Bill Doskoch: Media, BPS*, Film, Minutiae

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Journalists: Great moral reasoning skills, but untrustworthy?

The public has never accorded the respect to journalists that it does to, say, pharmacists and nurses.

But a study mentioned at the Poynter Institute's website finds that journos show higher-developed moral reasoning skills than most.

Here's an excerpt from a story by Poynter's Kelly McBride (I first saw this mentioned on CAJ-L in a posting by Tom Popyk:

First the studies. The American public doesn't trust reporters. This according to Gallup's most recent poll rating of perceived honesty among certain professions. Less than 25 percent of the people who responded the survey rated reporters' ethical standards as high or very high.

This is really nothing new. Frank Newport, the editor-in-chief of The Gallup Poll, points out that journalists have been rated low since his organization began asking this question in 1974. …

Other Gallup studies suggest this distrust is greater among people who are politically moderate and conservative, he said.

The Gallup poll stands in contrast to another study that suggests that journalists have higher than average abilities when it comes to moral reasoning.

Journalism professors Renita Coleman of Louisiana State University and Lee Wilkins of the University of Missouri set out to test the moral development of a large group of journalists.

They gathered a sample of 249 reporters from print and broadcast newsrooms across the country, and discovered that journalists look pretty good on Kohlberg's moral development scale. As a whole, journalists rank fourth among the ranked groups, behind seminarians, physicians, and medical students.

Published in the Autumn, 2004 issue of Journalism and Mass Communications Quarterly, the journal of the AEJMC, the study is not yet available online.

Coleman and Wilkins also found:

  • No significant differences between men and women, broadcast and print or managers and non-managers.
  • The more autonomy a journalist reported, the higher his or her score.
  • The more highly journalists rated the importance of laws and rules, the lower their scores. (Some researchers suggest a strong deference to the law indicates rule obedience, rather than critical thinking.)
  • Journalists who do investigative work tend to display higher levels of moral reasoning. 
  • Journalists who said civic journalism was part of their work also had higher scores.
  • Journalists were particularly adept at thinking through the ethical dimensions of journalism problems. (Which discounts the theory that journalists can apply moral thinking to others but not to themselves.) 

Sat, December 18 2004 » Main Page