Ethics Are Lived, Not Learned

By Bugeja, Michael | The Quill, April 2000 | Go to article overview

Ethics Are Lived, Not Learned


Bugeja, Michael, The Quill


Practicing - not preaching - is the best way to help students determine their own ethical creeds.

In 1988, students in my media ethics class at Ohio University analyzed case studies with a news-editorial focus. We used an engaging text, published by the American Society of Newspaper Editors Foundation and the Poynter Institute titled, "Drawing the Line: How 31 editors solved their toughest ethical dilemmas," edited by Frank McCulloch. We would debate, in those preJerry Springer days, such cases as "A Dwarf's Right to Privacy" and "Undercover at Big Nell's."

Students left class either angry or entertained.

Teacher evaluations were great, though I felt like a talk show host. People's opinions were being challenged and their arguments sharpened because of debate, but nobody's mind was being changed. Wasn't that the goal of teaching?

In one month that year, three gifted graduates of Ohio University's E.W Scripps School of Journalism (including a magazine protege) either lost their jobs or were put on notice - not because they lacked the requisite skills, but because they exercised poor judgment at the workplace. I took out files from advisees, interns and recent graduates, rereading correspondence. What was going on?

Several students had complained that editors or supervisors were not coaching them but expecting them to perform. A few were scolded or fired for making personal long-distance calls on company time, being late for work or leaving early without permission, and disturbing other employees on task or assignment.

Exasperated, I interviewed managing editors, general managers and agency and personnel directors of media outlets - five each, as I recall, for newspapers, magazines, advertising, public relations and broadcasting representing sequences in the E.W Scripps School of Journalism. "Why," I asked, "do probationary employees lose jobs?"

The answers were enlightening. Editors and general managers had the same complaints about new hires as agency and personnet directors. In response, I composed a handout with tips for adapting to a work place and sent it to former advisees and current interns.

I also trashed my ethics lectures, realizing:

1 Case studies don't work because students with underdeveloped value systems and little, if any, professional experience were being asked to evaluate professionals in crisis situations.

1 Ethics are about motive rather than sequence, circumstance or setting. There is little, if any, moral difference between the reporter who plagiarizes words in a newsroom and the marketer who steals numbers at an agency.

1 There is little, if any, difference between personal and professional ethics.

In essence, I closed the Potter Box and opened Pandora's - out of which flew such abstractions as falsehood, manipulation, temptation and bias. How to deal with these in a practical, journalistic way?

Henceforth, I vowed, we were not going to debate news coverage of such hot-button issues as abortion and race relations but would determine our own values and prejudices on these and other issues. We would still cover news principles but would focus on ethical ones, too: influence, responsibility, truth, fairness and power at the work place.

My students were going to live their ethics rather than learn about the ethics of others.

I had a wealth of information to tap based on media experience as bureau manager for United Press International. For instance, I knew a "Unipresser" who lied obsessively about everything - even what he ate for lunch (usually crow) - but never exaggerated or fabricated in a news story.

In every way, his stories were credible. But he had no credibility.

Melanie Rigney, former bureau manager of UPI's Midwest Division and now editor of Writer's Digest, once worked with the same reporter. "I remember getting a freelancer tip about a bank robbery; she said.

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Sign up now for a free, 1-day trial and receive full access to:

  • Questia's entire collection
  • Automatic bibliography creation
  • More helpful research tools like notes, citations, and highlights
  • Ad-free environment

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Project items

Items saved from this article

This article has been saved
Highlights (0)
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

Citations (0)
Some of your citations are legacy items.

Any citation created before July 30, 2012 will labeled as a “Cited page.” New citations will be saved as cited passages, pages or articles.

We also added the ability to view new citations from your projects or the book or article where you created them.

Notes (0)
Bookmarks (0)

You have no saved items from this article

Project items include:
  • Saved book/article
  • Highlights
  • Quotes/citations
  • Notes
  • Bookmarks
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited article

Ethics Are Lived, Not Learned
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Full screen

matching results for page

Cited passage

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Sign up now to cite pages or passages in MLA, APA and Chicago citation styles.

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

"Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Cited passage

Welcome to the new Questia Reader

The Questia Reader has been updated to provide you with an even better online reading experience.  It is now 100% Responsive, which means you can read our books and articles on any sized device you wish.  All of your favorite tools like notes, highlights, and citations are still here, but the way you select text has been updated to be easier to use, especially on touchscreen devices.  Here's how:

1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
2. Click or tap the last word you want to select.

OK, got it!

Thanks for trying Questia!

Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

For full access in an ad-free environment, sign up now for a FREE, 1-day trial.

Already a member? Log in now.