Media Ethics 2016 Abstracts

Carol Burnett Award
Framing Ferguson: Duty-Based Ethical Discourse in the Editorial Pages of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch • Christina DeWalt, The University of Oklahoma • This paper utilizes in-depth textual analysis to examine the editorial content published in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch after the shooting of Michael Brown and throughout the subsequent civil unrest in Ferguson, Missouri. The moral philosophy of W.D. Ross’ and his conceptualization of prima facie duties is employed as an ethical framework in this study.

Information policy as a force at the gate • Matt Bird-Meyer, University of Missouri • This case study serves as an exploratory piece utilizing an interdisciplinary perspective in applying theories from journalism and library and information science to understand the nature of information policies at online-only, nonprofit newsrooms. By using information policy as a guide to evaluating the newsgathering process, the goal of this paper is to build insight into the gatekeeping forces these reporters encounter.

Open Competition
Bias against bias: How Fox News covered Pope Francis’ climate change stance • Edson Tandoc, Nanyang Technological University; Bruno Takahashi; Ryan Thomas, University of Missouri-Columbia • When Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, released his encyclical on climate change in June 2015, the Fox News Channel faced a dilemma. Fox News, the most watched cable news network in the United States, has a positive bias for the Pope. But the network is also known for its bias against man-made climate change. Guided by articulation and cognitive dissonance theories, this study analyzed how Fox News covered Pope Francis’ stance on climate change. The analysis found a clear ambivalence in Fox News’ coverage and identified four discursive strategies that the network news used to navigate discursive dissonance.

Moral Exemplars in Advertising: A Rhetorical Criticism of WPP Websites • Erin Schauster, University of Colorado Boulder; Tara Walker; Margaret Duffy, Missouri School of Journalism • To encourage a sustainable, ethical marketing communications (marcom) industry, ethical exemplars are needed. Wire and Plastic Products (WPP) is a British multinational advertising and public relations company, which holds approximately 350 marcom companies worldwide. WPP’s website states that all WPP companies behave under the “values of honesty, integrity and respect for people.” This rhetorical analysis examines the extent to which these codes and the rhetoric on subsidiaries’ websites call upon Kantian ethics and standards for moral reasoning and whether they should be seen as moral exemplars for the industry.

Analyzing the Intersection of Transparency, Issues Management and Ethics: The Case of Big Soda • Kati Berg; Sarah Feldner • As stakeholders demand more transparency from corporations, corporations must continually engage in practices of issues management and legitimacy building. In an increasingly saturated and technology-driven communication environment, issues management has never been as salient for public relations practitioners and communication managers. Coombs and Holladay highlight the reality that what might be considered good public relations practices relative to organizational aims, might not be considered to be good ethical practice. This tension is one that public relations scholars and practitioners must examine. This paper analyzes Coca-Cola’s reaction to public criticism of its products and their connection to obesity rates and type 2 diabetes. This case is illustrative because it brings to light a particular framework for understanding corporate issue management within an ethical frame. The public commentary and media critique made it clear that the tactics of Coca-Cola were not fitting with broader social expectations. We argue here that the problem with Coca-Cola’s public relations efforts were not simply because the public did not approve nor should the problem be understood as an inherent lack of ethicality in issues management and legitimacy building efforts. The root of the problem comes to light when this is considered in the way in the approach to issues management and legitimacy building.

Nazila Fathi’s 2009 Expulsion from Iran: The Ethical Implications of Partnering with “Local” Journalists in Foreign Correspondence • Lindsay Palmer • This article examines the ethical complexity of the partnership between mainstream, Anglophone news organizations and the “local” or “native’ journalists who help them cover politically precarious stories. I take Iranian-Canadian journalist Nazila Fathi’s 2009 persecution in Iran as a case study. Drawing upon an interview with Fathi, as well as 42 other qualitative, semi-structured interviews with locally-based journalists who work with Anglophone news outlets, I address two ethical issues: 1) the safety of the locally-based journalists, who are often targeted by their own governments for working with westerners, and 2) the ways in which western news outlets problematically represent or ignore the challenges faced by their locally-based employees.

Dueling Ethics Scandals: Rolling Stone, Brian Williams, and a Damaged Paradigm. • Raymond McCaffrey • This study examined how journalists defended their profession in the face of simultaneous ethics scandals involving Rolling Stone magazine and NBC news anchor Brian Williams. An analysis of more than 2000 stories for both cases revealed that in response to Rolling Stone’s disputed rape story, journalists responded in a manner consistent with traditional paradigm repair, but failed to develop a discursive strategy to contextualize Williams’ false statements about being on helicopter that crashed in Iraq.

The Royal Family, The British Press, and a Hoax: Evaluating Journalistic and Public Responses • Teri Finneman, South Dakota State University; Ryan Thomas, University of Missouri-Columbia • This study contributes to an ongoing discussion regarding the relationship between the British press and the royal family of that country, specifically pertaining to issues of privacy. We examine opinion columns and letters to the editor in response to a hoaxing incident perpetrated by Australian deejays that was attributed as a factor in the death of a nurse at the hospital where Kate Middleton was receiving care. We found that while some journalists condemned the hoax in strong terms, attacking the deejays and the station for their conduct, others used consequentialist reasoning to suggest the hoax was an innocent “prank” that went wrong. Some moved beyond the immediate case to consider broader cultural factors that led to the hoax, including the demand for stories about the royal family. We found that readers were deeply critical of the hoax, expressing sympathy for Middleton. Some letter writers broadened the scope of their commentary beyond the immediate hoax to scrutiny of “media” personnel writ large. It is noteworthy that members of the public were apt to blame the media, while members of the press were apt to blame the public, or the culture at large, for lapses in ethical behavior. Our findings indicate tentative evidence of ongoing consideration of ethical boundaries as they pertain to royal privacy issues.

On the Unfortunate Divide Between Media Ethics and Media Law • Theodore L. Glasser, Stanford University; Morgan Weiland, Stanford University • A conceptual merger between media ethics and media law creates opportunities for intellectually and pedagogically richer accounts of media norms than either area of study can achieve on its own. Bridging the divide between media ethics and media law— understanding ethics and law as functionally complementary domains of inquiry — improves the prospects for developing an overarching normative framework that cultivates the principles that clarify the rights and responsibilities of an independent and democratic press.

2016 Abstracts

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