An ethical dilemma

April 24, 2009

Wow, it has been far too long since the last posting. This semester has been insane. My latest ‘excuse’ is Liberty Tree Week@Berry, a week of events we’ve planned for Berry here in Communication. It’s swallowed every discretionary moment, and much more. But it will be so worth it.

To our purpose: An ethical dilemma for my class of cross-platform content editors and producers. First, the scenario:

To hyperlink or not to hyperlink, that is the question

You are deciding for the AJC (& Web site), WSB TV (& Web site) or CNN (& Web site). Your audience: AJC – the Southeast; WSB TV – Georgia; CNN – the nation.

What: A new prime minister of Iraq has just been named, a Shiite who had been an outspoken critic of Saddam Hussein and had lived in exile before the American invasion of 2003.

Shortly after taking office in April 2009, he is kidnapped, along with five American journalists, by a rival Sunni faction. Several hours later, the kidnappers say they have hanged the prime minister to protest the execution of Hussein. The kidnappers don’t bother with cell phone video; they provide professional-looking video that shows the prime minister dropping through the platform. The video shows his head snapping off and his body, and head, falling to the floor.

The kidnappers have posted the video on their Web site, and American officials have independently confirmed that it shows what it says it does: the decapitation of the Iraqi official. But American officials are asking American news organizations not to link to the video because, they claim, doing so will help the kidnappers achieve their ends.

No American news site has linked to the site yet, but we, the editors at the AJC, are eager to do so. We in the newsroom meet to discuss our coverage. Our key questions: Will we include a link to the hanging video and, therefore, the kidnappers’ Web site, or not? Controversy is sure to follow whatever decision we make, so the second question: How will we explain our decision?

Remember: We are to maximize the truth, minimize harm and serve the public interest. These are our journalistic imperatives. And we are to conceive of ethical decision-making as a process. It’s not about whether you are a good, moral person or not.

So, for Monday, post a few sentences identifying your decision and justifying and explaining it. Nothing too lengthy.

To help you: