Service or Unethical Behavior?
This paper examines the shifting role
that journalism ethics play in the relationship between editorial
and promotional content in the presentation of online news.
The literature reviewed demonstrated
that many news media have experienced a shift in goals from
serving citizens to satisfying consumers. This shift has led
to practices mixing promotional content with editorial content,
the rationale being that this mixture does a better job of serving
the needs of the consumers of the media product.
However, this market-driven model runs
contrary to traditional media ethical theory. Historically,
media ethics have been driven by professional peer pressure,
and a shift to audience-driven ethics might include the abolishment
of the editorial/advertising line, since consumers might be
better served by integrated media packaging.
This practice of blending news, opinion
and advertising together into packets organized by topic has
further removed online journalism from the traditional model
of journalism ethical discourse, by introducing the principles
of business ethical discourse. The seeming incompatibility of
these two sets of norms is the heart of the conflict.
Based on an interview with Grant Tait,
several general conclusions were reached. First of all, Austin360
is extremely aware of the audience and their habits and this
knowledge has a greater impact on content production of Austin360
than in traditional print media. The staff of Austin360 values
business ethical principles as well as journalistic ethical
principles and tries to meet both standards. The staff of Austin360
thinks their practices are more ethical than traditional media
and that the staff's jobs requires a greater understanding of
journalism ethics than comparable jobs in traditional media.
In addition, four key ethical areas of
ethical concern were identified for portal sites clear distinctions
between advertising and information content, nonexistent the
method of presentation for information gathered from external
sites, the impact of the audience on content selection and issues
dealing with audience-generated material.
Finally, the practice of portal journalism
was incorporated into a model displaying the tensions between
social responsibility and investor (market-driven) responsibility.
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