Ron F. Smith (2003). Groping for Ethics in Journalism (5th ed.). (Ames, IA: Iowa State Press). ix + 422 pp. ISBN 0-8138-1088-4, $44.99 (hardbound). Chapter case studies (most chapters), chapter notes, index.
One of the most used college texts in ethics is now in its fifth edition, building on the original (1983) and subsequent editions by Gene Goodwin and later (starting with the co-authored 3rd) by Ron Smith in 1987, 1994 and 1999. The writing and most of the many examples in this organized but chatty volume are new, with few opportunities overlooked for interesting the undergraduate journalism students who are its intended readers.
The author doesn't stint in providing case studies throughout, and not just in the "end of chapter" ghettos. He also doesn't make the mistake of dictating what "the answer" should be/have been, although many readers will be frustrated that what actually transpired in intriguing examples is not always provided.
To explain why a book on journalism ethics should be read by budding journalists, Smith emphasizes that "journalism is going through a rough time," that "you need to think about what your role is as a journalist," and that journalism "ethics continue to be challenged by corporate journalism."
This is an applied book, with a very limited amount of ethical or philosophical theory (the "Potter Box" is, however, supplied). It should be of value in the teaching of ethics at the undergraduate level, but doesn't go much beyond that goal.
Its meat is in the "reporting the news" section which occupies nearly half the volume, with chapters on reporters and their sources, privacy, the government watch, deception, and compassion. Other sections deal with principles and guidelines (the search-groping of a sort very different from today's use of that word only to refer to sexual advances-for principles, accountability, and the study of ethics); telling the truth (truth and objectivity, errors and corrections, diversity, and nearly 30 pages on faking the news). The fourth and final section, on conflicts of interest, contains chapters on the business of news, journalists and their communities, and freebies and financial concerns.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2003 (15:1), pp. 47-48.