Photo by Brandon Stumbo

 

BY LEIGH RIGGS

Call the lawyers.

That was a consensus among members participating in the bi-annual “You Be the Editor” panel discussing ethical issues in hypothetical situations on April 9.

The solution pleased Jeffrey Stein, professor of Communications Arts at Wartburg College and the panel moderator. With a background in media and law, Stein agreed that communication between lawyers and journalists is key.

Stein though of the idea for a “You Be the Editor” panel in 1982. This year marks the panel’s 27th year in the Legal Issues in Mass Communication course taught by Professor Lyombe Eko.

The panelists included Jeff Charis-Carlson, opinion page editor for the Iowa City Press-Citizen; Steven Grace, the program director of KXIC radio; Bob Elliot, a former City Council member for Iowa City and John Meyers (senior, Saint Charles, Ill.) a Philosophy major at UI. The variety of professional backgrounds added to the discussion in the panel.

“We have two different constituencies represented,” Stein said while introducing the panel. “We have people who are engaged in massive communication dissemination. We then have people on the panel we want to call news consumers.”

This variety of panelists, Stein said, would help give different perspectives to the hypothetical situations.

“Sometimes how we look at things is very different from how the audience looks at things,” Stein said.

Stein proceeded to pose different hypothetical questions to the panelists, from turning photos over to police to whether a real estate reporter should be fired after making profit from the estates he publicizes.

“At the very least, it’s a chance to talk about the issues which we don’t have time to do on a day-to-day basis,” Stein said.

Charis-Carlson agreed and said that he faces ethical issues, though not on such a large scale, every day: what letter to the editors should they print? What allegations should they quote people saying?

“In order to make these kinds of decisions, practice ahead of time when not on deadline,” Charis-Carlson said. “Then you can be pretty much confident that you’ll make a good decision.”

For Charis-Carlson, the panel was just the sort of practice that prepares reporters and editors for real-life situations.

“The most important thing in these kind of situations is not to trust your own opinion,” Charis-Carlson said. He stressed that seeking advice is the best route. “You need some kind of dialogue going through for the big issues.”

Some of the subjects discussed were privacy, defining what makes a topic newsworthy, and the business aspect of journalism. Elliott stressed that business interest has no business in journalism.

“You’re a journalist first and a businessperson second,” Elliott said. “I’m pretty idealistic when it comes to journalists. I think that a free country is only as free as the press is allowed to enable it to remain free. Without a free press, I’m not sure our democracy is worth a damn.”

Charis-Carlson agreed that the field of journalism has a special role that draws people despite low pay.

“There’s something wonderful about this profession,” Charis-Carlson said. “If you stay true to these journalistic ethics, you are prepared for whatever life journey that you start on at this point.”