Ethics & print media issues

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Ethics is the practice of discerning right and wrong, based on societal standards, and studying the development of those standards. An analysis of the print media's ethical practices involves studying how the media cover stories and make coverage decisions, and the consequences of those decisions.

To understand media ethics, journalists often look at case studies.


A writer commits plagiarism when he copies the work of another and claims it as his own. Newspapers and magazines have fired many writers for plagiarism. Some writers commit acts of plagiarism for years before they are discovered. The consequences include damage to the publication's reputation, possible lawsuits, loss of credibility and ultimately loss of readership. Studies of plagiarism include investigating why journalists plagiarise and the steps they take to cover it up.

Photo Manipulation

The use of photo editing software creates a number of ethical issues for print media. Photo editors can change a subject's skin tone and clothing, and even trim her hips or change her facial features. Ethical issues that arise include the credibility of the photographer and the publication. Studies also address the prevalence of photo editing software, ethics training for photographers and editors, and how managers can spot photo manipulation.

Conflict of Interest

News reporters can run into ethical dilemmas regarding conflicts of interest when they report on something or someone they are close to outside of their journalism career. For example, it's considered unethical for a reporter to cover the mayor if the reporter and mayor are related. It's also considered unethical for a reporter to cover a company's business dealings if he has relatives who work for the company. Ethical issues also arise when an advertising executive seeks news coverage because of an ad purchase.


Many print publications now publish online as well, with audio and video as part of their content. Especially when news is breaking, editors must make quick decisions about what to post, including ethical decisions about appropriate coverage and audience standards. Posting video, audio and photographs can also present issues of copyright and fair use.