Ethics in Journalism: When To Say No

By Morgan Pettersson.

The journalism industry is notorious in the public sphere for its unethical practice.

A journalist is right up there with car salesmen and politicians as the least trust worthy people in the world.

I could go on for hours about the state of todays journalism, but that is another topic altogether.

As a young journalist you want to really make a change by reporting the truth as accurately and ethically as you can.

Yet sometimes your personal code of ethics are called into question.

I always assumed the first time I would feel conflicted in my work would be when I was asked to do a death knock.

I would have to weigh up the pros and cons and the mood the newsroom editor was in before deciding whether or not to harass a grieving family.

We are told during law and ethics class that we can refuse to do a death knock, that our individual moral codes mattered and we are ethically allowed to refuse.

Although I was always sceptical that this would be well received.

Yet my first ethical dilemma has occurred much earlier than expected, and it is something that I had never considered.

What happens when the story you are told to do, goes against everything you believe in?

And after consulting with the editor, they still want you to go ahead with the story, even though you told them morally you don’t feel that you can carry it out.

Where do you draw the line between a good story, and your personal ethics code.

Do you oblige and do as so many before you have done and carry through with the story knowing that you may be hurting those near to you who hold those same values?

Or do you make a stand, refuse and hold your head high in the hopes that you are bringing back ethics into journalism and re-creating the fourth estate.

Well in this case the journalist won, although it was in a round a bout way, with the editor thinking it was ‘their’ idea to go back to my ‘original’ story idea.

Yet this incident has left me thinking about the industry that I am entering, and the ethical implications that are going to potentially occur in working for the big news corporations.

It also reinforces my belief that is it getting harder and harder for journalists to maintain ethics within their own work, as although the story will be published/broadcasted via the company it still has the journalists name to it.

Yet I still hold out hope, and the experience was a good learning curve, that holding strong to your beliefs can result in a positive result in an industry that has left its ethics behind.


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