AMES, Iowa -- Michael Bugeja knows that today's digital world has changed the way news is gathered and disseminated, causing ethical dilemmas from mean-spirited reader comments to hoax-videos on the evening news.
But the director of Iowa State University's Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication believes the media can resolve many of these issues by relying on long-standing ethical principles to guide them in the newsroom, board room and classroom.
In his new book "Living Ethics across media platforms" (Oxford University Press, July 27 release), Bugeja calls for a moral convergence to complement the technological one in the new high-tech media environment. The book is his follow-up to "Interpersonal Divide: The Search for Community in a Technological Age" (Oxford University Press, 2005).
"Interpersonal Divide was, in part, about media," Bugeja said. "I would say about half the book was about media and media's impact upon society, with the other half being about society and the relationship that media had with society and how technology has changed that with respect to community. What Living Ethics does, is go into detail about how to resolve that problem (the disconnect with community) through media."
The book does not promote technological convergence. Instead, it analyzes the ethical issues associated with technology and corporate policy.
New media, same social responsibility
Bugeja acknowledges that many future journalists will likely switch mediums or be required to know several kinds of media during their future careers. But his book is designed to prepare future communicators to practice social responsibility, regardless of the medium.
"Living Ethics documents how both education and media have, over the years, made community more inclusive because we worked in tandem with each other," Bugeja said. "And it suggests ways to use technology in such a manner to resurrect those ideals and make them real again. It focuses on our moral obligations to commit to truth, to fairness to responsibility, to discretion. It warns about temptation, manipulation, and deception."
The book features interviews with more than 150 journalists and practitioners, including seven Pulitzer Prize winners. The list includes such distinguished journalists as Tom Brokaw, former NBC news anchor; the late Hugh Sidey, former White House bureau chief for Time magazine; Helen Thomas, former White House bureau chief for United Press International; and Barry Sussman, long-time editor of The Washington Post.
The powerful media lineup is designed to counter what Bugeja says is eroding journalism standards. "We're operating in a media world in which Paris Hilton has more news hits on Google than Paris, France," he said.
Bugeja is concerned with how entertainment and celebrity hype pushes out news on more important topics to society. He blames this on a fundamental philosophical shift in the media.
"The media have an obligation to prove the truth in all its hues and colors via fact and verification thereof," he said. "And what I'm finding, at least in media these days, is a gradual shift from social responsibility to fiduciary responsibility.
"My whole thesis has been media owners made huge profits -- by and large -- because of our Bill of Rights," he continued. "And therefore, they owe society a free and independent and well-funded press. Instead, the issue that we see -- particularly with digital technology -- is the push toward revenue and growth with ever higher profits. And it's my contention in this book and my other writings, that those media companies that have never forgotten their sacred oath to the United States are still thriving today, and those who have forgotten it in the pursuit of profit, will eventually meet the fate they deserve -- not being taken seriously."
Criticizing citizen journalism
Bugeja also criticizes the growing "citizen journalism" movement -- in which news outlets ask citizens, rather than a trained journalists, to report on the news they witness.
"They (citizen journalists) make all the mistakes that journalists without training make," he said. "They perpetuate hoaxes. They sometimes do catch surprising video because that's ubiquitous in our society. These gadgets can report from anywhere. But what they lack is the idea that when journalists sees a story in the community, he or she does something about it -- not because they live there, but because it's an issue the public needs to know. And the citizen journalists do it because they live there, so they come in with a bias, and you see that bias in what we call 'chat' under the stories."
Some of the nation's leading media ethicists have heralded the book in advance reviews.
"This is an important book -- a comprehensive look at media ethics, drawing on vital and pervasive concepts, and blessedly relevant to multiple media venues, not simply publishing, electronic media or digital media," wrote Everette Dennis, Felix E. Larkin Distinguished Professor at Fordham University.
Additional review excerpts and information on the book are available at http://www.livingethics.org/".