As part of the internship application process, you need to select one of the four scenarios and write a 200 word response.

Ethical Issue #1 

Three weeks before the upcoming election, your newspaper published a sensational story about an incumbent Democratic congressman seeking a fourth term who had been accused by an ex-girlfriend of a sexual assault some 28 years previously. Criminal charges never were filed, and neither the congressman nor the woman involved wanted to discuss the case now.

Rumors of this incident had come into the newsroom in previous years during the congressman’s time in office, but nothing substantial was ever found. New information rekindled interest in the story before election time, and the newspaper spent several weeks trying to discover the truth about this persistent rumor. After months of digging, the newspaper published an article about what it has uncovered. On that same day, the congressman held a news conference to say he did something regrettable in his youth, but he didn't think it was relevant now.  Ultimately, do you feel your newspaper did the ethical thing? Why or why not? Consider the paper’s journalistic duty to not withhold important information from voters as you discuss the situation.

Ethical Issue #2 is a Web site that scans Internet chat rooms looking for men who can be lured into sexually explicit conversations with invented underage correspondents. The advocacy group then posts the men's pictures on its Web site.

As an investigative reporter for KCTV-Channel 5, you recently partnered with Perverted-Justice volunteers to rent a local house and use it as a meeting place for men who responded to messages from volunteers pretending to be underage boys and girls. Several local men engaged in chat-room conversations with the supposed youngsters; when they arrived at the house to meet their supposed underage chat partner, you and a camera crew were waiting to record the encounter. As each man was confronted, their names and faces were captured on video; many of them were used in the broadcast. The men were characterized in your report as "Internet predators" who wanted to "have sex with underage teens."

Your station decides to air six nights of reports from your project. Soon after, one man targeted by the reporting filed a federal lawsuit, claiming he was misrepresented as a pedophile and it cost him a $50,000-a-year job.

Your station, however, is thrilled. The story aired during February sweeps and helped the station get great ratings.  But was it ethically appropriate for you to employ such a sting tactic.  Should the media partner with advocacy groups like Perverted Justice to get the story?  Did the media become overly involved and actually “create” the story? Consider these and other ethical issues the scenario poses.

Ethical Issue #3

You work in Corporate Communications for Widgets Inc., a Fortune 500 company, and are writing an article about the company’s quarterly earnings for the upcoming edition of the employee newsletter. Along with facts about the company’s financial performance, you need some quotes from the CEO to include. You make up the quotes as you write the article, attributing them to the CEO. You plan to have the CEO review and approve the quotes and article before it is published.
Consider these issues:

  • Is the practice of “putting words in the mouth” of company executives ethical?
  • What if instead of working in Corporate Communications, you were a PR practitioner and were making up quotes for your client?
  • What if instead of working in Corporate Communications, you were a reporter for a newspaper and were making up quotes attributed to a source in an article?


Ethical Issue #4

You’ve known for months that the candidate is gay, and each time you raised the possibility of a story, everyone agreed: the man’s sex life was his business. But now it’s different. A local newscast led with a story that highlighted the candidate’s activities with the local gay community. Even though the candidate "declined comment on his sexual preference," the story is undoubtedly out.
And you’re stuck between being moral and being misunderstood. You still think that the candidate should be allowed to keep his personal life private. But, you’ve got another factor to weigh in your news judgments: "They said it first."

If you don’t go with it, it looks as though you can’t develop that information on your own, or that you’re in the candidate’s pocket. When a news story is going to hurt someone, the best reason you can ever have for publishing is that the information, so damaging to an individual, is really needed by the community.