’t have to be confrontational or uncivil, but it is key to doing my job responsibly.

This is where objectivity becomes key—the ability to set aside personal feelings or opinions and look at the facts, then make a judgment based on that information. Neutrality alone—the idea of not aligning yourself with one side—doesn’t cut it when you’re faced with someone who is lying, obfuscating, or being intellectually dishonest, even if they believe what they’re saying. But it’s also a mistake to see objectivity in this kind of situation as taking a side, other than the side of the truth.

Because the role of a journalist is to seek, uncover, and broadcast the truth. Without fear or favor. Without my own beliefs getting in the way. Even if, in this moment, it is harder than ever.

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Covering Columbia’s Student Protests Gave Me Hope About Journalism’s Future

Student reporters gather outside Hamilton Hall on the Columbia University campus the day after protestors occupied the building.

I t was 2:30 in the morning and our smaller newsroom up on the fifth floor of Pulitzer Hall—the esteemed Graduate School of Journalism building at Columbia University—was pulsating with the sounds of Camp Rock’s “Can’t Back Down.” Jude Taha, a Palestinian journalist in the program, was leading the charge in rallying everyone to sing it with her. The stench of bitter instant coffee wafted throughout the room. Nestled in the corner, Edward Lopez, a photo journalism student, fought valiantly against sleep. He crouched next to his camera, which was perched on a tripod to capture a perfect vantage of our Morningside campus where roughly 70 colorful tents had been sprung up by students to protest Columbia University’s investment in companies profiting from Israel’s military operations in Gaza. In my drowsy haze of half-slumber, the temptation to surrender was strong.

Then, I remembered something one of my mentors had taught me earlier in my first class at journalism school. He had said that many of us will make a career out of making up for all the mistakes those before us have made. And that in those dark moments when outrage becomes a friend, “it [will] be journalism, and your integrity, that helps you soldier on.”

In his 1970 poem, American singer and poet Gil Scott-Heron said that the revolution would never be televised. My colleagues and I bore witness to that revolution. On April 18, Columbia’s J-school students—and many other journalism students around the country—found themselves right in the middle of what had quickly become an escalating and fast-moving breaking news story . For the next two weeks, we became dedicated to documenting the mobilization of pro-Palestinian students on our campus. We were a group of writers, filmmakers, photographers, and data journalists. We worked tirelessly. As some of us rested, others took turns reporting and venturing out to document the encampment on the lawn. We made makeshift beds on the floor, huddled in lightweight sleeping bags, and were sustained by chicken-flavored ramen noodles, dates dipped in chocolate, and stale tortilla chips. But our clarity was resolute: nothing held more significance to us than accurately portraying the truth about why the students' anti-war protests were happening and the core purpose of the encampment’s demands.

It’s no coincidence that the Pulitzer building stands toweringly atop the West lawn, where a perfect view of the encampment was visible at all hours of the day. The crackdown of campus security meant limited access to outside press, and what’s more, many students in the encampment harbored valid fears that their words would be twisted, misrepresented, or worse, cherry picked for a sound bite if they had spoken to the press. So they relied on us to tell their stories—accurately and with empathy.

Read More: What America’s Student Photojournalists Saw at the Campus Protests

I watched as my colleagues Gaia Caramazza, Carla Mende, and Kira Gologorsky, student filmmakers in the documentary program, carried their equipment back and forth, tirelessly shooting the reactions of students, many of whom they had built lasting connections with.

Many of us understood the importance of dedicating hours to engaging with the campers, understanding their stories and embracing their rhythms of life—the usual meal times, music breaks, and downtime routines—and discerning the subtle cues that would foretell impending trouble.

Carla Mende, left, and Gaia Caramazza, in the newsroom.

“Please do let the world know,” a Jewish student, speaking on conditions of anonymity, said to me following a Shabbat service in the encampment. “Show them how much love exists here.” Minutes later Muslim students held their evening prayer service. On day eight, I listened as a Palestinian storyteller shared his poetry which concluded with the words: “I have never felt harmony the way I have this past week, here in this camp, united by a shared love for a group of people that many are so desperately trying to erase.”

Slowly, the encampment also became a close-knit community for many of my colleagues and me. The call to prayer reminded Caramazza of her childhood spent in Jordan. The communal food station set up in the corner closest to Butler Library felt like the physical manifestation of the Arabic saying "beity beitak" (my home is your home) for Samaa Khullar, a Palestinian journalist and colleague in the program. For me, it was playing soccer with other students in the encampment, a traditional sport that united almost every community in the Arab world regardless of their background. I came to realize that I had fostered deep care for the encampment’s affiliates. On cold nights, I worried if they had enough blankets to keep them warm. I worried about their families, some of whom were based in Gaza, and the messages they might wake up to the following morning. It was only natural for me as I immersed myself in their shoes, to reflect on the kind of support and compassion communities crave during times of grief. I approached them with an open mind and heart—one that involved dismantling my own barriers to really understand a community that was rupturing and reshaping history in real time. And as much as I thought I knew, there was so much more I didn’t—and would have remained oblivious to—had I failed to build the level of trust these protestors deserved.

My colleagues and I, many of us who had grown up abroad and reported on international communities for much of our time at Columbia, spent days discussing the significance of capturing this moment in history just as it was, and of bearing witness to the daily movements and experiences of those in the encampment. The protestors were not required to allow us into the encampment; that was not a responsibility they needed to shoulder. But just as any good, trauma-informed reporter knows, to tell a story honestly means to establish safe spaces for people to tell their stories at their own pace, a byproduct only made possible through deep listening.

What so many of my J-school colleagues and I yearned to translate to those encroaching upon our turf was that in order to really know what the movement was about, one had to engage with the students by approaching the stories that focused more on the underlying causes and motivations of the encampment, rather than arbitrary violence. For weeks on end, the encampment's residents found themselves at the intersection of both visibility and vulnerability. Students wanted to spotlight the injustices transpiring in Gaza—instead, they became the faces behind a national news story. I watched as their identities and lived experiences quickly became eclipsed by many sensationalist headlines when the reality was far from it.  

Ray (their last name has been kept private for anonymity), for instance, an artist and undergraduate student at Barnard whom I encountered a week into the encampment, dedicated her afternoons to painting portraits of Palestinians in Gaza. Her canvases pulsated with brown hues, chromes, and crimson applied through watercolor ink to stroke the urgency of the situation in Gaza. Ray had just celebrated Passover in the encampment a few days earlier and mentioned the bizarre moment she woke up to find a camera in her face, snapping pictures inside her unzipped tent: “The least they can do is ask, or try to get to know me first.”

It was impossible to have witnessed and reported on the mobilization of students so passionately dedicated to anti-war and liberation efforts, and not be affected by it. The movement demanded a response from each and every one of us of in the student body, And everyone in our newsroom felt it. Our newsroom came to multiple breaking points, but it was also our saving grace. ​​I was of two worlds as both a student and journalist. I knew just how deeply these students were hurting, but I also knew what we had to do in the spirit of journalistic responsibility. And while I have often been told that compassion stands in the way of good journalism, recent weeks have shown me that it is the lack of compassion that gets in the way of real storytelling.

Read More: My Writing Students Were Arrested at Columbia. Their Voices Have Never Been More Essential

Despite the narrative of journalism's decline or saturation with misinformation, watching my J-school colleagues’ collective conscience rise up and solemnly agree to do right by a community so stained by tragedy has reaffirmed to me that there still exists an enduring power of keeping one another safe in this industry. It was all around me when I searched for it. We knew how and where to draw the line of truth versus hysteria that is breached in journalism with little regard, even and most especially, as we reported on our own peers.

Years from now, when the next generation of young journalists are tasked with a duty this arduous (and they will), I trust that they will hold on to the hope and camaraderie that I witnessed firsthand: a spirit of journalism that models the empathy and dignity Gaza’s victims and all vulnerable communities deserved. A journalism that speaks honestly and meaningfully, with context and sensitivity. The type of journalism that does not involve reporting on a community, but rather with and for them.

The encampment is now cleared. Hamilton Hall has been “restored,” and the N.Y.P.D are now stationed at every corner of our campus. The students may not have won, in the traditional sense. But they achieved something much more powerful than that: They globalized the Palestinian saying “Lan Nerhal” (we will not leave). For the first time, students felt they could proudly stride campus walkways wearing the keffiyeh. For the first time, the true depth of the Palestinian struggle was thrust onto the mainstream stage. And my J-school peers made certain that the encampment and its’ cause were not to be covered as a passing trend, but as one steadfast community’s call for immediate action in the face of the destruction in Gaza—one of the most harrowing atrocities many of us have ever seen in our lifetime.

In less than a week, my J-school colleagues and I are graduating. Reflecting on what I learned while covering the encampment, I’ve observed that the best way to tell a story isn’t to parachute in and out of it. Instead, it is to always have a stake in it. Only, then, can we truly understand the crushing impact that our words have on the communities we write about.

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The Morning

Our journalism.

Joe Kahn, The Times’s executive editor, reflects on some of our most probing recent work.

Three women crying, two cover their faces.

By Joseph Kahn

Executive editor of The New York Times

When Hamas attacked Israel on Oct. 7, it ignited not only one of the worst conflicts in recent Middle East history, but also an ideological firestorm around the world. Some viewed the war through the prism of the Hamas attack on Israel, which killed 1,200 people and took an estimated 240 hostages. On the other side, Israel’s retaliatory bombing and occupation of Gaza, which has killed more than 34,000 Palestinians, galvanized a global movement against the actions of the Jewish state.

The intensity of the conflict and the emotions it set off has made this an especially challenging war to cover. Our commitment is to provide probing, independent journalism about the biggest stories, however strong the partisan feelings about them may be. This has been the most divisive story I’ve experienced in my more than three decades in journalism.

So it was especially gratifying that our team of reporters, photographers and video journalists on Monday won the Pulitzer Prize for International Reporting for their coverage of the war. We had earlier won similar honors from the George Polk Awards and the Overseas Press Club, which are among the most prestigious prizes in journalism.

Our team is living through this conflict as well as covering it. Some of those reporting on it are Muslim, others Jewish. Some speak Arabic, others Hebrew. Some know people killed or captured on Oct. 7. Others were born and raised in Gaza, with relatives killed and scattered by the bombardment. We worked together to use our best visual storytelling tools to capture the horrors Hamas inflicted on Israel and the devastating toll of Israel’s assault on Gaza . We also revealed astounding Israeli intelligence failures and deadly miscalculations that allowed the Oct. 7 attack to happen.

This is what we really mean when we talk about independent journalism: Coverage that commands attention, whatever your background, experience or perspective.

Prize-winning work

I wanted to use today’s Morning newsletter to highlight not only our coverage of this war, but also some other recent Times journalism that has received recognition. The Pulitzer juries awarded The Times with two other prizes, for investigative reporting and feature writing. We had six finalists as well, showcasing the breadth and depth of the journalism we bring to you every day.

No series we published last year had more impact than Hannah Dreier’s “Alone and Exploited .” Hannah won the Pulitzer Prize for Investigative Reporting for her unflinching look into how child migrants are being exploited for their labor in all 50 states, often working illegally for big name brands. She spent two years reporting the series and worked with a team to assemble a definitive database of child labor injuries and deaths that we made easily accessible to the public.

Our third winner was a story that appeared in our Sunday Magazine called “The Mother Who Changed.” The writer, Katie Engelhart, tells the story of Diane Norelius, a woman with dementia whose daughters worried the man she fell in love with was exploiting her disease and her money. The piece, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing, explores how we respect the desires of people when they experience cognitive decline. Katie navigates the many perspectives with empathy and nuance and skillfully guides readers through the ethical and medical complications.

Our six Pulitzer finalists ranged from the revelatory work on the mysterious symptoms experienced by U.S. soldiers sustained from firing their own weapons to the stories of migrants who journey through the dangerous Darién Gap . Photos of youth in Africa and inside Vladimir Putin’s Russia were finalists in feature photography. An intriguing story on the popularity of the game Dungeons & Dragons among inmates on death row and a deep look at decades of wrongdoing by a Mississippi sheriff’s department were also cited.

And in audio, we are thrilled that a series from Serial Productions, “The Retrievals,” won a Peabody Award. “The Retrievals” told the story of the Yale Fertility Center nurse who replaced painkilling solution for saline, and the women who had their procedures without this medication.

If you haven’t already, I urge you to take time to experience this journalism. I am deeply proud of this prizewinning work, and of the journalism we produce every day.

I also want to say thank you. We are able to do this work because of our subscribers. These prizes are yours to celebrate, too.


Israel-hamas war.

About 300,000 people have fled Rafah, in southern Gaza, over the past week, the U.N. said. International officials have expressed alarm, saying there is nowhere safe for Gazans to go.

The Israeli military ordered the evacuation of Jabaliya , in northern Gaza, as it increased its attacks there. The military said that Hamas was trying to reassemble in the area.

For Israeli and Western officials, Yahya Sinwar, Hamas’s leader in Gaza, has emerged as an adversary and a deft political operator in cease-fire negotiations .

Republicans accused President Biden of criticizing Israel more harshly than Hamas, Politico noted. Senator Jim Risch of Idaho said Biden was “ attempting to placate voters on the far left at the expense of a close ally.”

More International News

Elon Musk has fostered relationships with right-wing heads of state — including Javier Milei of Argentina — to push his own politics and expand his business empire .

Flash floods in Afghanistan have killed more than 300 people in one province and destroyed thousands of homes, U.N. officials said.

Switzerland won Eurovision , its first victory since Celine Dion represented the country in 1988.

Donald Trump used an accounting maneuver to claim improper tax breaks from his Chicago tower and may owe more than $100 million, according to an I.R.S. inquiry uncovered by The Times and ProPublica.

Senator Robert Menendez will go on trial in Manhattan tomorrow. He is charged with taking part in an elaborate bribery scheme. Here is what to know .

Other Big Stories

Over the weekend, residents in several European countries and parts of the U.S. reported unusual sightings of the northern lights. See photos .

Ahead of the Paris Olympics, concerns are growing that the World Anti-Doping Agency is failing at its mission to keep sports free of illegal drugs.


Does the U.S. decision to pause some weapons shipments betray Israel?

Yes. The U.S. claims “ironclad” support of Israel, but it halted certain weapons shipments to the country over concerns about an invasion of Rafah. “Denying it U.S. arms is an invitation to its enemies to take advantage, in hostage talks and on the battlefield,” The Wall Street Journal’s editorial board writes .

No. The pause won’t affect the billions of dollars Congress has allocated to military aid for Israel, making it “the equivalent of giving somebody hundreds of dollars on a daily basis and then making a show of withholding 5 cents,” Al Jazeera’s Belén Fernández writes .


“ Our closeness was measured in tosses ”: Learning how to play catch with her son taught Jessica Shattuck how to let him go as he got older.

Here are columns by Ross Douthat on the morality of the war in Gaza and Zeynep Tufekci on protest crackdowns .


For Mother’s Day, Catherine Pearson collected stories from Times readers about the mother figures in their lives — grandmothers and aunts, teachers and neighbors, and, of course, moms.

Genevieve Geer wrote about Mrs. Dunn, her friend’s mother, who “taught me that when you can’t get in through the front door, there is always a side door, or a window, to slip into the places you wanted to go.”

Judith Shapiro wrote about Ruth, her childhood nanny, who “let me stay up late on Sunday nights, curled up next to her in an overstuffed chair, watching our favorite television shows.”

Marjorie George wrote about Miss Jordan, her fifth-grade teacher, who “was a powerful example of what a Black woman could be.”

You can read many more stories in Catherine’s article, “An Ode to Those Who Mother Us.”


A farewell: By the end of this year, only two Chuck E. Cheese locations will have the chain’s hallmark animatronic band .

Vows: The Broadway actress Lindsay Mendez got married on her day off . Jonathan Groff officiated, and Daniel Radcliffe was the ring bearer.

Lives Lived: Mary Wells Lawrence was the first woman to own and run a major national advertising agency. Her company, Wells Rich Greene, was best known for the “I ♥ NY” campaign. She died at 95 .


By Lulu Garcia-Navarro

This week’s subject for The Interview is the author, comedian and influential radio host Charlamagne Tha God. We talked about what he makes of polls showing the Democrats losing Black voter support, his personal politics and why he’s not endorsing anyone in the presidential election.

A lot has been made of polls showing Black support for the Democrats cratering. I’m wondering what you’re thinking as more and more of these polls keep showing the same thing.

I think you might see a slight uptick in Black people voting for Trump this year, but I think it’s overstated. I think the biggest thing that people are gonna have to fight against this year is the couch. And the couch is voter apathy. This is probably the most — and what I’m about to say is going to sound so cliché — this is probably the most consequential election of my lifetime. I’m not gonna say of all time. But it’s hard to get people to believe that, because we say that about every presidential election, because every Republican candidate has been demonized. So now that you really do have the wolf out there, you look like the party who cried wolf because you put everything on the same scale.

The thing that I’m hearing you say is that you believe that Trump is the wolf at the door, that democracy is under threat. And I’ve also heard you say, “I will not endorse President Biden and Kamala Harris.”

’Cause I just feel like I’ve been burned with that before. You put your name on the line, you endorse somebody, you tell your audience, This is who you should go out there and vote for, and your audience goes and does it. And then when they don’t see these things that they thought were going to get pushed through, they don’t understand civics. All they know is Charlamagne told me to vote for this person because this was gonna happen, and this didn’t happen.

Read more of the interview here .


Click here to read this week’s magazine.

‘Photographic justice’: A new book from Corky Lee captures celebration and struggle over decades of Asian American life .

Our editors’ picks: “Reboot,” a satire of modern media and pop culture about a former child star, and five other books .

Times best sellers: Erik Larson’s “The Demon of Unrest” depicts the months between the election of Abraham Lincoln and the beginning of the Civil War. It is a No. 1 debut on the hardcover nonfiction list this week.


Make your own hot honey .

Try these mascaras .


What to watch for.

Today is Mother’s Day.

Maryland, Nebraska and West Virginia hold presidential primaries on Tuesday.

The man who attacked Nancy Pelosi’s husband, Paul Pelosi, in their home is expected to be sentenced on Friday.

In this week’s Five Weeknight Dishes newsletter , Mia Leimkuhler sings the praises of tofu cream — a pourable sauce made from blended tofu, miso and garlic. Use it to make creamy vegan tofu noodles, a dish that takes just 20 minutes and will win over everyone, vegan or not.


Here is today’s Spelling Bee . Yesterday’s pangram was adjacency .

Can you put eight historical events — including Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, the rule of Catherine the Great and the Rubik’s Cube — in chronological order? Take this week’s Flashback quiz .

And here are today’s Mini Crossword , Wordle , Sudoku , Connections and Strands .

Thanks for spending part of your weekend with The Times.

Sign up here to get this newsletter in your inbox . Reach our team at [email protected] .

Joseph Kahn is the executive editor of The New York Times. He oversees all aspects of The Times’s global newsroom and news report. More about Joseph Kahn

essay on journalistic ethics

Friday essay: ‘me against you’ – Jon Ronson investigates the perpetual outrage of the culture wars

essay on journalistic ethics

Senior Lecturer, Discipline of English and Writing, University of Sydney

Disclosure statement

Alexander Howard does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

University of Sydney provides funding as a member of The Conversation AU.

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The culture wars are perpetually waged in response to new and imagined threats, but they’ve been around forever. They just keep taking on new forms. In Australia, we’re seeing heated zero-sum disputes about everything from gender and sexuality, and race and religious freedom in schools , to climate change and the right to protest.

Just last week, western Sydney’s Cumberland Council voted to ban same-sex parenting books in eight Australian libraries – a ban that was overturned at a late-night council meeting two nights ago, as police watched over competing protests (for and against), outside the council building.

During COVID, conspiracy theories and related ways of thinking accelerated – helped by social media. But neither COVID nor social media caused this shift. Things were already falling apart, and that event and those platforms accelerated processes already underway. We are reaping the rewards of something toxic that has been brewing for a while, which is perhaps borne out by our tendencies to cast everything in binary terms: me against you, us and them.

essay on journalistic ethics

Maybe we are whipping ourselves up into a state of perpetual outrage and distraction because, in the end, we desperately don’t want to acknowledge the complexities of how bad things are getting – in a world beset by accelerating climate disasters, humanitarian catastrophes, widening wealth gaps and cost-of-living and housing crises.

In 2024, populist and authoritarian leaders around the world have succeeded by leaning into conspiracy theories, misinformation and disinformation. And the recent introduction of artificial intelligence only makes it easier for these things to spread. How did we get here?

Inflamed passions

Forks, Washington, is famous for being the home of Bella and Edward, the fictitious vampire couple in Stephenie Myer’s popular Twilight franchise.

In real life, it is a place where “nothing much happens”, as investigative journalist Jon Ronson says in the second series of his award-winning podcast, Things Fell Apart , about the origins and accelerants of the culture wars.

This changed on June 3 2020, when an innocent family on a Twilight-themed holiday found themselves trapped in the woods, surrounded by a bevy of heavily armed townspeople with short fuses and itchy trigger fingers.

The word on the social media grapevine was that Forks was about to be swamped by violent leftists hellbent on nothing less than the total annihilation of America. Mistakenly identified as members of the decentralised leftist collective Antifa, the family narrowly avoided a violent confrontation. Passions were inflamed, the situation on a knife edge.

The unwitting, traumatised family had, Ronson reveals, “become collateral damage in a culture war inflamed by a national media that had become too polarised and ideological”.

“It feels to me that for great numbers of people […] ideology and activism have started to matter more than evidence,” he told the Guardian in recent days, emphasising the importance of the “nuanced truth” in his work. He says he’s not against activist journalism, which has done “a lot of good”. But he says “the old rules of journalism – evidence, fairness – still need to apply”.

essay on journalistic ethics

The stories in Ronson’s podcast – focusing on Qanon, COVID deniers and conspiracy theorists – depict the faultlines of America. We’re not as far down the road, but the culture wars continue to spill into Australia.

The Albanese government has attempted to defuse them. In his response to last year’s Australian Law Reform Commission report on religious educational institutions and anti-discrimination laws, the prime minister was categorical : “Australians do not want to see the culture wars and the division out there.”

However, as the ferocious and damaging culture war over the Voice to Parliament referendum shows, the country has a long way to go.

And in recent days, responding to the Cumberland Council book ban spearheaded by councillor Steve Christou, New South Wales arts minister John Graham condemned “this councillor importing this US culture war into our country and playing it out on the shelves of the local library”.

essay on journalistic ethics

Culture wars are not new

Ronson offers two provisional definitions of culture wars. In the first series of Things Fell Apart, he described them as issues “people yell at each other about on social media”. In the second series, which focuses on a series of seemingly random events that accelerated the culture wars over 30 days during COVID, Ronson refines his definition: they are struggles “for dominance between conflicting values”.

The historical origins of the term can be traced back to Europe in the 19th century.

On June 29 1868, Pope Pius IX issued invitations for the creation of a Vatican Council. The founding of the First Vatican Council led, in turn, to the Declaration of Papal Infallibility . This edict, which threatened the separation of church and state, went down badly with Europe’s ruling classes.

Prussia’s Otto von Bismarck was one of those who took umbrage. As an empire-builder, Bismarck was perturbed by what he perceived as an attack on his authority and a threat to national sovereignty. A seven-year political standoff between Chancellor Bismark and the Pius IX subsequently ensued.

The German word for this confrontation – which impinged on virtually every sphere of public and social life – is Kulturkampf , which translates as “struggles of cultures”. It has since been taken up by many critics and cultural commentators.

One was sociologist James Davison Hunter, who introduced the term into American public discourse with his 1991 book Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America . Hunter defines cultural warfare

very simply as political and social hostility rooted in different systems of moral understanding. The end to which these hostilities tend is the domination of one cultural and moral ethos over all others.

Abortion, education, affirmative action. Religion and the ongoing fight for gay rights. These are some of the polarising social and political issues Hunter discusses in his account of the American culture wars of the late 20th century.

Meanwhile, here in Australia at the time, John Howard and the Liberal Party were embarking on a decades-long campaign against the purported perils of political correctness and multiculturalism – while attacking anyone who had the temerity to criticise Australia’s colonial history . Years later, in 2006, after ten years as prime minister, Howard would literally claim victory in Australia’s culture wars – but of course they’re still raging today.

Within a year of Hunter’s book, “culture wars” were headline news. On August 17 1992, the right-wing politician Pat Buchanan delivered a fiery and divisive primetime address on the opening night of the Republican National Convention in Houston, Texas. He painted a picture of a nation under siege and described “a cultural war, as critical to the kind of nation we shall be as was the Cold War itself, for this war is for the soul of America”.

Environmental extremists. Purveyors of pornographic filth. Radical feminists. Bill and Hilary Clinton. The list of those deemed to be attacking and undermining America is seemingly endless and strangely familiar. “My friends,” he implored, “we must take back our cities, and take back our culture, and take back our country”.

Howard framed Australia’s culture war in similar terms 14 years later, in 2006, claiming his government had seen the end of a “divisive, phoney debate about national identity”. He continued: “We’ve drawn back from being too obsessed with diversity to a point where Australians are now better able to appreciate the enduring values of the national character that we proudly celebrate and preserve.”

Ronson mulls over Buchanan’s proto-Trumpian speech and its mixed reception in contemporary conservative circles in series one of Things Fell Apart.

Journalist Irving Kristol dismissed Buchanan as out of touch, noting: “I regret to inform him that those wars are over, and the Left has won.” During the 70s and 80s in America, Ronson clarifies, the Left had taken control of education, entertainment and the media.

Abortion was legal, school textbooks were becoming more diverse, gay activism was beginning a path to victory, and Hollywood was celebrating those values. “In the early 80s, as conservatives were feeling aggrieved that the culture was running away from them, a strange kind of storytelling began to blossom.”

Did the Satanic Panic birth QAnon?

Ronson illustrates this with a story from the 1980s – the so-called Satanic Panic – that may explain the roots of QAnon , the 21st-century conspiracy theory that essentially revolves around the idea “Democrats and Hollywood elites derive their power from secretly drinking the blood of kidnapped children”.

He traces it back to Bob Larson, a Christian conservative broadcaster in Phoenix, Arizona who was concerned about death metal music, and started to see Satanic patterns everywhere. He encouraged his listeners to reach out if they had ever had firsthand contact with Satanism – and they had.

In regular streets all over America, secret cabals were ritually abusing children in the name of Satan. They told stories of cannibalism and dead cats nailed to pulpits.

essay on journalistic ethics

A credulous Larson incorporated what he heard into a novel, Dead Air , about a heroic radio host who spends his spare time rescuing vulnerable children from the clutches of devil-worshipping cults. Published in 1991, it was advertised as being based on true events.

Roughly 90% of Americans believed in a higher power in the 1980s. Ronson recounts how “mainstream broadcasters saw huge ratings potential, not by debunking the satanic claims, but by entertaining the idea that they might be true”.

Over 12,000 cases of ritualistic abuse were reported. People were falsely accused of bizarre and far-fetched acts of child abuse, and lives were ruined.

Keep this in mind as we move into the 21st century. On October 30 2016, a white supremacist Twitter user, posing as a Jewish lawyer from New York, falsely claimed local police were investigating evidence from disgraced politician Anthony Weiner ’s laptop implicating Hilary Clinton in an international child enslavement ring.

The allegation quickly gained traction across various social media platforms, giving rise to a modern spin on an old antisemitic conspiracy theory about blood libels: the infamous Pizzagate . Online speculation intensified, and the situation eventually spilled over into the real world.

At this point, things turned violent. In a scene that could almost have been lifted verbatim from the pages of Dead Air, a self-styled investigator armed with a high-power assault rifle shot up a pizzeria in Washington, D.C. The assailant, who worked as a jobbing screenwriter and actor, had come to believe children were being held hostage in the restaurant’s basement. The only problem: the restaurant didn’t even have a basement.

essay on journalistic ethics

Despite having been thoroughly debunked, this particular conspiracy theory persists today. Indeed, as researcher Mike Rothschild outlines, “the sordid aspects of Pizzagate, like the abuse of children and the centrality of the Clintons and their inner circle” constitute an important part of the mythology associated with QAnon.

Rothschild argues “no conspiracy theory more encapsulates the full-throated madness of the Donald Trump era than QAnon.” At the same time, QAnon, which has been referred to as “Pizzagate on bathsalts” , also heralded the arrival of what journalist Anna Merlan has identified as the “conspiracy singularity”.

This was the moment, a few months into the coronavirus pandemic, when a multitude of different conspiracy theories, some of which had been lurking in the darker recesses of the internet for decades, began to bleed into each other in strange and surprising ways. Malevolent reptilians masquerading as humans, chemtrails in the sky, the sinking of the Titanic . Everything suddenly seemed to come together. This convergence, Merlan writes, gave rise to “a grand unified theory of suspicion”.

‘Excited delirium’ and George Floyd

The 2024 season of Things Fell Apart is interested in this strange moment of conspiratorial convergence, and strives to understand, to borrow a term from American historian Richard Hofstader , “movements of suspicious discontent”.

It centres on a number of seemingly unrelated events that occurred in May and June 2020, and accelerated the culture wars. Taken together, these events refute Irving Kristol’s assertion about culture wars being a thing of the past. If anything, we are, as Ronson demonstrates, more culturally divided than ever before, living as we do in an age of violent dispute and rampant untruth.

So, for instance, we see the link between a strange, since-discredited diagnosis given to African American sex workers found dead in Miami in the 1980s (“excited delirium”), the killing of George Floyd by a white police officer on May 25 2020, and the Black Lives Matter movement.

In 1980, Miami’s coroner explained the deaths, later attributed to a serial killer (which the evidence pointed to), by “discovering” a condition that rendered men impervious to pain and caused instant death in women. Excited delirium, the discredited term, continues to be used in some police training programs – and was voiced by a police officer on the scene while Derek Chauvin choked the life out of George Floyd.

Of course, the protests by Black Lives Matter and Antifa that followed his murder “gave rise to a whole new wave of culture wars”.

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Cultural critic and activist Naomi Klein describes how, during this incredibly volatile period, it felt like everything started to bifurcate. Society seemed to split into two camps, with “each side defining itself against the other – whatever one says and believes, the other seems obliged to say and believe the opposite”.

The Great Reset

The sixth episode of Ronson’s podcast focuses on the culture war that exploded over the Great Reset , a hastily cobbled together economic recovery plan drawn up by the World Economic Forum in response to the pandemic. “It is our defining moment – we will be dealing with its fallout for years, and many things will change forever,” it read in part.

Launched in June 2020 by Prince Charles and the head of the Davos summit (the World Economic Forum’s annual meeting), the plan took the pandemic as an opportunity to promote several long-favoured ideas that will supposedly save us. For example, artificial intelligence, bio-tech, autonomous vehicles, green capitalism and energy capture.

Conspiratorial placards and chants decrying the Great Reset soon began to appear at anti-lockdown rallies across the globe. If these protesters were to be believed, World Economic Forum CEO Klaus Schwab and his band of unscrupulous Davos cronies were about to strip us of our belongings, make us live in tiny boxes, and force us to subside on a diet consisting entirely of edible insects. (As with almost all conspiracy theories, as Ronson readily admits, there were elements of truth to some of these claims.)

“When they started showing up at the early anti-lockdown protests,” Naomi Klein recalls in her 2023 book Doppelganger, they spoke “as if a great secret was being revealed”. Klein thinks this rather odd, given the Great Reset came with a slick, high-profile marketing campaign. Nonetheless, as Klein writes,

journalists and politicians on the right, and “independent researchers” on the left, acted as it they had uncovered a conspiracy that wily elites were trying to hide from them. If so, it was the first conspiracy with its own marketing agency and explainer videos.

The question Ronson poses in this episode speaks directly to Klein’s droll observations: “why was this happening?” Part of the answer lies in the way people on both sides of the political spectrum were accessing and processing information.

essay on journalistic ethics

‘Something in us … is waiting to be addicted’

Twitter only exploits and magnifies social problems that are already there, wrote commentator Richard Seymour in 2019. “If we’ve found ourselves addicted to social media, in spite or because of its frequent nastiness, as I have, then there is something in us that is waiting to be addicted.”

It was social media that exposed millions of people to the work of conspiracy theorist Mikki Willis, the former actor and model behind the ongoing Plandemic series, which intimates COVID-19 was deliberately engineered as part of a concerted attempt to murder millions and curtail civil liberties.

essay on journalistic ethics

Released May 4 2020, the first of these slickly produced films – which was independently released on YouTube, at just 26 minutes long – includes an extensive interview with discredited virologist Judy Mikovits. In little over a week, Plandemic accrued more than 8 million views on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram and YouTube. On May 5, a day after its release, a QAnon Facebook group dedicated to the conspiracy movement posted the film to its 25,000 members, imploring them to watch it as quickly as possible.

Four years later, Mikki Willis, who has extensive links to the anti-vax movement, is an established presence on the conspiracy theory circuit, and was recently a guest on culture warrior Alex Jones’s InfoWars. He was also present at the January 6 2021 insurrection in Washington DC. He denies knowing anything about QAnon, but in the same breath thanks the movement’s followers for promoting his work.

Ronson sees Willis’ influence reflected across his series, in culture battles as disparate as the Great Reset and trans rights. “When I watched all his documentaries I noticed he had turned everything we covered through the series into one uber-conspiracy,” Ronson told the Guardian .

But what especially interests him is Willis’ devotion to literary scholar Joseph Campbell and his “hero’s journey”, intended as a way of explaining how narratives work – but taken on by Willis as an inspirational self-help book. It’s the sort of thing we might associate with an alt-right guru like Jordan Peterson: a guide to how life should work.

Willis tells Ronson how he stumbled across Campbell’s work in a secondhand bookstore in Los Angeles. He was particularly taken with the thesis Campbell advances in his most famous work, The Hero with a Thousand Faces . Published in 1949, this book has inspired countless critics and writers, including George Lucas, who liberally cribbed from it when developing Star Wars.

A work of comparative mythology, Campbell’s book divides the world up into a series of recognisable archetypes. In the end, at least from Campbell’s perspective, it all comes down to an old-fashioned struggle between heroes and villains, between the forces of good and evil:

A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.

Conspiracy theorists tend to see patterns everywhere, so it’s easy to see the appeal. Campbell provides a readily discernible framework for approaching and comprehending often bewilderingly complex – and occasionally entirely random – events.

Offering adventure and excitement, Campbell’s schema also comes tantalisingly preloaded with the promise of recognition and eventual adulation. But it also tends towards reduction and oversimplification, and encourages us to understand the world around us in terms of binary opposition. This, I think, should give us pause for thought.

Heroes, villains and the truth

At a glance, Plandemic’s millions and millions of views in a matter of days in 2020 can be explained by clickbait tactics and algorithmical orchestrations. But the more time I spend thinking about it, the more I wonder if we all, to some degree or other, want to believe in binaries, and to understand everything in terms of a clash between heroes and villains.

We do it because it’s easy and, in a way, comforting. Like a balm, this manner of thinking affords us temporary solace and the illusion of respite – at a frightening time, when everything is going from bad to worse. This strikes me as deeply troubling.

The constrictive, ultimately destructive binary thinking that structures much of everyday existence, online or otherwise, only intensifies with the ever-changing and overwhelming media landscape, which continually bombards us with piecemeal fragments of a selectively curated approximation of something that, to the naked eye, passes for reality.

And perhaps, stuck as we seem to be in our silos and personalised echo chambers, we are less likely to try to negotiate an agreed understanding somewhere in the murky middle. I’m not sure how we fix this, or if it can be fixed.

As Things Fell Apart ends, Ronson muses:

When untruths spread, the ripples can be devastating. So it feels more important than ever to hold onto the truth, like driftwood in the ocean, because if not, we might drown.

I agree. But I can’t shake the nagging suspicion that the 20th-century philosopher Theodor Adorno , who is himself the subject of a long-running conspiracy theory with a decidedly antisemitic slant, might have been right all along when he suggested “we live in a world in which we can no longer imagine a better one”.

Read more: Is America enduring a 'slow civil war'? Jeff Sharlet visits Trump rallies, a celebrity megachurch and the manosphere to find out

  • Climate change
  • Culture wars
  • Hero's journey
  • Joseph Campbell
  • Naomi Klein
  • Friday essay
  • George Floyd
  • Pat Buchanan
  • Satanic panic
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Two UI professors address uncertainty, ethical and moral questions looming for journalism

Professors see ethical and moral questions and a whole lot of uncertainty lying ahead in the field of journalism.

The University of Iowa School of Journalism and Mass Communication surpassed the century mark earlier this spring, marking its 100th birthday with a celebration of the past, present and future .

The school inducted three alumni to its Hall of Fame, adding to an accredited list of journalism icons. At a celebratory dinner, speakers included current young student journalists with already prestigious resumés and tenured professionals with lengthy experience in some of the country's biggest markets.

More: The University of Iowa's journalism school is turning 100 this year. How it celebrated:

In the midst of the celebration, the Press-Citizen spoke to two seasoned professional journalists turned professors about the future of journalism as it adapts to fast-evolving technologies including artificial intelligence, and how they are adjusting their teaching to that fast-morphing landscape.

Deep fakes, disinformation, lying: Ethical dilemmas afoot

Meenakshi Gigi Durham spent years as a journalist and editor before coming to the University of Iowa. She holds a Ph.D. from the University of Florida and teaches courses on magazine writing, media ethics, gender and mass media and more.

Over her two decades in Iowa City, Durham has published four books and numerous scholarly articles exploring the moral and ethical guidelines and boundaries of journalism.

More: Iowa Supreme Court rules for University of Iowa, reverses $12.8 million payment to contractor

One of her books explored rape culture and the media, another the sexualization of young girls in media. Her most recent article explored the impact of photojournalism on the "napalm girl," a Vietnamese child seen fleeing, severely burned by napalm bombing, in a Pulitzer-winning 1972 photograph.

Durham has been tuned in to media ethics for decades. New technology is bringing even more ethical concerns to the forefront of media we consume each day, she said.

Ethical guidelines have "always been critical," she said.

"But they've changed in ways that we're only sort of starting to understand," she said. "How do we cope with these deep fakes? How do we cope with disinformation? How do we have prominent people who lie? Not that lying's new, but how do we deal with that?"

More: Longtime Czech heirloom, current Pagliai's Pizza home on doorstep of historic preservation

On the educational side, the emergence of AI and the explosion of new technologies over the past 15 years has forced the school of journalism to be "running as fast as we can to stay in the same place," Durham said. But to her, that's a good thing.

It's resulted in new faces in the program, people whom Durham describes as "digital natives," keeping a keen eye on the ever-evolving media landscape. In her view, they provide resources for students that outpace professional newsroom training on specific niches.

"I just feel like we're flourishing right now," she said, citing a deeper focus on community connection with the school's recent purchase of two eastern Iowa newspapers, fresh leadership and evolving curriculum to keep students as connected as possible to the changing media landscape.

'I'd have trouble predicting five years from now,' says retiring prof

Don McLeese unexpectedly found his way into teaching about two decades ago. The long-time journalist had spent decades racking up bylines across the country writing about music. Originally a record store owner, McLeese said that when he started, the journalism business was "a license to print money."

In his 20 years of teaching, McLeese said, the "hunger and need" for journalism has only continued to grow while the strong business model on which organizations had been built has collapsed.

That, coupled with some of the same fears shared by Durham, has fed into his uncertainty moving forward.

"I'd have trouble predicting five years from now," McLeese said.

More: Civil rights groups sue to block Iowa's new 'illegal reentry' immigration law

Despite that uncertainty, McLeese said he believes the J-school has remained anchored to the same general principles he taught before iPhones and learned before personal computers: reporting, storytelling and personability.

"We're not just a trade school," McLeese said. "We're not simply preparing people for jobs. Because whatever technology we have will likely be outdated by the time they're five years into their profession anyway. We have to train them to be able to recognize what the common elements are across the board."

McLeese is retiring from teaching at the end of the academic year but keeping his pen in hand wherever he sees fit to tell a story. He echoed Durham's belief that the university's School of Journalism and Mass Communication "is as strong or stronger than at any point in the 20 years I've been here."

That's down to keen instructors keeping focused on the key, static tenets of journalism education and the revolving door of new technology.

"We are capable of doing better journalism now than ever before with the resources we have at our fingertips," McLeese said. "...(And) we are vital in training not only the journalists of tomorrow but also the citizens of tomorrow."

Ryan Hansen covers local government and crime for the Press-Citizen. He can be reached at [email protected]  or on X, formerly known as Twitter, @ryanhansen01.

This article originally appeared on Iowa City Press-Citizen: Two UI professors address uncertainty, ethical and moral questions looming for journalism

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Illustration of a missile made from words.

In the campus protests over the war in Gaza, language and rhetoric are—as they have always been when it comes to Israel and Palestine—weapons of mass destruction.

By Zadie Smith

A philosophy without a politics is common enough. Aesthetes, ethicists, novelists—all may be easily critiqued and found wanting on this basis. But there is also the danger of a politics without a philosophy. A politics unmoored, unprincipled, which holds as its most fundamental commitment its own perpetuation. A Realpolitik that believes itself too subtle—or too pragmatic—to deal with such ethical platitudes as thou shalt not kill. Or: rape is a crime, everywhere and always. But sometimes ethical philosophy reënters the arena, as is happening right now on college campuses all over America. I understand the ethics underpinning the protests to be based on two widely recognized principles:

There is an ethical duty to express solidarity with the weak in any situation that involves oppressive power.

If the machinery of oppressive power is to be trained on the weak, then there is a duty to stop the gears by any means necessary.

The first principle sometimes takes the “weak” to mean “whoever has the least power,” and sometimes “whoever suffers most,” but most often a combination of both. The second principle, meanwhile, may be used to defend revolutionary violence, although this interpretation has just as often been repudiated by pacifistic radicals, among whom two of the most famous are, of course, Mahatma Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr . In the pacifist’s interpretation, the body that we must place between the gears is not that of our enemy but our own. In doing this, we may pay the ultimate price with our actual bodies, in the non-metaphorical sense. More usually, the risk is to our livelihoods, our reputations, our futures. Before these most recent campus protests began, we had an example of this kind of action in the climate movement. For several years now, many people have been protesting the economic and political machinery that perpetuates climate change, by blocking roads, throwing paint, interrupting plays, and committing many other arrestable offenses that can appear ridiculous to skeptics (or, at the very least, performative), but which in truth represent a level of personal sacrifice unimaginable to many of us.

I experienced this not long ago while participating in an XR climate rally in London. When it came to the point in the proceedings where I was asked by my fellow-protesters whether I’d be willing to commit an arrestable offense—one that would likely lead to a conviction and thus make travelling to the United States difficult or even impossible—I’m ashamed to say that I declined that offer. Turns out, I could not give up my relationship with New York City for the future of the planet. I’d just about managed to stop buying plastic bottles (except when very thirsty) and was trying to fly less. But never to see New York again? What pitiful ethical creatures we are (I am)! Falling at the first hurdle! Anyone who finds themselves rolling their eyes at any young person willing to put their own future into jeopardy for an ethical principle should ask themselves where the limits of their own commitments lie—also whether they’ve bought a plastic bottle or booked a flight recently. A humbling inquiry.

It is difficult to look at the recent Columbia University protests in particular without being reminded of the campus protests of the nineteen-sixties and seventies, some of which happened on the very same lawns. At that time, a cynical political class was forced to observe the spectacle of its own privileged youth standing in solidarity with the weakest historical actors of the moment, a group that included, but was not restricted to, African Americans and the Vietnamese. By placing such people within their ethical zone of interest, young Americans risked both their own academic and personal futures and—in the infamous case of Kent State—their lives. I imagine that the students at Columbia—and protesters on other campuses—fully intend this echo, and, in their unequivocal demand for both a ceasefire and financial divestment from this terrible war, to a certain extent they have achieved it.

But, when I open newspapers and see students dismissing the idea that some of their fellow-students feel, at this particular moment, unsafe on campus, or arguing that such a feeling is simply not worth attending to, given the magnitude of what is occurring in Gaza, I find such sentiments cynical and unworthy of this movement. For it may well be—within the ethical zone of interest that is a campus, which was not so long ago defined as a safe space, delineated by the boundary of a generation’s ethical ideas— it may well be that a Jewish student walking past the tents, who finds herself referred to as a Zionist, and then is warned to keep her distance, is, in that moment, the weakest participant in the zone. If the concept of safety is foundational to these students’ ethical philosophy (as I take it to be), and, if the protests are committed to reinserting ethical principles into a cynical and corrupt politics, it is not right to divest from these same ethics at the very moment they come into conflict with other imperatives. The point of a foundational ethics is that it is not contingent but foundational. That is precisely its challenge to a corrupt politics.

Practicing our ethics in the real world involves a constant testing of them, a recognition that our zones of ethical interest have no fixed boundaries and may need to widen and shrink moment by moment as the situation demands. (Those brave students who—in supporting the ethical necessity of a ceasefire—find themselves at painful odds with family, friends, faith, or community have already made this calculation.) This flexibility can also have the positive long-term political effect of allowing us to comprehend that, although our duty to the weakest is permanent, the role of “the weakest” is not an existential matter independent of time and space but, rather, a contingent situation, continually subject to change. By contrast, there is a dangerous rigidity to be found in the idea that concern for the dreadful situation of the hostages is somehow in opposition to, or incompatible with, the demand for a ceasefire. Surely a ceasefire—as well as being an ethical necessity—is also in the immediate absolute interest of the hostages, a fact that cannot be erased by tearing their posters off walls.

Part of the significance of a student protest is the ways in which it gives young people the opportunity to insist upon an ethical principle while still being, comparatively speaking, a more rational force than the supposed adults in the room, against whose crazed magical thinking they have been forced to define themselves. The equality of all human life was never a self-evident truth in racially segregated America. There was no way to “win” in Vietnam. Hamas will not be “eliminated.” The more than seven million Jewish human beings who live in the gap between the river and the sea will not simply vanish because you think that they should. All of that is just rhetoric. Words. Cathartic to chant, perhaps, but essentially meaningless. A ceasefire, meanwhile, is both a potential reality and an ethical necessity. The monstrous and brutal mass murder of more than eleven hundred people, the majority of them civilians, dozens of them children, on October 7th, has been followed by the monstrous and brutal mass murder (at the time of writing) of a reported fourteen thousand five hundred children. And many more human beings besides, but it’s impossible not to notice that the sort of people who take at face value phrases like “surgical strikes” and “controlled military operation” sometimes need to look at and/or think about dead children specifically in order to refocus their minds on reality.

To send the police in to arrest young people peacefully insisting upon a ceasefire represents a moral injury to us all. To do it with violence is a scandal. How could they do less than protest, in this moment? They are putting their own bodies into the machine. They deserve our support and praise. As to which postwar political arrangement any of these students may favor, and on what basis they favor it—that is all an argument for the day after a ceasefire. One state, two states, river to the sea—in my view, their views have no real weight in this particular moment, or very little weight next to the significance of their collective action, which (if I understand it correctly) is focussed on stopping the flow of money that is funding bloody murder, and calling for a ceasefire, the political euphemism that we use to mark the end of bloody murder. After a ceasefire, the criminal events of the past seven months should be tried and judged, and the infinitely difficult business of creating just, humane, and habitable political structures in the region must begin anew. Right now: ceasefire. And, as we make this demand, we might remind ourselves that a ceasefire is not, primarily, a political demand. Primarily, it is an ethical one.

But it is in the nature of the political that we cannot even attend to such ethical imperatives unless we first know the political position of whoever is speaking. (“Where do you stand on Israel/Palestine?”) In these constructed narratives, there are always a series of shibboleths, that is, phrases that can’t be said, or, conversely, phrases that must be said. Once these words or phrases have been spoken ( river to the sea, existential threat, right to defend, one state, two states, Zionist, colonialist, imperialist, terrorist ) and one’s positionality established, then and only then will the ethics of the question be attended to (or absolutely ignored). The objection may be raised at this point that I am behaving like a novelist, expressing a philosophy without a politics, or making some rarefied point about language and rhetoric while people commit bloody murder. This would normally be my own view, but, in the case of Israel/Palestine, language and rhetoric are and always have been weapons of mass destruction.

It is in fact perhaps the most acute example in the world of the use of words to justify bloody murder, to flatten and erase unbelievably labyrinthine histories, and to deliver the atavistic pleasure of violent simplicity to the many people who seem to believe that merely by saying something they make it so. It is no doubt a great relief to say the word “Hamas” as if it purely and solely described a terrorist entity. A great relief to say “There is no such thing as the Palestinian people” as they stand in front of you. A great relief to say “Zionist colonialist state” and accept those three words as a full and unimpeachable definition of the state of Israel, not only under the disastrous leadership of Benjamin Netanyahu but at every stage of its long and complex history, and also to hear them as a perfectly sufficient description of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived in Israel or happened to find themselves born within it. It is perhaps because we know these simplifications to be impossible that we insist upon them so passionately. They are shibboleths; they describe a people, by defining them against other people—but the people being described are ourselves. The person who says “We must eliminate Hamas” says this not necessarily because she thinks this is a possible outcome on this earth but because this sentence is the shibboleth that marks her membership in the community that says that. The person who uses the word “Zionist” as if that word were an unchanged and unchangeable monolith, meaning exactly the same thing in 2024 and 1948 as it meant in 1890 or 1901 or 1920—that person does not so much bring definitive clarity to the entangled history of Jews and Palestinians as they successfully and soothingly draw a line to mark their own zone of interest and where it ends. And while we all talk, carefully curating our shibboleths, presenting them to others and waiting for them to reveal themselves as with us or against us—while we do all that, bloody murder.

And now here we are, almost at the end of this little stream of words. We’ve arrived at the point at which I must state clearly “where I stand on the issue,” that is, which particular political settlement should, in my own, personal view, occur on the other side of a ceasefire. This is the point wherein—by my stating of a position—you are at once liberated into the simple pleasure of placing me firmly on one side or the other, putting me over there with those who lisp or those who don’t, with the Ephraimites, or with the people of Gilead. Yes, this is the point at which I stake my rhetorical flag in that fantastical, linguistical, conceptual, unreal place—built with words—where rapes are minimized as needs be, and the definition of genocide quibbled over, where the killing of babies is denied, and the precision of drones glorified, where histories are reconsidered or rewritten or analogized or simply ignored, and “Jew” and “colonialist” are synonymous, and “Palestinian” and “terrorist” are synonymous, and language is your accomplice and alibi in all of it. Language euphemized, instrumentalized, and abused, put to work for your cause and only for your cause, so that it does exactly and only what you want it to do. Let me make it easy for you. Put me wherever you want: misguided socialist, toothless humanist, naïve novelist, useful idiot, apologist, denier, ally, contrarian, collaborator, traitor, inexcusable coward. It is my view that my personal views have no more weight than an ear of corn in this particular essay. The only thing that has any weight in this particular essay is the dead. ♦

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  9. Journalism Ethics

    In a continuation of Chap. 5's discussion about how journalism norms, values, and role perceptions shape news production practices, this chapter explores the role of journalism ethics as fundamental to the practice of journalism, to the trust placed in that practice, and to the consequences for public knowledge. Aligning with the view that ethics are "inseparable from journalism, and ...

  10. (PDF) The Evolution of Journalism Ethics in the Digital ...

    The evolution of journalism ethics in the digital age has brought forth both unprece dented. opportunities and ethical challenges for media organizations and journalists. The findings from. this ...

  11. Journalism ethics: the dilemma, social and contextual constraints

    Ward ( Citation 2009) says journalism ethics is a form of 'applied ethics that examines what journalists and news organisations should do, given their role in society' (p. 295). It must also be noted that the functions and roles of the mass media are, to a large extent, reflected in the ethics of the media.

  12. Ethics in a Nutshell

    An initial definition of ethics, then, is the analysis, evaluation, and promotion of correct conduct and/or good character, according to the best available standards. Ethics asks what we should do in some circumstance, or what we should do as participants in some form of activity or profession. Ethics is not limited to the acts of a single person.

  13. PDF Media Ethics & Issues

    Browse through some of the many ethics case study books in the library - on journalism ethics, PR ethics, advertising ethics. (See Argument Essay Guidelines handout.) 2,100 words maximum. Term Project. Pick a topic in the news and analyze the strengths and weaknesses of that news coverage. Identify patterns that emerge in the way the

  14. Global Media Ethics

    Global media ethics aims at developing a comprehensive set of principles and standards for the practice of journalism in an age of global news media. New forms of communication are reshaping the practice of a once parochial craft serving a local, regional or national public. Today, news media use communication technology to gather text, video ...

  15. Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists

    The IFJ Global Charter of Ethics for Journalists was adopted at the 30th IFJ World Congress in Tunis on 12 June 2019. It completes the IFJ Declaration of Principles on the Conduct of Journalists (1954), known as the "Bordeaux Declaration". The Charter is based on major texts of international law, in particular the Universal Declaration of ...

  16. Research ethics and journalism in the academy: Identifying and

    It is understandable how this tension between research ethics and journalistic research developed. Journalism was traditionally seen as residing outside the need for ethics clearances because it did not clearly sit within the guidelines of what constituted research (Davies, 2011).This situation hinged on two perceptions: that journalism was the outcome of non-methodologized inquiry (Lamble ...

  17. SPJ Code of Ethics

    The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by additional explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium.

  18. The Importance of Ethics in Journalism

    2. Minimize harm. Journalism ethics is founded on the belief that human beings deserve respect and truth. Journalists must exercise compassion and avoid unnecessary intrusiveness. They must also gain legal access to information and respect an individual's consent and right to refuse information.

  19. Home

    A group of seasoned politics journalists and a leading press critic kicked off the first of two panels to launch the Ethics & Journalism Initiative at NYU's Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute on Nov. 29. ... topical discussions, and the most useful ethics articles and papers that we can produce or collect. The goal is to help journalists ...

  20. What Is Ethics in Journalism? Learn About Journalism Ethics With Tips

    How do journalists decide what news to write each day? How do they convey the science of a politicized issue like climate change? How do they decide when to print national secrets? The answers to all of these questions are informed by journalistic ethics, which guide reporters and editors to seek out the truth and act with integrity.

  21. Ethics

    This collection of position papers is intended to clarify SPJ's position on specific ethical themes that frequently arise in journalism, and also to provide better guidance for journalists, academics, students and the public when consulting SPJ's Code of Ethics. This collection of position papers, produced by the Society of Professional ...

  22. SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers

    This collection of position papers, produced by the Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee, is intended to clarify SPJ's position on specific ethical themes that frequently arise in journalism, and also to provide better guidance for journalists, academics, students and the public when consulting the SPJ Code of Ethics. The ...

  23. For Political Journalists, Neutrality Isn't the Goal

    In a new series, Zócalo explores the idea of neutrality—in politics, sports, gender, journalism, international law, and more. In this essay, political reporter Marisa Lagos argues that journalism's goal isn't neutrality. My ability to be neutral as a political journalist depends on the intellectual honesty of the people—and the society ...

  24. Covering Columbia's Protests Gave Me Hope About Journalism

    By Hoda Sherif. May 10, 2024 10:05 AM EDT. Sherif is an Egyptian - Iranian writer and journalist currently receiving her master's at Columbia's Graduate School of Journalism. Her reporting focuses ...

  25. Our Journalism

    Our Journalism. Joe Kahn, The Times's executive editor, reflects on some of our most probing recent work. At a funeral for a family killed in the Oct. 7 Hamas-led attacks. Avishag Shaar-Yashuv ...

  26. Essay on Journalism Ethics

    Essay on Journalism Ethics. This essay sample was donated by a student to help the academic community. Papers provided by EduBirdie writers usually outdo students' samples. A journalist is a fact finder and his aesthetic collaboration with a designer to illustrate the data or information is a rethinking of 'changed' or 'evolved' newsroom.

  27. Friday essay: 'me against you'

    Jon Ronson says he's 'not against' activist journalism, but evidence and fairness still need to apply. The stories in Ronson's podcast - focusing on Qanon, COVID deniers and conspiracy ...

  28. Two UI professors address uncertainty, ethical and moral questions

    Two professors look toward the future of the field as the UI School of Journalism and Mass Communication marks 100 years. ... Durham has been tuned in to media ethics for decades. New technology ...

  29. War in Gaza, Shibboleths on Campus

    In the campus protests over the war in Gaza, language and rhetoric are—as they have always been when it comes to Israel and Palestine—weapons of mass destruction. By Zadie Smith. May 5, 2024 ...

  30. Media bears heavy responsibility, Hong Kong leader says as he calls on

    Media bears heavy responsibility, Hong Kong leader says as he calls on journalists to abide by code of ethics. ... "Professional news reports must adhere to media ethics, which demand fairness ...