There are many possible indicators suggesting the growth of media ethics as a field. For example, one could measure and compare the number of media ethics publications, events, programs, professors, graduate level courses, workshops, grants, professional ethics committees, and other data over a particular period of time. Each of these areas should reveal marked growth during recent decades. In the United States another possible indicator of interest is derived from a comparison of the first and second Media Ethics Summit conferences which occurred in 1987 and 2007- twenty years apart.
Both Summits aspired to gather representatives from the various professional and academic organizations, programs, publications, and institutes engaged with media ethics whether as a professional concern or as an academic (sub)discipline. In both Summits leaders gathered to learn about each other's activities, posit overviews of the field, consider important issues, and discover whether collaborative projects were needed and possible.
The first Media Ethics Summit took place near Boston in 1987 with 20 participants representing the ethics committees of such groups as ASNE, SPJ, RTNDA, AEJMC, NCA (which was then SCA) and so forth. It was sponsored by the Times Mirror Company and Emerson College at a conference center in Wenham, Massachusetts.
Over a four-day period close to the twentieth anniversary of that first Summit, a second was held in Murfreesboro, Tennessee co-sponsored by Middle Tennessee State University, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, The Scripps Howard Foundation, and several others, some of whom remain anonymous. Most of those organizations represented at the first Summit- RTNDA, AEJMC, NCA, SPJ, etc.-once again sent representatives, but this time many other groups, publications and institutions joined the convocation and there were eight times as many "wise elders" for a total of roughly 40 participants. Moreover, the event was longer, costlier, planned a year in advance, and tied to larger public events on campus.
A book about this second Summit (with other material included) was published in December, 2008 under the title An Ethics Trajectory: Visions of Media Past, Present, and Yet to Come (University of Illinois, 2008; reviewed in this issue of MEDIA ETHICS). It is of note that this book was 294 pages while the 1987 booklet about the first Summit was only 28 pages. Since these publications are of different scopes and designs, perhaps a better comparison is between two chapters within the 2008 book itself. Chapter one, called "Highlights of 1987 Summit I," is only 16 pages. Chapter six, titled "Proceedings of 2007 Media Ethics Summit II," is more than 100 pages, not including the presentations by guest speakers.
Consider these other facts:
The budget for the 1987 summit including publication was $8,000 while the budget for the second was more than $100,000 including publications.
17 delegates (from organizations) and elders (those who have been leaders in the field for a long time) attended the first Summit and 32 the second, although some were invited to each who were unable to attend. Hosts and guests made up the remainder of those present.
14 groups were represented at the first Summit and 26 at the second
There were two informal advisors to the first Summit and a team of 12 helping select participants for the second.
Only 28 people could be identified as possible media ethics leaders to be nominated in 1987. More than 200 people were nominated by an advisory group in 2007.
Only 19 academic and professional groups were identified as having an ethics committee or ongoing activities or programs in 1987; more than 100 groups were so identified in the 2007 selection process.
Only one woman was identified in a media ethics leadership role in 1987 while 38 women were so identified and 22 were invited in 2007.
No people of color were identified and invited to the first Summit while 12 were invited to the second. Of these four were scheduled to attend until one dropped out due to an illness, leaving three people of color present at the second Summit.
One publication, Journal of Mass Media Ethics, was represented at the first Summit while two officially (JMME and MEDIA ETHICS), and more than a dozen unofficially (when ethics newsletters, etc., are included), attended the second.
Needless to say, there were no ethics Web sites nor new media offerings at the first Summit, while the second Summit not only established its own Web site but also included more than a dozen individuals or groups with a Web site devoted to media ethics.
Only three workshops in the field were reported at the first Summit; during the second Summit more than 30 different ethics workshops, whether professional or academic, were promoted or reported.
There were two official sponsors for the first Summit and twelve for the second.
An estimated 2,000 people were represented by those attending the first Summit while it was estimated that more than a half million were represented indirectly at the second (memberships of organizations and the student populations of ethics classes are included).
The first Summit drew minor media coverage while the second featured high-profile leaders such as former Vice President Al Gore, Jr., who drew not only major coverage but brought nationally-known journalist James Traub with him.
To be sure it can be argued that all of this growth is unimportant since it is not more but rather better ethics that we need most in the media. Yet clearly both are needed. In the age of Enron, Spitzer, Madoff, Blair, Kelly, Cooke, Barnicle, Murdoch, Glass, sub-prime mortgage lending, Hewlett Packard, National Enquirer, and oxymorons like "Wikipedia research" and "Fox News," it can easily be argued that the world needs all the ethics education, initiatives, teams, and growth as possible.
Clearly this comparison of two summits is only one indicator of such expansion. But since summits gather the leaders and representatives of their fields, it is not an unimportant factor. Given this rate of expansion as well as the expanding need for the study and practice of ethics, ideally a third summit sometime in the future-will be international and representative of far more ethics education, professional practice, and potent projects worldwide.