Professional Problems and Ethics in Journalism
Journalism 141 - Philip Meyer
Spring 2000 - 376 Carroll Hall - 962-4085

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Prof. Philip Meyer

"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:

1. A critical study of traditional journalistic values, the historical forces that created them, and the current trends that threaten them.

2. An evaluation of "public journalism," a conscious attempt by some media managers to change their subculture -- and possibly its value system.


The required texts are:

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, 1998-1999

Supplementary: Philip Meyer, Ethical Journalism, 1987. (On reserve in the Undergraduate 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, 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.

 Class Schedule
Wednesday January 12 Overview of the course. Picture-taking session
Wednesday January 19 The Food Lion case. Discussion. Read Meyer’s USAT column of February 17, 1999.
SPJ/Quill look at Food Lion vs. ABC
Bob Steele of the Poynter Institute discusses the ethical issues in the Food Lion Case
January 24
Three theories of the press. Professionalism. The battle for journalism’s soul. Browse the Hutchins Commission report.
"The Hutchins Commission, Half a Century On" from The Media Studies Journal
Wednesday January 26 Economics of the news business and how it affects the values of journalism. Read Meyer’s December 1995 AJR article.
The State of the American Newspaper, an initiative of the
Project for Excellence in Journalism and funded by the Pew 
Charitable Trusts, examines economic and industry trends in the newspaper business.
Monday January 31 The moral philosophers in the Western tradition and postmodern efforts to improve on them: Aristotle to Habermas
Links to a number of sites with information about influential Western philosophers are located below.
Wednesday February 2 When moral values are a moving target: The Miami Herald case.
Monday February 7 Guest speaker TBA. 
Wednesday February 9 Moral values as a moving target: plagiarism and you. Read Meyer’s USAT column of May 10, 1999
Plagiarism: What It Is and How to Recognize and Avoid It
Monday February 14 Relationships with sources. Absence of Malice, Part I
Wednesday February 16 Absence of Malice Part II. Discussion

Trade journal reports due!

Monday February 21 Issues of race in mass communications. 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 23 Role of the media in allocating resources: "A Case of Need."
Monday February 28 Ethical dilemmas in community journalism. Guest speaker TBA  The Gary Hart Story: How It Happened
Wednesday March 1 Terrorism and the media. "Incident in the Mediterranean" Group A term papers due
Monday March 6 When news sources are victims. The special case of rape.
After Silence in the Media
Wednesday March 8 Midterm Exam (Click to access)
Monday March 20 Social capital, reciprocity, chaos theory, and the Prisoner’s Dilemma. Book reports due!
Wednesday March 22 When community values and yours are in conflict. The Charlotte Observer case.
Monday March 27 Student case presentations
Wednesday March 29 Financial and non-financial conflicts of interest. Cokie Roberts. Group B term papers due
Monday April 3 Advertiser influence on editorial content: The Los Angeles Times
Wednesday April 5 Social influence and advertising: "The Ad and the Ego"
Monday April 10 Violence in the media: an update. Read Meyer’s USAT columns of December 15, 1998 and April 22, 1999.
Wednesday April 12 Student case presentations
Monday April 17 Accuracy in reporting. The NBC burning truck case
Wednesday April 19 The ethics of pre-election polls. 
Monday April 24 Public journalism as a tool in election coverage
Wednesday April 26 Student case presentations
Monday May 1 Codes of ethics, news councils, and other accountability systems
Monday May 3 C. S. Lewis and some parting advice

Group C term papers due

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 two journals from the following list. Read, from cover to cover, one recent (1998-2000) issue of each. (All are avilable in the Park Library). Write a comparative evaluation that answers the following questions:

 Your Grade

Grades are weighted as follows:

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