Journalistic Ethics


journalism, the collection and periodic publication or transmission of news through media such as newspaper, periodical, television, and radio.


The importance of journalism in modern society has been testified to by the establishment of schools of journalism at most of the world's leading universities. The earliest in the United States was established at the Univ. of Wisconsin (1905). Other early schools were at the Univ. of Missouri (1908) and Columbia Univ., whose school of journalism was endowed in 1903 but did not open until 1912. American schools of journalism have proliferated throughout the 20th cent.

Print Journalism

Journalism dates at least from the Acta Diurna of Rome (a series of public announcements that can be considered the prototype of the modern newspaper), but it was not until the 15th cent. that the invention of printing made possible its rapid growth. Daniel Defoe has been called the first journalist, as distinct from a writer. Modern journalism, however, began in the latter years of the 18th cent. with each venture serving, as it does in many countries to this day, as the proponent and voice of a political party or social group. Even in the 19th cent. journalists, despite their increased liberties in England and the United States, were largely controlled by political parties.

Except where it is under totalitarian state control, journalism has never been a monolithic enterprise, but has ranged as it continues to do from sensational pseudofact and scandal to high-quality reporting, evaluation, and opinion. Enterprising American newspaper editors in the mid-19th cent. influenced other journalistic media (e.g., the muckraking magazine and the independent periodical).

Technological Advance, Journalistic Change

Changes in journalism in the 20th cent. were fueled by technological advances: the teletypewriter (1904); long-range radio reception (1913); television (1930s–40s); communications satellite (1960s) transmission of data, voice, and video. Almost every new application in communications, data storage and retrieval, and image processing affects the way people get their news. While the influence of the print journalist may have declined in the face of technological advances and the growth of the news agency, radio reporters, such as Edward R. Murrow in the 1940s; television news broadcasters, such as Walter Cronkite from the 1950s through the 1970s; and many later television anchors and reporters became familiar names reporting events as they happened (e.g., the London blitz, funeral of John F. Kennedy, manned moon landing, Gulf and Iraq wars).

Television Journalism

By broadcasting events such as the Watergate hearings, controversial Supreme Court nomination hearings, and sensational criminal trials, television has in some ways minimized the journalist. Yet reports by journalists of the World Service of the British Broadcasting Corporation and Cable News Network, owned by Ted Turner and based in Atlanta, are transmitted around the world and provide news to world leaders in times of crisis.

The proliferation of cable television in the United States since the mid-1970s has led to a variety of news channels. As with print journalism, television journalism ranges from sensational, "tabloid" news shows ( "Inside Edition" ) to extensive journalistic coverage and interviews with government figures ( "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer" ) to a cable channel offering live, unedited coverage of congressional proceedings (C-SPAN).


See J. Hohenberg, The New Front Page (1966); A. K. MacDougall, ed., The Press (1972); R. A. Rutland, The Newsmongers (1973); D. Halberstam, The Powers that Be (1979); E. Diamond, Sign Off (1982); P. Seib, Who's in Charge? (1989); E. Case, The Press (1989); E. Bliss, Now the News: The Story of Broadcast Journalism (1991).

The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright© 2014, The Columbia University Press.

Journalistic Ethics: Selected full-text books and articles

Temporarily FREE! Moral Reasoning for Journalists
Steven Knowlton; Bill Reader.
Praeger, 2009 (2nd edition)
Journalism Ethics: A Philosophical Approach
Christopher Meyers.
Oxford University Press, 2010
Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and the Public Interest
Jeremy Iggers.
Westview Press, 1998
The Journalist's Moral Compass: Basic Principles
Steven R. Knowlton; Patrick R. Parsons.
Praeger, 1995
Good News: Social Ethics and the Press
Clifford G. Christians; John P. Ferré; P. Mark Fackler.
Oxford University Press, 1993
Journalism: Critical Issues
Stuart Allan.
Open University Press, 2005
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Journalism Ethics: Towards and Orwellian Critique?"
The Moral Media: How Journalists Reason about Ethics
Lee Wilkins; Renita Coleman.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2005
Professional Confidence and Situational Ethics: Assessing the Social-Professional Dialectic in Journalistic Ethics Decisions
Berkowitz, Dan; Limor, Yehiel.
Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, Vol. 80, No. 4, Winter 2003
Peer-reviewed publications on Questia are publications containing articles which were subject to evaluation for accuracy and substance by professional peers of the article's author(s).
Mixed News: The Public/Civic/Communitarian Journalism Debate
Jay Black.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 9 "The Ethics of Civic Journalism: Independence as the Guide"
Public Journalism and Public Life: Why Telling the News Is Not Enough
Davis "Buzz" Merritt.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1998 (2nd edition)
Ethics in Intercultural and International Communication
Fred L. Casmir.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 1997
Librarian’s tip: Chap. 4 "Encountering the Other: Ethics and the Role of Media in International and Intercultural Communication"
Campaigns and Conscience: The Ethics of Political Journalism
Philip Seib.
Praeger Publishers, 1994
Covering Violence: A Guide to Ethical Reporting about Victims and Trauma
William Coté; Roger Simpson.
Columbia University Press, 2000
Phototruth or Photofiction? Ethics and Media Imagery in the Digital Age
Tom Wheeler.
Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, 2002
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