The Ethics of Journalism

The Media. How important they are in the modern world. Through many different forums, including television, radio, podcasts, movies, newspapers, online articles, etc. the public is informed of what’s happening in the world around them. And as journalists of the Media, these people know that it is their job to find the story and report it to the public to keep them informed and aware. Constantly searching for the right story, many award winning journalists have gone above and beyond in hopes of finding the story that launches their careers and provides wanted or needed information to the public. But at what point does the hunt for a story need to stop?

In recent years, there has been controversy regarding the rules of journalism as many cases have arisen recently that question if “getting the story” was actually ethical. For example, The New York Post published a photo on the cover page of a man, who was pushed onto the subway tracks, about to be hit by the approaching train.


The photo and related article has received criticism because it appears to be unethical – the photographer chose to photograph the man about to die instead of attempting to save him. While some have argued that there was nothing he could have done, I would argue that while the story received a lot of attention, it was in no way ethic for the Post to publish that photo.

This case begs the question of what the obligations of a journalist are. For example, while it is noble for a bank teller to defend the money in a bank against armed bank robbers, he has no obligation to do in his job requirements, much unlike a firefighter, who is required to run into burning buildings to rescue civilians, which risks his or her life. While nowhere in the job description does it say that journalists have to be heroes, there’s an unspoken courtesy of journalists to be decent people that supersedes their duties to be reporters.

In 1993, the photo in The New York Times of a starving Sudanese child and a vulture preying upon her, taken by Kevin Carter, won the Pulitzer prize.


After receiving massive criticism about why he didn’t help the girl and instead exploited her for the purpose of shooting an award-winning photograph, Kevin Carter committed suicide.

I think this instance brings up the important point that journalists and photojournalists are people first, and journalists second. Their loyalties should first lie to the subjects of their stories, and the story can come after. But to merely use someone’s unfortunate situation to take a photograph or write a story is to exploit them for personal gain, while harming or at least not helping the subject, which I believe is not only unethical, but inhumane.


Cinders. (n.d) Kevin Carter: The Consequences of Photojournalism. Retrieved from               photojournalism

Macleod, D. 5 December 2012. A Picture of Controversy. The New York Post. Retrieved from      

Pulliam, E. (n.d) SPJ Code of Ethics. Society of Professional Journalists. Retrieved from      

2 thoughts on “The Ethics of Journalism

  1. Being ethical is a major challenge in journalism. It’s hard to draw the line to what is and isn’t proper. Its tough because you often contradict yourself. For example, I think the child starving is a strong image that has a bigger story behind it. Portraying the image this way gives the audience a cause to fight for since the image is powerful. But, I have a problem that the photographer didn’t try to save the mans life on the train tracks. Regardless if he had the time, the effort should have been made still I believe.


  2. We talked a lot about this in my media and ethics class. I think it’s really difficult to find a balance between ethics and journalism because at the end of the day, journalism is your job. However, people obviously want to do the right thing and help people, so this is really a double edged sword. I know that I couldn’t say what I would do if I were put in these situations. I think that many journalists probably try to balance both and succeed at their job while doing what’s ethically right. However, sometimes the only thing that can be done is to get the story. It’s also important to remember that in papers like The New York Post, a lot of sources aren’t reliable so you may not be getting the full story.


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