This is an assignment for the Clark Atlanta University Mass Media Departments Philosophy of Mass Communications class.
Scenario: You are a reporter. You live in a big city where the major airline employs nearly 20% of its citizens. A confidential source has given you information that the airline is engaging in illegal practices for procuring the fuel it needs. Through your stellar investigative skills, you have determined that the source is correct. Here is the dilemma: If you report on the story, it will likely cause the airline to go out of business, which means 20% of the city would lose their jobs. Balance this ethical dilemma and write a blog post about how you would handle it.
Discuss the dilemma in detail and all sides (referring to the reading, SPJ Code of Ethics, and other resources as you see fit). In the end, take a position and clearly explain what you would do and why.
As a reporter, it is crucial to handle scenarios like this with extreme care as it can affect multiple parties drastically. The key to handling this scenario lives within the Five Principles of Ethical Journalism.
The Ethical Journalism Network notes that the ability to focus on truth and accuracy is the first and most important principle of journalism. Along with focusing on accuracy it is equally important to report with fairness and impartiality.
Though in this scenario it states that my “stellar investigative skills have determined the source as accurate,” one source is never enough to produce an accurate story. The lack of multiple sources goes against the need to report impartially.
Chapter 3 of the Living In Ethics textbook highlights the importance of “reporting to an audience objectively/impartially,” which cannot be done with multiple sources.
Multiple sources allow room for different perspectives to be heard.
In a scenario like this the story could be sent to print, if a statement was made by the airline or at the very least requested from the airline, that provides room to create a more objective story.
Two sources is a good minimal base to allow both sides of the story to be told. However, including three or more sources such as a representative from the fuel company, an airport worker, etc., would create a story worth printing as it would include more quotes and ultimately increase validity.
While it is important to report on the matter as it is breaking news that would develop into a larger story, ethically it is better to put more time into creating a solid story rather than to “realise the source is unreliable and then decided it’s your job to try to find another source that proves it to be true,” as noted by The Ethics Center.
The SPJ Code of Ethics says it is a must to “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible,” based on the understanding of the scenario, I would not release the story as is.
The validity of the story would need to be full-proof as though the release of the story could risk the loss of jobs and doing so without reliable sources would make even more of a mess.
Word count: 382
2017, M., Beard, M., Matthew Beard, & *, N. (2018, December 07). Ethical dilemma: How important is the truth? Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://ethics.org.au/ethical-dilemma-how-important-is-the-truth/
Bugeja, M. J. (2019). Living Media Ethics: Across Platforms. New York, NY: Routledge.
Five Principles of Ethical Journalism. (2018, November 07). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://ethicaljournalismnetwork.org/who-we-are/5-principles-of-journalism
SPJ Code of Ethics - Society of Professional Journalists. (n.d.). Retrieved September 17, 2020, from https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp