Professional Problems and Ethics in Journalism

Journalism 141 - Philip Meyer
Spring 2001 - 376 Carroll Hall

"We are a culture of subcultures. The more successful the subculture is -- and journalism is very successful -- the more it will fall back on its own interests and values. This is the way the world works, and anyone who does not understand it is doomed to frustration and heartbreak."
              -- Daniel Yankelovich, 1989.

The subculture of journalism is no longer as confident of its success. 
Its old values are increasingly under question. The topic of this course 
is therefore a moving target. We shall approach it with two organizing principles:

    A critical study of traditional journalistic values, the historical forces that created them.

    An evaluation of social and technological changes that threaten that subculture -- and possibly its value system


The required texts are:
Robert Giles and Robert W. Snyder, Eds., What's Fair?  The Problem of Equity in Journalism.  new Brunswick: Transaction Publishers, 2000.

Commission on Freedom of the Press, A free and responsible press: A general report on mass communication: Newspapers, radio, motion pictures, magazines, and books ...  Chicago, Ill. : University of Chicago Press, [1947]

Philip Meyer, USA Today columns, 1998-2000 (available on web)

Supplementary: Philip Meyer, Ethical Journalism, 1987. (On reserve in Davis Library)

Other readings will be posted on the web or placed in the 141 file in the Park Library. 

Case Studies

For the first goal, understanding traditional values, we shall use case studies. Each of you will develop an original case study of an ethical problem in the mass media, based on your own interviewing and/or correspondence with the participants. Those who write the best cases will be asked to present them to the class. Presenters will receive a 10-point bonus on the final exam. To be eligible for presentation (only 6 will be chosen), you must submit your case with Group A or Group B.

Case study topics by graduate students will be chosen in consultation with the instructor, and some may involve travel.


JOMC 141: Spring 201

Date Topic Reading
Wednesday January 10 Overview of the course. Getting organized  
Wednesday January 17 Covering the 2000 election.  Polls and projections.  What went wrong? Chapter 10 of The New Precision Journalism

Meyer column 1

Meyer column 2

January 22
Three theories of the press. Professionalism. The battle for journalismís soul.  Giles & Snyder, chapters 11, 12, 13. 

Browse the Hutchins Commission report.

Wednesday January 24 Economics of the news business and how it affects the values of journalism. 


"Learning to love lower profits," from American Journalism Review, December, 1995.
Monday January 29 The moral philosophers in the Western tradition and postmodern efforts to improve on them: Aristotle to Habermas Giles & Snyder, chapter 25.
January 31
Telling the public what it doesn't want to hear:  Minnesota's basketball cheating scandal. Minnesota basketball case

Meyer's USAT col

Monday February 5 Moral values as a moving target, Part 1: Politicians and sex: The Miami Herald Case  Hart case
Wednesday February 7 Moral values as a moving target, Part 2: Plagiarism and you Hart case Part II

Meyer's USAT column of May 10, 1999

Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It

Monday February 12 Relationships with sources: Absence of Malice, Part I Giles & Snyder, Chapters 2, 4
Wednesday February 14 Relationships with sources:  Absence of Malice Part II.  Giles & Snyder, Chapter 9
Monday February 19 Issues of race in mass communication Read Angela Amos, "The Country Club Test."
The University of Iowa offers links to a number of resources addressing issues of race and gender in media.
Wednesday February 21 The Times-Picayune Case A newspaper documents its racist past
Monday February 26 Reporters' Methods: The Food Lion Case Giles & Snyder, Chapter 10
Wednesday February 28 Reporters' Methods: Responses to the Food Lion story Giles & Snyder, Chapter 14 
Meyer column
Monday March 5 A producter's perspective: 
Lynne Dale, NBC, guest speaker
Wednesday March 7 Group A term papers due
Trade journal reports due
Ethical problems in public relations: James
Fyock, guest speaker.
Giles & Snyder, Chapter 20

Capping Phillips Bravo

Spring Break    
Monday March 19 Midterm Exam 


Wednesday March 21 Student case presentations  Emily Drum: The Seahawk
Ivy Peacock: GE Capital Mortgage
Monday March 26 Social capital, reciprocity, chaos theory, and the Prisoner's Dilemma.  Meyer column: Local media battle for your loyalty.
Wednesday March 28 Financial and non-financial conflicts of interest. The Cokie Watch.  
April 2
Advertiser influence on editorial content: Dan Smith, guest speaker

Group B term papers due

Wednesday April 4 Disturbing images in the news: Richard Griffiths, CNN, guest speaker  
April 9
Violence in the media: an update.
Book reports due
Read Meyer's USAT columns of December 15, 1998 and April 22, 1999.
Wednesday April 11 Terrorism and the Media: Incident in the Mediterranean
April 16
Student case presentations
Kasey Bensinger, Michael Handy, Joseph Monaco
Wednesday April 18 "The Ad and the Ego"
You'll never look at an ad in the same way again.
April 23
WCCO-TV and Northwest Airlines: proof by selected instances; Codes of ethics, news councils, and other accountability systems  
Wednesday April 25 Accuracy in media: the NBC burning truck case.
Privacy and media: the special case of rape
 After Silence in the Media
April 30
Student case presentations
Sarah Katherine Leaver, Terri Rupar
May 2
C. S. Lewis and some parting advice

Group C term papers due

May 7
Final Exam 12 noon
Book Report 

Read a biography of a journalist or a history of a news organization. I've posted a list of possibilities, but there are dozens to choose from, and you are not limited to those on the list.

Evaluate the person or the institution according to the standards advocated by the Hutchins Commission in 1947. Tell whether the libertarian model or the social responsibility model better describes the behavior of the book's subject and explain why you think so. 

Trade Journal Review

Choose one journal from the following list. Read, from cover to cover, one recent (1998-2001) issue. (All are available in the Park Library). Choose one article from that issue that most exemplifies the spirit of the Hutchins Commission report.  Write an essay of 800-1,000 words that explains and justifies your choice.

The trade journals:

American Journalism Review

Your Grade

Grades are weighted as follows:

Trade journal review  20 points
Mid-term exam 20 points
Book report  20 points
Case study report  20 points
Final exam  20 points


Honor Code

As a student at this university, you have accepted a commitment to the Honor Code and the Campus Code, and the principles of academic integrity, personal honesty, and responsible citizenship on which they were founded more than 100 years ago. As a faculty member of this university, I am responsible for its enforcement. As an alumnus, I am emotionally committed to it. Please join me in supporting the Honor Code by signing the Pledge on all written work and consulting me if you are uncertain about your responsibilities within this specific course. 

Additional Online Resources in Media Ethics

    The Centre for Applied Ethics offers links to organizations and publications concerning media and ethics issues.  It also offers a links to sites categorized by topic (e.g., Codes of Ethics, Censorship, News Ethics).
    A variety of sites can provide additional information about the thinkers whose writings have done much to shape modern ethical theory.  They include: