Louis Alvin Day. (2006). Ethics in Media Communication: Cases and Controversies

(5th ed.). (Belmont CA: Wadsworth) xviii + 480 pp. ISBN 0-534-63714-0, $69.95 (paper). 67 short case studies, chapter notes, appendices (SPJ, AAF, and PRSA codes), selected bibliography, index.

This is the third edition of this book to come out in the past six years. And while it's good to stay current in the field of media ethics, it's something of a Sisyphean task. Consider how quickly Judith Miller has moved from maestra to misled to martyr to Miss Run Amok. That said, while the book's promotional literature cites updated examples "pulled from today's headlines," the book itself does a good job of steering clear of ongoing controversies where information could quickly become dated. The index does not list any mentions of Matt Cooper or Judith Miller. The 2003 Iraq invasion is touched upon, but the emphasis is on ethics of embedding reporters, not ongoing (as of this writing) questions of pre-war intelligence.

The book itself has two main sections. The first three chapters provide a broad overview of moral and ethical foundations and principles. This section moves swiftly: Kant gets less than one page, as does "The Rise of Relativism."

The second part (10 chapters) provides an introduction, then a series of case studies grouped under headings such as "Conflicts of Interest" and "Morally Offensive Content: Freedom and Responsibility."

The book revolves around the case studies. These offer 1-2 page descriptions of fictional situations that lead to an ethical dilemma. They are written to facilitate debate and allow for role-playing. Since they are open-ended and fictional, there is neither a "right" nor "real-world" answer to color your discussion.

Thirty percent of the cases in this edition are new, according to the publisher's Web site. The new edition also has updated examples and references, and offers a free four-month subscription to "InfoTrac," an online resource for students and instructors offered by the publisher. While InfoTrac doesn't appear to have any glaring flaws, most of the information it offers can probably be found elsewhere, and the Web site seems to be part of modern publishers' insatiable need to include some kind of CD-ROM, DVD, or dot-com trinket with their ever-more-frequently-appearing textbook editions.

Aside from that, the book is an engaging read, and the case studies are fairly well thought out.

Given its emphasis on examples over theory, the book may work better for graduate students, who (in an ideal world, at least) already have some background in ethics and philosophy from their undergraduate studies.


The above article was published in Media Ethics, Fall 2005 (17:1),p.30.