Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

On the Road to Maturity

Academic journal article The Journal of Business Communication

On the Road to Maturity

Article excerpt

This special issue on ethics marks another step toward maturity for business communication ethics. The guest editor, Steve Ralston, and the authors of the included papers deserve our congratulations and our thanks.

I welcome this special issue because its publication, six years after a previous special issue devoted to ethics (Lewis, 1990), suggests that interest in business communication ethics may have achieved a sell sustaining critical mass among scholars. I can, perhaps, clarify my reasons for reading events in this way by recording some personal memories and impressions.

Looking Back

During the 1987 annual meeting of the Association for Business Communication (ABC), Larry Smeltzer suggested to me and to Phillip Lewis - newly-named Associate Editor and Editor, respectively, of The Journal of Business Communication (JBC) - that someone should put together a panel on ethics for the following year's meeting. He further suggested that the JBC should consider a special issue devoted to the subject. Both Phil and I expressed interest in the project and Larry accepted responsibility for identifying participants and for preparing a formal proposal.

As a result of Larry's efforts, the program for the 1988 annual meeting included a panel on the topic of "Ethics in Business Communication." Kitty Locker, Phillip Lewis, Lamar Reinsch, Kathryn Rentz, and William Shannon constituted the panel; Larry Smeltzer served as chairperson (Bruno, 1988, p. 21). When the time came for their session, the presenters found their room packed with attendees, a sign that many ABC members shared an interest in the topic. (The program for the 1988 annual ABC meeting also listed several other papers on ethics.)

My remarks as a member of the 1988 panel - I reported on the results of a preliminary literature review - reflected my interest in the history of business communications attention to ethics. In subsequent conversations, Robert Gieselman and several other people offered helpful suggestions and cautioned me that, in the past, ABC's interest in ethics had been intermittent and reactive. By the time the meeting ended, I had decided to attempt a more careful and comprehensive review of business communication ethics literature, a decision that has resulted in a series of papers (Reinsch, 1989, 1990, 1993, 1996).

When I began to review the literature on business communication ethics research I lacked - as I still do - easy access to the earliest issues of ABC's first periodical, the Bulletin (now published under the title Business Communication Quarterly). I began my review, therefore, with 1958 (Reinsch, 1990, p. 253). I found a few articles in the 1958-to-1960 period, articles that focused primarily on the question of whether rhetoric was amoral. I found a few articles in the 1964-to-1965 period, most of which focused on whether dishonesty could be an effective long-run strategy. I also found a trickle of articles between 1973 and 1984, and a small-but-growing stream from 1985 onward (Reinsch, 1990, 1993).

Based on the articles I had found, and based also on some informal attempts to identify the factors (for example, attempts to capitalize on current events) that had motivated authors to write the articles, I concluded that business communication scholars were interested in ethics as a pedagogical problem but not as a research field. I also noticed that only a few people had published more than a single paper on business communication ethics, further evidence, I thought, that business communication scholars did not regard ethics as an important topic for scholarly research. By the time I made final pre-publication changes in my 1990 paper I was pessimistic about the future of business communication ethics research. I wondered if future historians would regard the 1990 special issue as an evanescent flurry of interest in the topic.

In subsequent years, I welcomed the appearance of ethics papers in the JBC (for example, Schultz, 1996) as well as in the Journal of Business and Technical Communication (for example, Russell, 1993), in Management Communication Quarterly (for example, Hobbs, 1995; Pratt, 1994), and other periodicals (for example, Sims, 1993) and dissertations (Stevens, 1992, 1994, 1996). …

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