Click here to print/view syllabus: Ethics Spring 2018

Journ 460 Spring 2018

Journalism Ethics: The Responsible Journalist

Instructor: Karen List T/Th 10-11:15 (3 credits)
S427 ILC/545-1376 Office Hours: 11:30-1 T/Th By Appointment

Course Page:

Democracy dies in darkness.
–The Washington Post

I want journalism to prevail. I want all manner of any possible wrongdoing to be revealed. That’s what I want in life. That’s why I became a journalist.
–Virginian-Pilot reporter

Don’t expect to change the world in a day. Do it one story at a time.

Course Description/Learning Goals

This course focuses on responsible journalism—no matter the medium—and its pivotal role in a democratic society. Its aim is to help those who plan to become journalists make ethical decisions and to help those who are consumers of the news recognize and appreciate responsible journalism. This is a time when it is more important than ever to hold the powerful accountable and give voice to the voiceless—the heart of any good journalist’s job.

We’ll discuss foundational ethics in the areas of accuracy, fairness, diversity, relationships with sources, conflict of interest, privacy, deception and photojournalism. We’ll also discuss how individual journalists can understand and grapple with ethical challenges at a time when journalism is shifting from print/broadcast to online and when much of the mainstream media (MSM) is focused on fighting the threat of official propaganda and losing their advertising and readership to Facebook. In these difficult times, this class is about developing ethical principles–based on readings and discussion–that you can articulate and defend.

In terms of learning goals, each of you should:

 Develop an understanding of foundational ethical principles, as well as the ethical challenges faced by responsible journalists.

 Learn to identify the highest ethical principles–or lack of them–both as a professional doing your own work and as a consumer of the news.

 Against a backdrop of the reality of journalism in 2018, develop your own ethical philosophy and ideas for living it. As Henry David Thoreau said:

What I begin by reading, I must finish by acting.

The Integrative Experience

This class fulfills the Integrative Experience (IE) GenEd requirement. See the end of the syllabus for a fuller description of the IE.*


This course combines short lectures with extensive discussion and in-class group work. The emphasis is on reading, reflecting, listening, discussing and writing. Although I will guide the conversation, your informed participation is essential. Assigned readings and some reflection must be done prior to class to facilitate everything else. You’ll be expected to take positions on controversial issues and to articulate those positions both in class and in your writing. Some additional focused research on your part also will be required.

No laptops or phones are allowed in class. Studies show that you and those around you learn more effectively if you take notes by hand instead of on a keyboard. I’ll outline each topic for you to help with note-taking, and I’d suggest keeping those outlines and all other class material in a binder. This class is hard work. And you have to do the work. But it’s also rewarding and fun—and it’s your chance to spend two and a half hours of face time each week with some of the most interesting, engaged people on this campus—other Journalism majors.


These are my expectations of you.

 Have a good working knowledge of the principles of journalism and of current events. You should read a major news source—such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, BBC, NPR, CNN—daily.

 Be prepared to participate in a conversation that starts today and continues through the last day of class. You and I also will start a conversation this week—both in class and through your work—that we will continue through the semester and perhaps years beyond. As Parker Palmer says: Truth is not in the conclusions so much as in the process of conversation itself . . . If you want to be in truth,” you must be in the conversation.

 Attend class. Please let me know if you can’t be here, and make arrangements with a classmate to catch up on what you missed. If you miss more than two weeks of class, you may be asked to withdraw.

 Do assigned readings before class. Print them, mark them up and bring them to class for reference—or take notes and bring those. Remember: no laptops or phones allowed so plan accordingly.

 Participate in a meaningful way in discussion. Spend class time focusing on the day’s topic. If discussion is not informed and vibrant, we’ll start quizzes on the readings.

 Be prepared for weekly in-class group work. You’ll earn points for reflecting on questions related to the week’s topic. You must be in class to do this work, which cannot be made up.

 Check your UMass e-mail regularly. In addition to talking in class and in person, I’ll communicate with you through your UMass e-mail account. I’ll send commentary on the class itself, written instructions for assignments, current events articles and other new materials. You also can stay current on the course page:

 Write thoughtful papers and turn them in on time, typed and written well.
Clear directions will be given in class and by email. Late papers will not help you in discussion and are, therefore, not accepted without making prior arrangements or in case of a documented emergency. The more your work needs to be edited, the lower your score will be, so all assignments should be well written, carefully edited, typed and double-spaced. Don’t submit hand written work or email me assignments without checking with me first.

 Never fabricate, plagiarize or misrepresent your work, which in the real world is grounds for firing and in this class, grounds for failing. The Journalism Program expects strict adherence to academic honesty, and integrity should be the hallmark of all your work. The University’s policy may be found at:

Especially relevant for Journalism students are the definitions of fabrication and plagiarism in the code of conduct, which are reprinted verbatim as follows:

FABRICATION is the falsification or invention of any information or citation in any academic exercise.
PLAGIARISM is the representation of the words or ideas of another as one’s own work in any academic exercise. This includes:
• failing to properly identify direct quotations by quotation marks or appropriate indentation and formal citation
• failing to acknowledge and properly cite paraphrasing or summarizing material from another source
• failing to acknowledge and properly cite information obtained from the Internet or other electronic media as well as other sources
• submitting . . . papers written by another, [or] from . . . the internet

I hope these will be your expectations of me. That I will:

 Be prepared for every class.
 Do my best to help you make sense of the material, all of which will be interesting and relevant.

 Encourage you to do your best work.

 Evaluate that work fairly, using the highest standards. Point values of assignments will vary, but generally evaluation criteria work as follows: 100-90%: excellent in terms of critical thinking, writing, use of sources and thoroughness; 89-80% solid in terms of the above, but lacking in some way; 79-70%: Acceptable, but lacking on several of these counts; 69-60%: Lacking on almost all counts; 59% and below: Unacceptable.

 Be available to you during office hours and by e-mail to discuss Journalism Ethics specifically, the Journalism Program generally or anything else of concern to you.

Required Readings

 Checklists from Doing Ethics in Journalism by Black, Steele and Barney (BSB)
 NPR Ethics Handbook
 The New Ethics of Journalism by Kelly McBride & Tom Rosenstiel (Eds.)
 Assorted Articles Listed in Weekly Outline

The McBride/Rosenstiel book is available online. It will provide context, while most of our discussion will be focused on the BSB Checklists, the NPR Handbook and the assigned articles, all of which can be accessed on the course page.


Each student will:

 Attend class, participate in discussion and complete in-class exercises throughout the semester. This work will be done in class and cannot be made up (40%).

 Complete writing assignments addressing relevant issues in the course. These will include an Accuracy assignment (15%) and a Fairness/Sources analysis (15%).

 Write an end-of-semester essay based on an interview with a professional journalist currently working in the media. You will explore that journalist’s job description and ethical philosophy and assess how closely it adheres to the principles spelled out in class. This assignment is in effect a final exam, which will draw on the entire semester’s readings and class work (30%).

*Integrative Experience

The IE is meant to provide a place where you can reflect on your own learning and explore the connections between your broad General Education courses and the more focused courses in your major. In order to facilitate that reflection, this course will ask you to think about your role as a University student, a journalist and a citizen and how your UMass education has helped shape you in those roles.

The three IE objectives are:

1) “Providing a structured, credited context for students to reflect on and to integrate their learning and experience from the broad exposure in their General Education courses and the focus in their major.” This IE goal is addressed by asking you to develop your own codes of ethics within the context of the current practice of journalism. You’ll work toward this goal through weekly readings and discussion, as well as through a series of short reflection papers focused on each topic addressed. These assignments along with the final project, an interview with a working journalist, will require you to draw on all aspects of this course in depth, as well as on your broader learning experience at the University. How has that experience—particularly your GenEd experience–helped shape the values, beliefs and expectations that inform the development of your own ethical code?

2) “Providing students with the opportunity to practice General Education learning objectives such as oral communication, collaboration, critical thinking and interdisciplinary perspective-taking, at a more advanced level.” In every class, you will be expected to articulate your thoughts on the day’s ethical issue in both small working groups and in the class as a whole. Journalism ethics by its very nature requires critical, interdisciplinary thinking, as you will be asked to think through and answer complex questions involving fairness, diversity, relationships with sources, privacy, deception and other issues. You often will be asked to answer real-world questions about what to publish and how to publish it, honing the necessary arts of articulation, persuasion and compromise in the process.

3) ”Offering students a shared learning experience for applying their prior learning to new situations, challenging questions, and real-world problems.” This class does not deal in hypotheticals but in the actual world of journalism. Each day, you will be asked to put yourself in the shoes of a working journalist who is required to think through multiple and complex ethical problems, make decisions about them and defend those decisions—in a “newsroom” with 30 other “journalists” working on the same problems.

Weekly Outline/Assigned Readings

The McBride/Rosenstiel assignments are in your textbook. The Black, Steele and Barney (BSB) Checklists and the NPR Ethics Code are available as PDFs on the course page. This weekly outline links to the other articles.

If you have trouble accessing any reading, let me know.

Introduction: January 23

Journalism Ethics Syllabus

Ethics (in All Media) Is Everything: January 25, 30

McBride/Rosenstiel, New Ethics of Journalism, Introduction

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 1-8

Margaret Sullivan, “Everything I Know About Journalism in 395 Words,” New York Times, May 1, 2015

“Washington Post Editor Marty Baron Has a Message to Journalists in the Trump Era,” Vanity Fair, Nov. 30, 2016

Christiane Amanpour’s 2016 speech to the Committee to Protect Journalists

Jack Shafer, “Trump is Making Journalism Great Again,” Politico, Jan. 16, 2017

Tom Rosenstiel, “What the post-Trump debate over journalism gets wrong: We don’t need journalists to hold fast or change everything, but a little of both,” Brookings Institute Report, Dec. 20, 2016

Thomas Friedman, “Social Media: Destroyer or Creator?” New York Times, Feb. 3, 2016

Mathew Ingram, “Social media crackdowns at the Times and Journal will backfire,” Columbia Journalism Review, Oct. 20, 2017

Journalism Rocks Democracy; February 1, 6

McBride/Rosenstiel, Chs. 3, 6, 14, Epilogue

Ryan Chittum, “The Battle of New Orleans,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 2013

Margaret Sullivan, “Great Local Journalism Stands Between You and Wrongdoing, and It Needs Saving,” Washington Post, April 16, 2017

David Uberti, “Gannett’s push into New Jersey saps local coverage,” CJR, March 17, 2017

Ethics on Facebook (No One Said Ever)

Farhad Manjoo, “The News Behemoth That Put News Last,” New York Times, June 30, 2016

Mark Scott and Mike Isaac, “The Accidental Gatekeeper,” New York Times, Sept. 10, 2016

Craig Silverman, “A More Humble Facebook is Deploying Charm and Its Checkbook to Win Over Critics,” BuzzFeed, April 9, 2017

Accuracy: Fake News & Fabulists: February 8, 13, 15, 20

BSB, “Accuracy”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Chs. 1, 2, 10

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 9-17

Margaret Sullivan, “It’s time to retire the tainted term ‘fake news,’” Washington Post, Jan. 8, 2017

Stephen Farrell, “A Bomb Explodes in Manchester: Then What?” New York Times, May 25, 2017

“Editor’s Note to Our Readers,” Newsday, July 12, 2017

Mike Sager, “The Fabulist Who Changed Journalism,” Columbia Journalism Review, Spring 2016

Accuracy Assignment Due February 13

Fairness, Not “Objectivity” or False Balance : February 22, 27; March 1, 6, 8

BSB, “Fairness”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch. 4

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 18-31

Jose Antonio Vargas, UMass Journalism, April 2017

Fairness on Issues/To Individuals

Margaret Sullivan, “This week should put the nail in the coffin for ‘both sides’ journalism,” New York Times, August 16, 2017

ESPN’s 30 for 30: “Richard Jewell”

Fairness in Rape Coverage

Damaris Colhoun, “A Better Way to Report on Sexual Assault,” Columbia Journalism Review, May 3, 2016

Al Tomkpkins, “The decisions behind the New York Magazine’s Cosby cover,” Poynter, July 29, 2015

Source/Reporter Relationships: March 20, 22, 27

BSB, “Source/Reporter Relationships”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch. 9

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 55-61

Margaret Sullivan, “When Coziness with Sources Is a Conflict,” New York Times, April 6, 2014

Jack Shafer, “The source may be anonymous, but the shame is all yours,”, June 18, 2014

Perry Bacon, “When to Trust a Story that Uses Unnamed Sources,” fivethirtyeight, July 18, 2017

Accuracy/Fairness/Sources Assignment Due: March 27

Diversity: March 29; April 3

BSB, “Diversity”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch. 13


Carlett Spike, “Newsrooms getting more diverse but still don’t reflect communities they serve,” Columbia Journalism Review, Sept. 13, 2016
Katie Ferguson, “The influence and limitations of Black Twitter,” Columbia Journalism Review, March 30, 2016

Jackie Spinner, “How a Chicago Reporter ‘Explodes Stereotypes’ with Unexpected Stories about the City, Columbia Journalism Review, June 13, 2016

Tanzina Vega, “How newsrooms can stop being so white,” CNN Money, Dec. 16, 2016


Women’s Media Center “Status of Women in the U.S. Media 2017 Report“

Margaret Sullivan, “Roger Ailes’s lasting legacy for women workers is one he would have hated,” Washington Post, May 18, 2017

Margaret Sullivan, “Canning O’Reilly and other media men won’t change anything; here’s what would,” Washington Post, Oct. 29, 2017

Karen K. Ho and Jon Allsop, “How the media covers its own Weinsteins,” Columbia Journalism Review, Nov. 6, 2017

Ann Marie Lipinksi, “When Women Stand Up Against Harassers in the Newsroom,” Nieman Reports, Nov. 28, 2017

Final Interview Assigned and Discussed

Conflicts of Interest: April 5, 10

BSB, “Conflicts of Interest”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch. 8

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 32-50

Alexis Sobel Fitts and Nicola Pring, “Are we journalists first? Columbia Journalism Review, July/August 2014

Lewis Wallace, “There Are Times Journalists Should Become the Story,” Columbia Journalism Review, May 23, 2017

Jim Rutenberg, “Cozy Mix of Politics and News Ends in Contamination of Both,” New York Times, Nov. 2, 2016

Final Interview Assignment Practice: April 12

Interview a Working Journalist

Privacy and Deception: April 19, 24

BSB, “Privacy”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch. 12

Bill Keller, “Invasion of the Data Snatchers,” New York Times, Jan. 14, 2013

Margaret Sullivan, “An Ill-Chosen Phrase, ‘No Angel,’ Brings a Storm of Protest,” New York Times, Aug. 25, 2014

BSB, “Deception”

NPR Ethics Handbook, pp. 62-68

Jack Shafer, “Is It Ever OK for Journalists to Deceive?” Politico, Nov. 30, 2017

Final Interview Due: April 24

Photojournalism: April 26

BSB, “Photojournalism”

McBride/Rosenstiel, Ch.5

Kristen Hare, “5 questions to ask before publishing graphic images,” Poynter, July 17, 2014

Sam Roe, “Thirteen Seconds, Dozens of Bullets, One Explosive Photo,” Columbia Journalism Review, Spring 2016


Discussion of Interviews: May 1

With Atkins Doughnuts!


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