Lee Wilkins and Renata Coleman. (2005)

The Moral Media: How Journalists Reason About Ethics. (Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates). xiii + 164 pp. ISBN 0-8058-4475-9. $19.95 (paper). Appendix (survey questions), references, author and subject indices.

This is a report of a survey of working journalists about how they reason about matters of ethics. The "Defining Issues Test" (DIT) was administered to more than 200 professional journalists. This instrument is based on Lawrence Kohnberg's moral development theory, and the authors believe that their findings can be compared to a number of other occupations and professions from seminarians to prison inmates. As with almost all social science research, there are many assumptions and questions of methodology. The authors deserve credit for facing some of them head-on. Nevertheless, readers should be careful not to generalize beyond the data presented and its validity and reliability. The Moral Media is divided into three parts. The four chapters in the first part contain methodological discussion and presentation of data from the survey. The second part deals with: pictures and ethical reasoning; stereotypes (particularly racial stereotypes), the "color blind" and the interaction between views of race and the DIT instrument; "The Ethics of Journalistic Deception" (by Seow Ting Lee); and an additional chapter reporting on the application of the DIT to advertising practitioners (by Anne Cunningham). The third part consists of a short chapter about the implications of this study for techers, scholars, and professional journalists, and a slightly longer one about "Theory: A Moving Target." The monograph can inform teachers, give some backing to media professionals who feel the need to explain why and how they decided an ethical question, and aid scholars in their search for new hypotheses and new methods of measuring and explaining behavior.

The above article was published in Media Ethics , Spring 2005 (16:2), pp. 29.