Journalism ethics still a problem for the mainstream media
By Tyson Johnson
Eugene, OR — Technology hasn’t been kind to journalism. While the doom and gloom forecasting of the print press continues to be a problem, online sites have distorted the perception on how the public sees mainstream journalists. Alex Tizon, a Pulitzer Prize winner who has written for The Seattle Times and Los Angeles, insists that the future of journalism is a lot brighter than what people believe.
On Wednesday, Tizon spoke to a small crowd of faculty and students at the University of Oregon, concentrating on ethical problems that many journalists today tend to forget.
“We have a lot of power as journalists and it’s easy to forget that when you’re in a little cubicle,” Tizon said. “Words we type out here have an effect on people. We have a tremendous power to harm people as well.”
Tizon, who has won a Pulitzer Prize in investigative reporting in 1997, believes that students focused on journalism professions should concentrate on ethical dilemmas that plague the press today. In his “Navigating through the Gray” presentation, Tizon was eager to explain to students his views on what journalists today should and shouldn’t do.
“There are rules that are not up for debate that there is a right and wrong,” Tizon said.
Case well said. During his tenure at The Seattle Times, Tizon remembers a young reporter who called a bank during a bank robbery. The robbers picked up. What should a journalist do? Interview the criminal and get a front page story or hand the phone to the police?
“That’s one of the challenges for the profession that you’re getting into. You have to make decisions quickly,” Tizon said.
Responses were different. Faculty members employed at the University’s School of Journalism believed that would be the wrong approach. Students were less fearful and many thought talking to the robber would be crucial to a story. Some even believed Twittering the conversation would not be a problem in today’s harsh climate of journalism.
“[Should] we do now and apologize later?” asked a university student concerning the problems of manipulation of news and photo publication.
“You can do a lot of damage in journalism and ultimately it will erode your view and stance in the public,” said Tizon. “You can’t think much about the end result at that point.”
Tizon had time to offer his stance on how to best approach ethical problems. The Pointer Institute at a journalism school in Florida established a set of guidelines that informed journalists on how to better their decisions when challenged. Journalists today are expected to gather all available facts while identifying which persons or group could be hurt while writing a story or article. Tizon was keen on informing students about what to expect when interviewing others and deciding whether to change or modify their quotes when writing a final draft.