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By Brooks Gonzales (public relations junior at UT Austin)
With additional material by Megan Copeland (public relations senior at UT Austin)
AUSTIN, Texas – It is more important than ever for members of the media to stay ethical and informed, according to Mary Bock, associate professor of in the School of Journalism, during a talk at the Moody College of Communication on Feb. 16.
Bock’s talk was a part of the Media Ethics Initiative speaker series that brings in different speakers to discuss and share ideas about ethical choices and values in communication.
Bock gave the talk to inform the public and students that journalism ethics are not just for journalists anymore, as the ability to disseminate information is available to the news media and everyone in between.
“Sharing is so much easier than it used to be,” Bock said. “We are all able to commit acts of journalism, and it’s actually probably a good thing.”
She pointed out, however, that the ability for everyone to become a journalist does not mean that everyone is also ethical.
The news has long been a visual experience, a trend that has intensified through the ability to alter and create images on the internet.
“The cues [in images] that used to tell us that somebody was giving us a hoax, [or was] an extremist, are gone,” Bock said. “People will remember a visual even if you tell them it is false.”
Bock gave three tips for media professionals and citizens alike to live by: seek the truth, be honest and serve the community. In other words, seek trustworthy and transparent sources, provide evidence, and consider the impact of your contributions.
The talk attracted students and top faculty from the university.
“Journalism ethics is now something that applies to everyone, and it is important to learn the [ethical] rules for participation [in] any form of social media,” said Janelle Davis, a junior majoring in public relations. “We have the power to create a better media environment that can be trusted.”
Also attending the talk was Minette Drumwright, an associate professor in the Stan Richards School of Advertising and Public Relations, who studies ethics in advertising, public relations and business.
“If we’re going to have a culture change [back to ethical journalism], it has got to be because speech professionals, who have so much influence and power, are being responsible and ethical,” Drumwright said.
Before becoming a professor with the Moody College of Communication, Bock worked as a newspaper reporter and radio journalist. Her research is centered on the relationship between words and images in digital media. Bock recently co-authored the book “Visual Communication Theory and Research.”
“Bock’s talk made me completely rethink about how I read news online,” said Callen Hamilton, a junior in public relations. The talk encouraged me to be a lot more cautious with the news I consume and to look into sources in depth before believing them.”
The Media Ethics Initiative was founded in 2015 as a way to promote and publicize scholarly reflection on issues of media and communication ethics. One may ask, however, why do we need such an organization? Why do we need to reflect on the media at all? The answer to these questions lies in the importance we place on ethics, or the study of what makes actions, agents, and sets of consequences desirable or the right things to aim for with our actions. Ethics is undoubtedly an important endeavor, and our media use has only increased the chances for choices that matter. In a real sense, we use media and media uses–or shapes–us. We ought to think and reflect about what kind of people we are becoming and shaping with our engagement with the media, whether that is traditional news media or the latest in digital technology. Questions that will assume prominence in our reflections on the media, communication, and the sort of self we create through our actions are:
- What role does journalism play in our democracy?
- Does our privacy matter online?
- Should we “pirate” online content instead of buying it?
- How does our news media operate once it enters the online world of almost instantaneous news sharing?
- Should we encourage or allow “hacktivism,” or the use of hacking for socially-desirable ends?
- Is online anonymity a good thing, or does it enable incivility, hostility, and harmful actions?
- How much freedom of speech ought we to allow in a democracy?
- Are there topics that are off limits as too harmful to others we should care about in our communities?
- How do we deal with disagreement in our interactions with others?
All of these and more are the sorts of issues that the Media Ethics Initiative will tackle in its activities. Some of these will consist of research presentations at the University of Texas at Austin, but other items will be addressed in the public sphere of the Internet on this website. In all of these activities, the Media Ethics Initiative aims to provoke more thought and reflection on how we use the media, and how our communicative media uses and shapes us.