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Sunday, January 14, 2007

2nd Essay for American Journalism Ethics: The Ethics of Going Undercover

Find an instance of a reporter or reporters going undercover in pursuit of a news story that ended in controversy, that is, with legal action being taken against the reporter for deception or, at least, with a general outcry – by the public and/or by media ethicists -- concerning the appropriateness of the reporter(s) concealing identity.

Give the basic details of the incident, including (ideally): 1) the degree to which the news organization anticipated objections to the deception and the process by which they decided the deception would be justified; 2) the specific rules or codes or institutional practices they considered during that decision-making process; 3) the attack on their conduct and their defense of it; 4) the degree to which the news organization changed its rules or codes or institutional practices as a result of that attack; 5) the degree to which the public was served by the news story; 6) the degree to which the reporting of similar future stories is now more or less likely given the ethical conduct of the news organization.

I also want you to cite any rules, codes or guidelines concerning going undercover that you discover in the course of your reading that you find particularly valuable. Make sure you explain why you find them valuable. Either by citing the best of the rules and/or codes you find or by developing rules or codes of your own, end the essay with a statement of what you think “best practices” should be when it comes to going undercover. In other words, is it possible to create a clear and simple set of rules for going undercover that will resolve most of the ethical confusion around this issue most of the time?

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