Some ethical decisions are pretty easy: turning down gifts from sources. Tweaking a quote to make it just a little more perfect. Pretending to be someone you’re not to get into a trauma victim’s hospital room (yes, this stuff really happens).
Most ethical decisions, however, are tough. They may involve potential harm to one person or another. Often, they’re “damned if you, damned if you don’t” choices.
If someone tells you they can lay out all the right answers for you, they’re lying. The truth is, you’re going to have to build your own ethics decision-making muscle. It takes practice to learn how to think through an ethical challenge.
Here are some questions Poynter put together to help journalists develop a process.
And here’s one more:
10. Can I clearly and fully justify my thinking and my decision? To my colleagues? To the stakeholders? To the public?
Imagine yourself defending your decision — to the public, in particular. It’s amazing how this works. If you can’t find the words, or suddenly find yourself stumbling to articulate your reasoning, it might be a sign that you’re in a pretty risky place. Slow down and think again.
So here’s a chewy ethical question: Should a newspaper publish a standout college athlete’s juvenile criminal history — a sex crime he committed against a 6-year-old girl when he was 16?
The newspaper also published a lengthy explanation for its decision.
Work your way from the top to the bottom of Poynter’s list of questions. We’ll talk about it Thursday in class.