Ethics in journalism is not unlike ethical conduct in any other work force or profession. That doesn’t mean that ethics in journalism is the same either, unlike ethics in the workplace, ethics in journalism is more unwritten than anything else. When a journalist does something unethical, it might not be clear to most people, however, when it comes to other journalists and those in the community it is very apparent.
Regardless of the many attributes that journalists have and continue to build over their careers, there is one thing that tops the list, and once that aspect is compromised, then it’s almost always a death blow to a journalist’s career. Being trustworthy or credible is the one aspect that journalists want to convey to their audience, and once that is gone, it’s challenging to gain that trust back. Back in February of 2015 NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams was reporting on the Iraq war and our American soldiers when, according to TIME, “Williams was caught for having repeated a tall tale about his experiences embedded with U.S. troops on a helicopter in the 2003 Iraq War.”
Typically, this would have otherwise gone unnoticed, but because Williams was basically the face of NBC news, a large audience would tune-in weekly to his broadcast. Therefore, when he fabricated parts of the story people caught on and being as social media is as influential as it is, the news spread quickly leading to NBC having to let go of Williams. According to News Reporting and Writing, “Twitter users are quick to find errors, exaggerations and other problems with news coverage. As a result, journalists have responded by becoming much more transparent and by discussing their mistakes and failings.”
After Williams was let go from his nightly duties at NBC News, his name made the rounds on all the late-night talk shows, most of them with their usual jokes but there were a few who went on to remind us of the many credible and dedicated years from Williams. Although he has since found work, his entire career was investigated to see how far back his fabrications went. Williams is one of the very few exceptions that recover from something of this nature, albeit controversial it was not career ending, even though other journalists have done less controversial things and lost their jobs.
Being honest is the cornerstone of a journalist’s career, being credible is the foundation, and knowing that you’re making a difference by showing the world the truth is the reason a journalist gets into the business. There are many other ethical dilemmas that people face on a daily basis, and just because journalists are held to a higher standard does not make them different. People make mistakes, journalists are people too.
Brooks, B., Kennedy, G., Moen, D. R., & Ranly, D. (2014). News reporting and writing (11th ed.). Boston, MA: Bedford/St. Martin’s.
Poniewozik, J. (2015). Why Brian Williams Lost His Job, and Why He Has a New One. Retrieved from http://time.com/3926988/brian-williams-nbc-fired-new-show/