Journalism Ethics

There was talk of a police stakeout occurring around 1pm on September 1, 1998, so reporter John Gillespie and photographer Tim Flanigan left to go check it out. When they got there, the situation has escalated into a foot chase, so they positioned themselves in the hopes of getting an arrest on tape. This is when the suspect started running straight towards the news car, and the reporter was faced with the decision to stop the suspect or not. In the split second, Gillespie started running after the suspect when the suspect threw up his arms and gave up. Flanigan even got on camera the reporter asking, “Do I stop him” and that would end up being a big picture fact. Shortly after, the police arrested the man, but Gillespie had many decisions to make regarding the editorial decisions. He decided to run it as the truth, so it did not look like a publicity stunt. This is a professional fact because Gillespie had to make use of the code of the ethics. It came from him, and he wanted it expressed as one of the split second decisions where he just did what he thought he had to do. The public received the story well, and Gillespie even ended up winning some awards.

Step one is to start with an open mind, so the reporter did not know the crime of the suspect and could have just as easily been a civilian rather than a reporter trying to decide to what to do. There was most likely no self gain in it Step two is do some reporting. The reporter had involvement in the capture, so his intentions could be called into question, so that is a journalistic fact. This leads into how the reporter’s intentions are shown if the story is shown, and that would fall under big picture facts. By going past just observing and reporting, it is a political fact. It is still something the public should see, but how he got it could be considered out of boundaries. Step three is to gut check. Gillespie stuck to his gut by doing it his way. He believed his reaction to the situation was the right one for him, and he wanted the people to see that. Step four is to think of the perfect and imperfect duties relevant to the case. In this case, no maleficence and formal justice could have been at stake. Formal justice is giving people what they earn and to treat fairly, so if the reporter had been stopping the suspect for a publicity stunt then he would not have been treating the suspect fairly. With nonmaleficence, or do no harm, the reporter in a way could have screwed things up badly. Also as a result, the suspect could have reaped consequences by being shown on television. For step five, this is definitely an ethical distress. There was a clear approach for the story, but with a little obstacle in the way. Step six is brainstorm and analyze. If they show the story, the public could consider it to be for attention or a publicity stunt, but if they do not show it then they are not serving the public. It could also call into question what the role of the reporter is. Are reporters to observe only? Or can they act as good citizens? Step seven is reaching a conclusion. The story can be shown if in complete honesty and clearly shows the reporter had nothing to gain by it. He just did what he thought was best, so this would mean showing the whole video with him saying, “Do I stop him?” Minimizing harm (step eight) would include displaying the true intentions of the reporter the best you could. Step nine, or looking toward the future could be interpreting the imperfect duty of distributive justice as more an active citizen role. Since, he was a reporter he was called on by his intentions, but he really was just serving the people and liberty.

I would have chosen to the air the story because it could be shown in a way that did not favor anyone. The guy arrested was a drug dealer and suspect for attempted murder of an elderly woman, so it was also news. Above all, journalism is supposed to serve the public interest, and that is what this story does. I agree with the reporter on his decision to show the whole clip with him saying in the video, “what do I do?” because that shows he had no motive. He just quickly made a decision of what to do in that given situation. He also says that in his mind, there is little difference between jumping after a suspect and a story that points the finger at those guilty of pollution, or graft, or murder, and I think he makes a really great point.

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