Thursday, October 29, 2009

Gene Foreman worth listening to on journalism ethics. My experience taught me that it's most critical to talk before acting.

Gene Foreman is one of the good guys. A seasoned journalist worth listening to. He's got a new book, The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News (Wiley-Blackwell, $59.95), described in a Philadelphia Inquirer article as "a practical guide to ethics for novice newsies and veterans alike - and for anyone interested in the media."

I agree that case studies are a great way to go in training journalists. But the most important thing to teach may be the value of talking about our work, not just rushing headlong into things. That especially applies to ethical questions. It's one thing to recognize an ethical question; of course, it's absolutely critical. But it's another to know how to talk about such decisions. It's so important to have an environment where people feel comfortable challenging the consensus view in an organization or the views of the leaders of an organization. I hated it when I was an editor and learned we hadn't discussed an ethical issue before taking action. If we had had a good discussion without me, even if I didn't agree with the result, at least I knew that we had followed a process for approaching our work. (I also came to believe that it was very important that editors share their thinking with the public about the tough decisions they made. That's a benefit of an editor's blog. It allows journalists to talk about their work in real time.) Journalists are generally by nature very independent. But when it comes to ethics, they're not just acting for themselves. They're acting as representatives of an organization. So if they're not talking about these things, they could get themselves and their employer in trouble. Yet it's not as easy as it might seem to get people talking.


  1. I have gone through the reviews of this books of Gene Foreman. I have heard him saying that news organizations need to create a new business model to support journalism, But I am afraid to say that till today's date nobody has come up with one so far.


  2. John, Chris Lopez here. I'm editor of El Paso Times now. Got a question for you offline in terms of a former staffer of yours at the Rocky. Wondering if you can shoot me a call on my cell, 720-891-6759. Thanks. My email is

  3. John,
    I would add journalists are not just acting for themselves and their organization but also for their profession, which a large segment of the population regards with skepticism and suspicion.

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