Where USF faculty, students and graduates are invited to talk about journalism and its problems and opportunities. This blog is not affiliated with the University of San Francisco, nor is the university responsible for any of the opinions expressed herein -- though it is certainly responsible for the people who entertain those opinions, having educated them. They make us proud.

Tuesday, February 21, 2006

Questions of ethics, questions of temperament

The good doctor has asked me to throw a few ethical quandaries on y'alls radar - dilemmas I encountered working for the alt-weekly in Houston for a few years. Maleshefski's set the bar fairly high, so I modestly offer these for your consumption...

1. You're doing a story on those who take jobs for Halliburton-KBR to work in Iraq. The company hosts a job fair at their facilities where they're accepting a good majority of applicants on the spot. When you show up, do you have to identify yourself as a reporter? If not, on the application they give you, what do you put down? Is it ethical to approach other applicants there for interviews?

2. You're doing a story on a Muslim version of The Onion and young Muslim comedians. You hit it off in an interview with one of the comedians and, on the way out of the interview, he asks if you want to smoke up. Do you blaze? Do you include that in the story? (Knowing that, in all likelihood, the kid didn't realize that you, in the reporter and not "new friend" role, might consider including a detail like that.)

3. You're doing an investigative piece on a woman who ran a wolf sanctuary and all the wolves died due to incompetence. You know the evidence in the piece is going to hammer her pretty hard (after the story runs, you get an email from her that contains, among other things, the phrase "ruined my life"). During an interview at her home, you realize she is keeping two wolves as pets, which is against city codes. Later, before the story runs, she begs you not to include that detail as they are her "family" apparently and they'll be impounded. There's plenty of other damning material - do you run the wolves at home bit?

4. It's Super Bowl week. Your paper has sold the front page as an advertisement to Budweiser. Not just any advertisement, but an ad that's made to look like the real front page template of your paper - sort of teasing stories/hype about Budweiser inside. It will wrap around the real cover of the paper. Your best friend at the paper wants to quit because he thinks they've violated a sacred space. Is it that serious of a transgression? Is there a difference between selling the back cover and inside front cover and the front cover itself?

Hope all is well in Cali.



Dave Rinehart said...

1. Don't identify yourself as a reporter. Then you have no story!

2. Don't smoke with the Muslim comedians. People always think it's funny (or at least, I do) when reporters are surrounded by a cloud of smoke when everyone they're interviewing is smoking, but would probably take offense to the reporter him/herself doing it.

3. Wolf sanctuary - hell yes, say there's two wolves in her house!! If she can't manage the sanctuary, I'm scared for her pets. Report it in the story, report it to the authorities.

4. Super Bowl - yes, it's that serious. People would really be upset if an AW like the SF Guardian or Weekly did that. It's the ultimate form of "selling out", and there IS a huge difference between the inside pages and the outside. Avoid at all costs selling out the front page to Bud.

sonresia said...

i only wouldn't completely agree with everything dave says in regards to #3. if her pets didn't look like they were dying, then i wouldn't mention that she had them at all because she's going to get into enough trouble. but if she's killing her pets as well, then 100% agree with everything dave wrote...

Doug said...

- Write down that your occupation is a reporter on the application. If you get kicked out that's fine because there's an aspect to a story in that itself. If nothing happens because you indicate that you're a reporter than so be it and continue doing what you had planned on doing. Interview anyone you can! What's un-ethical about asking people questions? Tell them you're a reporter and let them know what you are covering. If people want to talk to you fine, if they don't, oh well.

- Taking part in the actual "blazing" would remove a lot of credibility from your story. I mean what would you say, "this guy was hi on drugs and acting a certain way," when you yourself were in the same inebriated state as the person you're trying to raise judgment against. I would say pass on the grass and report back on what the situation was like when the comedian got hi.

- Yes. Yes. Yes. Run the story on this life endagering women who thinks it's OK to house two live wild animals in her residance. Who knows, it could be your parents, best friend, or you living next to this psychopath. Inform the athorities and leave the wild animals in the forest.

- Placing a faux-front page cover of a Budweiser advertisement lowers the credibility of the newspaper, at the very least. Front page news is a special part of the printing that is reserved for vital issues, and if it becomes trampled over by beer ads, or any other advertisement for that sake, the cover of the newspaper would loose it's sense of importance.

Katherine said...

- I think identifying yourself as a reporter would make everyone shut up so no dont identify yourself
- Dont smoke, its just a stupid idea because then whatever you write wont be taken as seriously
- If that lady was indangering the lives of those animals and you have to think about her history then yes report it/run it in the story
-do not sell the front page no one will take you as seriously after that

Diane Faith said...

1) Identify yourself as a reporter. People have a right to know who they are talking to and that what they say can be used in a story.

2) No do not get high with them. And if you did why would you include this in a story? It makes you look bad and your credibility goes down.

3) Yes run the wolf story and expose the fact that she has two wolves because she is afterall going against city codes. She is endangering the lives of those wolves and risking the lives of her neighbors.

4) The front page of a newspaper usually contains a very important story. Putting a beer ad or any other ad on the front page is a big deal and should be taken seriously. Putting ads on the front page of a newspaper is taking away the chance for readers to obtain important news quickly, and it takes away the signficance of the front page. Do not put ads on the front page; no one will take your newspaper seriously.

jackson said...

for the first one your writing about the people that take jobs for halliburton, not how they hire these people or anything, just the people that are there getting jobs. im sure in that situation you can tell them your a reporter.
maybe write an editorial on the budwiser thing, see how the papers audience would respond, and if things go the way i hope they do, budwiser will relize that kind of thing is too much.
the other two have been answered to my satisfaction by others

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