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NY Times' Public Editor Calls on Media Ethicist Prof. Bob Steele '69

April 2, 2011

60937April 2, 2011, Greencastle, Ind. — In his "Public Editor" column, the New York Times' Arthur S. Brisbane weighs an idea "that would help secure a tighter bond with its audience: publishing the Times' journalism policies in a searchable format and in a visible location on NYTimes.com. That would enable readers to see more clearly into the news operation." But, he writes, the proposal carries some potential downsides.

"Bob Steele, an expert in journalism ethics who advocates for strong standards and accountability, pointed out one of them. 'The risk,' he said, 'is that when you put your ethics standards and practices on the cyber-table, if you will, the heightened accessibility and the growing tendency of the public to throw brickbats will lead to a lot of headaches.' As the Times' fourth public editor, I can understand what Mr. Steele is saying and what the Times potentially has to fear. The Times is on the receiving end of an extraordinary volume of feedback, some of it very negative, from bloggers, television pundits and readers at large. The Times spends considerable resources to receive and respond to this input."

The column adds, "Mr. Steele, head of the Prindle Institute for Ethics at DePauw University, argues that this is not a reason 6719to shrink from the task."

"We have to accept that reality and the risk, says Dr. Steele, Distinguished Visiting Professor of Journalism Ethics at DePauw. "Journalism shines the light of scrutiny on the powerful. We look at the power company, oil companies, hospitals, universities, government institutions and other corporations. It is hypocritical if we are not willing to be scrutinized by the public for the way we carry out our work. Part of that is being clear about what our standards and ethical principles are."

You'll find the full column, "Standards That Everyone Can See," at the newspaper's website (a paid subscription may be required).

A 1969 graduate of DePauw, Robert M. Steele was quoted in a Washington Post story two weeks ago. He chaired a task force that reviewed the ethics policy of NPR, as noted in this recent article.

Source: New York Times

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