Robert I. Berkman & Christopher A. Shumway (2003). Digital Dilemmas: Ethical Issues for Online Media Professionals. (Ames, IA: Iowa State Press). xxi + 386 pp. ISBN 0-8138-0236-9. $39.99 (paper). Appendix: ethical codes of major online media organizations, notes, references, index.
This volume is an intensive and extensive look at the difference that the new media-particularly those using the Internet-have made in journalistic and other communications practices. It offers a thorough look at both current practice and the principles behind them. This is much more than the evolution of a digital ethic from the informal codes that the first generations of hackers developed a third of a century ago. It shows how the digital media have become a part of older media, and these offspring and hybrids probably have had more effect on "traditional" journalism than the other way around.
The organization of this book is unambiguous. Part I, "Painting the Larger Picture: Media, Ethical Codes and the Internet Age," alone is worth the price. It contains chapters on placing online media ethics in perspective, the role of media in democratic society, and the question of just who is a "journalist" in the Internet era? Part II, "Societywide Ethical Dilemmas for Online Media Professionals," also does an excellent job of placing the new media and intellectual activity and "property" into the legal, moral, and ethical (and economic) contexts that have evolved over the past hundreds of years. It focuses on privacy, free speech, and intellectual property and copyright. The third Part, "Journalistic Ethical Dilemmas for Online Media Professionals," is a romp through the issues of speed and accuracy, sources and searches ("Does the Internet make journalists lazy?"), and what happens when business and ethics collide in such arenas as advertising, the Internet and editorial independence.
An afterword on "The Internet, media consolidation and democracy" ties together much of what has gone before into a larger-and transcendentally important-context. It shines a spotlight on the topics of the burgeoning increase in media concentration, what is behind all the hype, the problem of access, the implications of the digital infrastructure, the specifics of cable mergers and open access, broadband architecture and discriminatory routing (another aspect of the "digital divide"), the economics of Internet news, and "convergence" journalism and its implications.
Those who have wholeheartedly endorsed recent developments in the digital era, those who reject them, and those who are latter-day Luddites would all benefit from considering the situations and concepts detailed in these pages.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Fall 2003 (15:1), p. 51.