Ethical Journalism Is Not an Oxymoron

Wilkins, Lee; Coleman, Renita
June 2005
Nieman Reports;Summer2005, Vol. 59 Issue 2, p52
This article discusses findings of a study which investigated the ethical decision-making of journalists in the U.S. After testing a national sample of journalists, it was revealed that those who do this work are both able and subtle moral thinkers. Their ability to reason about ethical questions in a sophisticated way compares very favorably with those who work in other professions. Only philosophers, theologians and medical doctors show better results than journalists when given the Defining Issues Test. Journalists were asked about their personal beliefs as well as their professional experiences to see if certain aspects of their life and work histories influenced their thinking. Women and men showed themselves equally strong when it came to ethical thinking, as were broadcasters and print journalists. Those who said they placed less emphasis on religion scored better than those who said they placed more importance on religion, as did those journalists who said they viewed the law and news organization policies as very important compared to those who said they placed somewhat less emphasis on these two elements. A dividing line surfaced when journalists who said they had a strong internal sense of right and wrong scored better, as did those who described their work environment as including a significant element of choice. These findings suggested that critical thinking, and activities that promote it, are crucial to sound and high-level ethical thinking whereas strictly following the rules does not always produce high-quality thinking.


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