Ethics Case Studies

Article excerpt

You won't read this very often in a magazine or from any news outlet: Whatever you read in this section, steal it That's right, take the words, work, ideas, and use them yourself. Make copies, pass them out at work and in class, disseminate far and wide. Then, do it again.

The following two case studies are part of SPJ's growing ethics resources. Along with the Code of Ethics (, these studies are meant to help drive ethical decision-making in newsrooms and classrooms.

See these two and many others online at

Some of the cases are also found in SPJ's ethics textbook, "Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media." Others come from SPJ Ethics Committee members and students in ethics classes at Baylor University and the University of Denver.

Important to remember is that ethics, like many journalistic processes, aren't a black-andwhite proposition. The outcomes presented in these case studies represent the authors' reasoning. You may very well interpret and analyze the cases differently. There are very few actions in the Code of Ethics that are directly stated in stark terms (e.g. "Never plagiarize"). Most ethical situations require nuance, interpretation and situational analysis.






Almost one month prior to the release of pop-rock band The Ting Tings' new album, "Sounds From Nowheres ville," all 10 songs from the album were leaked online. Once all figures have been tallied, the leak will likely cause The Ting Tings' record label, Roc Nation, to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because fans will illegally download the album instead of buy it. Roc Nation scrambled to move the release date up a few weeks to negate the early leak of material.

It is situations like this, though, that have plagued the music industry since Napster first initiated widespread illegal file-sharing in June 1999. The music industry has been limping along ever since, struggling to fight off illegal downloads and sales declines. However, media outlets like Rolling Stone and Billboard, a music industry publication which covers all breaking music news, are not helping the situation. As collections of songs, studio recordings from an upcoming album or merely unreleased demos, are leaked online, these outlets cover the leak with a breaking story or a blog post. But they don't stop there. Rolling Stone and Billboard often also will include a link within the story to listen to the songs that were leaked. Considering the news value of this inclusion, it makes sense to include the illegal material, supplementing the copy with the music in question.

Question: Yet, from an ethical standpoint, if Billboard and Rolling Stone are essentially pointing readers in the right direction, to the leaked music, are they not aiding in helping the Internet community find the material and consume it?


Because the digital music community is vast, extending across multiple continents, the consequences of any illegal leak are incalculable. In that same way, providing news coverage of the leak is like playing with an immense fire. With these considerations, then, should music media outlets like Billboard and Rolling Stone continue to cover music leaks, consequentially perpetuating the cycle, or should they cease to cover these occurrences entirely, as a way to quell the illegality with silence?

Since the introduction of iTunes and the digital music environment, the industry itself has struggled with an outdated business model. Fighting for the mighty dollar, record labels turn to promotion - often times misleading consumers into thinking the majority of albums or song collections can be expected to sound like tile catchy single used to promote the album - and subsequently alienate fans and consumers. As an outcry to this discrepancy, in recent years fans have refused to pay for music because it was either overpriced or not in accordance with their sonic expectations. …