Communication department discusses "The Black List"

Seeking the truth and reporting it while remaining independent and minimizing harm are only a few of the ethics principles journalists follow while writing stories. The Weber State University Communication Department welcomed guest speaker Jay Black to speak about ethics in journalism on Wednesday. Black is the founding editor of the journal “Mass Media Ethics.”

Black, a recently retired professor from Utah State University, the University of Alabama and the University of South Florida, spoke about ethics in general and many other aspects of accountable journalist behavior. He provided his own list of how to deal with ethics in journalism, titled “The Black List.”

“There are a lot of ways to define or describe ethics,” Black said, “but a common thread among the definition is that ethics is the philosophical investigation of principles that govern human action.”

Looked at in another way, ethics “deals with questions of ‘owes’ and ‘oughts,’” Black said. “What do we owe one another and what ought we to do?”

Black also touched on the history of ethics and why it’s important to anyone in the different branches of the communication department. Danielle Rich, a WSU student studying public relations and advertising, said she really enjoyed listening to Black speak.

“I think ethics are important in any career choice, but especially public relations, because you are working with the public and influencing public opinion,” Rich said. “If it’s unethical, then you’ll lose a lot of respect in your field and it’ll be hard to get a job.”

Melinda Saunders, another WSU student studying public relations, said Black’s speech was very informative.

“I loved it; I was enthralled with it,” Saunders said. “I love the subject of ethics because it’s something that is always changing. We as human beings are naturally flawed, and it’s fun to look at how it has changed over the years.”

Saunders also said she believed having good ethical behavior is important in her future career choices.

“Ethics are going to be very important in public relations because I’m basically trying to represent my client to the public, and if I do it in a way that is untrue or not right, then it’s going to backfire on me and it’s going to backfire on my client, and I’m going to have no career,” she said.

Black spoke about the history of ethics and gave a quick timeline of events that have happened over the years. He discussed the first journalism ethics book written in the 1970s.

“One of my favorite things I learned from Black was how he described a different perspective on ethics other than just adhering to organizational roles,” Rich said. “I also liked that he explained how it’s peoples perception of ethics, which means that good ethics kind of depends on who you ask.”

Black spoke about new social media and how it’s much easier for negative or positive information to get out onto the Internet.

“Because of social media and the way we communicate being viral, a message you say can end up anywhere, so it’s important to mean what you say,” Rich said. “Don’t act or say things unethically, because it’s going to end up everywhere and everyone is going to know about it.  So, even though ethics were important in the past, it can have a bigger influence on you now.”