Friday, September 24, 2010

Analysis of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics

Because my TwHistory idea seems to fit better under the guidelines of the second assignment in Dr. Rich Rice's Engl 5361 class (Theories of Invention in Writing), I'm going to first focus on a rhetorical analysis of the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.
Journalism and rhetoric are soulmates, I suppose, in the ways in which we frame our vision of the society we experience through media. News media portray (and magnify) such a tiny fragment of life that the rhetorical emphasis is profound, and I wondered what basis upon which do we build our discourse. Are we Platonic idealists, or sophist pragmatists?
This code could help to form a better understanding of that position. It is meant to guide journalistic decisions toward a better community of practitioners but also a better society as a whole, a very Athenian ideal.
My analysis will examine the rhetorical choices made in the document itself, looking for direct connections to the classical foundations of rhetoric and to particular rhetors that separate those two primary positions of thought.
It's important to also note that this code is a voluntary commitment for journalists to make. It is not enforced in any way by a central institution, which means its power, fittingly enough, is purely rhetorical. It provides a framework for a messy and complicated job, and the execution of the framework typically involves a dialectic process, since no document ever could possible cover all of the variations of possible actions a journalist could take. Most ethical discussions in a newsroom are not black and white. They are in essence Platonic dialogues, searching for an agreed upon truth, in which extensive discussion leads to a moment of enlightenment, decision and action.
My analysis will be offered as a short slideshow video, prompting thought about the division between sophistry and Platonic idealism in the modern world.


Ben said...

I taught and developed a course called "How We Know What We Know" that looked at these issues. Students almost unanimously agree that there is no single truth. I wonder why this is? Same time, the majority of my students are church-goers, truth seekers in other ways. Not that there is always a close relationship b/t journalism and religion, there is b/t what each tries to uncover and understand: the truth.

The question I keep returning to is if truth is received--if for a moment we are enlightened--how long does this understanding last before we learn past it? Does that make truth relative? Or does it make truth a state of mind?

Rich said...

Looking forward, Brett, to what you come up with. Sounds like you're getting at ideas of truth and "history" and how we value knowledge today. Meaningful work.

Deb said...

Your project sounds very interesting. I hope that the conclusion you reach is closer to the Platonic dialogues than the Sophistic cookery, but many times it seems we read what a journalist thinks we want or should hear. I don't mean to disparage journalists (certainly not all of them), and maybe I confuse them with political pundits, but sometimes I'm not sure that the decisions reached concerning what to publish come from a search for truth so much as a search to be first or noticed.

Emily Loader TTU said...


I can appreciate how you are going though the document looking for connections and influences of classical rhetoricians. Your post also notes how you are essentially drawing links back to the values of the times. It's important to understand how other cultures and people place premiums on different virtues...very contextual. Much like last night's MOO discussion on rhetorical situations in Augustine's time, codes of ethics (with their many names) are much more useful to review through a categorization and ranking of the value of certain virtues rather than in a good vs. evil approach. Yet, Augustine often looked a material as good (Christian) or evil (not Christian). I think your analysis will help us assess current professed journalism ethics, which can be useful as we evaluate the media we view. It is also especially telling that the ethics code is voluntary. That also contributes to our assessment of what virtues we hold in highest esteem today.