Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ethical Decisions Seek Best Results for Most Readers over Long Term

Newspaper article The Florida Times Union

Ethical Decisions Seek Best Results for Most Readers over Long Term

Article excerpt

The whole idea behind ethical dilemmas is that they are not easy to solve.

That is why the best way to deal with them is in an open, free-wheeling discussion.

That works well in the newsroom and it worked during a meeting with about 50 high school students Thursday evening.

These Duval County students must pass a test to qualify for the Joe Berg Humanities seminars. The goal of the evening sessions is to enlighten the students on education, careers and social issues.

The subject of our session was journalism ethics. It's about as commonplace as Latin in some newsrooms, but it remains a centerpiece of Times-Union culture.

The core values of journalism ethics were best summarized in a journalism textbook: Seek the truth, act independently and minimize harm.

One way to sort out those conflicts is to ask a few questions. Which decision will produce better long-term results? Which decision will help the most people?

We discussed several scenarios that involve making tough decisions. Here's an example:

You are a reporter. In the process of a routine investigation of a candidate for political office, you discover the candidate has committed a serious crime that isn't widely known. You confront the candidate. The candidate says the exposure of this crime will be so humiliating that he will drop out of the race if we promise not to publish it. Otherwise, the candidate threatens to commit suicide. What do you do?

Option A: You run the story. You can't allow a candidate to stop you from covering the news. In fact, the newspaper has become part of the story by causing the candidate to drop out.

Option B: You don't run the story. The candidate has returned to private life where his past is not the public's concern. Why cause harm to him and his family if there is no clear benefit to the public?

Option C: You delay the story for a day, but help get the candidate psychological help.

What would you suggest? Let me know what you would do by contacting me. …

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