Code of Ethics in Journalism

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In the professional field of journalism it is almost certain that a journalist will face some kind of ethical dilemma throughout his or her career. Delivering news to the public can be extremely difficult in that a reporter must convey a story in the most unbiased and considerate manner. Good journalists must be able to break down an ethical dilemma, assess the problem, and arrive at a moral solution. They must also realize that once they come to his or her conclusion of what they feel is the “right” thing to do that not everyone is going to be happy with the decision. There is always going to be a party that is disgruntled by the choice made but it is up to the journalist to stick by his or her professional decision. It has been 13 years since the tragic shooting at Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado, but for those journalists who covered the horror of that day and the mourning that followed, the details are vivid. At 11:19 a.m. on April 20, 1999, two high school seniors sprayed Columbine high school with bullets that killed 12 students, a teacher, and brutally wounded 23 other students (Poynter). Shortly after, the gunmen Dylan Kleboid and Eric Harris killed themselves with the semi-automatic weapons. Almost immediately after noon, local television station KUSA Denver (NBC affiliate) satellite truck began a live video feed. Meanwhile back at the station, news director Patti Dennis was in charge for the day. News feed and phone calls over flowed the station. Soon all scheduled shows were removed so that the footage could go live continuously. Not only were community residents calling about the story, but national media were already demanding information for their own reports. As video from the scene made it’s way into the station, Patti Dennis immediately saw the images of the wounded children on stretchers and instinctively reacted as a parent instead of a journalist. Dennis demanded there be no tight shots and that she did not want to see any faces. She felt that it was not appropriate and too many parents were bewildered and wondering what was happening. She thought that this would be compromising their privacy (Case II-D). Throughout the early hours of the days of Columbine, Patti and other Denver news director Angie Kucharski led many discussions to talk through live coverage, values, and what should and should not be aired. They discussed with other affiliates in the Denver area to withhold reporting the names of the shooters for several hours until the identities were certain of the bodies. Dennis was very certain that is was important to constantly re-evaluate decisions based on new information. (Poynter) Even hours later as injured students were escaping from the school, calls continued to poor into the local stations. The initial reports from the sheriffs department greatly exaggerated the number of dead. It was said that as many as 25 had died in the massacre, when it was only 12 (jornlism.org). This inaccurate information made its way to the national broadcasts. At the scene was another KUSA reporter who summed up the situation “Bleeding. Screaming. I needed to talk to some of the kids to see what they saw or heard. But you didn’t know how to approach them. I tried to be really sensitive and understanding. I meticulously approached the kids asking nicely. “Do you mind if I ask you some questions? Surprisingly most of them agreed ”(CASE II D). This journalist did a great job of just capturing what was actually happening instead of being a man with a camera. This great footage was heartfelt and sensitive that he thought would be aired later when the emotions weren’t as raw. Unfortunately the footage was being fed directly to the newsroom where CNN had full access to it. (journlism.org). Once CNN got a hand on the footage, local affiliates lost all control. Just the same day it aired nationally, which was not the intentions of Patti Dennis. At one point ABC’s 20/20 aired the same footage of an...
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