Examining Education and Newsroom Work Experience as Predictors of Communication Students' Perceptions of Journalism Ethics

Article excerpt

Abstract

This study examines education and work experience in newsrooms as predictors of ethical perceptions among communication undergraduates at a large Singaporean university (N = 826). Results indicate that education is associated with ethical ideologies, perceived importance of journalism ethics codes, justifiability of using contentious news gathering methods, and concern towards journalistic plagiarism and fabrication. However, in this context, education is not a significant predictor of agreement with ethical principles or support for sanctions against journalistic plagiarism and fabrication. Ethical ideologies (idealism and relativism) are associated with ethical principles and the degree to which using contentious news gathering methods is justifiable. Work experience in newsrooms is associated with perceived justifiability of using contentious news-gathering methods but not with ethical ideologies. The pattern of results was not entirely as predicted and may be a function of the way journalism is practiced and perceived in Singapore.

Keywords

journalism, ethics, education, idealism, relativism, survey

Journalists frequently must grapple with moral dilemmas at work. Often, it is difficult for journalists to perform their roles without compromising integrity.1 As a significant proportion of students from media and communication programs are likely to become journalists in the future, media scholars have also emphasized the importance of providing media ethics training at the undergraduate level so that students are equipped with an understanding of the moral dilemmas that journalists face." Increasingly, scholars are also beginning to examine how communication undergraduates' attitudes towards ethical issues change with education and work experiences such as internship.3 However, there has been little research in Asian countries examining the ethical perceptions of communication undergraduates and how they change over time.

This study represents an effort to help fill this gap and constitutes part of an ongoing, longitudinal survey designed to track developments in communication undergraduates' ethical perceptions in Singapore.4 Using established survey items, this study examines differences in ethical ideologies among undergraduates and how these relate to views of controversial methods of gathering information and level of agreement with the four ethical principles from the U. S. -based Society of Professional Journalists' (SPJ) Code of Ethics: seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable. It also examines differences in concerns over plagiarism and fabrication among first- and final-year students as well as among those with and without newsroom work experience.

Literature Review

The common view among developmental psychologists is that ethical reasoning becomes increasingly complex with age.5 In recent years, media scholars have expressed interest in examining the impact of journalism education on students' ethical reasoning over time. Findings from comparative studies in Western countries such as the United Kingdom and the United States strongly suggest that age and education are factors that concurrently shape the way journalism students view ethical issues.6 To better understand the extent to which this pattern of influence applies in non- Western contexts, this study assesses a wide range of ethical views among students at Nanyang Technological University's Wee Kirn Wee School of Communication & Information, the only program in Singapore that offers an undergraduate specialization in journalism.

Singapore presents a complex context for studying journalism ethics. Some have described the Singapore press as adopting a "development model" in which independence is sacrificed because the press takes a role as partner to government in reaching national development goals, and government leaders have specifically rejected the characterization of the Singapore press as the "Fourth Estate. …