Moral Reasoning for Journalists

Moral Reasoning for Journalists

Moral Reasoning for Journalists

Moral Reasoning for Journalists


This volume is an introduction to the underpinnings of journalism ethics, and a guide for journalists and journalism teachers looking for ways to form consistent and informed ethical decisions


I honestly thought it was one of my better ideas: For four years, I had heard that students frequently stole merchandise from stores in downtown College Park, Md., moments from the University of Maryland campus, where I was the editor of the student newspaper. I decided to demonstrate just how big the problem was—by assigning a reporter to shoplift.

Although almost every aspect of my decision can be criticized, the biggest problem 40 years later seems to me the complete lack of moral reasoning—or reasoning of any sort—behind my decision. Was undercover reporting called for? Was the story so serious that it was right to break the law? The answer is clear, at least to me: The depth of the shoplifting problem could have been explained more completely—and explained ethically—with a well-reported news story that included police information, quotes from merchants, and profiles of convicted shoplifters (if there were any; the “undercover” investigation didn’t get into such minor details, as I recall).

On the other hand, some could argue that breaking the law perhaps was justified because the subject was so important to the safety of the community—but it would have been nice to have thought about that and talked it over with the rest of the staff, at the very least. As Steven Knowlton and Bill Reader write in this book, deception, let alone breaking the

Jerry Ceppos, in 2008, became the dean of the Donald W. Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada-Reno. His career in journalism was long and distinguished: He was the vice president for news for Knight Ridder newspapers and is a former executive editor of the San Jose Mercury News. He also served as an editor for the Miami Herald and the Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle.

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