Fairness to the Dead

By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists

Hikers find the body of a 36-year-old man drowned in the Adirondack wilderness.

The victim had Huntington’s disease, which also afflicted his mother and two brothers.

An Arizona reporter writing about the death discovers that the drowning victim had served eight years in prison for kidnapping a young woman in Arizona, and the man was listed as a sexual predator. The newspaper’s manager editor calls the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists asking if it is necessary to tell about the man’s criminal history in his obituary.

Put yourself in the editor’s place. What would you do? What is most ethical? Mention the man’s criminal past or omit it?

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The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional Journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or ethicsadvicelineforjournalists.org

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