Ethics and the Journalism Student

I am part of the generation that grew up with social media and the internet. I remember when my family first got a computer, but I don’t remember a time when there weren’t computer labs in my schools. I had social media accounts before my parents even knew what they were, which I realize now is incredibly frightening and probably why they were so upset when they found out about my MySpace account!

I hadn’t really heard about social media or internet ethics before coming to college. As high school students, we knew we couldn’t copy passages from the internet or steal someone else’s history paper, but that was about as far as my plagiarism lessons went before September of 2010. After almost four years at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, I realize how important it is to teach students about plagiarism and ethics, especially students studying to become journalists.

Ethics at UW

As a Journalism student, I hear about journalistic ethics in every one of my classes. The UW School of Journalism and Mass Communication (SJMC) works very hard to educate its students about ethics and especially about the repercussions that can occur with misuse of journalistic work.

The UW-Madison SJMC published “Academic Integrity and Citation Management” for its students about the ins and outs of academic integrity and plagiarism. Until required for class, I hadn’t read this document and didn’t even know it existed. Pieces like this are very important to collegiate work and experience and I believe each and every university student should read them.

Ethics in the “Real World”

In addition to specifically academic sources for information about ethics, bloggers like Mindy McAdams explain real-life situations where ethical dilemmas could arise. For our Social Media & News course, we read two of McAdams’ posts, the first about examples of plagiarism and the second about journalism students who jeopardize their entire future, both as students of Journalism and as career journalists, simply because of ethical mishaps.

Although ethics is an immensely sensitive issue and very important to a journalism education, it’s not always the most interesting topic to discuss. It is not until we learn about real-life repercussions and instances where ethics are the core of journalistic issues that we become truly engaged. Students need to realize ethics is an issue for all journalists, not just those of us in college.

For instance, Storify user SteveJFox posed an interesting point to CNN reporter Jake Tapper regarding ethics and credibility on social media. After reading this post, I can see the argument from Tapper, that he didn’t want to discuss his ethical criteria during a time or crisis, but I can also see Fox’s point, there shouldn’t need be a time for ethics, ethics is an “all the time” thing.


Readers, do you learn about ethics in your course studies? Are you a teacher trying to share the importance of ethics to your students? How can we better improve the quality and integrity of journalism in our ever-evolving industry?


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