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Making Ethical Decisions. CUNY Graduate School of Journalism August 27, 2012. What is ethics?. Ethics refers to principles that define behavior as right, good and proper

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making ethical decisions

Making Ethical Decisions

CUNY Graduate School of Journalism

August 27, 2012

what is ethics
What is ethics?
  • Ethics refers to principles that define behavior as right, good and proper
  • Such principles do not always dictate a single “moral” course of action, but provide a means of evaluating and deciding among competing options
  • Ethics is about putting principles into action
  • Josephson Institute of Ethics, Making Sense of Ethics.
special responsibility
  • JOURNALISTS must maintain a higher standard
  • As a publisher and broadcaster, we strive to be a trusted voice in our communities
a simple framework for ethical decision making
A Simple Framework For Ethical Decision-making
  • Why is this bothering me?
  • Who else matters?
  • Is it my problem?
  • What do others think?
  • Am I being true to myself?
  • The Responsible Manager: Practical Strategies for Ethical Decision Making, Michael Rion, Human Resource Development Press, Amherst, Ma. 1989.
why is this bothering me
Why is this bothering me?
  • Does it involve dishonesty?
  • Do you think it’s illegal?
  • Does it involve special treatment of some but not others?
  • Does the decision-maker have a conflict of interest, a personal incentive?
  • Does the explanation for the behavior involve facts or is it a justification?
  • Is it a questionable shortcut to a corporate goal?
steps to better decisions
Steps to Better Decisions
  • Stop and Think
  • Clarify Goals
  • Determine Facts
  • Develop Options
  • Consider Consequences
  • Choose
  • Monitor and Modify
  • Source: Michael Josephson, Making Ethical Decisions (November 2002).

According to the indictment: To meet the expectations of Wall Street analysts, the CFO and CEO directed the accounting department to book entries in the company’s accounting ledger that increased revenue. CFO pleads guilty, CEO charged with an $11 billion fraud.


When HealthSouth’s earnings fell short of expectations, CEO Richard Scrushy directed his accounting department “to fix it,” by artificially inflating earnings. The net result was a $175 million reduction in earnings and a Sarbanes-Oxley prosecution.


In face of declining revenue, Sears in 1991 created a sales incentive program that rewarded services advisers for meeting specific service quotas… shocks absorbers, alignments, break jobs. Management never clarified the line between unnecessary services and preventative maintenance. The failure cost Sears $60 million in refunds and settlements.

  • Lynn Sharp Paine, Managing for organizational integrity, Harvard Business Review on Corporate Ethics (1994).

In order to meet circulation goals, Newsday officers violated ABC rules. Other employees failed to report known violations or intentionally looked the other way.

newsday consequences
Newsday consequences
  • $90 million in reserve to pay claims from third parties allegedly injured by the misstated circulation
  • Analysts estimate reduction of stock prices by $2 to $4 per share.
  • 15 people terminated
four justifications
Four Justifications
  • It’s not “really” illegal or immoral.
  • It’s in the company’s best interest.
  • Although immoral or illegal, no one will find out, anyway.
  • The company will condone it even if immoral and illegal because of profit.

Source: Saul W. Gellerman, Why Good Managers Make Bad Ethical Choices, Havard Business Review (1986).

two others
Two Others
  • Everyone knows about it already and it is accepted.
  • If I do something about it, I jeopardize my own job.
even more justifications
Even More Justifications
  • If it’s Necessary, it’s Ethical
  • If it’s Legal and Permissible, it’s Proper
  • It’s Just Part of the Job or I was Doing it for You
  • It’s All for a Good Cause
  • I’m Just Fighting Fire with Fire
  • It Doesn’t Hurt Anyone
  • It’s OK if I Don’t Gain Personally or I’ve Got it Coming
  • I Can Still be Objective
  • Source, Michael Josephson, Making Ethical Decisions (November 2002).
who else matters
Who else matters?
  • Responsibility to stake holders
  • How do Ethical Values relate to stake holders?
    • Stockholders
    • Customers/Readers/Viewers
    • Employees
    • Suppliers
    • Community
is it my problem
Is It My Problem?
  • Do no harm!
  • Is there a difference between obligation and good deed?
    • Has the problem occurred or worsened under your watch?
    • Would honest communication have lessened the severity of the problem?
    • Can you prevent problems by proactive acceptance of an obligation?
kew gardens principles
Kew Gardens Principles
  • Need - Is there a clear problem to resolve?
  • Proximity - Am I close to the situation?
  • Capability – Is there something that I can do to help?
  • Last Resort – Is there anyone else likely to help?
  • Source: Michael Rion, The Responsible Manager: Practical Strategies for Ethical Decision Making, Human Resources Development Press (1989).
what do others think
Can you solicit other perspectives?



Marketing Managers

Purchasing Managers

Sales Managers



What do others think?
am i being true to myself
Am I being true to myself?
  • Character Makes a Difference
  • “But rules cannot substitute for character.”
    • Alan Greenspan
  • “Conviction is worthless unless it is converted into conduct.”
    • Thomas Carlyle, Scottish historian and author
five things a journalist should never do my list
Five things a journalistShould never do (My List)
  • Misrepresent to get a story
  • Break the law to get a story
  • Fail to consider the subject of the story
  • Have a personal subject matter agenda
  • Fail to be scrupulous about the facts

Food Lion

  • Cincinnati Enquire/Chiquita
  • Dale Earnhardt’s pictures
    • Danny Rolling’s pictures
    • Casey Anthony’s pictures
  • Fox News? New York Times? WSJ?
  • Rape Victim’s name
  • Noel M. Tichy, Andrew R. McGill, The Ethical Challenge, John Wiley & Sons (2003)
  • Harvard Business Review on Corporate Ethics, Harvard Business School Publishing Corporation (2003)
  • Michael Rion, The Responsible Manager: Practical Strategies for Ethical Decision Making, Human Resource Development Press (1989)
  • Barbara Ley Toffler, Tough Choices: Managers Talk Ethics, John Wiley & Sons (1986).
  • Josephson Institute (