Thomas Bivins (2004). Mixed Media: Moral Distinctions in Advertising, Public Relations and Journalism. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). xii + 229 pp. ISBN 0-8058-4257-8. $29.95 (paper). Case studies (typically one per section, and questions on it), exercises, appendix (codes of ethics: SPJ, ASNE, RTNDA, AAF, ASME, PRSA, IABC, Seattle Times Newsroom Policies and Guidelines), source footnotes, references, author and subject indices.
Unlike the rapidly constructed pastiche on media ethics often seen as textbooks, this volume shows the results of a great deal of thought. It is divided into seven sections: "What makes an ethical issue?," "Moral claimants, obligation, and social responsibility," "The media and professionalism," "Ethical theory," "To tell the truth," "Avoiding harm," and "A checklist for ethical decision making." The table of contents is particularly useful, as it lists case studies and the many subchapters.
Bivins has done a remarkably thorough job of incorporating his favorite philosophers and their theories, as well as carefully honed discussions of matters that are often passed over in other books. Mixed Media is bookended by carefully worked out answers to the question of what an ethical issue is, and a checklist for ethical (moral?) decision making. The first includes subsections distinguishing between ethics and morals, how ethics are related to the act of communication, "the media and morality" (including discourses on whether the media are particularly prone to ethical dilemmas, that the media "are not us," media culture and the clash of priorities, the effects of organizational structure, and moral excuses), relationships between personal and professional ethics, differences and similarities between the media, their goals and loyalties, how ethical standards are formed, professional codes and the law, and whether the media can be ethical-in the first 22 pages of the book. The terminal "checklist" section is only 16 pages long-but includes a tremendous number of good and/or interesting and practical ideas.
With that much material discussed in less than a fifth of the length of the book, it is easy to see why Mixed Media is likely to become a book to dip into whenever one needs to consider a possibly ethical dilemma. It may not give "the" answer-but it certainly will help the professional or student reader- to-come to an answer that can be lived with.
The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2004 (15:2), pp.28-29.