Fred Brown & other members of the SPJ Ethics Committee (2011). Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media. (4 th ed.) Portland, OR: Marion Street Press. xiv + 311 pp. ISBN 978-1-93338-80-4, $49.95 (paper). (Index, Bibliography).


This is the “official” version of the 1996 Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code plus—and probably the most enjoyable and instructive part—some 50 case studies. More than half of these case studies were written for this edition. They do an excellent job of persuading the reader that it is possible for a committee to produce a useful outcome.


But this volume is not entirely composed of case studies. The first part of the book (nearly a fifth of the total number of pages) discusses the history and definitions of ethical thinking, the professional journalism organizations’ codes of ethics and the role of the journalists, provides brief accounts of the codes of ethics of a number of organizations (SPJ and 10 others, mostly daily newspapers), and a detailed chapter called “The Right to be Wrong: Law and Ethics” which credits Jane Kirtley, Silha Professor of Ethics and Law at the University of Wisconsin-Madison for its content.


At the other end of the volume is an appendix which includes an analysis (each by a member of the SPJ Ethics Committee) of “Ethics as a Dynamic Dialogue,” with discussions of the four major points of the SPJ Code: “seek truth and report it,” “minimize harm,” “act independently,” and “be accountable.” The appendix also includes a discourse on “The Code through the Years,” four extremely valuable pages of bibliography (both online resources and useful books and periodicals), and twice that number of pages for an extensive topic and name index.


The cases—the meat of the book, nearly three-quarters of its length—are presented in nine chapters: “To Tell the Truth: Accuracy and Fairness,” “Deception,” “Minimize Harm,” “Diversity,” “Conflicts of Interest,” “Photojournalism,” “Privacy,” “Source/Reporter Relationships,” and “Accountability.” Each chapter (which has a title keyed to language in the 1996 SPJ Code) brings us back to that code by concluding with one (or, in two cases, two) sections dealing with “What the Codes Say.”


This book deserves to get a lot of use, in the newsroom as much as in the classroom.






Jay Black & Chris Roberts (2011), Doing Ethics in Media: Theories and Practical Applications. (New York: Routledge). xiv + 441 pp. ISBN 978-0-415-88154-8, $67.95 (paper). ISBN 978-0-415-88150-0, $150.00 (hardbound). (Case studies, index, author biographies, references).


This is the kind of textbook that is not sold back at the end of the semester.


Doing Ethics in Media has gone through several editions, and remains one of the most useful volumes on the shelves of many journalists—including some who started their careers before the first edition was published. Jay Black, a founding co-editor of Journal of Mass Media Ethics and his co-author, Chris Roberts, understand the field from both directions—and don’t make false distinctions between “theory” and “practice.” To “do” ethics requires the knowledge and ability to get one’s hands dirty, and both authors are able to speak with confidence.


The basic questions they ask are tied to practice and should be answerable by all those who deal with media content. Although the half-dozen basic questions are worded as briefly as possible (“What’s Your Problem?,” “Why Not Follow the Rules?,” “Who Wins, Who Loses?,” “What’s It Worth?,” “Who’s Whispering in Your Ear?,” and “How’s Your Decision Going to Look?.”), they are the section heads for 13 chapters and 45 case studies, for which a topical (Journalism, New Media, Public Relations, Advertising, Entertainment) table of contents is provided.


A lot of effort has gone into making this extensive volume as utilitarian as possible, and the reader/user should find it valuable far into the future.






Joe Mathewson (2014), Law and Ethics for Today’s Journalist: A Concise Guide. (Armonk, NY and London, UK: M. E. Sharpe.) xiv + 223 pp. ISBN 978-0-765-64076-5, $29.95 (paper). (Bibliography, index, questions for discussion and references attached to each chapter).


Mathewson, former Supreme Court reporter for the Wall Street Journal, very properly—and very well—combines the world outlooks of both “law” and “ethics” as they apply to the mass media.


The book is concise—but is not merely a collection of pithy quotes and conclusions. The author has thought through the meanings of the concepts that he covers, and presents them in precise (but readable) English. This is not to say that those readers inhabiting every classroom and every newsroom will agree with his interpretations—but they are intended to stimulate healthy discussion.


As its title implies, the 14 chapters of this book start with (U. S.) law and concludes with the relationship of ethics to the journalist, but the author does his best to interweave the two fields. For example, the first chapter, “Courts and the Legal System,” starts with sources of American law, the similarities and differences between state and federal courts, the types of law (constitutional, statute, regulatory, and judicial rulings of various sorts), differences between criminal and civil law and similar matters. The second chapter, titled “Ethics, Root and Branch,” discusses classical ethics (virtue, love, rights, duty, utility), professional codes of ethics, and gets into concealment and confidentiality, and conflict of interest.


The other eleven chapters are titled “Prior Restraint,” “Libel,” “Invasion of Privacy,” “Less Common Invasion of Privacy Torts” (“false light,” etc.), “Fair Trial v. Free Press,” “Anonymous Sources and the Journalist’s Privilege,” “Copyright,” “Access to Government Documents and Meetings,” “Broadcast Regulation” (only 9 pages), and the “Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case,” before concluding with a few pages about “The Ethical Journalist” in today’s environment.


Mathewson refers to this as a “user-friendly” book—and it is. While he deals with many current ethical dilemmas (there is no dispute about obvious non-dilemmas such as plagiarism or making up of stories, so no need to belabor them), the attempt to make it easy to find and consider such matters necessarily reduces the attention paid to more long-standing questions of policy, polity and the changing technologies and concurrent changes in audience behavior and interests.


All of the chapters are written with reporters (and editors) in mind, and include recent examples. If that is the desired focus, this is a surprisingly complete (for its brevity) presentation.






Stephen J. A. Ward (ed.) (2013), Global Media Ethics: Problems and Perspectives. (Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell). xii + 326 pp. ISBN 978-1-4051-8391-8, $44.95 (paper). ISBN 978-1-4051-8392-5, $99.95 (hardbound). ISBN 978-1-118-35982-2, $29.95 (E-book). (Notes, Further Reading and References at end of each chapter; Index; Notes on Contributors).


Stephen Ward has written a number of textbooks and other works focusing on communication ethics across the world, not just in a particular nation such as the United States. He has published books in Canada and South Africa, was a journalist and director of the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, holder of an endowed chair in journalism ethics at the University of Wisconsin—Madison, and currently is director of the Portland base for the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. His Global Journalism Ethics (2010) was reviewed in Media Ethics in the Fall 2010 issue.


This book is divided into four parts. First, “Media Ethics Worldwide,” with chapters by Nick Couldry; Thomas Hanitzsch, Patrick Lee Plaisance and Elizabeth A. Skewes; Howard Tumber and Brant Houston. The subject matter of this part runs from “Why Media Ethics Still Matters” to “The Role of the Journalist in Reporting International Conflicts” and “Global Journalism Networks.”


The second part describes “Media and Diverse Public Spheres,” with chapters by Ralph D. Berenger & Mustafa Taha; Hernando Rojas & Tim Macafee; Herman Wasserman; and Jo Ellen Fair. Three of these four chapters focus on other countries: Colombia, South Africa and Liberia.


The third part deals with “Global Issues.” The authors include Sharon Dunwoody & Magda Konieczna; Karin Wald-Jorgensen & Mervi Pantti; Katherine M. Bell; and Shakuntala Rao. The areas of focus are climate change, disaster reporting, celebrity sourcing and justice (and Indian journalism).


The last three chapters—by Charles M. Ess, Clifford G. Christians, and Stephen J. A. Ward, deal with “Theoretical Foundations.” Ess discusses the issues, requirements, challenges and resolutions of a global media ethics; Christians deals with the problem of relativism; and Ward asks whether a global media ethics is—or should be—utopian or “realistic.”


Whenever one sees a book with 15 chapters, the suspicion is that it is aimed at students in a semester-long study of the subject. But the interaction of culture, philosophy, and the practice of journalistic communication is so different from locale to locale that a book focusing on these differences can be of great help in making it possible for established scholars—as well as neophyte students—to learn some new tricks, habits and practices. For those who wish to learn more about the subject matter, the “further reading” sections are particularly useful, as are the references used to document the varied assertions by the several authors.






Robert W. McChesney (2013), Digital Disconnect: How Capitalism is Turning the Internet Against Democracy. (New York: The New Press). xv + 299 pp. ISBN 978-1-59558-867-8, $27.95 (hardbound). (11 Charts and tables, Notes, Index).


Robert W. McChesney (2004), The Problem of the Media: U. S. Communication Politics in the 21st Century. (New York: Monthly Review Press). 367pp. ISBN 1-58367-105-6, $16.95 (paper). (Notes, Index).


Bob McChesney, Gutgsell Endowed Professor in the Department of Communications of the University of Illinois, is—in my opinion—in the same pantheon as Jim Carey, Dallas Smythe and a small handful of others who have created a body of thought and scholarship that describes, demonstrates and utilizes connections between the study of all aspects of mass communication and other fields, mostly politics, economics and other social sciences.


McChesney is less theoretically biased than some of these pioneers but holds stronger views than others—but today one needs his perspective to help tie together the economics, politics, policies and techniques of this field into a coherent structure that reflects reality.


He also is prolific, and willing to go far to spread his views—in writing, and in speaking engagements in universities and other forums across the country. He is co-founder of the “Free Press” organization and served as its president for several years. Although he may not (yet) be quite as prolific or as eclectic or quite as fine a wordsmith as Wilbur Schramm (one of the founders of the discipline of mass communication in the 1950s1), he has authored or co-authored a dozen books, edited another half-dozen, and has published myriad articles in scholarly and general circulation periodicals. (Indeed, it is so hard to keep track of McChesney’s writings that at least one book seems to have been overlooked by Media Ethics magazine, which is why two titles are listed at the top of this review.)


The earlier of the two volumes described here is intended, in McChesney’s own words, “to shed light on how the media system works in the United States and to provide a basis for citizens to play a more active role in shaping the policies upon which that system is built.” Among the topics discussed after the author’s preface are “Political Problem, Political Solutions,” “Understanding U. S. Journalism I: Corporate Control and Professionalism,” “Understanding U. S. Journalism II: Right-Wing Criticism and Political Coverage,” “The Age of Hyper-Commercialism,” “The Market Uber Alles,” “Media Policies and Media Reform,” and “The Uprising of 2003.”


Although the “uprising” of 2003 has borne limited amounts of low-hanging fruit, McChesney, his frequent co-author, John Nichols, and the Free Press organization are still cultivating some higher-hanging fruit and have not given up on the possibilities that they envisioned a decade ago. Those who have paid attention over the years to the field of political economy of the mass media (Dallas Smythe, Herb Schiller, et al) will find the many concepts explored in this volume stimulating—as will those who are introduced to a different view of mass communication by The Problem of the Media.


The second volume is a more pointed and narrowly focused polemic, backed by logic and data, on (in the words of the subtitle) “how capitalism is turning the Internet against democracy.” Obviously, this isn’t McChesney’s last word on the subject—I’m sure that he would be glad to discuss the dangers to discourse reflected in the now-endemic postal service delays that caused his most recent book, Dollarocracy (co-authored with John Nichols, 2013) to miss being reviewed in this issue of Media Ethics.


In Digital Disconnect, McChesney both details what has happened/is happening to the Internet in America in light of the resurgence of capitalism. The author admits that his own outlook on this topic was shaped many years ago, but he is not going to allow his beliefs from that era to muddy his vision of what is going on today. The Internet is/can be easily as important as the invention and innovation of the telegraph—which accompanied the United States’ growth as a nation and as an economic power. But, in spite of those who believe in concepts such as an “open Internet” and free access to it—the current argument over “net neutrality” is but one of the many skirmishes and pitched battles in this struggle—control over the Internet is, more and more, in the hands of large corporations that aren’t bashful about using their tremendous economic power to lead our legislators and other political leaders to support corporate aims and goals.


The focus of McChesney’s argument is spelled out in the questioning titles of his seven chapters: “What Is the Elephant in the Digital Room?,” “Does Capitalism Equal Democracy?,” “How Can the Political Economy of Communication Help Us Understand the Internet?,” “The Internet and Capitalism I: Where Dinosaurs Roam?,” “The Internet and Capitalism II: Empire of the Senseless?,” “Journalism Is Dead: Long Live Journalism?,” “Revolution in the Digital Revolution?”


The last chapter shows that McChesney isn’t content to merely carp about what he disapproves—he is also willing to go out on a limb and suggest both tactical and strategic solutions to the problems he raises as he “answers” his seven questions.


Even if the “Citizens United” decision by the Supreme Court were overturned—or didn’t exist in the first place—McChesney’s point of view needs to be considered, at the very least, by those who believe that the United States is (and should be) a democratic nation.




  • Note: Schramm founded the communication doctoral programs at Illinois, Stanford and Hawaii, and his students and colleagues founded many others. He published hundreds of essays, books and articles, served as head of the Iowa Writers Workshop, and was Dean of Communications at Illinois, a post that put him in charge of everything from what is now the College of Media to the Library, University Press, Institute of Communications Research, public relations, and the University’s NPR and PBS stations. Upon his death, an entire issue of Journalism Monographs was devoted to a bibliography of Schramm’s works…and even so extensive a record overlooked such significant items as Windwagon Smith and Other Stories (award-winning fiction designed for young people) and The Nature of Psychological Warfare (published in a limited edition for the United States Army Psychological Warfare School). Although there were major battles fought over political ideology during his time at Illinois, Schramm himself was willing both to fight for his point of view and consider the point of view of others. (Disclosure: Although this reviewer read The Nature of Psychological Warfare before he met Wilbur Schramm, and only was a Ph.D. student at the University of Illinois for a few months before Schramm left for Stanford and later Hawai’i, he believes that Schramm had a beneficial influence, not only on the reviewer, but everyone in the field of mass communication studies).




Brief Mentions


Arthur S. Hayes (2008). Press Critics Are the Fifth Estate: Media Watchdogs in America. (Westport, CT: Praeger (Democracy and the News series).) xi + 191 pp. ISBN 978-0-275-99910-0, $49.95 (hardbound). (Notes, bibliography, index).


Betsy Southall (2004). A Reporter’s Guide: Reporting About People with Disabilities. (Clarkman, WV: West Virginia Developmental Disabilities Council). vi + 52 pp. (paper). This volume is available as a free download at


William J. Holstein (2008). Manage the Media: Don’t Let the Media Manage You. (A publication in the “Memo to the CEO” series). Boston: Harvard Business Press. 102 pp. ISBN 978-1-4221-2148-1, $18.00 (hardbound). (Notes).