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Rookie Journalist’s Blog: The Ethics of Decency

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I’ve only been doing the journalism “thing” for a year now, and every day, I find that there is still much to learn. It’s not just about the law or how to get information, but things that are less tangible and lie on the inside of a young journalist’s conscience.

As journalists, we are often faced with situations where impudence can result in legal issues, loss of credibility, or, most importantly, a violation of our moral code. We must always be wary of how we cover stories but also what we cover. I often place myself in the situation of the story subject and how I would feel if a reporter was poking a microphone in my face. Contrary to popular opinion, journalists are human beings, and, at least in my experience, there is a deep battle between humanity and our necessity for the story. At times, I wonder if I am cut out for the career of journalism. I love the thrill of running down a story and opening up angles that no one else has thought to open. But, there is guilt inside when I feel that covering a story puts another human being in a position that I would not want to be in.

Today was a quiet day at Carroll Community College, a striking difference to the way it was over the weekend as hundreds or even thousands poured into the Great Hall to support the Book Fair. For me, my daily routine, sitting in the newsroom researching background for stories, was excitement enough.

Then, I heard someone shout “get the defibrillator” and the stomping of feet running past my door. I walked outside and peered over the balcony overlooking the Great Hall and saw security guards running towards the information desk, until a young man in a knit hat ran past them holding a defibrillator and shouting “he’s this way.” Security changed their course and sprinted upstairs to help a student who had collapsed.

The journalist in me needed to know what happened, but the human in me knew that it was a sensitive situation and poking my recorder in the faces of security or the collapsed student may lead to a situation that was graver than it already was.

My job is to provide news to the college community. And, I love that job, but sometimes, there are stories that we don’t tell. Not to hide them but because of something greater than full disclosure: decency.

Today, a student with a heart condition collapsed, and I will not publish his name, nor do I even know it. He was alive, and in time, I will do what I need to do to make sure that readers of The-Quill know how he is doing.

Perhaps I’m not doing my “journalistic duty” by not saying more. But, I am fulfilling my “human duty.” In the end, that is the most important thing because, without humanity, not only am I a journalist who lacks perspective on the stories that I cover, but I’m also a shell of person without a soul or hope. And, hope is what the very fabric of journalism is stitched with. Will all of our stories be cheerful? No, but by providing what is, we reveal what can be. That presence of hope brings journalism and humanity much closer than people give credit.

For now, the story is that the college has its heroes in its security team and student Dan Brover, who acted quickly and possibly saved someone’s life. If you see Dan or one of the security members, make sure to tell them “good job.”

About the Author

Luke Fisher
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9 Comments on "Rookie Journalist’s Blog: The Ethics of Decency"

  1. “hope is what the very fabric of journalism is stitched with.” Very inspiring thought. Keep up the great work.

  2. This is a really amazing post, Luke. I love the way you look at this. It gives me hope, truly.

  3. Siobhan Wright | March 7, 2012 at 12:11 pm | Reply

    This is an excellent piece of writing!

  4. Jody Nusholtz | March 7, 2012 at 12:18 pm | Reply

    Beautiful work!

  5. Craig Clagett | March 7, 2012 at 12:30 pm | Reply

    Enjoyed this thoughtful post. If only your perspective was shared uniformly by the national media!

  6. Barb Gregory | March 7, 2012 at 4:18 pm | Reply

    Luke,
    thank you for sharing your thoughts. It shows the depth of how personal your writing is and the reflection of your integrity. Well done!

  7. While I agree that it is not a journalist’s job to get in the way of a medical emergency, I don’t think you’re upholding any grand standards by not publishing the student’s name. By most news standards, this would be breaking news and not at all “intrusive.” There are plenty of people you could have interviewed after the fact and by mentioning the “would-be” hero you show that. Of course, if it’s not your prerogative to publish news like that in your paper, that’s one thing, but don’t make it sound like you’re Woodward for doing it. It’s not like you’re talking about a rape case or the DSK scandal here.

    • Hm, thanks for the comment. I think you entirely missed the purpose of this blog entry. Most news sources would classify this as breaking news; but mine is not one of them. This story was not newsworthy like a rape case or the Dominique Strauss-Kahn scandal that you mentioned. Most news outlets would not publish the name of a rape victim, but they would run the story because it is newsworthy. It is newsworthy because it means there is a rapist at large. A student collapsing, and then otherwise being alright does not affect my audience, even though many journalists would intrude on that person’s privacy to get the story. My post was meant to convey that maintaining my humanity is more important than any benefits of publishing a non-newsworthy sensational article. Would people have read it? Yes, but what purpose would it have served. I am not trying to engage in self-aggrandizement, rather I am trying to assist other young journalists who may have the same conflicts that I do. I am sorry you did not appreciate the spirit of the post, but thank you for comparing me to Woodward. 😉

  8. Joan McGrath | March 10, 2012 at 2:04 pm | Reply

    I disagree with HM. First off, a blog is not a news report. Second, the tendency of media to proclaim every personal detail of every story has become offensive in many ways, not just the intrusion/denial of one individual’s privacy. What’s news here is that a medical emergency occurred and in an environment where there are no medical facilities or professional medical staff, a plan was in placed and worked. I’ve often wondered, if something happened to me, what the response would be other than someone hopefully calling 911. No one needs to know the student’s identity just like no one needs to know the details of Whitney Houston’s funeral or the state of Demi Moore’s mental health. Wouldn’t it be nice if we weren’t bombarded with this level of detail?

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