Ethics Gaps and Ethics Gains: Differences and Similarities in Mass Communication Students' Perceptions of Plagiarism and Fabrication

By Conway, Mike; Groshek, Jacob | Journalism & Mass Communication Educator, Summer 2008 | Go to article overview

Ethics Gaps and Ethics Gains: Differences and Similarities in Mass Communication Students' Perceptions of Plagiarism and Fabrication


Conway, Mike, Groshek, Jacob, Journalism & Mass Communication Educator


Survey data on journalism students' perceptions of plagiarism and fabrication indicate an ethics gap in which students interested in journalistic areas (newspaper, magazine, broadcast, photojournalism, and online) are more concerned about journalistic ethics than students interested in nonjournalistic areas (public relations, advertising, graphic design, others). Students interested in journalistic areas also suggested harsher penalties for plagiarism and fabrication. Further analyses, however, found that the ethics gain among nonjournalistic students increased to a nearly equivalent amount as journalistic students over the course of their respective university educations and training experiences, including student media work and internships. While ethics gaps do exist between journalistic and nonjournalistic students, ethics gains by all students from across levels of concern and seventies of penalties indicate that students' ethical beliefs are malleable and show considerable growth during university education.

In the fall of 1987, the president of what was then the Association for Education in Journalism (AEJ), David Weaver of Indiana University, ignited a controversy within the academy when he said he would "frankly rather see advertising and public relations taught in business schools."1 That brought a barrage of criticism, including calls for Weaver to resign as AEJ president. The incident illuminated the often uneasy alliance of different media-related careers taught under the umbrella of journalism and mass communication education in the United States. An underlying concern throughout the decades-long debate involves the mission of journalism education and how best to teach students who have career goals ranging from advertising, public relations, graphic design, to journalism across several platforms.

This survey research attempts to learn more about differences in students' conceptions of two core areas of academic and journalistic ethics: plagiarism and fabrication. Specifically, a principal goal is examining if students feel differently about these ethical areas depending on their area of study. Our students generally can be separated into two groups: journalistic and nonjournalistic areas of interest. Journalistic areas include careers in newspaper, online, photojournalism, magazine, and broadcast environments, and nonjournalistic areas of interest include graphic design, public relations, and advertising. This study's foundation is the education of future media professionals and involves the interaction between students' views on plagiarism and fabrication and the career paths students plan to follow.

Literature Review

The history of U.S. journalism and mass communication education, dating to the late nineteenth century, has been one of disparate media careers looking for the proper curricular home for interested students. Classes in newspaper reporting and editing started in English departments and business schools at colleges and universities. Independent journalism departments and schools began early in the twentieth century as Columbia, Missouri, Illinois, Wisconsin, Indiana, and other universities set up specific curricula for journalism careers.2

When broadcast news became a popular area of study, courses started in journalism programs and speech departments, while others were combined with later television courses in radio-television departments.3 Advertising and public relations proved to be tougher fits because of the perceived need for both business and communication knowledge. Before 1950, more advertising courses were taught in business schools than in journalism. Interestingly, one public relations pioneer, Edward Bernays, wanted those courses taught in a social sciences curriculum, while the public relations practitioners favored journalism programs. Throughout the second half of the twentieth century, public relations and advertising courses gravitated to journalism and mass communication programs. …

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