A Case Study in Ethics in Journalism

Get started on the case study with this tutorial screencast.

Each day reporters and editors in newsrooms have to make ethical decisions. This case study will help you see just how difficult making these decisions can be. There are ethics codes to help guide the editors and reporters, but each situation has its own set of facts and unique complicating factors.

Various people can see the same situation and have different opinions of what is ethical and what is not. In this case study, you will have to make that decision yourself. You will have plenty of information to help you make a well informed decision.

The Issue at Hand:

Reporters at the Spokane Spokesman-Review believed that the mayor of Spokane was trolling for young men on the Internet. The mayor, Jim West, had in the past spoken out against gay rights.

Editors and reporters, after deliberation, decided to hire a computer forensic expert to pose as a 17-year-old boy. That decision eventually led the mayor and the fictitious young man to set up a face-to-face meeting. That act would solidify the evidence that he was trolling for young men, and the Spokane paper broke a series of stories.

You will get to read all the Spokesman-Review stories and lots of background information, which in the end will make you much more aware of the ethical issues involved in this case and, we believe, also make you more attuned to ethical issues in general. Initially, we planned to keep the case study information limited to 2005, the year the stories were published. However, in the fall of 2006, Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) revisited the case with a Frontline special entitled: A Hidden Life, which brought forth even more complicating factors especially from an ethical perspective.

© 2006 Leonard Witt