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Media Ethics

Posted by Dak Dillon on September 11, 2008

         People started filing in to the media ethics session, which consisted of a short scene from “The Front Page”, nearly 15 minutes before it started. Although the event started out with a modest crowd of four, by the time it got going, the audience had swelled to about 30 people. Though the wooden folding chairs were set up in four rings, all of the audience members sat on the side closer to the door so that the actors could feel like they were on a stage instead of in a round. There was a brief panic before the panel began when an actor, the former chair of the theater department, could not be located, but he turned up right at nine. Before the three actors began their scene, Lee Wilkins, one of the moderators of the event, introduced Jay Black, the other moderator, who she described as “failing at retirement.” Black first asked for a moment of silence in remembrance of 9/11 and then gave a brief intro to “The Front Page,”a play that was first produced in 1928. The actors then came out to give the setup for the scene they were about to perform. An anarchist, Earl Williams, who is sentenced to hang the next day for killing a police officer, breaks out of jail and is found by reporter Hildy Johnson. Hildy hides Earl in a desk and calls his editor. In the scene, Hildy is torn between his fiancée Peggy (who he was supposed to go to New York with) and his editor, who pushes him to write the story.

            After finishing their scene, the actors departed and the session turned into a seminar (described by Black as “where you guys do all the thinking and the professor acts sagacious”) that could have been a Principles class. The first question posed was what exactly news is. The answers included:

·      “News is what makes the boss happy”

·      “News is what sells newspapers”

·      Historically, “news has been that which is out of the ordinary…war and crime will always be news”


Talk quickly turned to the state of newspapers today in the face of new media like blogs. The prevalence of rumors being taken from blogs and placed as fact in news stories was lamented, as was the free reign that is given to people in the comments sections of online media. Many of the journalists in attendance were obviously frustrated by the perceived lack of concern for accuracy by the current media and people’s apparent decreasing amount of concern for that accuracy. Wilkins asked, “What do you do…when people don’t want to be convinced by facts anymore?”

Black then took over again to discuss the importance of having a process as a journalist and how vital it is to “transcend a gut reaction” when making decisions about stories. He said that “the experienced editors make decisions faster…but…can justify them better than the inexperienced ones.”

He also posed the following questions that journalists should ask themselves:

·      What’s your problem?

·      Is it bigger than the rules?

·      Who wins, who loses?

·      What’s it worth?

·      Who’s whispering in your ear?

·      How will it look on facebook, myspace, or youtube?

Despite all the problems facing journalists today—those in print especially Wilkins ended the session on an optimistic note. “(Right now,) I am unwilling…to give up in despair…I am not willing to give up and throw in the towel…”she said.

Story by Stacey Schutzman, Photos by Dak Dillon, view more pictures here


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