Thursday, March 29, 2007

I may have fibbed...

As I have been examining everyone else's ethical practices, I thought it was about time that I take a look at my own. As was pointed out the other night by a friend, I may not be as ethical as I'd like to think.

As a freelance journalist in Des Moines, I write quite a few articles a month, mostly critiquing area restaurants and bars. My editor gives me an assignment, tells me what I need to find out and where to go. The list of questions is usually quite long and it's hard to find the information without asking the waiter or waitress.

So, the other night while on assignment, I may have fibbed a bit about my profession and why I was asking all of the questions I was. I can't let employees of the resturant find out who I am or I will be treated differently because I'm writing a review, but it's not necessarily ethical to lie about my questions either.

I suppose that I follow Kant's rule of dismissing the consequences and focus on my intentions--to get the information I need without "blowing my cover." So, although I may not appear to be "ethical" by some standards by lying, I have good intentions and am getting the job done.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Love on the line

New problems have begun to arise as of late in the newsroom. This new problem has nothing to do with declining readership, the continuing focus on profit or the new entertainment as news lifestyle. Rather, the new problem involves the concept of "love" in the newsroom and the ethical dilemmas that surround it.

Kelly McBride of PoynterOnline described a recent problem that had arisen at The Los Angeles Times because of romance in the newsroom. Here's the recap:
"LA Times editorial page editor Andrés Martinez is dating publicist Kelly Mullens who works for Allan Mayer who represents Hollywood producer Brian Grazer. Martinez invited Grazer to guest edit this weekend’s Current, the Times' Sunday commentary section. Many worry that Grazer's selection as guest editor had more to do with Martinez' romance than his ability."

I was always told that it's not what you know, but who you know. Such is the case in this situation, or so it appears. It seems to me, and many others, that the only reason Grazer was chosen to be the guest editor was because of his connections to Martinez's love interest. Such an idea could be applied to Kant's idea of duty. All of the reporters' duties are the same--to protect the public's best interest. Martinez did not maintain his duty to the people.

The reporters of news are supposed to remain objective putting the public first in the quest for truth. When matters of the heart get involved, one must conciously maintain a boundary between the head and the heart. Martinez, in my opinion, did not use his head.

Maybe McBride is correct in saying that journalists should take a vow of celibacy. Well, not really, but you get the point.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Confidential Sources? Sorry, that's confidential...

The media is currently all abuzz about the recent conviction of Scooter Libby. The trial's outcome does have consequences for more than just Libby, though. In Hope Yen's Associated Press article Libby Trial Prompts Scruitiny on Media, she points out the chilling effects of the disregard of the journalists' privilege in this case and talks about the future of journalists and their sources.

As the article states, over a dozen of Washington's best-known journalists took the stand in the prosecution of Libby, many unwillingly by court order, testifying about "confidential" conversations. This is nothing new in the federal courts, but the idea of confidential sources may come to an end of such occurrences become the norm. Yen goes as far as to say the use of disposable phones and the like may be steps that need to be taken to protect such sources.
"'There are limits' Jane Kirtley, a media ethics professor at the University of Minnesota, said. 'Reporters should have flexibility to negotiate deals with sources regarding 'background' and 'off-the-record' discussions - or risk not getting information at all.'"

The ethical system of duty could easily be applied to this situation. It is a reporters' duty to the public to inform them. The press has a responsibility to the citizens of this country and using whatever means possible must supply them with the truth. If the truth comes in the form of a confidential source, so be it. The reporter then also has the obligation to keep promises of confidentiality, as such--confidential.

In her article, Yen suggests a federal shield law to deter the problem that the court ordered testimonies are creating. In my opinion, if we're going to be maintaining a free and impartial press, I don't think there's any other way to solve it.