John C. Merrill (2009). Call to Order: Plato's Legacy of Social Control. (Spokane, WA: Marquette Books). vii + 154 pp. ISBN 978-0-922993-81-9. $39.95 (paper). (Bibliography and index). John C. Merrill (2006). Media, Mission and Morality: A Scholarly Milestone Essay in Mass Communication, Vol. 1.(Spokane, WA: Marquette Books). 128 pp. ISBN 978-0-922993-59-0. $ 29.95. (paper). (References and index).
For a good many years, John Merrill has lamented that his latest book was going to be his last-and then he goes ahead, with his usual zest and careful thought and writing, and adds additional volumes to the dozens that he has already contributed to the organized literature of journalism. While he is not beyond revisiting topics-he cares too deeply about them to abandon ideas that he has been wrestling with for many decades-there is always something new to learn from how he approaches his subjects and how he pins them to the mat.
Call to Order goes back to Plato and forward to the present, and is dedicated to "all the brave souls who have suffered, and even died, in fighting against any Order or authority that attempts to degrade the individual and stifle freedom of expression." Although Merrill provides a brief description of Plato's life and ideas early on, he eases into the main text by providing quotations, or "Echoes of Plato," produced by such varied thinkers as William Butler Yeats, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Georg W. F. Hegel, the 1947 Commission on Freedom of the Press, Noam Chomsky, H. L. Mencken, Jacques Ellul, Iris Murdoch, and a half-dozen more.
And what a main text it is!
Merrill's six decades of thought and research-as a newspaper reporter, as a professor, as earner of several degrees in various fields, as mentor to many, and as an author-make him uniquely qualified to write this book,which fairly presents views in opposition to his own and then challenges them, no holds barred. Its scope may be deduced from the chapter titles: "The Case Against Freedom and Disorder," "Religion as an Instrument of Order," "Changing Times," "More Calls for Order and Action," "Order, Authority, and Society," "Enter the Righteous Arbiters," "Machiavellian Order," "Communitarian Order," "The Platonic Tradition and Media Cultures" (note the plural), "The New Postmodern World," "Vox Populi: Order Idealized," "Semantics and Roads to Authority," "From Freedom to Order," "Journalistic Orientations," "Order Through Accountability," "Trend Toward Social Ethics," "Authority and Mediocrity," "Oases of Quality," and "Speculations on the Future."
A lot to cover in approximately 140 pages! About the only way that Merrill could cover so much of what I believe he considers to be the most significant journalistic argument of our time (as well as past history) is to write a series of connected essays rather than a scholarly thesis. Personally, I wish I had this little book available when I was conducting graduate seminars with small groups of extremely bright students. I believe that each chapter, and the useful bibliography provided at the end of Call to Order, would have led to a series of donnybrooks that would have raised all participants-including a couple of Jesuit priests whose argumentation and disputations I remember fondly-to a level of thought that would, I believe, have resulted in much-needed improvements in the relationship of the communications media and the societies they reflect and project upon over the course of those students' careers.
But, even though the individual can read Call to Order with profit, without external sparring partners, it may be that a shorter introduction to Merrill's thinking would be useful to many-particularly those who haven't yet determined their own world outlook in the field of journalistic philosophy and ethics. And here is where Merrill's Media, Mission and Morality-an even shorter "Scholarly Milestone Essay on Mass Communication"- comes in.
The quotations in the frontispiece-from Diderot, Emerson, and Mencken to the Commission on Freedom of the Press-show the breadth of this short, but well-packed, book. These quotations are not duplications of those in Call to Order, even though some of the authors are the same. Merrill borrows-with full acknowledgment-his ideas from many places and many times, to the reader's benefit.
The table of contents of Media, Mission and Morality-divided into nine chapters and a postscript-may not be as informative as that in the other volume reviewed here, but obviously covers the entire field in fewer than 100 pages. Just glancing at them immediately brings up the conflicts and discussions that have provoked theorists and practitioners for literally hundreds of years-although we continually realize, to our surprise, that we really haven't gotten as far into our discussions as we might have done. From "Mythology" to "Free Press and Bloggers," and "Class, Mass and Crass Media" to the elusive task of "Chasing the Synthesis," we find that Merrill has both preceded us and is currently provoking us to think both more deeply and more broadly. Both of these thin volumes are worth reading more than once- particularly in the current chaotic condition of the mass media, and regardless of how many years one has been in the trenches.
Richard Keeble (ed.) (2008). Communication Ethics Now. (Leicester, UK: Troubador Publishing, Ltd.) xix + 296 pp. ISBN 978-1906221-041. ﾜ 12.99. (Chapter references and author notes.)
It is always worthwhile to learn that others may be starting from different assumptions, different values, and different experiences-yet are working in fields that may have similar physical forms and vocabularies with which we are familiar, but are at least subtly different. Although some of the authors of the reports and essays in this book are known beyond their homelands-Keeble, for example, produces the outstanding quarterly journal called Ethical Space-many are not, but should be, as the global community becomes further interconnected.
Nearly half of the chapters in this book (11 of 24) describe and discuss "journalism ethics today," and are unafraid to deal with such mostly Eurocentric topics as "Normalizing the unthinkable: The British press, torture, and the human rights of terrorist suspects" (John Tulloch), "Human writes: The media's role in war propaganda" (Liz Harrop), " 'A senior British official said.': The media's use of anonymous sources" (Julie-ann Davies), "New militarism, massacrespeak and the language of silence" (Richard Lance Keeble), "Hippoglossus hippoglossus and chips: Twice please love? Adventures in the underbelly of Euromyths" (Simon Cross), "From bad to good: An exploration of binary oppositions in the representation of Carole Caplin in the Daily Mail and the Mail on Sunday" (Jane Taylor), "Africanness in the British press: Spicing the news or the right to tell?" (Kate Azuka Omenugha), "Media standards slump in Germany's beastly year" (Susanne Fengler & Stephen Russ-Mohl), "Journalistic standards and democratisation of the mass media in Poland, Hungary and the Czech Republic" (Angelika W. Wyka), "Citizens in the newsrooms: Democracy, ethics and journalism" (Tony Harcup), and "How ethical idealism fades with age" (Libby Purves).
The remaining chapters are divided into four sections: "Journalism ethics: historical perspectives" (two chapters), "Communication ethics and pedagogy" (six chapters, more than a quarter of the pages in this volume and nearly a book in itself), "Communication ethics: philosophical explorations" (four chapters), and "Business and communication ethics" (a single chapter with the title "Making a firm commitment to trust," which consists of a four-page interview of Prof. Paul Jackson by Kristine Lowe).
Part two, the historical perspectives, contains "Republican Citizenship, Ethics and the French Revolutionary Press 1789-92" (Jane Chapman) and "Expanding ethical discourse in Wooler's Black Dwarf" (Martin Conboy). The pedagogical material in part three contains "Compromise and ethics in teaching abortion: A personal experience" (Raphael Cohen-Almagor), "The importance of caring: Ethics, communication and Higher Education" (John Strain), "Art imitates life: Or how arts tutors can use life coaching to enhance their professional skills" (Brian Hoey), "Blogs, ba and care: Virtue in a virtual world" (Brian Morris), "PR ethics: Forever a will o' the wisp?" (Simon Goldsworthy) and "Involving vulnerable communities in organisational decisions: Communication ethics in action" (Anne Gregory). The fourth part of Communication Ethics Now, philosophical explorations, contains "Ethics in journalism: False dichotomies, uncertain goals" (Karen Sanders), "How linking happiness and ethics can help communication practitioners today" (another Kristine Lowe interview, this one with Hallvard Johannes Fossheim), "Communication ethics and the dialectic" (Robert Beckett) and "Cyberspace as an excuse from responsibility" (Moira Carroll-Mayer & Bernd Carsten Stahl).
At first, the somewhat off-putting variations in vocabulary and "well, everyone knows that" references that have rarely made it to this side of the Atlantic Ocean require the reader to read v-e-r-r-r-r-y carefully. But soon, often without noticing it, one becomes bi-lingual and fascinated by the new ideas and new facets of older ideas that are revealed in this volume. (Full disclosure: my year in the UK was helpful as I paged through this book-but I really didn't need it. However, I am grateful to Brian Morris for providing the definition of "ba"-a Japanese word for a "place that harbours meaning"-in his first sentence.)
If a reader wishes to briefly dip a toe into the water to learn its temperature before plunging in for a swim, he or she might find Cees Hamelink's preface, "Looking at communication ethics 'with new eyes'" and Richard Lance Keeble's introduction, "Creativity, imagination and the ethics of communication" particularly useful.
Clifford G. Christians, Mark Fackler, Kathy Brittain McKee, Peggy J. Kreshel and Robert H. Woods, Jr. (2009). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning (8th edition). (Boston: Allyn & Bacon (Pearson)). xv + 320 pp. ISBN 978-0-205-57970-9 (paper). $88.60. (Chapter notes, cases, index, companion Web site).
Although it may appear that reviews of new editions of this standard text have appeared every couple of years with only a little change in authorship or content, that isn't the case. It has been four eventful years in the mass media since the 7th edition was published, a great deal of rewriting has been done, and the list of authors has undergone involuntary (the death of Kim Rotzoll, who co-authored the first seven editions) and voluntarily change, with the addition of the last two listed authors.
Additionally, there is a new discussion of Islamic ethics, and many new cases among the 77 presented in the 8th edition that deal with topics that hadn't yet received much attention in earlier editions. An enhanced Web site with classroom materials (www.ablongman.com/christians8e) is available to readers.
Organization of this volume remains much the same: an "Ethical Foundations and Perspectives" introduction, followed by four content-oriented sections with a total of 17 chapters. The difficulties of covering the entire field of media ethics, while providing nearly 80 case studies within this number of pages is reflected in many of the chapter titles. For example, the "News" section includes chapters on institutional pressures, truthtelling, reporters and sources, social justice, and invasion of privacy. The "Persuasion in Advertising" section includes chapters on the commercialization of everyday life, advertising in an image-based culture, "the media are commercial," and advertising's professional culture. The "Persuasion and Public Relations" chapters are titled public communication, telling the truth in organizational settings, conflicting loyalties, and the demands of social responsibility. The last section, "Entertainment," includes discussion of a very broad range of topics: violence, "profits, wealth, and public trust," media scope and depth, and censorship.
The 8th edition of Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning does, I believe, a good job of providing both a scholarly and a professional view of some of the myriad of ethical decisions that are being made every day in the mass media. It isn't the only book providing an overview of the field that won't swamp undergraduate students, but its authors have had the time and the authorial/editorial energy to continually improve this text.
Thomas W. Cooper, Clifford G. Christians and Anantha S. Babbili (2008). An Ethics Trajectory: Visions of Media Past, Present and Yet to Come (John Michael Kittross, ed.). (Urbana, IL: University of Illinois/Institute of Communications Research.) xvi + viii + 271 pp. ISBN 0-9819122-0-6 (paper).
While it is relatively easy to look back on the development of the field of media ethics over the past two decades, this volume also attempts to assess the present status of the field-and predict its future.
An Ethics Trajectory is much more than a report of the U.S. Media Ethics Summit II conference held at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro early in 2007. It also republishes a report of the First Summit in 1987 (Wenham, Massachusetts), as well as analyses of American opinion about the field, theory, education, literature and teaching. It also contains a number of additional chapters looking at the three ages implied by the book's subtitle, some of which were constructed from presentations delivered at the Summit and some of which were prepared specifically for this book. It was independently reviewed by Ralph Barney in the Spring 2009 issue (20:2:19-20) of MEDIA ETHICS.
Copies may still be obtained from Tom Cooper at Emerson College or Cliff Christians at the University of Illinois.
Philippe Perebinossoff (2008). Real-World Media Ethics: inside the broadcast and entertainment industries. (Amsterdam, Boston, et al: Focal Press (Elsevier)). xxi + 327 pp. ISBN 978-0-240-80921-2. $44.95. ("You decide" cases, photos, index, companion Web site).
The main difference between this book and many others is its concentration on entertainment content rather than journalistic content, although it doesn't ignore public relations and other aspects of what the primary author calls the mass media "landscape." Further
The companion Web site contains both "clips" (examples) and statements by people in the field recorded for this book, as well as other materials. It may be reached at http://booksite.focalpress.com/Perebinossoff/
Following a Foreword by Bob Saget, there are some 57 "you decide" case studies as well as many other examples of ethical problems and decision-making (some created for this book, some reflecting recent events with ethical implications) within the 13 chapters into which Real-World Media Ethics is divided.
These chapters are titled: ethical issues (a starting framework); business ethics in mass media (by Martin P. Carlson); ethics and the role of producers, writers, actors and directors; controversy and ethics; ethics and programmers; ethics and fact-based stories; ethics and ratings (both content and audience size); journalism and ethics (by Jeffrey Brody); ethics and new media (by Brian Gross); censorship and celebrity; diversity and consolidation; the ethics of public relations (by Carol Ames); and ethical issues in advertising and marketing.
Approximately the same number of pages (20-24) are devoted to 9 of the 13 chapters, with only chapters 9 and 10 (new media, and censorship and celebrity) containing 30 or more pages-and a similar number of internal sections. Because of the professional orientation of the writers of this book, it tries to cover the decision-making problems that actually face professional workers in the field-and spends less time on theory and philosophy than many textbooks approaching the same topics from other angles.
Jason Holt (ed.) (2007). The Daily Show and Philosophy: Moments of Zen in the Art of Fake News. (Malden (MA), Oxford (UK), and Carlton, Victoria (Australia): Blackwell Publishing). x + 270 pp. ISBN 978-1-4051-6314-9 (paper). $21.95. (Index, author biographies).
This collection of scholarly and semi-scholarly essays about The Daily Show is one of a "Blackwell Philosophy and Popculture" series edited by William Irwin. Others in this series are touted as dealing with such programs and topics as South Park, Metallica, Family Guy, Lost, 24, and The Of?ce, and are edited by a number of scholars and vary slightly in length and pricing.
In the Daily Show volume, there are 19 chapters (by 21 "senior philosophical correspondents," typically junior faculty at American and Canadian institutions of higher education) divided into five segments labeled: "Headlines: Faux News is Good News;" "Correspondent's Report: Jon Stewart (not Mill) as Philosopher, Sort of;" "Regular Feature: Critical Thinking and the War on Bullshit;" "Interview: Religion, God, and Darwin;" and "Checking in with Stephen Colbert/Your Moment of Zen: Beyond The Daily Show." Individual chapter titles range from "Amusing Ourselves to Death with Television News: Jon Stewart, Neil Postman, and the Huxleyan Warning" (by Gerald J. Erion) to "Bullshitting Bullshitters and the Bullshit They Say" (Andrew Sneddon).
Although there are many worthwhile ideas in these essays (even though I wonder why my spellcheck only balks at the second word in the last chapter title of the previous paragraph and the word "spellcheck" itself), they require careful reading to separate the gold from the dross. Even with subjects (and titles) that are enjoyable in their own right, these are serious articles/chapters, of varying depth of thought, and probably of different utility in the classroom- whether a philosophy or a popular culture classroom would be more fitting, is up to the reader.
Jerry Schwartz (2002). Associated Press Reporting Handbook. (New York: McGraw Hill). ix + 219 pp. ISBN 0-07-137217-2. $21.95. (paper).
Although I have admired Schwartz' reporting, editorial skill and writing ability since he was in high school and I was younger than the age he is now, this brief mention of his Handbook is primarily intended to remind the readers of MEDIAETHICS of the benefits that such "how to do it" or "how it was done" guides can provide those whose primary interests are in the field of media ethics. For generations, the AP Stylebook and Libel Guide has served schools and departments of journalism well. This book goes further, and places human faces on those who gather the news-as well as on the news itself, rather than just how to write about it.
This book is about how reporters covered actual stories-sometimes making mistakes, sometimes winning Pulitzer Prizes, but always having to make rapid decisions that involve ethical as well as news values. Each chapter gives the reader the opportunity to second-guess what occurred, to think of other ways of covering the same story, and to train him or herself to make maximally efficient use of the available people in the newsroom and to deal with logistical requirements, as well as how to ask the right questions of the right people at the right time.
This book's 24 chapters consist of much more than a stringing together of "old war stories." They ask and answer questions as important as "what is news?," and about "re-creating reality," providing suggestions about story ideas (and how to get them), writing, profiles, the art of the sit-down interview, the differences between general assignment and specialized reporting, the covering of beats (the courts, science and medicine, television, politics), and working in exotic locations (overseas-and Washington, D.C.). The "war stories" aren't forgotten, and the reader gains some insights into how a routine story-an auto accident, a fire-can become a great story.
The last six chapters, however, look to the future rather than the past, and discuss the tools and fruits of different kinds of investigative reporting that lead to different kinds of narratives as well as how the Internet often has become the tool of choice as the media and media careers change. Not only does a volume such as this help improve one's abilities to report the news-but, largely due to Schwartz' own writing, becomes a "good read" in its own right.