Saturday, October 15, 2005

ETHICS/ASSIGNMENT: Should these ABC News interns have identified themselves?

Earlier this year, the Carnegie Corp., a major foundation, granted five of the nation's top graduate schools of journalism funds to begin a major rethinking of how future reporters are educated. In one of the first applications of the joint effort, 10 so-called "Carnegie Fellows" have been working as interns at ABC News. Two have now been hired by ABC.

Here is a link to the original ABC story, broadcast Thurs., Oct. 12. It begins: "A four-month ABC News investigation found gaping security holes at many of the little-known nuclear research reactors operating on 25 college campuses across the country. Among the findings: unmanned guard booths, a guard who appeared to be asleep, unlocked building doors and, in a number of cases, guided tours that provided easy access to control rooms and reactor pools that hold radioactive fuel. ABC News found none of the college reactors had metal detectors, and only two appear to have armed guards. Many of the schools permit vehicles in close proximity to the reactor buildings without inspection for explosives. "

An Associated Press story questions the way the students were used. It can be found HERE, or HERE.


1. When a person works as a reporter, must they always identify themselves as a reporter in all interactions with the public? Does this apply when they are "on duty" at their job, or at any time? What if they are in a place, behaving in a manner, or are otherwise positioned in a way that any member of the public might be? If a reporter must always identify herself, does that mean an undercover police officer is by definition unethical?

2. In 1978, a group of reporters from the Chicago Sun-Times, the major Chicago daily, rented a storefront tavern and set up a bar in downtown Chicago, using the newspaper's money. For a period of months, they ran the bar, called "The Mirage Tavern" without identifying its link to the newspaper. They documented bribe-taking and other unethical behavior by city inspectors -- then closed the bar and wrote a series of stories which resulted in official investigations and reform. Was the effort unethical? Several accounts and case studies of the Mirage Tavern are available from THIS GOOGLE SEARCH.

For a general perspective on reporting and the ethics of msirepresentation, Ed Wasserman, Knight journalism-ethics professor of Washington & Lee University in Virginia has written a good piece in May of 2005 which can be found HERE.

For ABC News' defense of the news-gathering, and a description of the two-month Carnegie summer program go to an account at the website MediaBistro.

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