Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach

By Christopher Meyers | Go to book overview

4
The Moral Justification
for Journalism

Sandra L. Borden

As Lee Wilkins argues in her article in this collection, journalism seems to come into its own during natural disasters. The sheer drama of such events makes for great storytelling and provides a national showcase for the talents of local reporters. This was illustrated again in 2005 when the great flood caused by Hurricane Katrina overcame New Orleans and chased out the staff of the Times-Picayune. At first, the paper was unable to issue a print edition and instead published on its affiliated Nola.com Web site. HELP US, PLEASE was the headline read by millions around the country and around the world. When the Picayune finally was able to produce a print edition, staffers gave it out for free at the Convention Center, where thousands of trapped survivors eagerly sought copies. Summing up the significance of what these journalists did, the Columbia Journalism Review contributor Douglas McCollam wrote:

Living mostly in borrowed houses, often separated from friends and
family, wearing donated clothes, and working with hand-me-down
equipment and donated office space, the paper managed to produce
coverage of the disaster that serves to remind us all of just how deep
is the connection between a city and its newspaper, how much they
need each other.1

There seems to be more to the Picayune’s actions than the thrill of what-a-story or the calculations of career climbing. Indeed, whether it is Los Angeles during the 1994 earthquake, or Grand Forks, North Dakota, during the 1997 flood, journalists often set aside competitive considerations to help their colleagues and endure extreme personal hardships to give communities the news they need. So

-53-

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