Developing Sanity in Human Affairs

By Susan Presby Kodish; Robert P. Holston | Go to book overview

29
General Semantics and the Ethics Agenda: New Challenges for the News Media 1

Jay Black

In his 1960 Association for Education in Journalism convention speech, reprinted in the General Semantics Bulletin (Nos. 26 and 27: 81-82), University of Missouri Journalism School Dean Earl English spoke eloquently of ethics, without once using the term:

If I were attempting to rank the korzybskian formulations carrying important implications for journalism students in the order of importance, I should place the semantic constructs leading to an awareness of individual responsibility high on the list. . . . Responsibility involves what the writer or speaker does for the reader or listener in terms of providing him with a "picture of reality"--a picture valid enough to aid him in predicting from time to time what the future may have in store for him.

Dean English, who taught general semantics in journalism from the late 1940s until the 1980s, thus articulated a challenge for all of us who are committed to ethical and excellent public communication. He recognized that ethics entails both an individual and a collective enterprise; that it deals with principles of responsibility and accountability, of "owes" and "oughts" and other moral duties; that it calls for carefully articulated values and loyalties, and serious consideration of the consequences of our behavior, that it asks us to do the right things, for the right reasons.

"Doing ethics in journalism"--and doing research in or otherwise trying to understand the process of ethical and excellent journalism-strikes me as having a great deal in common with Korzybski's call for clear-headed, science- and principle-based decision making about other aspects of human communication.

Let us explore just a few of the countless items on the general semantics and ethics agenda.

As a child I had been told that sticks and stones may break my bones but

-370-

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