Good News: Social Ethics and the Press

Good News: Social Ethics and the Press

Good News: Social Ethics and the Press

Good News: Social Ethics and the Press


Mass media ethics and the classical liberal ideal of the autonomous individual are historically linked and professionally dominant--yet the authors of this work feel this is intrinsically flawed. They show how recent research in philosophy and social science--together with a longer tradition in theological inquiry--insist that community, mutuality, and relationship are fundamental to a full concept of personhood. The authors argue that "persons-in-community" provides a more defensible grounding for journalists' professional moral decison-making in crucial areas such as truthtelling, privacy, organizational culture, and balanced coverage. With numerous examples drawn from life as well as from theory, this book will interest journalists, editors, and professionals in media management as well as students and scholars of media ethics, reporting, and media law.


Coming as it did after the demise of fascism, the near extinction of communism has been the great happy event of the late twentieth century. However, what the rejoicing champions of old-time capitalism ignore is that their system, too, is very sick. Symptoms of its illness in the United States are the decay of public services (schools, police, roads), the growth of crime and civic apathy, the ballooning of the public debt and trade deficits.

Quite a few Europeans believe that an alternative exists both to the horrors of totalitarianism and to the crippling flaws of jungle individualism. They see the solution in a concept of human society centered on the twin values of freedom and mutuality. In the form of a political option called social democracy, this concept is clearly more developed in Western Europe than elsewhere (as illustrated by the existence of national health services in every country)--maybe because centuries of bloodshed ultimately breed wisdom.

Has this anything to do with media ethics? Certainly.

A foreigner entering the U.S. media scene in the 1980s was amazed by the attention devoted to media ethics in books, reports, periodicals, cover stories, columns, workshops, conferences, college courses, even movies. In contrast, he also observed that the media with the vastest resources on earth (constitutional, human, financial, technological) did a poor job of serving their society. Their inadequacy appeared in such phenomena as their lasting infatuation with the most mediocre president ever elected twice and their relative indifference to the huge savings and loan scandal at home and the tragedies of the Third World abroad--not to speak of the violence in televised entertainment or the absence of documentaries and political debates in prime time on the three major networks. The outside observer was thus led to suspect that ethics was being used partly as an antiseptic, partly as a public-relations ploy, and partly as a means of scapegoating journalists, shifting onto their backs the blame for all the media's misdeeds.

So much has recently been said and written about media ethics in the United States that newspeople could be forgiven for feeling weary of it. There is no need for the commonplace mix of old myths (such as the need for dry factual accuracy and the separation of news from opinion) and recent, even faddish, "no-nos" that one can absorb on the job. But actually . . .

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