Media Ethics 2017 Abstracts

Student Understanding and Application of Virtues in a Redesigned Journalism Ethics Class • David Craig, The University of Oklahoma; Mohammad Yousuf, The University of Oklahoma • This study examines how students in a journalism ethics class demonstrated their understanding and application of virtues when several class assignments were tailored to virtue ethics. It adds to the limited study on virtue pedagogy in media ethics. Findings showed most students showed at least a basic understanding of nine virtues and their relevance to journalism. The study suggests several insights and refinements for future assessment of learning about virtue.

Trust vs. evaluation: The interplay of ethics and participation in news • Katy Culver; Byung Gu Lee • Considerable research has pointed to declining levels of public trust in news media, as well as differences in trust based on political ideology. At the same time, the public has greater ability to participate in the processes of news, from commenting on stories to engaging through social media. This study explores the intersections of media trust, ethical performance, and participatory practices, as well as differences by ideology and chosen news outlets.

Weeding out the differences: Market orientation’s effects on the coverage of marijuana legalization • Patrick Ferrucci, U of Colorado; Chad Painter, University of Dayton; Angelica Kalika, University of Colorado, Boulder • This textual analysis compares news coverage of Colorado Amendment 64, the 2012 ballot measure legalizing marijuana statewide, by the strongly market-oriented legacy newspaper the Denver Post and the weakly market-oriented online publication the Colorado Independent. Researchers found differences in storytelling, usage of stakeholders and sources, and coverage about the social and economic impacts of marijuana legalization. These findings are discussed through the theoretical lenses of market theory for news production and W.D. Ross’s duty-based ethics.

An Ethics-Based Investigation of Algorithmic Use of Social Media Data for News • Tao Fu; William Babcock • Using W. D. Ross’s prima facie duties as the theoretical framework, in particular non-maleficence, beneficence and self-improvement, combined with gatekeeping theory and the echo-chamber effect, this study examines the dissemination of fake news on Facebook and its news ranking and recommendation during the United States’ 2016 presidential election. The researchers argue that while Facebook employs algorithms as gatekeepers, it is unrealistic to consider algorithms have in and of themselves an ethics component. So while algorithms are amoral, without moral sense or principles and thus incapable of distinguishing between right and wrong, how they are employed and by whom is the key ethics component to be considered.

The Devil is in the Details: Comparing Crime Coverage Credos in the United States, The Netherlands, and Sweden • Romayne Fullerton; Margaret Patterson, Duquesne University; Katherine Hoad Reddick, The University of Western Ontario • This paper compares crime coverage practices in the United States to those in the Netherlands and Sweden. In the former country, journalists routinely name and provide as many facts as they can gather about persons arrested and charged with serious crimes. In contrast, the latter two countries’ default is not to name or otherwise identify alleged perpetrators. All three countries share a belief in the presumption of innocence and the public right to know, but the Swedish and Dutch foreground the former, while the Americans elevate the latter. We do not posit one set of ethical practices as superior to another, but rather explore the advantages and disadvantages of each approach to consider what the differing practices of naming and specificity versus anonymizing and generalization mean in a broad cultural context, and to consider the importance of their preservation in a globalized age.

“I’m more ethical than you”: Third-person and first-person perception among American journalists • Angela Lee, University of Texas at Dallas; Renita Coleman, University of Texas at Austin • Extending first- and third- person perception to ethics, this study found that journalists at leading news outlets believe colleagues in the same organization act unethically significantly less frequently and act ethically significantly more frequently than those at other organizations and in other industries. The first- and third- person perceptions are a linear function of social distance, but are not the mirror image of each other. Suggestions for improving journalists’ ethics are offered. This study helps expand a field based in philosophy and media sociology by adding insights from social psychology to begin building a more mature scholarship of media ethics.

Playing the right way: In-house sports reporters and media ethics as boundary work • Michael Mirer, University of Wisconsin • Sports teams increasingly hire in-house reporters to produce news content for their own websites. Drawing on the construct of boundary work and using interview data, this paper finds these writers use ethical discourse to formulate a professional identity as journalists, redefining core normative concepts. It argues that in-house reporters detach journalism’s practices and conventions from its overarching normative orientation and concludes by calling for a normative account of in-house reporting rooted in mixed-media ethics.

Bringing Habermas into the newsroom: consensus or compromise and the rehabilitation of common sense • Laura Moorhead, San Francisco State University • Philosopher and media gadfly Habermas in the newsroom? This paper — through the frame of Habermas’s discourse ethics — highlights a path for debating ethics, including race and diversity, in journalism using rational-critical discussion, which can lead to consensus or compromise through a move from individual to collective community interests. The paper considers the rehabilitation of common sense, through emerging technology and an interdisciplinary approach. The point of debating ethics in journalism surfaces as the hope for solidarity despite increasing pluralism.

Taking the white gloves off: The portrayal of female journalists on Good Girls Revolt • Chad Painter, University of Dayton; Patrick Ferrucci, U of Colorado • This textual analysis focuses on the portrayal of female journalists on the series Good Girls Revolt. Unlike many contemporary television series and films, the women of Good Girls Revolt generally are depicted positively. They are behind the scenes heroes and possess journalistic intangibles lacking in their male counterparts, who treat them in demeaning and dehumanizing ways. The researchers then explore the ethical implications of these portrayals through the lens of social responsibility theory.

Teaching Journalism Ethics Through “The Newsroom”: An Enhanced Learning Experience • Laveda Peterlin, University of Kansas; Jonathan Peters, University of Kansas • As documented in multiple fields, students taking ethics courses can benefit from alternative pedagogical approaches using television shows for learning. This research paper explores the journalistic ethics conflicts depicted in the first season of the HBO show “The Newsroom.” Those conflicts, brought to life through vivid and realistic storytelling, enable students to experience how ethical decisions can affect a newsroom and the audience it serves. This is a form of televisual ethnography that provides journalism instructors additional resources to use in the classroom and creates an innovative, rich learning experience for students.

The Evolution of the Potter Box in Mass Media Ethics • Matthew Reavy, University of Scranton • This paper examines the origins of The Potter Box, the most widely used model of decision-making in mass media ethics. The basic structure of the model is traced back to its roots in the work of Talcott Parsons and Ralph B. Potter Jr., through subsequent modifications and to its introduction in the field of mass media by Christians, Rotzoll & Fackler in 1983. Attention is given to variations of the model as they appear in current media ethics texts.

“The Times F’d up”: Responsibility, blame, and journalistic paradigm repair following the 2016 U.S. presidential election • Miles Sari, Washington State University; Elizabeth Hindman, Washington State University • “Through an ethnographic content analysis of 55 print and online newspaper articles and editorials, this paper considers the ways in which the American journalistic paradigm repaired itself in the wake of the 2016 U.S. presidential election. Using the concepts of paradigm repair and attribution theory as guiding frameworks, this study suggests that American news media engaged in first-order and second-order news paradigm repair discourses to identify unethical lapses in news media election coverage, as well as to pinpoint the broader threats of fake news and the Donald Trump administration to the legitimacy of the American journalistic paradigm.

Here’s What BuzzFeed Journalists Think of Their Journalism • Edson Tandoc, Nanyang Technological University; Cassie Yuan Wen Foo • This study seeks to compare BuzzFeed, a new entrant to the journalistic field, with traditional news organizations, from the perspective of BuzzFeed’s own journalists. Through in-depth interviews, this study finds that BuzzFeed’s journalists think they are more attentive to audiences and more willing to experiment than those from traditional news organizations. But at the same time, they also value the same ethical standards in journalism. Thus, BuzzFeed seems to engage in both differentiation and de-differentiation.

News in the Peace Process in Northern Ireland: Reconciliation Isn’t Sexy • Charis Rice, Coventry University; Maureen Taylor • This research explores if and how the media help or hinder democracy in a post conflict nation. In this paper the explicit question about media’s role in democracy has, at its core, an implicit question about media ethics. We interviewed 15 community leaders who are active in ‘cross-community’ organizations in Northern Ireland. The findings suggest that community activists perceive the media to be contributing to the conflict and constraining debates about the way forward in Northern Ireland.

Falsity, fakery and carbon monoxide: A typology of fake news and an ethical approach • Fred Vultee, Wayne State University • Deciding what to do about the epidemic of “fake news” requires both a definition of fake news and an understanding of why real news is valuable. Drawing on the philosophical distinction between lying (Bok, 1978) and bullshit (Frankfurt, 2005), this paper seeks to categorize the potential impacts of different varieties of fake news and to suggest an ethics-based framework for how to counter them. The practice of journalism can address some of these challenges as a craft and some as a profession; the paper concludes by suggesting that journalism and its audiences would gain from addressing the fake news problem on both fronts.

A history of media ethics: From application to theory and back again • Lee Wilkins, Wayne State University • This paper focuses on practical issues that lead to ideas worth considering across disciplines. By discussing the evolution of four concepts, truthtelling, privacy, the impact of technology and moral development, it outlines the historic development of these ideas in the field of media ethics. Its central assertion is that media ethics has had something to contribute to philosophy and political philosophy as well as to working professionals. This contribution centers as much as in does in philosophy and political philosophy as it does in the more accepted domain of applied ethics

Spotlight: Virtuous Journalism in Practice • Yayu Feng, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign • This paper uses the movie Spotlight as a case study of virtuous journalism. It interprets Spotlight by textual analysis with key concepts from virtue ethics theory—arête, phronesis, and eudaimonia—to discuss journalistic virtues, journalists’ practical reasoning, and how journalism profession can contribute to human flourishing through its professional goal of questing for truth. The paper also hopes to contribute a relevant case study to demonstrate the value of virtue ethics theory to journalism ethics.

Ethical, moral, and professional standards in journalism practice: A baseline definition of journalistic integrity • Kimberly Kelling • What does it mean for a journalist to have integrity? How does that concept differ from the integrity of the journalist or journalistic institution? Conceptualizations of the term vary among industries and philosophical definitions are just as scattered. Exploring the usage of the term “integrity” in journalism discourse, this paper identifies micro-, meso-, and macro-level applications of journalistic integrity based on a metadiscourse analysis of newsroom codes of ethics and journalism trade publications. Providing a baseline definition of journalistic integrity enables professionals and the public to communicate about press responsibilities and performance with similar expectations.

An Emotional Approach to Risk Communication • Shiyu Yang • The purpose of this paper is to demonstrate that emotions are an important, if not integral, aspect of risk communication, and that using emotional appeals in risk communication is not inherently unethical; rather, whether the emotional appeals used in a risk message are ethical or not should be judged based on the context. To achieve this goal, I first establish that emotions can facilitate well-informed and ethically sound risk-related decision-making, by reviewing extant research literature on the dialectical tension between emotion and rationality. Then I advance the notion that emotions are an important aspect of risk communication, by applying the Extended Parallel Process Model (EPPM) and providing a brief discussion of how various kinds of emotions may aid our risk interpretations and help balance various ethical considerations about risks. Next, I proceed to review some of the potential benefits as well as possible negative outcomes of employing emotional appeals in designing risk messages. I further illustrate these points by conducting an ethical critique of a public health campaign, the “war on obesity”. Finally, I reaffirm the thesis statement that emotions are important in risk communication and that emotional appeals should and can be ethically applied to enhance the effectiveness of risk communication.

The Use of Influence Tactics by Senior Public Relations Practitioners to Provide Ethics Counsel • Marlene Neill, Baylor University; Amy Barnes, University of Arkansas at Little Rock • Senior public relations practitioners prefer non-confrontational approaches such as asking questions and dialogue when raising ethical concerns to more senior leaders. Through in-depth interviews with 34 members of the PRSA College of Fellows, this study provides new insights regarding successful and unsuccessful attempts at providing ethics counsel. The role of ethical conscience in public relations was explored through the lens of organizational power and social influence theories. Implications for practice are discussed.


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