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The American news media, committed in theory to the free and open dissemination of information needful for the cohesive working of democracy, might be defended as operating upon a Christian ethical base. But the actual workings of the news business hinge on commercialism and a commitment to an everdissolving "right to know" perspective of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.


The American news media, committed in theory to the free and open dissemination of information needful for the cohesive working of democracy, might be defended as operating upon a Christian ethical base. But the actual workings of the news business hinge on commercialism and a commitment to an everdissolving "right to know" perspective of the U.S. Constitution's First Amendment.

The ethical decisions governing how news will be covered, what news will be covered and why, depends often upon seemingly antihuman economic principles. Yet the message of humankind's fallenness and the need for Christ's redemption of individuals--no longer welcome as a mainstream philosophy of secular news coverage--appears to be tolerated and occasionally welcomed by truly open-minded practitioners in the secular news media who admit the untarnished, unmistakably human and existential value of Christ's love lived out by newsmakers--and newsgatherers.

Thus it can be seen that the Christian journalist can and must infiltrate the U.S. media world, injecting Biblical values through a life of transparent obedience to Christ applied to the everyday workings of accurate, thorough journalism. The Christian journalist in secular media can be a voice of hope even in seemingly hopeless news situations by reporting from a world-view shaped by: an awareness of God's sovereignty; a presupposition of the God-shaped value of all humans; and an over-arching perspective of eternity beyond the daily decisions of human power-brokers.

This course has been designed (painfully) with the nine-week quarter system in mind, but can easily, perhaps preferably, be expanded to the extra weeks needed for use in the semester system.



JRN 490: Advanced Studies in Journalism: Ethics and the News Media
Spring, 1991
M. Longinow, instructor


Senior status or permission of the instructor

Course Objectives:

  • To examine the philosophical basis for media

  • To explore the foundations of American free speech

  • To discuss the implications of freedoms within and without the presuppositions of the Judeo-Christian ethic

  • To develop analytical reasoning skills in examination of media ethics in current events situations.


Halberstam, David. (1979). The Powers That Be. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Rivers, William L., and Cleve Matthews. (1988). Ethics for the Media. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

On Reserve:
(For more background, see separate references page)

Christians, Clifford G., Kim B. Rotzoll & Mark Fackler. (1987). Media Ethics: Cases and Moral Reasoning. (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.

Rodman, George. (1989). Mass Media Issues. (3rd ed.). Dubuque: Kendall/Hunt.

Watkins, John J. (1990). The Mass Media and the Law. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

The Paradox of the Press. (1989). Washington, D.C.: Library of Congress.

Course Description:

This course will combine lectures, discussion and written analysis of media ethics and media history primarily in U.S. print media, but also--pertinent to decision making at the corporate level--in United States network broadcast media.

The course will begin with a philosophical analysis of the roots of free speech and motivations for media in the United States and how that freedom has evolved. Then the class will examine the corporate and philosophical foundations supporting the power structures of current U.S. print and broadcast media.

As practical application of these studies, students will examine the adversarial function of media as an institution in American politics, and as perceived shaper of standards for personal sexuality, economics, violence and family relations.

Finally, students will examine ways in which pluralism in American media can open Christian witness opportunities to those journalists whose transparent lives display an examined faith in, and obedience to, Jesus Christ in daily, committed professionalism.

Week One:

Philosophical Assumptions for Media

Week Two:

Foundations for American Free Speech

Week Three:

Image vs. Reality in the News

Week Four:

Power-Seeking vs. Ethics in Media Power Structures

Week Five:

Evolution of the "Right to Know"


Week Six:

Media Power and Politics

Week Seven:

Media's Political Watchdog Function Examined

Week Eight:

Sexuality, Violence and Propriety in the Media

Week Nine:

Pluralism and Missions Opportunities in the News Business

Mid-term and Final Examinations Essay (500 Points Each) Based on Readings and Class Discussion

(Mid-term examination after week four covering philosophies of western media, the foundations of free press and phenomenon of image in the news media's three forms (radio, TV, print).)

(Final examination (single essay question) cumulative in scope, integrating readings with lecture/discussions on ethical decision making in the media. Students have their choice of topics, given before the exam: radio, television or print media and how ethical decision making has influenced the roots and current operations of that media area.)

Sugggested Outline For Jrn-490 (Ehtics in Media)

Week One:

Read: Rivers-Matthews pp.1-18; Halberstam: prelude; Christians, et al.: pp.1-20

1. Foundations for philosophical assumptions in western media expression.

A. Various philosophical assumptions for news media.

1. Media knowledge stems from scientific naturalism (secular humanism)

a. no reality besides natural reality
b. all reality explained by physical processes
c. naturalist consequence: despair

2. Media knowledge stems from utilitarian need

a. the best end for the most people
b. only that information that's necessary
c. utilitarian consequences:

I. inadequate expression
II. inaccurate (i.e. limited) view of man

3. Media knowledge stems from worship of cosmos as God (pantheism, mysticism)

a. seeks to know all, to know God
b. seeks to know all, to find true self
c. pantheism (mysticism) consequences

I. frustration (cannot know all)
II. loneliness (the worship of self -- this view's end result -- is ultimately unsatisfying.)

4. Media knowledge stems from a disillusionment with, or rejection of, divine or natural revelation.

a. Empiricism (Comte)
b. Secular existentialism
c. Anti-realism (Kant)
d. disillusionist consequences:

I. frustration, confusion with natural order
II. perspective skewed against supernatural

5. Theistic basis for seeking media knowledge

a. Honest media inquiry into creation's detail, order bears witness to its orderly Maker.

I. Leads to hunger for more knowledge of God through study of, relation with Jesus Christ
II. leads to true, everyday worship of God through pursuit of Truth.
III. leads to deeper commitment and obedience to God's Word.

A. To explain His order in nature
B. To explain Man's fallen condition as a cause for historical relations between people and ations.

b. Purposeful media inquiry into creation's order, detail made possible through its presuppositions.

I. directs free inquiry in ways that honor God

A. not value-free, but value-shaped
B. compelled by moral conscience

II. drives inquiry even when firm answers unavailable

A. avoids pessimism
B. avoids cynicism
C. avoids despair

1. creation is ordered, law- governed
2. hope is available for creation

a. Coming: An end to evil
b. Christ's kingdom reality

Week Two:

Read: Colson, pp.214-217; Martin-Hiebert pp. 235-243;Rivers-Mathews Intro., ch. 1, 2.

1. Foundations for western media expression

A. Philosophical assumptions of media

5. Theistic basis for seeking media knowledge (continued)

a. Practical media inquiry results not primarily in sociological awareness, but in a push for beneficial change-- often through a frank look at the hopelessness of human solutions that lack Biblical perspective.

I. Media provides social connections

A.with "Zeitgeist"; "Spirit" of the age.
B. With perception of where he will fit with society's framework (relativism)
C. with alternative modes of thought in a culture repressive of minority thought (see Jewish underground press)

II. Media serves man's escape from, or conviction of, the absurdity of nature and society's structures.
III. Media serves man's need for a tool to in quest for power.

A. Machiavellianism
B. Marxism/Socialism
C. Materialism
D. Alternative press

IV. Media serves as society's mirror, reflecting the outworking of inner sinful nature.

A. Denying God, destroys hope
B. Acknowledging God, leads to repentance, humility.

2. Psychological basis for media knowledge

a. Media can replace familial social conditioning.

I. due to erosion of nuclear family definitions
II. due to disappearance of small-town networks of extended family and friends.

b. Media can substitute for public interaction

I. because it is one-to-one (person- topaper, person-to-receiver) is perceived of, and sought out as, source of intimate, personally-tailored information.
II. substitutes for personal exploration (Boorstin)
III. substitutes for personal dialogue

c. Media, if committed to serving society, can be a source of help for people unable to get help elsewhere.

I. brings quick publicity of needs
II. brings possibility of updates

d. Media can be substitute for dialogue

I. with the unknown
II. with other people

e. Media can be an ego-building tool for those with the capacity to control it.

Week Three:

Read: Christians, et al: part one; Rivers-Mathews ch.2-5; Halberstam part II.

2. The Foundations of American Free Speech: Truth-Seeking

A. Milton and Mill on who should speak

1. Milton

a. free marketplace of ideas: history and implications
b. supported by Judeo-Christian ethic

I. public service
II. encourages free inquiry and true wisdom

2. Mill

a. limited marketplace: hedonistic pleasure principle
b. supported by "might makes right" ethic (Machiavel1i)

I. downplays public service
II. discourages free inquiry; promotes surface thinking

B. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution--what it says, what it doesn't say.

1. History: England's power of print, power against print

a. taxes and newspapers
b. power in the presses: takes power to get power
c. money and the press: the rich get/got coverage

2. Proponents and deponents: WHO CARED ABOUT PRESS POWER?

a. PRO: Jefferson
b. CON: Hamilton, H.L. Mencken

3. What the Amendment says

a. Its assumptions

I. Congressional power over the press
II. Ethical working of the legislature
III. Ethical working of the press
IV. Need for protection of the press; no need for protection FROM THE PRESS

b. Prior restraint on press statements restricted
c.connected with protection of speech

4. What the Amendment does not say

a. No explicit guarantee of free speech or press 
b. No clear definition

I. of Speech
II. of Press
III. of expansions of communication

Week Four:

Read: Halberstam part III; Christians et al : part II; Rivers Mathews ch. 9, 10

3. Image vs. Reality in the News

A. Print news media as purveyor of believable truth

1. Spokesmen

a. Jefferson
b. Mark Twain
c. Joseph Pulitzer
d. Arthur Hays Sulzberger

2. Yellow Journalism (See "Paradox of the Press")
3. Full-circle: Spiro Agnew

B. 20th Century American hunger for image, processed reality

1. Daniel Boorstin, The Image
2. Chas. Colson, Kingdoms in Conflict, Against the Night
3. The fear of/need for existential truth

C. Modern examples of IMAGE MENTALITY in news

1. Print news

a. Newspapers: Sulzberger to (Al) Neuharth

I. Who, What gets covered
II. How it gets covered
III. The news hole: effects of advertising

b. News magazines

I. Luce and his America
II. The specialty magazine explosion

2. Radio

a. Radio news
b. News radio

3. Television News

a. News: The beauty principle

I. anchors
II. video sources

b. CBS, Paley and his news

I. Murrow and his move: radio to TV
II. Cronkite vs. Sevareid

c. The Nielsen ratings system and its effects

I. on morality in programming
II. on news coverage

Week Five:

Read: Mathews-Rivers Ch. 12,13; Halberstam part III.

4. Power-seeking vs. Ethics in the media power structures

A. Newspapers' profit vs. public service: Examples since 1900

1. Los Angeles Times and the Chandlers
2. The New York Times and Sulzberger
3. The Washington Post and the Grahams
4. The Chicago Daily News, Sun-Times (Fields, Murdoch)
5. Gannett Corporation, USA Today and Neuharth

B. Newsmagazines

1. Time and Luce's world empire
2. Newsweek, Ben Bradlee and the Grahams
3. U.S. News, power and demise in the 1980s

C. Radio and ancient boundaries

1. Popularity to periodicity
2. FCC and limits on licenses

a. The Washington channel wars
b. Who goes where

D. Television: profit motive and producerism vs. reportage

1. History: constraints voluntary and involuntary
2. Networks and the ratings game

a. CBS and Paley
b. ABC
c. NBC

3. Cable channels, networks

a. Turner's babies

II. C-SPAN: Congress
III. ESPN: Sports
IV. Christian broadcasting networks

1. CBN
2. PTL

Week Six:

Read: Rivers-Mathews Ch. 6,7; Halberstam part IV.

5. Evolution of the RIGHT TO KNOW

A. Free press and the democratic experiment

1. Problem presumptions of Milton's marketplace of ideas

a. presumption of mutual respect of "marketers"
b. presumption of respect for knowledge
c. presumption of reader comprehension, interest

2. Argument that right to know never intended for all

a. Mao Tse Tung (Martin-Hiebert)
b. Luedtke (in Rodman, 2nd ed.)

B. Review: The First Amendment

1. What it says about power/rights
2. What it does not say about power/rights


1. Ethical questions

a. free-press/fair trial
b. national security questions
c. sex crime victims, juvenile offenders

2. Biblical perspectives

a. OT perspective: Moses, David and the Prophets
b. NT perspective: Jesus Christ and Revelation

6. Media Power and Politics

A. Creation of candidates

1. false images

a. John F. Kennedy
b. Richard M. Nixon
c. Ronald Reagan

2. quick destruction

a. Richard M. Nixon
b. Walter Mondale
c. Michael Dukakis
d. Pat Robertson

B. Manipulation of press by politicos

1. National

a. Franklin D. Roosevelt
b. John F. Kennedy
c. Ronald Reagain

2. Local

a. Richard J. Daley: Chicago
b. Jackie Presser: Columbus, Ohio

C. Manipulation by lobby groups

1. Sierra Club
2. National Rifle Association
3. United Auto Workers, Teamsters
4. R.J. Reynolds and Company

Week Seven:

Read: Halberstam: epilogue; view All the President's Men video.

7. Political watchdog function of the press: Ever untarnished?

A. Based theoretically on a Judeo-Christian truth/justice seeking ethic

1. Pure only to degree in most cases
2. Subject to erosion depending on foundation

B. Early press advocacy unsung, despised

1. Rightfully

a. civil war sensationalism
b. yellow journalism and the Pulitzer press wars

2. Wrongfully

a. Upton Sinclair
b. Ida Tarbell

C. Modern press advocacy praised, polished

1. Pentagon Papers
2. Watergate

D. Lacking ethics, becomes vendetta, personal activism

1. Chappaquiddick
2. Woodward-Bernstein and the Watergate jurors (Christians-Rotzoll-Fackler p.71-73)
3. Ted Koppel and Sen. Gary Hart
4. Charles Shepard: Bakkers and wide brush

E. Discouraging, discouraged work

1. taxing

a. expensive: staffing, materials
b. limited results vs. time, effort

2. effectiveness as deterrent/solvent limited

a. by publishing, board decisions
b. by political cooperation/timing

Week Eight:

Read: Rodman 2nd ed. Ch. 1, 4, 15, 16, 17.

8. Sexuality, violence and propriety in the media

A. Definition of censorship

1. self-restratin (Paley in Halberstam)
2. repression (C.S. Lewis)

B. The law: FCC and U.S. Constitution

1. useful speech
2. privacy
3. libel
4. reporter privilege

C. Cases: Sex, violence and propriety in each medium

1. Broadcasting

a. networks

I. history/censors/ratings

A. Sensitivity: ABC
B. Little sensitivity: Fox

II. Advertising
III. Reaction: Don Wildmon, et al.

b. Cable media

I. Secular: Turner
II. Religious: CBN

2. Newsmagazines

a. Conservative:

I. Time (Luce)
II. Newsweek (Grahams)

b. Liberal

I. Mother Jones
II. Variety

3. Newspapers

a. History of conservatism sexually
b. History of descriptive, photo violence
c. Advertising constraints

I. to be more sexual
II. to be less violent, newsworthy
III. to be more slick, colorful
IV. to be more general (packaging)

Week Nine:

Read: Tozer, The Pursuit of God pp. 117-128 (handout).

9. The Knowledge Curve in unlearned media consumption

A. Theory: Taste defined

1. In news (Luce, Sulzberger in Halberstam)
2. In entertainment (Christians,Rotzoll,Fackler ch.5)

B. Theory: Alteration of critical-thinking capability

1. information glut
2. financial constraints: telescoping of news coverage

10. Pluralism and Missions Opportunities in media

A. Pluralism's evolution

1. history of rejection of supernatural
2. full-circle: acknowledgment of spiritual reality

B. Pluralism's opening for Christian witness in news media

1. Broadcast

a. Radio (Robert Scott, James Owens)
b. Television (John Lindgren)
c. Cable (CNN) Asburian testimonies

2. Print

a. Magazines(Good News: James Robb; Moody: Jerry B. Jenkins)
b. Newspapers (Wes Pippert, Marvin Olansky)

References Used in Researching for Lectures

Christians, C. G., Rotzoll, K., & Fackler, M. (1987). Media ethics: Cases and moral reasoning (2nd ed.). New York: Longman.

Colson, C. (1987). Kingdoms in conflict. Grand Rapids: Morrow/Zondervan.

Halberstam, D. (1979). The powers that be. New York: Alfred A. Knopf.

Keng, Lu. (1990). The Chinese communist press as I see it. In Martin, L. J. & Hiebert, R. E. (Eds.). Current issues in international communication. New York: Longman.

Lambeth, E. B. (1986). Committed journalism: An ethic for the profession. Bloomington: Indiana Univ. Press.

Luedtke, K. (1981). An ex-newsman hands down his indictment of the press. In Mass media issues: Analysis and debate (2nd ed.). New York: Science Research Associates.

Rivers, W. L., Schramm, W., & Christians, C. G. (1980). Responsibility in mass communication. New York: Harper and Row.

Rivers, W. L. & Matthews, C. (1988). Ethics for the media. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.

Rodman, G. (1981). Mass media issues: Analysis and debate (2nd ed.). New York: Science Research Associates.

Rodman, G. (1989). Mass media issues (3rd ed.). Dubuque: KendallHunt.

Watkins, J. J. (1990). The mass media and the law. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. 

Bibliographic Information

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Author : 

Longinow, Michael

Title : 

Ethics in the News Media: Power Seeking or Public Service in the American Newsgathering Industries. CCCU New Faculty Workshop

Publisher : 

Council for Christian Colleges & Universities

Copyright : 

copyright reserved to original author

Publication Date : 

Spring 1991

Resource Type :