It’s no secret that when a newsroom faces an ethical dilemma, the established veteran news manager who has seen it all gets the final say. An ethical guideline never originates from the new hire, or the straight-out-of-school cub reporter.
Young, amateur journalists today are increasingly part of the millennial generation —those born after 1979. Several publications have put millennials under the microscope — judging them, examining their work habits and their psychology. An overlooked area of millennial study is how their ethical journalism code differs from that of previous generations. By age, I am a millennial and have observed three key behaviors of my peers that alter ethical decisions.
1. WE THINK EVERYTHING ONLINE IS FAIR GAME
We tend to be aware of our illegal use of the Internet for entertainment, but we are not always aware we are breaking the law while citing or using protected information.
We believe anything on the Internet is in the public domain. It’s a source of free information, right? Well, that is, we all think it’s free to use. Of course, there are copyrights and trademark issues and infringement problems. Yet we rarely hear about anybody actually getting in trouble for it, so we think we are safe. We have grown up stealing music online through illegal file sharing. In our eyes, maybe a handful of people out of millions actually got busted for it, and it was simply bad luck that they got caught.
This can be a troubling mindset because millennials have no problem taking information from other sites and believing it is factual and freely available. The responsibility of knowing Internet law seemingly should fall on millennials because we are the ones more involved with the Web than our older superiors. Unfortunately, it may fall on a news manager to clarify new boundaries for millennials when taking information (and pictures/videos) from the Internet.
2. WE’RE WILLING TO SWALLOW OUR PERSONAL ETHICAL CODE AND MORE READILY ACCEPT THE ONE OF OUR NEWSROOM
Some research on millennials claims we avoid trouble, respect the rules, trust the government and are accepting of authority. Essentially, we like to be team players. I would say that’s a fair assessment of my generation.
We like to please those in charge and generally keep a peaceful environment. We might not wholeheartedly defend our own ethical stance because it is superseded by our need for a more cohesive, less-conflicting newsroom. If a news team is content with its current ethical position, millennials will adopt it quickly because we want to be part of the team. For the most part, we understand our position as new to the news business and feel we have little persuading power. We’ll put a lot of stock in the ethics our managers endorse because they are our experienced superiors, and because we fear termination if we don’t agree with them. Yet, that’s not to say all millennials will not have an opinion when it comes to ethics.
3. WE’RE JUST OUT OF SCHOOL AND STUCK TO “IVORY TOWER” VALUES OF JOURNALISM
Students just out of journalism schools were taught for years how to improve journalism. We respect our instructors, and we don’t want to disappoint them. In a sense we are molded to uphold the highest qualities of reporting and news gathering. We are willing to share what we learned in school because we want to contribute to an ethical newsroom. But our challenge is maintaining the high ethics pressed upon us in school, while dealing with real-world constraints. I find it safe to say that no newsroom can ever really match the ideals and expectations that journalism schools (from their “ivory tower”) desire. But, at least in a millennial you’ll have someone who is willing to bring a fresh ethical perspective to a newsroom.
HOW TO HELP MILLENNIALS
The best advice I can give news managers is to present millennial hires with a clear set of guidelines or ethical stances on recurring ethical dilemmas. Providing answers to ethical questions on deadline is not always preferred because there is no time for us to make a counter-argument or ask more questions. We have to swallow our tongues and address it later, maybe while sacrificing our own ethics.
Millennials are a very open-minded group who want the best for their newsroom. News managers: Don’t exploit our current naivety. What we learn today may stick with us when we are responsible for making ethical decisions.
Mike Brannen is a morning newscast producer for KIRO7, the Seattle CBS affiliate. He recently received a master’s degree in broadcast management from the University of Missouri-Columbia, where he also earned a bachelor’s in journalism.
Tagged under: Generation J