On the Ethics of Journalism

On the Ethics of Journalism

I had the honor of seeing this piece couple of weeks ago in a screening in New York. I think it is a great piece, absolutely worth your time. But before you watch it, please make sure you read this accom­pa­nying essay by Eric Maierson, the producer of this particular piece. Trust me, read it first. It is long, but read it.

The essay gives you a mental framework in which you can then see the piece. But moreover, it gives you a very good insight into the thorough, meticulous search for fairness, the uncom­pro­mized strive for a balanced multi­media story­telling and reporting MediaStorm does. And Eric’s mastery of words by itself is enough of a reason to read it:

I am a story­teller, so I believe that our obligation lies in telling a story that is both factually accurate and emotio­nally honest. That should be our ideal. But I also recoil at the idea of inflicting pain on others. Life is filled with necessary compro­mises and, sometimes, I believe it’s necessary to adapt our work accordingly.

In short, I don’t think there is a definitive, always correct answer to the question of where our respon­si­bility lies. We can never know just how far the ripples of our actions will reach nor can we sit in paralysis, always questioning the unanswe­rable implica­tions of our work.

The questions we all should ask more often than we do. What is fair in journalism, what should we do, what should we not do. What are the possible consequences of our work if we publish something like this? When after you have done all you could possibly do to ensure fairness and you are still left with a bunch of unanswered questions troubling you, what should you do.

How should you deal with your loyalty to the makers of the piece and their efforts, to everyone else involved in production, to the subject , to the people the subject is involved with in his world… What might the publication of such a troubling piece entail? Would it be better if you did not publish it?

In sum, trying your absolute best to be fair.

Objec­tivity in journalism does not exist, but fairness does” reads in my notes from December. In my mind it is amazing to see the lengths MediaStorm goes to achieve this goal.

I might be partial as I heard Eric, Brian and all of us discussing this during our workshop screening. But that discussion made an everlasting impression on me. I have never in my life seen such deep dedication and aim for fairness in reporting as I observed that day. And I think the accom­pa­nying Unanswered Questions Eric wrote (and if I understood correctly, others in the team contri­buted to it as well) brilliantly describes this and the difficult questions the whole company presented itself with this particular piece.

I did discuss this a bit in an earlier blogpost I did in our DocImages blog( in Finnish).

As I’m writing this I have not yet seen the epilogue nor Benny’s response to the piece but I’m looking forward to doing it later on today.

I just wonder if that will bring more answers or more questions?

3 Replies to “On the Ethics of Journalism”

  1. I watched all of it, the piece, the split screen and the response and I found some answers but I also got more questions but most of all I’m feeling very confused now.
    That’s why I’m not going to comment any further.
    Maybe I’ll have to rewatch the original piece, to close the circle.
    Actually I think I’ll have to loop all of it a couple of times to really make up my mind.
    But then again, maybe that’s the point you’re trying to make..

    1. But makes you think, doesn’t it? And isn’t that one essential property of quality journalism? That even weeks and days later, it still haunts you… Not neces­sarily answers, but more sophis­ticated questions in your mind?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.