Class Presentations

1. CNN Case Study
Adapted From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Ch. 3

CNN has always sought to be a “network of record” for international affairs, highly valuing its access to governments around the world. But that access often comes with a price, and nowhere was that clearer than in Iraq under Saddam Hussein, whose regime routinely monitored, harassed, and censored foreign journalists.

As chief news executive for CNN, you have made more than a dozen trips to Baghdad to lobby the Hussein government to keep the CNN bureau open. But ensuring that CNN can report from Baghdad means that you cannot report on the horrible reality of Hussein’s regime. Journalists have been ejected from the country if their reports portrayed Hussein in a negative light. CNN regularly faces the threat of harassment and, in one case, a CNN cameraman was abducted and tortured. Iraqi citizens who spoke to reporters have disappeared.

If you report everything you see and hear, lives could be lost. But not telling the whole story could later be judged as a major violation of fundamental ethical standards of public trust and accuracy when the truth comes out. Your audience, as well as other journalists, could be outraged by what they see as cooperation with an evil, brutal dictator.

What would you do? Is incomplete news about Iraq better than no news at all? Which value should be given greater weight in this case and why?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

2. Product Placement Case Study 
Adapted From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Ch. 5

Authenticity is a key element of good storytelling. Filmmakers and television producers understand that watching a character grab a Heineken, and not a bottle with a generic “beer” label, helps maintain our suspension of disbelief. Brands create authentic environments and, thus, lend believability for us as audience members.

The ethics question surrounding the widespread use of product placement, however, focuses on expectations of disclosure. When is the presence of a brand simply an artistic decision made by the show creators, and when is it a financial arrangement that they agree to in order to receive compensation? And is it a problem when we can’t tell which?

Product placement is so common now that we all know it occurs routinely. Critics argue that behind-the-scenes deals impose artistic constraints on filmmakers and TV show producers who must emphasize commerce rather than emotionally moving projects.

There is no question that the use of real brands in storytelling is important for producers to cultivate authenticity. But should that be disclosed to the audience? If so, how and when?

You are a show creator and have been asked to make a particular car the vehicle of choice for the main character in your show. You’ve also been approached by a top drink company to prominently feature their products. Both are willing to pay top dollar.

What do you do? Should the types of products written into a show be up to the writer? Should any product placement ever be disclosed to the audience? If so, how and why? If not, why not? Where do you stand on product placement and why?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

3. Dead Marine Case Study 
Adapted From Media Ethics: Key Principles for Responsible Practice, Ch. 9

In 2009, a squad of Marines was ambushed by Taliban fighters in Afghanistan. One of the Marines, 21-year-old Lance Corporal Joshua M. Bernard, was struck in the legs by a rocket-propelled grenade. Julie Jacobson, an Associated Press photographer, had been on patrol with the soldiers and had just taken photos of Bernard. She instinctively photographed Bernard as he lay dying, surrounded by his comrades.

After the Pentagon released Bernard’s identity, AP released a photo essay and a video narrated by Jacobson to member newspapers, even though Bernard’s father asked the AP not to use the graphic photo showing his son mortally wounded. AP’s decision to do so made some people angry.

Journalists defended the decision. “What it does show – in a very unequivocal and direct fashion – is the real consequence of war, “said Santiago Lyon, AP’s photography director. Jacobson noted that Bernard’s fellow Marines saw her photos before she transmitted them and had no complaints. “An image personalizes that death and makes people see what it really means to have young men die in combat,” she wrote. “It is necessary to be bothered from time to time.”

You are a producer at a television station and you have been sent the photos to use as you see fit in your newscasts and online. What would you do in this situation and why? Remember, you do not have to get permission from the family and should not let that guide your decision. You have full right to use the photos.

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

4. Death Row Dad Case Study 
From RTNDF: Newsroom Ethics (Fourth Edition)

While working on a story about childhood vaccinations, KHOU-TV reporter Carolyn Mungo met a woman whose husband was on death row.  The couple had a 4-year-old daughter and her father regularly wrote to her.  Mungo decided to tell their story.  Afterward, some viewers complained that the story seemed too sympathetic to the murderer. Others complained the little girl had been exploited.  Watch the video that aired and ask yourself how you would have handled the story. How would you tell the story and why?

*After viewing the video in its entirety, use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

5. Ice Boat Sailing Case Study
From RTNDF: Newsroom Ethics (Fourth Edition)

Iceboat sailing is common during the winter in Minnesota. The boats are basically small sailboats with rudders attached. Instead of sailing on the water, they sail across the frozen lakes in winter. One one New Year’s Eve, KARE–TV was told the iceboat sailors would be out on White Bear Lake, northeast of St. Paul. The station covered the story with help from the station’s helicopter. Reporter Ken Speake wrote a script for the story and recorded the audio tracks but did not see the edited story before it aired. After the story aired, the newsroom was abuzz over the deft editing and marvelous video the crew captured. A few days later, the news director heard from a viewer who had seen the story. He said: “You know those boats don’t go as fast as you showed on TV. ” The news director watched the story the next day with the photographer who had also edited the story. He asked the photographer if he had sped up some of the shots and the photographer said that he had. The photographer said he changed the speed of the video because what he saw out there was not recorded by the camera. He thought the boats appeared to be moving more slowly in the video then they had in real life.

This raises the question as to whether or not viewers are misled when video speed is adjusted to better reflect reality. Research does show that slowing down video can make crime suspects appear to be more guilty. And an Indiana University study shows that viewers are apt to place more blame or guilt on suspects shown in slow motion than those who are shown in standard motion. What policy would you establish for your station regarding altering video speed?

*After viewing the video in its entirety, use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weight the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

 

6. As Life Passes By Case Study
Adapted From: Indiana University Media Research
http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/research-2/ethics-case-studies/

You are a photojournalist and you have persuaded a Rhodesian cavalry unit to let you accompany them on a mission into the interior. It is rumored that the white army is torturing and killing black civilians. The army has denied the charges and the civilians aren’t talking.

Dressed like the soldiers to be inconspicuous, you photograph the 25-man unit and witness them beginning to burn down homes and torture men, women, and children.

You could stop some of the atrocities if you are so inclined by questioning the soldiers’ actions right then and there. Or you could protect some of the victims by shooing them out the back way of their huts before the soldiers arrive.

But that style of reporting would offer no more than what people already know.

Should you watch and wait when the reality you are collecting is information that your audience needs and when you alone can be trusted to get that information out? Is it your job to document reality at all costs by watching from the sidelines. That is a journalist’s special privilege. Or do you step in and save a life or lives?

Given the choice of shooting a picture or saving a life, what do you do?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

7. Truth and Consequences Case Study
Adapted From: Indiana University Media Research
http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/research-2/ethics-case-studies/

Several years ago, the editors at The Charlotte Observer faced an ethical dilemma with the ultimate potential consequence of a wrong decision – death.

You’re a tv reporter in a town where three candidates are running for two positions on a minor, non-partisan board.  During your research of the candidates, you discover that one of them has the same name as someone who’d been a leader in the Ku Klux Klan decades before. The Klan leader had pleaded guilty to several misdemeanor crimes, one of them in connection with a Klan shootout.

You call the candidate who denies the claim. You call family members in his hometown who confirm he was in the Klan years ago.

You call the candidate who confesses, says his family doesn’t know and begs you not to run the story. A friend of the candidate comes to your station to tell you the candidate was in the Klan as a plant, an informer for the FBI, and says the candidate actually prevented a lot of Klan violence. But he sent people to jail and exposing his identity will likely get him killed. 

You find a reporter who covered the Klan years ago who confirmed the candidate had been an informant.

What do you do? Do you keep the candidate’s secret? Or should voters know his story? Do you consult with him now that you know the whole story? What if he is elected and the story surfaces later and the audience knows you covered for him?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

8. Killing News Case Study
Adapted From: Indiana University Media Research
http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/research-2/ethics-case-studies/

Todd, a 14-year-old high school freshman a, shot himself at home one morning.

Your station has an unwritten rule that suicides are only reported if the person who killed himself was a public official, or if he killed himself in public. Neither applies here, but the high school is buzzing with the news and had already observed a moment of silence. The story had become a public event. Also, you know your competition might cover the story extensively.

Selma, Bill and I discussed the story from all angles. Todd did not shoot himself in public. But he was a high school student and the school was buzzing with the news. In addition, Ipswich High School observed a moment of silence in his memory. The story had become a public event.

Next, a counselor tells you he is aware of a possible suicide pact, where other students had agreed to kill themselves if one did it. This increases the questions of responsibility in this case.

What effect might running or not running the story have on other students who might have been part of the suicide pact? How might it affect other unstable students? Should you tell the story to inform parents, even though you normally would not run a suicide story involving a private person in a private location? Do you make an exception and, if so, why?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

 

 9. Naming A Murder Suspect Case Study
Adapted From A Story By Tom Jackman, Reporter

A female newspaper reporter has been killed in her home. Police officers have searched a suspect’s home and arrested him on a completely unrelated court violation. They are calling him a “person of interest” (a purposely vague and meaningless term.)

For many years, naming an uncharged suspect was strictly prohibited in journalism. A suspect was not named until the authorities had at least enough proof — probable cause — to file charges. The idea was not to publicly, permanently besmirch someone who might be innocent — and also not to create legal liability for the station by falsely accusing someone.

But this rule started to change years ago when the news media identified security guard Richard Jewell as a suspect in the 1996 Centennial Olympic Park bombing in Atlanta. Jewell, then 33, was the security guard who first alerted police to a bomb in Atlanta’s Centennial Olympic Park. He was a suspect and news outlets reported that. Jewell was innocent and his name was cleared but his life was destroyed.

Most local media did not name the “person of interest” (a purposely vague and meaningless term) in the Greenhalgh case, including The Post, even after he was arrested in another case. But InsideNova, the top newsgathering operation in Prince William County, and the website (but not the television programs) of WJLA-7 did name him.

What would you do in the Greenhalgh case? Do you name this man and provide details about the unrelated arrest? Do you withhold any identifying information? As a journalist, what is it your duty to report? Do you consider that the competition has this information or do you ignore that?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

10. New Year Baby Case Study
Adapted From a Case Study by Norm Lewis

Every year, on New Year’s Day,  your station runs a story about the first baby born at the local hospital. Medical records are private so you depend on hospital officials and the new mother to cooperate.

This year, the first baby born in Gainesville arrived at Shands. She was Ariana Yerlin Lopez. Her mother was Reyna Lopez from the North Florida county of Suwanee, which is almost in Georgia and outside your station’s coverage area. She consented to being interviewed, so you and a photographer go to Shands.

Through a friend who translates for her, the mother tells that three years earlier, she left her three older children (then ages 2, 9 and 10) behind in Mexico and entered the United States illegally. She wanted to deliver Ariana here because babies born in the United States are automatically citizens, not illegal immigrants. Lopez says she hopes eventually to return to Mexico to rejoin her family. She says she also knows she could be deported at any time. If that were to happen, she would leave her baby behind in the United States to be raised by someone else. “She’s trying not to think about that at the moment,” the friend says.

On first blush, there may appear to be no dilemma here. The mother is willing to talk and discuss her legal status. But does she understand the potential consequences of what she has said?

Her story could attract a lot of attention. Featuring an illegal immigrant as the first baby of the year in a news story makes her case so public that immigration authorities might feel compelled to act.

The SPJ Code of Ethics requires that journalists both minimize harm and tell the truth. You can’t do both here. Which takes priority?

The minimize harm side says you have to consider whether telling the whole story about this new mom could put her in legal jeopardy. You have to consider whether the warm glow of childbirth has clouded her judgment.

On the other hand, if you hide her illegal status, the public is deprived of a chance to learn more about illegal immigration and its complexity. Lopez seems to be a willing participant in a story that illustrates how illegal immigrants live in the shadows, risking deportation for a chance at the American dream. She puts a name and a face on a big social issue.

As the reporter on this story, what would you do?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

 

11. The Fallen Servant Case Study
Adapted From: Indiana University Media Research
http://mediaschool.indiana.edu/research-2/ethics-case-studies/

It had all the elements of which heroes are made.

A firefighter died in a furniture warehouse fire. Norman E. Creger, a 17-year veteran of his fire department, was killed when a wall collapsed. 

The mayor ordered city flags to half-staff. An honor guard of firefighters flanked the casket until the funeral. Fire officials from throughout the state formed a three-mile procession following a pumper truck with Creger’s bronze casket atop it.

Creger’s widow received the America flag covering his coffin. It was a hero’s departure.

But rumors of Creger’s drinking were heard within hours of his death. He had been off-duty at the time of the fire, in a bar. When summoned, he finished his beer and drove to the blaze. Hewas one of four firemen placing hoses on the north side of the four-story building when the fire captain saw the wall might fall and ordered them back.

Witnesses said the other three firefighters sprinted to safety, but Creger turned and walked into a double-headed parking meter and the impact knocked him flat.

Seconds later, the wall fell on him and he died of massive chest injuries.

A month after the fire, city officials received the autopsy report on Creger. Because it was a bombshell, they kept it secret for two weeks as they discussed legal ramifications.

The report indicated Creger’s blood alcohol level was 0.16 percent. That was above the legal limit. The police report was inconclusive on whether Creger’s drinking was a factor in his death.

What is this story important to the community?

Creger might have died in vain, fighting a fire he shouldn’t have been allowed to work.

His drinking prior to the fire made it questionable as to whether he was fit for duty.

Violation of a new fire department check-in procedure might have cost Creger’s life.

You are a newscast producer at the local tv station. Do you air the story, knowing it will be unpopular and make audience members angry? If so, how would you handle it? Remember, you do not need approval or permission from his family. You have every right to air the report.  This is not a question of asking anyone for permission to tell the story.

What would you do?

*Use your decision memo guide to set up the problem, offer a solution, identify the dilemma, weigh the alternatives and cite an ethical rationale in justifying your decision.

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