College journalists who were familiar with the SPJ Code of Ethics, had taken an ethics course or had other exposure to ethical decision making were more likely to identify unethical behavior in scenarios posed to them in a survey by two South Carolina researchers.
The bulk of the research was conducted by Karyn Campbell, assistant professor of communication at North Greenville University, as part of her doctoral dissertation while a student at Clemson University. She was advised by Bryan Denham, interim chair of the Department of Communication at Clemson. The study was recently published online by the Journal of Media Ethics.
Campbell surveyed 214 student journalists to assess their attitudes toward a series of ethical problems. She found that the number of years the students were enrolled in college, their completion of ethics courses, informal discussions about ethics in student media and general familiarity with SPJ’s Code of Ethics played a significant role in their responses.
“Of these determinants, familiarity with the SPJ code showed the strongest association with the response measure,” the researchers found.
The results highlight the importance of formal ethics instruction and exposure to ethical problems through practical experience while in college.
Samuel D. Robinson is an ethics and diversity associate for the Society of Professional Journalists. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 646-750-5390.