Media & Communication Department

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Kristen Ziegler
Reflecting on the Ethics of Journalism:
Coming to Terms with Negative Experiences

It was only in reading the question on a fellowship application, "Why did you become a journalist?" that I scoured my memory for the reason why I joined a profession that I had hated for the majority of my life. When I was younger, five students at my high school were killed in a violent car crash and many people found out about their friends' deaths when reporters stuck a microphone in their face and asked for a reaction. This was not my first bad experience with the news media, nor would it be my last, but at that point, I thought that all press were lower than scum. Even though, because of the freedom of speech, they had the right to tell the public, did they really have the right to ask us? In my communication classes in College, I became obsessed with the way the press held up celebrities as ideal women and the public seemed to just follow. However, I questioned why the public tolerated this, not why the media published it. It took me until my senior year practicum to realize the ethical dimensions present in the production of every magazine, newspaper and broadcast. In the reading, when an author suggested that the press should be governed by an ethical review board I was horrified. This author criticized the press for publishing information about a potential child molester and never once thought of the children he might have molested. The First Amendment allows for ambivalence toward the press: the public wants the right to know but not the push to tell. As Editor-in-Chief of The Muhlenberg Weekly, I experienced this feeling, and, as a journalist, I weighed what its costs to tell a story. Eventually, though the public quotes the First Amendment Right to push for information, they feel sympathy toward people they view as victims of the press.