Ethics in Journalism

WDIV TV news anchor Devin Scillian says the best advice he can give any journalism student is to take a course in ethics.

“It’s such an eye opener,” Scillian says. “It seems like a lot of journalists just go out and learn as they go. It is very critical and important that all journalists take the course, so they have some training and learn to deal with ethical issues before they get into the field.”

Regardless of the outlet, every facet of the journalism world faces ethical issues and concerns. Dealing is not easy, but using codes of conduct like that of the Society of Professional Journalists can help making ethical decisions a bit easier.

After 27 years working in the journalism world, WDIV news anchor Devin Scillian has learned a thing or two about reporting and faced many situations of ethical questioning along the way.

According to Scillian, one of the biggest ethical issues comes with the need for live, to-the-moment news. People are often seeing the news at home as newscasters are reading it for the first time.

“Are you really a journalist if you don’t have the time to confirm?” Scillian asked.

Another aspect that Scillian cites as being an ethical dilemma is choosing which stories to cover, as well as which not to cover.

At the Channel 4 news room, they take into account many sources and story options, but it is still a matter of ethics deciding which story is worth covering and defending why others weren’t.

While the SPJ code suggests that people “Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so,” not every story can be covered and choices need to be made. This leaves some without coverage.

According to Scillian, in the newsroom, they talk things out and focus on resources and space, as well as how the story will work in different media outlets. But despite the many factors they consider, there will always be some regret in what couldn’t be covered.

Each story makes an impression, however. For example, Scillian mentioned, the Kwame Kilpatrick case is a big ethical concern. After being covered for years, the continued repetition of Kilpatrick’s name on many news outlets, including Channel 4, left audiences making assumptions based on reports they’ve heard from the news in the past.

“If we were not fair somewhere, that little piece of unfairness stays around,” Scillian said. “For example, many people still believe in the rumors about what went on at the Manoogian Mansion party, though there was no actual proof of the events.”

Being fair and balanced is easier said than done. Using codes of ethics can help make things easier, though there is never a right and wrong answer. Having proper training helps people learn to handle these situations in an appropriate way and really understand the outcome, however, according to Scillian.

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