Are We Teaching Journalists Ethics Anymore?

I’m starting to wonder just what is being taught in college journalism courses.  Just over the July 4th weekend, I was discussing this with two of my college friends who both work in media.  MG is a television producer/director and SG is a former reporter who works in Media Relations.  Both agree that current trends in journalism education are bad.

The first is that we in Texas, at least, have seen the demise of Journalism Departments.  They are increasingly becoming part of Mass Communications Departments headed up by people with Drama backgrounds among other things.  This is putting a much greater emphasis on performance and a reduced emphasis on reporting and ethics.  I’ve recently heard that this has happened at Sam Houston State – one of the top 3 journalism schools in Texas.  It was the best small program in the state, anchored by the Dan Rather School of Communications.  Not as prestigious as the University of Texas, but many thought you got more hands-on training at SHSU.

The result of this lack of Journalistic emphasis is an increasing flow of Amy Jacobsons in newsrooms at both print and broadcast outlets.   If you haven’t heard of her, it is not surprising.  These things are so common lately that they are now getting buried to the back pages.   I found it in the news briefs of the Chronicle. She is a Chicago TV reporter who was caught in her bikini at a party of a man who she had done an investigative report on.  A man who’s wife had disappeared.  She thought it would be no big deal and was surprised when she was fired.

Wikipedia has a great or shall we say infamous list of journalistic scandals of late that includes Stephen Glass, Adnan Hajj, Jayson Blair, Dan Rather, Jack Kelley, and Brian Walski.  These have all happened in the last ten years.  It has affected newspapers, photographers, television and magazines.  No medium is safe.  There have been lies, fabrications and breaches of ethical behavior – all to get a story, to be first, or to be more interesting than the competition.

Journalism is selling its soul and its reputation in order to get the scoop.  Whatever happened to being right?  Being right is more important than being first.  But as long at the entertainment companies own the news business and the drama departments run the journalism schools, we will focus more on selling the news than on actually finding out the truth.

Mr. C