To post or not to post, that is the question. Every day we are faced with decisions, some people, like me, are very indecisive which makes decision making that much more difficult. However, some of the most difficult decisions are those which are ethical and have the potential for great repercussions. Some such decisions are whether a journalist should make public his or her photos or reports. While decisions like these may be difficult, other ethical dilemmas seem more clear cut such as the decision to verify sources and what they tell you.
This seemingly obvious decision was not one chosen when Rolling Stone published a story about a rape at the University of Virginia but the journalist responsible for the article failed to verify sources. One would think that since journalism’s first obligation is to the truth that the author of said article would have done her utmost to confirm the details given to her. As a result, not only was the accused fraternity’s reputation tarnished, but the girl who accused rape and the journalist who reported it also suffered blows to their credibility.
A second ethical dilemma I’d like to discuss is that of Robert A. Durst and his alleged admission of guilt that was recorded whilst filming a documentary for HBO. The filmmakers did not inform law enforcement about their interviews with Durst or the interviews’ contents until months after the fact; questions soon arose around the possible reasons for the delay in notification. Did the filmmakers knowingly withhold this incriminating information? They argue that they were trying to maintain their positions as journalists and filmmakers.
The last ethical dilemma to mention is the issue of photographers digitally enhancing their images in post processing. A picture is as they say worth a thousand words, so shouldn’t it maintain its integrity so as to demonstrate those original words to its audience? The World Press Photo seems to think so as they withdrew an award they gave because the photographer retouched his photo. They said that they chose this course of action in order to “keep[ing] its competition in line with traditional photojournalism.”
These three examples all embody main conflicts that cause ethical dilemmas in journalism. There is then a potential face threat for these journalists: be totally upfront and potentially not present the story the journalist wanted to publish or manipulate the facts for a different result. In cases like that of Rolling Stone it seems more clear-cut: tell the truth and nothing but that and above all: verify the facts! As for the case with Durst, the filmmakers did release the facts, eventually, but they also wanted to maintain their subject’s anonymity for as long as (they deemed) reasonable. This type of situation is automatically a little more ambiguous because the journalist must determine the level of importance for a great many things such as source’s protection, truth, and importance to the audience. The last example, that of the edited photos is possibly the most ethically ambiguous for similar reasons. The photographer has an obligation to the truth, but they also want to make the best photo possible.