McGuire on Media

2010 Media Ethics and Diversity syllabus has undergone big changes

I indicated in an earlier blog my ethics and diversity class needed to change big time this year. I last taught the class in the fall of 2008. For my money the ethics landscape has changed dramatically since that last syllabus. That meant back to the garage this year and the changes are significant.

I started with a new textbook. I have had my doors blown off by Gene Foreman’s new text, The Ethical Journalist.

I wrote Gene an email last week and said this: “I ditched (a previous text) this year for your book. As I prepare specific lessons, I am blown away by how good this book is. It is practical, insightful and even-handed.  Your legacy is vast, but this book is a magnificent addition to that legacy.”

As effusive as that praise was, I didn’t tell him what I told another friend in an e-mail today: “Gene Foreman has written a text called The Ethical Journalist. It is just tremendous. You’ll seldom hear me say anything like this, but it is far better than anything I could write!” The truth is I had been considering writing an ethics text. Gene’s book makes that unnecessary. It is so good I finally found humility!

The underpinnings of the changes I’ve made are reflected in that earlier blog. As I wrote in that entry, “That is where my new class of students enters the ethics fray. Time-honored ethical practices are under attack. The scary thing is we probably can’t even identify the attacking enemy. But that raises the question of whether we simply allow ethics to erode or if we think ethical standards are worth saving.”

I also decided the class needed more of a sense of narrative so I divided the course into four sections. Section one covers the ethical constructs that need to be considered. Section two will move on to how fundamental ethical principles are evolving. Section three will focus on the diversity part of the class. I will conclude the class by leading students in understanding the duties and obligations of the  reporter, editor and the reader.

Click on more to find the syllabus. I hope you find it helpful.

Media Ethics and Diversity

Arizona State University

Spring Semester

JMC 366-03

SLN 25141

1:30-2:45 p.m Tues-Thurs.

Cronkite Room 314


Tim McGuire: Frank Russell Chair for the Business of Journalism

Office: Cronkite 363

Office phone: 602-496-1812


Office hours: Tuesday: 2:45p.m.-4:45 p.m.

Wednesday: 2-3 p.m.

Thursday: 2:45-4:45.

AND by appointment. I prefer appointments whenever possible even during office hours.

Required texts and recommended reading:

Please purchase and read as assigned:

The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel (revised 2007 edition), Three Rivers Press (paperback)

The Ethical Journalist by Gene Foreman, Wiley-Blackwell ( Please order this book online. It is not in the bookstore. It is essential that you get it right away.)

Read all assigned online material and be ready to discuss and present.

You will also be responsible for reading the assigned web sites for the day they are listed. (N.B. All the links worked on Jan12. Please inform me right away if you find a link that’s not working.)

Further recommended reading and viewing:

Jim Romenesko’s daily briefing at

McGuire on Media (Please see this entry

It was adapted from the words below.)

State Press

Course Description:

Journalism is marked by tough choices and a complicated set of responsibilities. There are few right and wrong answers, but there are responsible ways to think about those answers. When making ethical decisions we must get beyond “gut instinct” and use accepted decision-making processes and formulas.

The media ethics landscape has been seriously complicated in the last few years by the ubiquity of 24/7 news, the Wild West nature of the internet and the reduction of newsroom resources. Our ethical principles are under attack and you, the journalist and reader of the future, have to make some difficult decisions about the ethics you want to guide journalism.

The above words were written in August of 2008. They all remain true but now they should probably be written in all caps. Media ethics are under daily assault. The Tiger Woods case is a perfect example of how gossip sites, the internet and the weakened control of mainstream media combine to make sound ethical decisions more of an abstract aspiration than a daily practice.

In an almost chilling commentary to a recent blog I wrote about the Tiger Woods case Adam Kress wrote this insightful comment: “I agree with you completely on all the arguments about journalistic responsibility and ethics. Those are the standards that guide my career. But what you fail to realize is that this story is not about journalism, it’s about how information is dispersed in 2009 and beyond. The “story” is no longer owned and operated by the mainstream media, it’s owned by the people. The people have made their desires known, and like it or not, it’s not to wait for the AP report. The people do not have a right to know the Tiger story, but they furiously demand it.”

An old friend of mine named John Matthews made this comment on the same blog: “The 24/7 electronic news cycle (oxymoron) has overwhelmed the ‘right to’ and ‘need to’ know. I concur with your conclusion. I also believe your voice is totally lost in the media sewer that spews solid waste to a populace that has or is losing faith in what was once considered respected sources and a respected profession.”

If Kress is correct and what the “audience demands” has become the new ethical prerogative civil public discourse in America could be in for a bumpy ride. If Matthews is correct, perhaps a return to ethical standards for mainstream media practitioners can restore faith to the news gathering process.

That is where this class enters the ethics fray. Time-honored ethical practices are under attack. The scary thing is we probably can’t even identify the attacking enemy. But that raises the question of whether we simply allow ethics to erode or if we think ethical standards are worth saving.

The crucial question that must be raised in this debate is who is going to make that decision about the correct media ethics path to pursue. Will it be old-fuddy-duddy-former-editors-come-lately-to-journalism teaching? Or will it be the journalists of tomorrow represented by people in this class?

I believe it will be you, but I want you to be able to explore the arguments and processes that formed the backbone of yesterday’s decisions at the same time you appreciate that you live in a different world than I experienced.

This will be an applied ethics course using ethical thinking and real life cases to discern the best ways to arrive at fair decisions for readers and news subjects. Both aspiring journalists and aspiring media users will gain insight into how journalists should fulfill their responsibility to the public.

The course will examine how print and broadcast news outlets make news decisions and how they should make those decisions. The course will also help students decide how, as professionals, they want to make judgments about which ethical constructs to use, how fundamental principles are evolving, and diversity as an ethics question and your own ethical obligations as a reporter, editor and news director.

The course will: explore why great journalism is essential to our society and how it is different than it was; introduce us to ethical philosophy and popular ethical models and decision-making tools; explore the essential and elusive nature of truth; study whether celebrity coverage and the public’s demand for gossip has irrevocably changed the ethical landscape; explore traditional privacy and privacy in the computer age; emphasize the horrors of plagiarism and fabrication; study race, gender and courage in an ethical context; explore how we can create more diverse news reports and why we should do that; explore how we can ethically manage sources and avoid letting sources hijack our stories; examine the dangers of anonymous sources and other source deceptions; explore conflicts of interests, institutional and personal; study reporter obligations and accountability and examine photo and video ethics.

Course Requirements:

  1. Attendance policy is quite simple. I will take attendance every class. Perfect attendance, being in your seat at the start of every class and at the end of every class, will result in 3 extra credit points. The quizzes will serve as the only other incentive to attend class. I understand emergencies happen so exceptional absences are built into the quiz process. I do not rate the quality of excuses. I entertain none. At the beginning of the class I will hand out tent cards. I will ask you to put your name on the card and bring it to each class. It is important that you remember them for each class.

2. Participation: This is going to be a fluid class emphasizing discovery and recognition. Each student must read the assigned material and watch the web closely to apply the things we learn in class and participate in class discussion to enrich that discovery process. Personal experience tells me that much of your success in the workplace will depend on your ability to articulate your ideas with assertiveness, imagination and impact. I expect the same in class discussion, and I will not be sanguine about the “quiet” ones. You must express yourself well in my class and in the world. One to five points will be awarded for participation. I may well depart from past practice and call on people because I feel it is so important that you learn how to express yourself on your feet.

3) Critical thinking is necessary to make the discovery process work. There will be a few absolutes, but much of the course will concentrate on sorting out the gray areas on many issues. That requires good critical thinking. Analysis, synthesis and evaluation will be required in all written assignments

4) Write required papers at required lengths in the style assigned. All written assignments must be delivered on time. Memos should be typed single space in 12 point Times New Roman. The final paper may be double-spaced. Failure to get assignments delivered on time (the beginning of class on the day due) will result in a failure for the assignment. I am not reasonable on that point. I will award zeroes without hesitation. The capability to electronically transmit assignments means there will be NO excuses for late assignments.

5) There will be twelve 10 question quizzes. The lowest two will be dropped creating a 100 possible point base. Your score on those 100 quiz questions will constitute 30 per cent of your grade in the class. The quizzes will not be particularly difficult. If you read the material for reasonable comprehension you should do well on the quizzes.

6) Thirty percent of the class grade will be based on three ethics memos analyzing three cases in three different subject areas we discuss. You can write the memos on any case you wish. This includes cases we are going to discuss that day or after, or they may analyze cases you find in the media or on your web site. (More later.) No memo will be accepted on a case we have already discussed in class. These should be typed, single spaced, one-page memos. The student should write the memo as if she/he were a reporter, editor or producer at a news organization and is giving advice about the case to the top editor or the news director. It should begin with a memo format (to/from/re/date), followed by the following four sections: Background of case, alternatives (pros and cons), how modern media realities have affected the case and recommended action. These assignments will test not only your grasp of the material, but your ability to analyze the cases, use the processes we’ve discussed, provide alternatives and an analysis of each alternative and a recommendation in a single page. Late papers (those handed in after the beginning of the class the case is due to be discussed) will be awarded zeroes. I will grade the memos as objectively as I can on these five criteria: A.)The quality of the selection of cases you choose to analyze. Originality, thoroughness and creativity will be prized. B.)Concise, active, interesting and ACCURATE writing. You are journalism students. It should show. Copy errors, gross grammar errors and fact errors will cost you points. C.) Issue spotting, that is successfully identifying ethical issues we have studied, and incorporating them into the cases you cite. A premium will be placed on the number of ethical models and constructs you cite and examine. D.) Quality analysis, synthesis and evaluation of the ethical constructs and decision-making you use to express your view on the case E.) The clarity and quality of your recommendation. Each case you discuss must include your final ethical judgments on what the practitioners SHOULD have done. These memos will have staggered due dates. The class will be divided into quarters and we will draw to see what group has which due dates. A group deadlines will be Feb 9, March 9, and April 6. B group deadlines will be Feb. 16, THURSDAY March 11 and April 13. Group C deadlines will be Feb. 23, March 23, and April 20. D group deadlines will be March 2, March 30 and April 27.

7) The final paper will be a 8-10-page double-spaced memo on your semester-long study of an online news site and how it handles ethics and diversity. Please select your site by

Feb. 2. Explain what you will be looking for and how you’ll approach your study in

writing or set up an appointment with me.. Have a second and third choice in mind. You will have to monitor the site throughout the semester. You should examine actual developing cases using all the principles and insights gathered in the class. The final papers will be judged on five criteria:

The quality of the selection of cases you choose to analyze;

Originality, thoroughness and creativity;

Successfully identifying ethical and diversity issues we have studied and incorporating them into the cases you cite;

Quality analysis, synthesis and evaluation of the ethical constructs and decision-making found in the cases you examine;

Writing. Concise, active, interesting and ACCURATE writing is required.

In your analysis you should always ask: What would I have the practitioner do? This is a new assignment so I cannot show you samples. The final paper will be crucial to your grade as it will be worth 35 per cent.

3) Additional Norms:

Expect passion from me and I will expect it from you.

Expect joy and enjoyment from me and I will expect it from you.

Expect respect from me and I will expect it from you

Attend class on time.

Pay attention and stay awake

Respect the person speaking during class participation.

Listen attentively and don’t concentrate on what you’re going to say next. Hear first.

Stay up to date with the media.

Read all assignments.

Carefully prepare to discuss and debate the cases.

Pay special attention to the PowerPoint material. Everything on a PowerPoint slide represents material that should be included in the journal and the analytical paper. If you have a command of the PowerPoint material, and if you can successfully analyze, synthesize and evaluate, you will succeed.

Act ethically. Plagiarism, fabrication, reusing material you’ve used in another class, cheating or any other act of deception will result in automatic failure of this class and you can count on me recommending expulsion from the university to the dean. However, there is no such thing as plagiarizing Tim. You are urged to feed back the PowerPoint material and the principles you’ve read and discussed.

Please note this policy on academic integrity from the dean’s office.

Academic Integrity: Adhering to a high ethical standard is of special importance in the world of journalism, where reliability and credibility are the cornerstones of the field. Therefore, the Cronkite School has adopted a “zero tolerance” policy on academic dishonesty. If any student is found to have engaged in academic dishonesty in any form –– including but not limited to cheating, plagiarizing and fabricating — that student will receive a grade of XE for the class and will be dismissed from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication. Reinstatement will not be considered. There will be no exceptions. At the beginning of every journalism class, each student will be given a copy of the full academic integrity policy, along with accompanying information on plagiarism, fabrication and other journalistic sins. Students must sign a pledge that indicates they have read and understood the material and agree to abide by the policy.

Diversity Principles

The Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication practices inclusivity in student, staff and faculty populations in order to create an academic environment that embraces diversity of thought and acceptance of all people regardless of race, gender, age, sexual orientation or societal, political, cultural, economic, spiritual or physical differences

Technological Help

The Cronkite School’s instructional technology analyst, Nic Lindh, is available to help you with your projects during the times listed below:

Tuesdays             3:30-5:30 p.m. Cronkite 351

Wednesdays      1:45-3:15 p.m.   Cronkite 351

Thursdays           3:30-5:30 p.m.   Cronkite 351

Act professionally All of my judgments on behavior, grading, explanations etc will be based on the workplace. If I would show compassion in the newsroom you will find compassion here. If I would be fun in the newsroom I will be fun here. If I would be skeptical in the newsroom, I will be skeptical here. If I would find a behavior or explanation to be horse hockey in the newsroom, I will deem it horse hockey here. I have difficulty with distractions so iPods, computers and cell phones will not be allowed here. Reading newspapers, doing crosswords, texting, holding side conversations also do not work for me. I reserve the right to deduct points from your grade for such behavior and even to move for your removal from the class. You are here to learn and I am here to teach. If we all approach that endeavor as adults we will all learn and we will have a great time doing it.


On-time attendance—a possible three extra credit points for perfect attendance

One extra credit point will be awarded for attending a Cronkite School’s Must See Monday speaker events. You may attend up to three and get an extra credit point for each. You can pick up an attendance slip from Career Services Director Mike Wong at the event.

Participation—5 points

Quizzes—30 points

Memos—30 points

Final paper =35 points

A+ 97-100;  A 94-96;  A- 90-93;  B+ 87-89;   B 84-86; B- 80-83;  C+ 76-79; C 70-75;  D 69-60;  E  59 and below.

Special note: This syllabus WILL change. It is imperative that before every reading assignment you check on Blackboard to get the updated reading list. I will be subtracting some things and adding web citations.

Weekly Assignments

Section One: The ethical constructs

Week one: Jan 19-21 Getting our feet wet

Day 1: Introduction of class and Instructor Go over syllabus. Establish class practices and procedures. Learn about students and instructor.

Day 2: The Journalism thing: Why we’re here and how things are different.

Explore why we are here and why WE are here.

Work out definitions of journalism and the press.

Do short history of the press

Read The Elements of Journalism pages 9-35

Summarize Elements of Journalism and discuss the nine elements

Make no mistake: Things are different

Dan Gillmor on Grassroots Journalism — The end of objectivity

The pack and what they do to ethical standards:

Are ethical thoughts quaint?

And we never stray very far from diversity:’s-real-crime?-Not-playing-the-media’s-game

Week Two: Jan 26-28 Ethical models for the daily practice of journalism

Day1 Ethical Philosophy, Journalism and Diversity

Read The Ethical Journalist pp.3-23

Philosophical constructs

Read The Ethical Journalist pages 74-83

PoynterOnline – Why Ethics Matters

PoynterOnline – Ask These 10 Questions to Make Good Ethical Decisions

PoynterOnline – Guiding Principles for the Journalist

PoynterOnline – The Value of Independence

Poynter Online — Connecting Ethics and Diversity

Committee of Concerned Journalists — Diversity Checklist

Society of Professional Journalists — Faultlines

Day 2: Who do Journalists really work for?

Read The Ethical Journalist pp. 23-38 and pp 56-73

Read The Elements of Journalism pp 50-70

Week Three: Feb 2-4 Decision making

Day 1: How we make decisions to avoid arbitrariness

Read The Ethical Journalist pp 39-55

Read The Ethical Journalist pp 83-119

Ethical models and codes

The Essential Questions by Louis Hodges , (click on ethics codes and go to RTNDA code.)

Here are several professional codes, across disciplines and platforms. Read but do not memorize them. You should be familiar with and understand the general ethical principles in news, information and communications.

National Press Photographers Assn. Code of Ethics, & addendum

American Society of News Editors — Statement of Principles

Society for News Design — Code of Ethical Standards

Council of Public Relations Firms — Code of Ethics

PoynterOnline — Visual Reporting Ethics

Day 2: Let’s make some decisions using what we know so far

The main reading is the Poynter Institute’s News University (News U) course, Introduction to Ethical Decision-Making. At, click on Training, then on News University, then Courses and go to Ethics. You’ll have to register and log in; it’s free.

I want you to read

Beyond the Gut

Car in Canal (broadcast),

A National Guard Trip, Covering Victims (photojournalism),

Naming a Rape Victim. (Privacy)

Section Two: Fundamental principles evolving

Week Four: Feb. 9-11–Truth, Accuracy and Fairness

Day 1: Explore Journalists and truth

Read Elements of Journalism pages 36-49 and pages 70-93

Read The Ethical Journalist pp. 183-207

He said/she said stories

Prepare to discuss the cases on pages 199-205

Day 2:Bias

Week Five: Feb. 16-18 Are there any boundaries anymore?

Day 1: Taste and harm seem to have no limits

We will be joined this day by one Sandy Rowe, arguably one of the three or four most important journalists of the last 25 years. Sandy will discuss this issue with us as we explore it.

Read Chapter 15 in The Ethical Journalist, pages 252-268,. Study those two cases.

Day2:Three recent hard to imagine cases

Lack of taste or bone-headed?

Many odd things have happened in sports the past 18 years, by Mark Whicker

Orange County Register, Whicker responds with regret over Dugard column

Poynter Online, Whicker on Jaycee Dugard column: “I Wasn’t Insensitive’ about Kidnapping, by Mallary Jean Tenore

Deadspin: Mark Whicker Leaves the Yard

MURPHY situation

Anonymous stories—Wisconsin case

Week 6: Feb 23-25 Privacy

Day 1: Who’s going to be sad and is that okay?

Read The Ethical Journalist pp.229-252

Day 2: So I was just hangin’ around and here came the press

Rex Smith: Juicy details not always newsworthy   

Week Seven: March 2-4 Celebrity and privacy. Is there any?

Day 1: Exploring the problem Ignore the entire article except for the section entitled “The Mainstream Media Shun Tabloid Tales”

Is sports the real culprit?

Celebrity—Clemens case

Blogosphere and sports celebrity

A-Rod and the “rule”

Day 2: Privacy: The Private Lives of Public Figures

Week Eight: March 9-11— Has cyberspace changed the ethical rules?

Day 1: The rules are changing in cyberspace.

Read The Ethical Journalist pp.313-335—n.html    

Day 2:Blogs (& whatever new media formats come next)

Spring Break: March 15-21

Week Nine March 23-25 Do Not Deceive

Day 1:Plagiarism and fabrication

Re- Read Elements of Journalism pages 70-93.

Read The Ethical Journalist pp. 123-136

Read Cronkite school declaration

Day 2: The perpetrators

Media Nation — Slideshow on Maureen Dowd plagiarism discussion

Skim the following piece so you have a good sense of what happened

Section Three: Diversity

Week Ten: March 30- April 1–Race, Gender and Courage

Day 1:Exploring ethical cases of race, gender and identification and the need to sometimes go against the flow.

Day 2: Explore newsroom diversity

Connecting Ethics and Diversity,” by Aly Colon (From Class 2)

Week Eleven: April 6-8 Diversity in action

Day 1:  Cases in diversity

Handout Racial Slur case

Day 2: How diverse coverage plays out

Week Twelve: April 13-15 Covering diversity meets the street

Day 1: Sensitivity and reality

Read The Ethical Journalist pp. 288-311. Carefully prepare all three cases

Day 2: Great photos: compassionate diversity or exploitation?

Section Four: Reporter, Editor and the Reader

Week Thirteen April 20-22 –Sources and Conflicts

Day 1: Ethically managing sources.

Read The Ethical Journalist pp. 208-228

Day 2: Conflicts of interest personal and institutional

Does a journalist give up certain rights when he or she joins a newsroom? Where should lines be drawn between one’s professional and personal lives?

Read pages 94-110 in Elements of Journalism: Independence of Faction

Week Fourteen: April 27-29 Being a journalist and all it entails

Day 1: Reporter obligations

Reacting as a journalist, or as a ‘normal human being

Day 2: Accountability,3,279503.story

Week Fifteen: –Visual issues

Your final papers are due today.

Day 1:The big issues you need to understand

Read The Ethical Journalist pp.336-359