Category Archives: JOUR 4470

A semester of ethical consideration

This semester I have learned more about ethics for journalists then I ever thought I would need to know. As a matter of fact, I have even begun to apply the theories I’ve learned to my every day actions and decisions. I considered using the Potter’s box when thinking about eliminating a friendship. I also found myself justifying my actions through ethical theories. Many students only take this course in order to fulfill a requirement for graduation… I was one of those students. After taking the class and absorbing the material can I honestly say I understand why this class is a core requirement. I believe that all students should be required to take an ethics course within their field before they are allowed to walk the stage.



The theory that I found most interesting this semester was Egoism. I never knew there was a theory out there that actually gave credit to doing what is best for yourself or self-interest. Theories that revolve around individualism have left a bad taste in my mouth. They lead me to believe that they were only created to justify bad or obviously unethical (in my opinion) behavior. The theory that I connected with the most was Utilitarianism. The idea that “the greatest good for the greatest amount of people,” seems to make the most sense to me or better said aligns closest with my belief system. It is a fact that not every action will please everyone, but if a majority of individuals in any given population are served better or have a better outcome the action could be justified.



Another area that has caused me to engage in deeper though was the consideration of libel on social media. I am guilt of over-sharing on social media site, and now I am more conscience of the topics I choose to post about. In my opinion social media is a growing phenomenon that is not going anywhere anytime soon. I believe that as social media become more ingrained in our daily lives, the implications of social media behavior will present itself as a more widely addressed topic. Social media has enhanced my friendships as well as allowed me to make professional connections. Ethical practices on social media are now something that I look at as a requirement.


Reading and learning the codes of ethics for advertising, public relations and marketing was very informative. I was able to connect concepts between the different communication fields and have the intension of applying these theories in future work. The PRSA code of ethics stood out the most to me, perhaps since I was a PR major. Some of the guidelines set forth by the organization seem like common sense or proper etiquette; however I know that if it had to be written there must have been a reason. Of all the guidelines maintaining a free flow of information seems the most important to me, specifically for public relations. With advertising and marketing the profit is the bottom line, however in public relations, creating a transparent relationship between clients and their stakeholders is most important. The act of being transparent is something that most definitely requires ethical considerations and actions.



Ethical behavior practices are important in every field, but journalists are tasked with communicating with large public communities. Therefore the burden of acting ethically and reporting responsibility is greater for us. Having a sound moral compass is something that develops with time, age, experience and knowledge. The Mayborn School of Journalism’s ethics course has taught me more about not only ethical theories but also about myself. I have left this class a better person.


User’s Liability on Social Media


Social media has fast become the primary source of communication among Americans. With this evolution comes an implication of perceived rights and privileges. One of the most important concepts to individuals in American society is the “right to privacy.” Although, technically, we are not given a constitutional right to privacy, it is a value that many take very seriously.


Facebook and Twitter are realms in which people share their lives, both personally and professionally. This creates a dilemma in the sense that privacy is not an immediate concern, until an issue arises. With the many updates to Facebook have come the evolvements of privacy settings. Allowing users to control the flow of information presented to the world. The newest social platform, Google + has taken the privacy concept a step further by allowing users to hand pick the people in which information is directed to. These changes are strides in the right direction; however, the awareness of these options is not widely recognized.


Another issue that is prevalent in the social media world is the rise in libel. Many people use social media platforms for personal purposes. This leads to sharing opinions, opinions that at times can cause harm to others, leading to libel which leads to legal inferences. Although many users of social media are young adults, this is a serious matter that should not be taken lightly. I expect to see a rise in the number of cases brought to court over social media libel. Although the first Facebook libel case was presented and thrown out this past summer, I expect to see many more in the next few years.  Something else individuals should keep in mind is the fact that once something is written it can be permanent. According to the blog Splendid Communications, once you delete a post on Facebook, it can still be accessed. This is something that lawyers will probably use in future cases.


Social media etiquette or being grammatically responsible when dealing with others online is imperative and might possibly need to be taught in high school or middle school for future generations to understand the seriousness of the matter. Perhaps there should be a rulebook for people on the usage of social media, but until that day individuals must regulate themselves. The first step in this process, and perhaps the most important, is knowing what libel is and what is considered defamatory.  Although blogs are used as a medium for self-expression they are also viewed as places where people go to get information and often times use the content as if it were concrete fact.  In my opinion, the burden for regulation and choosing words carefully is most pressing for bloggers.



There have been many situations in which one’s actions online have come back to haunt them in real life. A personal experience of mine revolves around friend who was injured at a club on New Years Eve a few years back. She was a recent college graduate and had not removed any pictures from her college party years. When she sued the club for her medical bills, the defense lawyers attempted to paint a picture of her as a heavy-drinking party girl, which she was not. They even went as far as to take pictures from her Facebook account (some of which I was in) and blow them up to display in the courtroom. Upon entering the court my friend was shocked to find pictures from Halloween and other “fun nights on Fry street.”  This is a great example of the importance of privacy settings on Facebook and controlling the content you share with the world.


Professionally, public relations specialists need to inform clients of the ramifications of the words used online. Companies can get into grey areas when writing about competition or other companies, even on their personal pages, especially if they are publically associated with a certain company.


The power of words expressed online has been very evident in recent months with the rise in suicides because of online bullying. The social and other media campaigns that have been launched in response show the benefits and the influence of the new medium. Overall, individuals should approach their online presence the same way they approach every day life. The decisions we make online are no different and have the same consequences as those in real life.

Classical Ethics and Modern Advertising and PR

As the realms of public relations and advertising become more digitally based the idea of having a set standard for ethics within those industries seems to be what many in the public would like to see. Currently, the perception of modern public relations and advertising practice is that the industries are amoral and that their intent is to deceive and mislead.

Due to the fact that so many motives can be hidden behind a great Ad campaign or PR platform and the public’s involvement in these forms of communication has been growing, so grows their demand for transparency. The consumer now wants to know if that blogs that endorses Wal-Mart is getting paid or the mom who pushes a certain brand is being compensated. Corporate transparency is becoming an unspoken expectation in today’s communications world. This ideal is one of the reasons that PR and advertising are moving towards a more ethically open environment.

One of the many ethical theories that modern advertising professionals apply is Egoism. Egoism states that an act is moral if and only if it best promotes the long-term self-interest. Many advertising agencies practice egoism by creating controversial campaigns that benefit the brand or client in the long haul. The idea that enlightened self-interest is the basis for many actions within the advertising world might seem like a stretch at first, but once you think it over you can find many examples of egoism in advertising. One example would be the Groupon fiasco after the Super Bowl ads were aired. Although the campaign was tasteless and offensive to many, the brand was discussed in classrooms around the world; Twitter was filled with commentary about the incident; and articles were written in every major newspaper in the country. It got people talking and inevitability the company saw growth, which was the end goal.

Aristotle developed the golden mean theory or virtue-based ethics. With this theory the fact that something is ethical does not necessarily mean that it is the “right” thing to do. In public relations and advertising, virtue based ethics aims to establish equally beneficial relationships between the client and the organization. This approach applies heavily to the world of public relations. Because PR is about relationship building between a client and the public, trust and transparency are required. Although public relations professionals have gotten a bad wrap over the years as “spin-doctors” or liars, public relations professional attempt to maintain their clients’ image while maintaining a sense of open dialogue with the public. Virtue based ethics allows for PR professionals to do this.

Although the approaches of these two strategic fields are different, the end goal is the same: provide the maximum amount of return on investment for the client. With advertising obviously this involves money, however with public relations this return has to do with the public’s view of the organization/company. Proceeding ethically is important for any company or organization specifically those who are in industries that’s success or validity depend on it, such as non-profit charities.

There are so many ethical theories out there that look at the reasonings behind people or organizations’ actions. New ones are being developed daily. In an industry that’s main purpose is to communication a message, whether an advertisement meant to encourage the consumer to purchase a product or a public relations tactic that aims to create a relationship between client and its publics; the main purpose of these industries is to communicate. It is imperative to the future success of these fields that the public feels a sense of trust.

Need for Ethics in PR and Business

As the field of Public Relations changes the demand for transparency from corporations grows. With the internet dominating the way in which this generation communicates, guidelines should be in place for correct, acceptable and ethical behavior online. Many people now get their news or information from personalized sites, whether that be blogs, news feeds from across the globe or traditional media outlets. This shift in the way in which Americans consume media and information has affected the PR and the business world completely different.

The goals or objectives for public relations and business are obviously different. From a business stand point, your return on profit is your bottom line and therefore the need for ethics and an ethical code is clear; on the other hand, a public relations practitioner deals with the relationship between a company and its publics. Ethics is apart of the PR practice. It should be ingrained in PR practitioners’ daily actions.

One inquiry that could be raised when considering ethics in media would be the differentiation between being “ethical” and censorship. This past week, a hip-hop artist, Soulja Boy, release a song via Twitter and his blog in which he insulted the United States Army. The song was release less than a week before the anniversary of 9/11. From an artists’ stand point, Soulja has the right to say what he wants, however I wonder what his PR people and record label had to say about this insensitive gesture. If this was a song he produced and recorded on his own time and with his own money, do the “suits” behind him at his record label have a right to interject? One could argue that if it is affecting his marketability or him as a brand than yes. Do celebrities and artists give up the right to free speech and expressing their political views once they sign on the dotted line? Or is that the price they pay for the fame and wealth?

Another great example of ethical behavior in the media is the pulling of a highly rated show, Real Housewives of Beverly Hills, after the untimely suicide of one of the cast member’s husbands. The suicide is reportedly a direct result of the show and its portrayal of the man. After the incident, many news outlets and blogs were asking the question “will the show go on?” The premiere of the show was highly anticipated and was scheduled for a month or so after the tragedy. Needless to say, BRAVO is a corporation about the bottom line, and therefore the show goes on. This is such an ethical dilemma to someone like me, I now question if I should continue to watch the show. However, one should also consider the role Taylor, the actual housewife, who lost her husband, played in the decision to continue the show. She is now without a husband, and from the looks of season one, in debt with no source of income, barring the show. Therefore, I wonder, what would a newly-single mother accustomed to living a certain lifestyle do when faced with this hand of cards? Is she immoral or unethical for continuing to participate in a show that was ultimately the catalyst for her husband’s death?

There is no question that every specification in the world of media and communications should have an ethical code and guidelines by which to follow. The online world of blogs and the continuum of information available leaves the window of immorality and corruption wide open.