Sunday, January 5, 2014

Lesson In Journalism Ethics

Apparently egregiously offensive terms are OK as long as they are bleeped out. This is not the lesson I want my journalism students to learn.

It's playoff time. Hopes and tensions run high, but only one team can end their season without a loss. On Saturday, January 4, the Indianapolis Colts delivered a stunning defeat to the Kansas City Chiefs. I watched the game at home and as a Chicago Bears fan, would have preferred more defensive efforts from both teams.

Making the rounds today, is a photo of the Kansas City Star's Sunday sports section. In bold, uppercase letters the headline reads HORSE(BLEEP). View Jeff Rosen's original twitpic here. Yes it says "bleep" and not the actual word intended. Yes, it's clever. Yes, it gets your attention. Yes, it sums up the overall mood of Chiefs fans. But it is amazing the editors had the nerve to run it. Even though the offensive word is "bleeped out," there is no denying its presence.

Even more astonishing, back in October 2012 the Star's editor defended their decision to not print the word Redskins even in reference to the Washington football team. "But I see no compelling reason for any publisher to reprint an egregiously offensive term as a casual matter of course," the Star editor is quoted in USA Today.

Unfortunately this is another case of creating our own ethics to suit personal needs. I'm not sure how the editors have justified the headline. I continue to search the internet for a backlash cry from journalism ethics standard bearers, but have yet to find any. Even the Kansas City Star refused to run the same headline on their website.

Back to the idea of journalism ethics in the classroom. Big media, you are the example future journalists read. Please set a better example. Remember, ethics are derived from a higher sense of right and wrong, not what is expedient. There is a reason the AP Stylebook is called the journalist's Bible.