Faculty member authors book about journalism ethics

August 11, 2009

A visiting professor in the College of Communications at Penn State, who retired from full-time teaching in December 2006, has authored a textbook about journalism ethics.

Gene Foreman invested two years compiling "The Ethical Journalist: Making Responsible Decisions in the Pursuit of News" (2009, Wiley-Blackwell), which becomes available nationwide Sept. 1 and already has been adopted as the text for three classes at Penn State this fall.

Foreman said he wrote the book to give aspiring journalists the tools they need to make responsible professional decisions. Illustrated with 24 real-life case studies that demonstrate how to think "in shades of gray, rather than black and white," the book provides a foundation in applied ethics in journalism, and examines the subject areas where ethical questions most frequently arise. Many other real-life episodes are cited in the book's narrative to illustrate how journalists have dealt with ethical challenges.

Foreman conducted more than 100 interviews with practicing journalists and scholars. "The book is largely the product of my half-century in journalism -- more than 41 years in the newsroom and more than eight as a college professor," he writes in the preface. "Although my approach is entirely a practical one of trying to improve decision-making in the profession, I have been influenced by ethics scholars as well as newsroom colleagues."

Foreman's project was supported by a grant from the Arthur W. Page Center for Integrity in Public Communications, housed in the College of Communications. Shannon Kahle, a doctoral student in media studies, worked with Foreman throughout 2008 to conduct research and fact-checking, and to gather permissions for quoted material.

The case studies, along with a dozen "Point of View" essays by distinguished writers, are drawn from the nation as a whole. Still, the book has a distinct Penn State flavor. Former reporter and editor Jane Shoemaker ('70 Journ) contributed a Point of View essay. A case study on how the news media handled the 1987 public suicide of former Pennsylvania Treasurer R. Budd Dwyer is based on research by Penn State professors of that era, one of whom, Patrick Parsons, is the College of Communications' current Don Davis professor of ethics.

Five case studies are adapted from research by students in Foreman's ethics classes: Jaime Fettrow ('00 Journ), Jeff Rice ('03 Journ), Alissa (Wisnouse) Stranzl ('03 Lib), Lindsay Bosslett ('04 Journ) and Sara Ganim ('08 Journ).

Three essays written by Russell Frank, associate professor of journalism, are quoted in the book's narrative.

Foreman joined the Penn State faculty in 1998 after retiring from The Philadelphia Inquirer, where he managed newsroom operations for more than 25 years under various titles -- managing editor, executive editor and deputy editor. At Penn State, he was the inaugural Larry and Ellen Foster Professor. He taught courses in news media ethics and news editing.

Now, as visiting professor, he continues to coordinate the Foster Conference of Distinguished Writers each semester. One of the speakers at the next Foster Conference on Oct. 13 -- Pulitzer Prize-winner Sonia Nazario -- is a subject of one of the case studies in the book, "The Journalist as a Witness to Suffering."

The case describes the experience of Nazario and photographer Clarence Williams as they observed children in households in which the adults were addicts. Their series, "Orphans of Addiction," for the Los Angeles Times, led to systemic reforms in the child-welfare system. The case study raises questions about journalists' struggle to balance their professional duty to produce an authentic report with their human duty to intervene to help vulnerable subjects.

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Last Updated January 09, 2015