An Explanation and a Method
for the Ethics of Journalism
Deni Elliott and David Ozar
The aim of this chapter is to help readers understand their responsibilities as persons and as journalists, and to provide them with a framework for addressing the ethical issues that routinely arise in the practice of journalism. Our approach, which is informed by the basic tenets of Western ethical traditions and which borrows from Ozar’s and Elliott’s previous works, develops from the abstract to the concrete.1 That is, we move from a discussion of the purpose of journalism, and the specific values that emerge from that purpose, to ideal relationships and practice rules, and, ultimately, to a recommended method.
In doing this we assume what Michael Davis defends in chapter 6—that journalism is a profession and, thus, that its practitioners assume special rolebased duties. Those duties, for journalists as for all professionals, are reflected in but not fully captured by the respective code of ethics of each profession. Codes, as in the one developed by the Society for Professional Journalists,2 provide a snapshot of a profession’s ethical norms. But, given their necessary brevity and the often political process by which they are developed, they cannot provide a complete picture.
Our approach instead is empirical and normative; we explore what journalism does—its historically and politically grounded social function—and then draw from this its core values. We then align these values with classical moral injunctions not to harm and to respect others’ rights, from which emerges our recommended method.
We want to stress the importance of the empirical. Most philosophical ethics treatises begin with abstract principles to which, they insist, practice must align. But it is the rare professional who learns their ethical duties in this