What’s your stake in ethical decisions?

By · Wednesday, December 26th, 2018

not teaching,
still THINKING …

When it comes to making ethical decisions, a good place to start is by considering three specific stakeholders and then asking yourself key questions about them. It’s a methodical process, and it works.

First, the stakeholders:

  1. Audience. This includes your news consumers; your many sources; and your advertisers.
  2. Peers and profession. This includes your newsroom colleagues and the bigger community of professional journalists.
  3. Yourself. This means that while every decision may not go your way, you must make your point of view heard, stand up for yourself and be comfortable with the way things are done. Do the right thing.

Now, the 10 key questions to ask about these stakeholders when an ethical issue arises:

  1. What stake does each constituency have in this discussion? Are there any hidden interests, ones that are not readily apparent?
  2. Are there any ways in which these interests are in direct conflict? How?
  3. How might each be helped or harmed, or otherwise affected by the different decisions we could make?
  4. Is there one stakeholder’s interest that seems pre-eminent and that should “rule” the discussion?
  5. How would each stakeholder view each possible decision? What might the perception of each be?
  6. Are the interests of the least powerful fairly represented?
  7. Should we reach outside our newsroom for other views from the community or the profession?
  8. Are there any long-term effects on any stakeholder that we might not see today?
  9. Are there alternative ways or compromises to accomplish our goals that relieve these ethical pressures we have identified?
  10. Is our decision one that we would be comfortable sharing openly?

Ethical issues come at us fast. As journalists, we look at our profession as a service, not just a job. And acting ethically is at the heart of it.

(These two profs are no longer teaching at Syracuse University’s Newhouse School, but we are still thinking.)

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