ethics sign

Welcome to Ethics! Population: All of us (hopefully)

How would you go about solving an ethical dilemma? In this week’s lecture, our instructor Justin Kings proposed going through a three-step process to solve such a dilemma by asking the following questions:

1. What are your motivations?
2. What are the likely effects of the decision and who would be affected?
3. Where does my duty lie strongest?

I think these questions provide a great jumping off point in helping to focus on what is important in making the best decision. However, even after some self-examination, I still like to consult with a colleague or a friend when facing a tough ethical decision in work or in life.

Let’s put this process to the test with a dilemma that was proposed during the lecture. Justin showed us a portion of a panel discussion featuring Professor Norman Lewis, who posed this question: “Would you send a Facebook friend request to the friend of a murder suspect without identifying yourself as a journalist?” (see video below at 29:55)

As I go through the three-step problem solving process for this proposed issue, I’d like to keep care ethics (defined as ethical decisions which care for people and go toward building/strengthening relationships) in mind:

1. My motivation is to grab that “get” for my readers/viewers that they would only find from my news organization (and this interview would be a huge get). However, my motivation is also to minimize harm and I think the friend of this murder suspect would be more upset if she found out I was a journalist later on versus right away.

2. The entities affected by my decision to identify (or not identify) myself up front would be myself, my news organization, the community and the source (friend of the suspect). If I do not identify myself as a journalist up front, the source could decide to talk to me (or not). If the source does to talk to me, it would be a great scoop. Or, the source could become upset and instead talk to a competing news organization that is more upfront. The community could go without getting this additional information from the source, but that could happen whether I identify myself right away or not.

3. Above all, my strongest duty lies in serving the community, which the source is part of.

After going through the three-step process, I would talk to my managers to figure out the best course of action.

Here’s what I would most likely do: First, send the source a message on Facebook and identify who I am right away. If the source did not respond to my Facebook message, I would reach out to her by phone and in person in the spirit of care ethics to build that relationship. It’s best not to burn that bridge because while she may not want to talk at that moment, she may want to talk later on and I want her to talk to me.