Uses, abuses of freedoms
The information explosion that
opens the next decade presents today's journalists and those entering
the field with serious ethical and
moral considerations, according to
industry professionals who participated in the Society of Professional
Journalists 1989 convention.
Nearly 1,000 journalists and university students attended the convention, which was held October 19-
22 in Houston.
Panelists of one discussion group
warned journalists that the business
demands for profit maximization are
threatening to destroy the ethical
foundations of journalism.
Michael Josephson, moderator of
"Ethics and the Changing Business
of Newspapers," said that journalism's "protected and revered status"
as the public's teacher, conscience
and watchdog will be a thing of the
past if journalists do not stick to ethics.
"The issue is how to do the right
thing and flourish," he said.
Josephson, of the Josephson Institute for the Advancement of Ethics,
said the "businessification" of journalism is affecting the ethics of the
"The theory was If you do good
business, growth will follow/ but
soon it became 'good business is
good ethics/" he said.
Because of a trend toward media
management by objective, Josephson
said most company objectives are
not aimed at increasing the integrity
of a firm. "Most (companies) are
more concerned with numbers and
percentages — things like circulation."
Another convention panel dis
cussed recent court cases involving
abuse of confidential news sources.
Comments centered on the Kendall
Truitt and Dan Cohen cases.
Truitt, a gunner's mate on the USS
Iowa, was blamed by the government but never charged in the explosion that killed 47 servicemen
aboard his ship,
Cohen is a plaintiff in a breech-of-
contract suit against the Minneapolis
Star-Tribune. He claims he was identified in a story, after a reporter
Panelists agreed that competition
was the prime reason for mistakes in
the Truitt case — a case that produced publication of defamatory remarks, which were leaked to the
press by U.S. Navy sources.
"Competition has done much to
bring about irresponsible journalism," Theodore Glasser, associate
professor of the Silha Center for the
Study of Media Ethics and Law at the
University of Minnesota, said.
In another panel, Truitt told con-
ventioners that he was wrongfully
accused of being a homosexual and a
murderer. Truitt's attorney, Ellis
Rubin, said his client will file libel
suits against the first news agencies
to publicly announce the unat-
Harry Rosenfeld, editor of the Albany (N.Y.) Times-Union called the
Truitt case a "scandal."
"Mr. Truitt can sue the pants off
us," he said.
In the Cohen case, Cohen provided information about a political candidate's arrest record, after stipulating that the reporter keep his identity
confidential. However, an editor's
decision to identify the reporter's
source allowed Cohen to file a
breech-of-contract suit. Cohen was
later awarded compensatory and punitive damages. The suit has since
Glasser said the Cohen case has
negatively affected the professional
relationships of reporters and produced "an arrogant argument on the
part of the press that contract law
should not apply under the first
"Naming Cohen (as a source) was
not the best thing to do," Glasser
Wayne Dolcefino, a reporter fo
Houston's KTRK-TV, was also
critical of the editor in the Cohen
"If an editor changes my stor
they're going to have to find somebody else to run their dog-and-pony
show," he said. "When I tell somebody I'm not going to burn them, I'm
not going to burn them."
Rosenfeld and Mike Finney, managing editor of Denver's Rocky
Mountain News, proposed possible
solutions to the problem of news
Rosenfeld urged reporters not to
"make agreements by which you are
honor bound, but if you do, don't tell
your editor. Finney said newspapers
should establish clear-cut policies in
regard to confidential sources.
Ted Stanton, head of the University of Houston journalism program,
said a court case in Brownsville, Texas could create future problems for
journalists. He said the case involves
an official, who charges a newspaper
violated truth-in-packaging laws by
printing a story he claims is false.
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