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Journalism 101 revelation: Ethics matter

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I've just finished reading the narrative evaluations my journalism students fill out at the end of each quarter.

Good reporting is "soooo much work" wrote one student. "Decisions," wrote another in big fat caps. "Never as easy as they seem."

A third concluded: "I've realized that ethics are HUGE in journalism."

This is a revelation?

There's a scary subtext when even journalism students come to class assuming that ethics are a nonissue, and are surprised and relieved to find that they play front and center. I have to wonder if these kids are like canaries in the coal mines, telling us more than we want to know about not only the public perception of journalism, but about the future of the press itself.

Journalism can be a tough sell. Polls tell us that public trust in the media is at an all-time low, with public distaste at an all-time high. Add to that the cognitive dissonance that occurs when reporting classes coexist with courses on critical media theory, and you can imagine how dicey it can be to teach a potential crop of reporters not only how to do it right - but why to do it at all.

I suspect, in fact, that ours is not the only communication department whose graduates are more likely to join PR shops than newsrooms. Not surprising, I'll concede, when you consider the cost of college loans, and the disparity in pay between corporate communication jobs and small newsrooms where reporters are likely to start their careers. But what makes me shudder are comments I sometimes hear from students who find PR to be a much more "acceptable" profession - as opposed to journalism, which they find, "you know, like, a little bit sleazy"?

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