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The director of a charity spent $500 out of the organization’s funds on personal expenses and had to resign when the misuse was discovered. The event was presented as a voluntary exit to preserve the image of the organization, which wanted to avoid scandals due to the donor gathering due next month. The refusal to publish the article would also benefit the director by preventing damage to his reputation. The journalist is the moral agent, and the values at stake are truth, trust, and reputation.
- Value: If the story is published, the charity will likely attract significantly fewer donations in the upcoming charity event due to the loss of reputation from the former director’s lack of discretion. However, if the story remains unpublished, the director will be able to find a job at a similar level and possibly commit similar acts again.
- Loyalty: The source provided the journalist with the information and asked them not to report the reason for the director’s resignation. As such, it would be ethical to reciprocate the loyalty of the informer that led them to report the information despite the desire that it should not be made public.
- Trust: On the one hand, the public will trust the journalist more if they report the case and help uproot corruption. However, the organization and especially the source within it will no longer trust the reporter to exercise discretion and avoid reporting anything else to them.
- Reputation: Both the director’s and the charity’s reputation will suffer as a result of the article’s publication. As a result, the charity will attract fewer donations and be less effective at its role, and the director will be unable to occupy a position that is equivalent to his old one in the future.
- Professional standards: the journalist’s code describes the reporting of truth as the foundation of democracy. However, it is also important to minimize harm, and either decision creates damage that is challenging to evaluate in the long run. As such, journalistic standards conflict on the issue, and it is necessary to determine which is more important.
- Ethical dilemma: Peck and Reel (2017) define the situation as a case of public service against reputation damage. Society would benefit from the publication of the director’s wrongdoing, but the charity would have its reputation, which is essential for it to attract donations, tarnished. Both options have ethical justifications, and so one of the values has to be prioritized over the other.
To decide, the journalist must understand which option would create the least harm. According to Foreman (2016), and ethical decision-maker has to be skilled at predicting the outcomes of various decisions. If the story is published, the charity will suffer potentially massive damage, and the director may not be affected much because his transgression was not significant in size. On the other hand, if it is not, the charity will operate as usual, and the director would be able to find a good position and possibly learn to avoid misappropriating funds from his mistake. As such, the journalist should not publish the story if they want to cause minimal damage, and due to the lightness of the director’s misdeed, it would be ethical to avoid punishing him due to the collateral damage the publication would cause.
Foreman, G. (2016). The ethical journalist: Making responsible decisions in the digital age. Malden, MA: John Wiley & Sons.
Peck, L.A., & Reel, G.S. (2017). Media ethics at work: True stories from young professionals (2nd ed.). Thousand Oaks, CA: CQ Press.