How to teach journalism ethics in a mixed media world

One of the leading thinkers on journalism ethics, Stephen Ward, laid out a six-point approach towards teaching journalism ethics at a time of media transition at the Journalism Interactive conference.

Ward’s starting point is that in a mixed media environment, everyone has the potential to perform an act of journalism.

As a consequence, he argued, ethics is for everyone.  The responsible use of media tools needs to be taught across the curriculum. This means that media ethics is not just for journalism students but for all.

For Ward, ethics is a vital part of journalism.  He said teaching ethics was essential as it is key to the identity of the responsible journalist. A code of ethics separates the journalist from the world of content producers.

But, at the same time, Ward acknowledged that there is no longer one set of ethics. Instead, we need to deal with pluralism of today’s ethics.

He argued journalism ethics needs to accommodate different approaches in journalism that have not been included in traditional journalism ethics. For example, the notion of the activist journalist, the reformist journalist or the participatory journalist.

The starting poing should be with the student experience of the media, and encourage them to reflect on their use and practice.

Professors should take a transitional in how to teach ethics, allowing students to go back and forth between traditional ethical approaches and emerging ethical approaches.

Finally, Ward wrapped up by arguing that journalist students and educators need to take an international approach and consider a global journalism ethics. This would include approaches to journalism ethics from other countries.

His rallying call was for journalism ethics to “revolutionize thyself”

Ward is director of the Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin, and a friend and former colleague from UBC Journalism.

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