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Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals

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Abstract

Christian apologetics has an essential place in the delivery of news. No matter what field of journalism, for either print or broadcast platforms, it is critically important that journalists maintain throughout their professional journey strong ethical and moral principles from the receipt of every assignment to their completed delivery, and after. Engraining Biblical teachings to the mission of each story ensures truthful reporting while demonstrating respect for the community and its values and mores, and ultimately creating a trusting and useful relationship between the journalist and their public.
Running Head: CHRISTIANITY, COMMUNICATIONS AND JOURNALISM ETHICS AND
MORALS 1
Capstone Apologetics Paper
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals
Meriwether Ball
Regent University
Fall 2018
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 2
Abstract
Christian apologetics has an essential place in the delivery of news. No matter what field
of journalism, for either print or broadcast platforms, it is critically important that journalists
maintain throughout their professional journey strong ethical and moral principles from the
receipt of every assignment to their completed delivery, and after. Engraining Biblical teachings
to the mission of each story ensures truthful reporting while demonstrating respect for the
community and its values and mores, and ultimately creating a trusting and useful relationship
between the journalist and their public.
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 3
Definitions
The terms used frequently in this paper will be defined here, in alphabetical order, by an
Oxford University dictionary (OLD, n.d.): Apologetics: reasoned arguments or writings in
justification of something, typically a theory or religious doctrine. Christianity: the religion
based on the person and teachings of Jesus Christ, or its beliefs and practices. Communication:
the imparting or exchanging of information by speaking, writing, or using some other medium.
Ethics: Moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity.
Journalism: the activity or profession of writing for newspapers, magazines, or news websites or
preparing news to be broadcast. Morals: concerned with the principles of right and wrong
behavior. Virtue: A quality considered morally good or desirable in a person.
History and Current State
During the five stages of ethics in journalism evolution of the communication method
began as a governmental mouthpiece (1600s), then as the voice of the public (1700s), onto an
instrument of liberal reform (1800s), then as both voice and criticism (1900s), to its current state
of conflicted purpose - as digital media has blurred the lines of truthful reporting and
professional opinion. First, the invention of ethical discourse for journalism during the
seventeenth century. Second, a public ethics as the creed for the growing newspaper press, or
Fourth Estate, of the Enlightenment public sphere. Third, the liberal theory of the press, during
the nineteenth century. Fourth, development and criticism of this liberal doctrine across the
twentieth century resulting in a professional ethics of objective journalism, bolstered by social
responsibility theory; and an alternative ethics for interpretive and activist journalism. Fifth,
today’s current “mixed media” ethics which lacks consensus on what principles apply across
types of media,” (Ward, 2008).
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 4
Further, specifically in the United States, the digital age has closed many print
newsrooms, with the remaining news outlets now competing on a global platform. The inherent
revenue shift from local household subscription to online ad-selling has changed publisher’s
priorities from community informing to fiscal growth. Ethics codes promulgated by media
companies and organizations in the United States have shifted emphasis. From the early ideals
about the public's right to know, the pursuit of truth, and protection of subjects' privacy, they
have increasingly focused, explicitly or not, on the protection and promotion of companies' (and
in some cases, union workers') economic interests,” (Chiavelli, 2010).
Currently, due to the lack of the leadership and experienced guidance newsroom bosses
offered, today’s journalist – who almost exclusively works from home - is left to far more
independent ethical discretion. “In the past, most investigative reporters had a pretty secure
newsroom safety net, their own system of checks and balances that tilted the odds toward healthy
results. There were layers of editing. Also, newsrooms once embraced fairly stable and
predictable decision-making systems. Much has changed. Newsrooms are smaller, and they no
longer have a robust duplication of resources. That means the number of people participating in a
given project is likely smaller, and the diversity of thought and experience is narrower,”
(McBride, 2014).
Such evolution of news writing has indeed created a void in the expectations of strong
moral codes for journalists. One researcher had this alarming result on the moral-code front:
The first research question for this study asked, ‘How do journalists’ ethical norms and values
relate to their perceptions of their profession’s role in society?The values that were most
important to these journalists were accuracy, thoroughness, balance, independence, and veracity.
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 5
The least-important values were advocacy, decency, sufficiency, dignity, and loyalty,” (Jones,
2010).
Biblical Integration
In our democratic society, indeed by our Constitution, a Biblical baseline of ethics is an
absolute for the individual Christian journalist. “If journalists represent the institution that holds
others to account, what institution can perform that same function for the media? The United
States emphatically and constitutionally has rejected a role for the central government in such
apportioning of responsibility; even nations without a written constitution, for example many in
western Europe, have come to essentially the same political conclusions through the working out
of history and precedent,” (Wilkins, 2011).
Happily, news outlets based on Christian teachings have claimed their respected place in
the global news community. Christian media regularly interprets events based on their
understanding of religion and spirituality, without shame, without apologetics. In the age of
superficial social media and fake news, we need eternal truth more than ever and should take
down the wall we have built between news coverage and spirituality,” (Weisz, 2018).
In his brilliant New York Times op-ed, health writer Marshall Allen had these sentiments
to share about how his Christian morals and ethics had served his writing and his community:
The Bible endorses telling the truth, without bias. So does journalism. The Bible commands
honesty and integrity. In journalism, your reputation is your main calling card with sources and
readers. Proverbs talks about how hearing only one side of a story can be misleading: The first
to speak in court sounds right until the cross-examination begins. God didn’t direct the
writers of the Bible to avoid controversy. I love how Luke describes his mission in the first few
verses of his Gospel: I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning he
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 6
wrote, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.Luke’s goal was
to tell the truth about Jesus, which upset many people. Luke didn’t airbrush the early Christians.
He named names. Luke told the story of Judas betraying Jesus. He exposed Peter denying Jesus
three times. He verified the facts and then told the truth. The biblical prophets were the moral
conscience of God’s people. Today, in a nonreligious sense, journalists are the moral conscience
of the wider culture,” (Allen, 2018). Allen’s writings about Luke also emphasize the lineage of
ethical reporting has had no need of change in these two thousand years.
Journalists have intrinsic responsibilities, not only to the truth but to own what they have
seen - and its impact. The normative construction of journalistic objectivity overcomes the
problem of the partiality of action by obliging response to none. This makes it difficult to
conceive of a journalism that is at once objective, and able to ‘nourish moral response’. Thus,
while ‘bearing witness’ is a concept used to moralize the inability of journalists to act on
suffering, the imperative within the normative construction of objectivity is not actually bearing
witness at all,” (Tait, 2011). We, as Christians, cannot separate our moral code in the name of
objectivity. “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus,
giving thanks to God the Father through him,” (ESV, Colossians 3:17).
One professor found in their research that journalism students welcome moral and ethical
considerations and see its values in their relationship with their audience. “Introducing local
wisdom in the first place can provide the students the opportunity to develop morale reasoning so
that they are not only thinking of pursuing news value but also considering the social impact of
their decision,” (Martano, 2017). Instruction is a basic Biblical tenent: “All Scripture is breathed
out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 7
righteousness, that the man of God may be competent, equipped for every good work, (ESV, 2
Timothy 3:16,17).
Practice
It is not just the individual journalist who benefits by addressing the pillars of their
character, as one researcher from the Pointer Institute for Media Studies (a nonprofit journalism
school) wrote: “Almost every major professional news organization is retooling its code of
ethics,” (McBride, 2014). This author has found ethics in news publications works best when
first embraced by leadership. My place as founder of a nonprofit news source has allowed me to
set policies based in Christianity, such as complete transparency with those we write about.
Doing so has allowed my Board of Directors a base to stand on when developing relationships
with military leaders and their families. “Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of
you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another,” (ESV, Ephesians
4:25).
I have seen that focusing on Biblical virtues has established this journalist as a trusted
member of the community which I serve; the military population has an inherently strong moral
code, making the trusted connection an easy one. However, a strong moral framework requires
that its possessors both understand and accept the inherently normative nature of journalism and
gradually inculcate key journalistic moral virtues, moral values, and moral principles to
positively develop their professional character,” (Quinn, 2007).
When a small group of successful journalists including several Pulitzer recipients -
were studied regarding their ethics, their moral codes were shown to be of high order. Such
decided morals are exactly what this writer strongly embraces. “Similar to their clustering on
personality traits, media exemplars in this study share the same ethical ideology to a striking
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 8
degree. Their responses to the Forsyth EPQ revealed their uniform rejection of relativistic
thinking,” (Plaisance, 2014).
When writing about the military families I have known, several scriptures have often
governed my position to honor - but also to bear witness and advocate when necessary. “Rejoice
with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be
haughty, but associate with the lowly. Never be wise in your own sight,” (ESV, Romans 12:15-
18), and Open your mouth for the mute, for the rights of all who are destitute. Open your
mouth, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy, (ESV, Proverbs 31:8-9).
However, the most important call the Holy Spirit has had on my pen has been the
importance of discretion, of good judgement with precious confidences. “Let no corrupting talk
come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it
may give grace to those who hear,” (ESV, Ephesians 4:29).
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 9
Conclusion
Through the teachings of scripture, and the work of scholars, this paper has shown that
ethics and morals are critical character traits for the Christian journalist. Throughout history
journalism has struggled in pursuit of a reputation which would include compassionate, accurate,
objective news reporting. Instead, the profession has been burdened with bias first for the crown,
then for the crowd, then between the two, and now with basic truthfulness. As Christians
especially through the Gospel of Luke we know God ordained collection of facts and truthful
recording of events. We also see that maintaining the high moral ground when collecting
information and reporting on events and on members of our community is an absolute and is in
flawless adherence with God’s Word.
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 10
References
Oxford Living Dictionaries. (n.d.). English. Retrieved from https://en.oxforddictionaries.com/
The Holy Bible English Standard Version (n.d.). The Open Bible. Retrieved from
https://www.openbible.info/
Ward, S. (21 August 2008). Journalism Ethics. University of Wisconsin Foundation. P. 295-309.
Retrieved from https://www.supportuw.org/wp-
content/uploads/wwa_2010_ward_journalism.pdf
Quinn, A. (2007). Moral Virtues for Journalists. Journal of Mass Media Ethics. 2007, Vol. 22
Issue 2/3, p168-186. 19p.
Tait, S. (2011). Bearing witness, journalism and moral responsibility. Media, Culture & Society.
Vol 33, Issue 8, pp. 1220 1235. Retrieved from https://doi-
org.ezproxy.regent.edu/10.1177%2F0163443711422460
Weisz, T. (2018, Jan 28). Who's afraid of reporting the news from a biblical perspective?
Jerusalem Post Retrieved from http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-
proquest-com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1992696258?accountid=13479
Plaisance, P. L. (2014). Virtue in media: The moral psychology of U.S. exemplars in news and
public relations. Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly, 91(2), 308-325.
Retrieved from http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1536866762?accountid=13479
Martono, H. H. (2017). Teaching journalism ethics: Constructing model for teaching journalism
ethics on the basis of local wisdom to create peace journalism. Cogent Arts &
Humanities, 4(1) doi:
http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.regent.edu:2048/10.1080/23311983.2017.133498
Christianity, Communication and Journalism Ethics and Morals 11
Jones, M. K. (2010). “Accurate as of the timestamp”: Newspaper journalism ethics in a time of
economic and technological change (Order No. 3428370). Available from ProQuest
Dissertations & Theses Global. (817789767). Retrieved from
http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/817789767?accountid=13479
Chiavelli, J. (2010). All the ethics that's fit: Jayson Blair, Judith Miller and the ethical culture at
“The New York Times” (Order No. 1470788). Available from ProQuest Dissertations &
Theses Global. (305215681). Retrieved from
http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/305215681?accountid=13479
McBride, K. (2014). New Values in Journalism Ethics. Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc.
The IRE Journal, 37(2), 17. Retrieved from
http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquest-
com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1544488497?accountid=13479
Wilkins, L. (2011). Journalism’s Moral Sentiments: Negotiating between freedom and
responsibility. Journalism Studies. Dec2011, Vol. 12 Issue 6, p804-815. 12p.
Allen, M. (1 September 2018). The Biblical Guide to Reporting: I spent five years in Christian
ministry. My faith has made me a better journalist. New York Times. New York.
Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/01/opinion/christianity-bible-
journalism.html
ResearchGate has not been able to resolve any citations for this publication.
Article
This study contributes to an empirical basis for media ethics theorizing by constructing a moral psychology profile of exemplars in journalism and public relations. Drawing on theories and instruments from psychology, this inductive project assesses descriptive and inferential patterns of personality traits, moral-reasoning skills, ethical ideology, and perceived workplace ethical climate among twenty-four exemplars selected for professional and ethical leadership qualities. The emerging profile suggests clear "clustering" of personality traits and an overarching emphasis on notions of care and respect for others, professional duty, concern for harm, and proactive social engagement-all of which characterize higher stages of moral development.
Article
While the dimensions of what it means to ‘witness’ are interrogated within recent scholarship on ‘media witnessing’, what it means to ‘bear witness’ is rarely explained. Bearing witness conceptually organizes what journalism does, and names a subject position for audiences other than voyeurism, but what it means requires clarification. I detail the plasticity of bearing witness within the discourses of media witnessing in order to demonstrate the resulting paucity of the explanatory labour the term is able to perform for studies of news media. Central to the lack of clarity within this literature is the conflation of eye-witnessing and bearing witness. I argue that a distinction must be made between these concepts in order to elucidate the ways practices of bearing witness exceed seeing. Following Zelizer, I argue that bearing witness refers to practices of assuming responsibility for contemporary events, and thus bearing witness extends beyond seeing through practices of enacting responsibility. I consider what practices of responsibility might mean for journalists and their audiences through an analysis of the structures of address and response within the columns Nicholas Kristof wrote about Darfur between 2004 and 2009.
Article
This essay outlines an account of virtue ethics applied to the profession of journalism. Virtue ethics emphasizes character before consequences, requires the “good” prior to the “right,” and allows for agent-relative as well as agent-neutral values. This essay offers an exploration of the internal characteristics of a good journalist by focusing on moral virtues crucial to journalism. First, the essay outlines the general tenets of Aristotelian virtue ethics. Second, it offers arguments touting virtue ethics in comparison with other popular normative theories such as Mill's utilitarianism and Kant's deontology. Finally, an original account of journalistic virtue ethics is offered, with an emphasis on the virtues of justice and integrity.
Article
Ethics codes promulgated by media companies and organizations in the United States have shifted emphasis. From the early ideals about the public's right to know, the pursuit of truth, and protection of subjects' privacy, they have increasingly focused, explicitly or not, on the protection and promotion of companies' (and in some cases, union workers') economic interests. Looking at the Code of Conduct of The New York Times, specifically, through the prism of the missteps of reporters Jayson Blair and Judith Miller, I conclude the Times' primary consideration has been its own interest and not ideals such as ethics or truth. Finally, I examine some suggestions for improving journalism ethics, at the Times and across journalism.
Journalism Ethics. University of Wisconsin Foundation
  • S Ward
Ward, S. (21 August 2008). Journalism Ethics. University of Wisconsin Foundation. P. 295-309. Retrieved from https://www.supportuw.org/wpcontent/uploads/wwa_2010_ward_journalism.pdf
Who's afraid of reporting the news from a biblical perspective
  • T Weisz
Weisz, T. (2018, Jan 28). Who's afraid of reporting the news from a biblical perspective? Jerusalem Post Retrieved from http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://searchproquest-com.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1992696258?accountid=13479
Teaching journalism ethics: Constructing model for teaching journalism ethics on the basis of local wisdom to create peace journalism
  • H H Martono
Martono, H. H. (2017). Teaching journalism ethics: Constructing model for teaching journalism ethics on the basis of local wisdom to create peace journalism. Cogent Arts & Humanities, 4(1) doi: http://dx.doi.org.ezproxy.regent.edu:2048/10.1080/23311983.2017.133498
Accurate as of the timestamp": Newspaper journalism ethics in a time of economic and technological change (Order No. 3428370)
  • M K Jones
Jones, M. K. (2010). "Accurate as of the timestamp": Newspaper journalism ethics in a time of economic and technological change (Order No. 3428370). Available from ProQuest Dissertations & Theses Global. (817789767). Retrieved from http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquestcom.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/817789767?accountid=13479
  • K Mcbride
McBride, K. (2014). New Values in Journalism Ethics. Investigative Reporters and Editors, Inc. The IRE Journal, 37(2), 17. Retrieved from http://eres.regent.edu:2048/login?url=https://search-proquestcom.ezproxy.regent.edu/docview/1544488497?accountid=13479
Journalism's Moral Sentiments: Negotiating between freedom and responsibility
  • L Wilkins
Wilkins, L. (2011). Journalism's Moral Sentiments: Negotiating between freedom and responsibility. Journalism Studies. Dec2011, Vol. 12 Issue 6, p804-815. 12p.