By Casey Bukro
Ethics: The word can make you feel drowsy, or start your heart pounding.
It all depends on whether you are suddenly tangled in a job-threatening dilemma, or one that might destroy your credibility.
Ethics: Distinguishing between good and evil in the world, between right and wrong human actions and between virtuous and non virtuous characteristics of people.
Sounds lofty and maybe even remote from our daily journalism lives, until it’s not so remote anymore.
Seated next to me at the Sigma Delta Chi awards banquet in the National Press Club in Washington, D.C. was the editorial writer of a Midwestern newspaper who was waiting to collect his award. A fellow winner at the dinner table asked the editorial writer how his publication had gotten embroiled in a highly controversial ethics issue.
The newspaper had revealed the names of two alleged women rape victims. Typically, publications avoid naming rape victims.
Off-the-record, the editorial writer explained the difficult process of arriving at the decision to name the women. Then he added that the newspaper had no ombudsman or other trusted source to discuss the difficult decision before publication.
At that point, I reached into my pocket and handed him several Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists wallet cards, explaining how to reach AdviceLine in the event of a similar need for ethics counseling. Call toll free, 866-DILEMMA.
The editorial writer seemed grateful, and said he would carry the cards back to his newspaper and hand them out to management.
Back to the banquet. The award dates to 1932, when the Sigma Delta Chi journalism fraternity honored six individuals for contributions to the profession. The Society of Professional Journalists continued the honors as its Distinguished Service Awards, then with a nod to its fraternal roots as the Sigma Delta Chi Awards for Excellence in Journalism.
The awards recognize the best news reporting in print, radio, television, newsletters, art/graphics, online media and research. The contest is open to any U.S. media outlet.
Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists has been guiding professional journalists through ethical minefields since 2001 – more than 900 cases. AdviceLine counsel went online early last year with an expanded ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org website.
AdviceLine’s blog won a 2014 SDX award in the Online Column Writing (Independent) category. The blog comments on current ethics issues and describes the kind of questions it gets from professional journalists on ethics.
Here’s what the judges said in naming the AdviceLine blog the winner:
“Ethics, unfortunately, can be an afterthought in a 24-7/digital-first/anyone-can-publish-content environment. In an area that sometimes has no right or wrong answer, the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists helps media pros navigate murky waters. They are doing a public service and helping shape the way forward for our industry, and that deserves recognition.”
Also deserving recognition are the AdviceLine ethicist consultants: David Ozar, Loyola University Chicago; Hugh Miller, Loyola University Chicago; David Craig, University of Oklahoma; Nancy Matchett, University of Northern Colorado and Lee Anne Peck, University of Northern Colorado.
Probably fair to say each of us has an ethics hero. So as a bow to those who came before us, I’ll mention one of mine: American media critic Walter Lippmann, who said in 1920, “There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.”