Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Ethics in Journalism

©Linda Wegner

“Ethics in journalism - is there such a thing?” one business colleague sputtered. Another pointed out that those terms could be used as a perfect example of an oxymoron.

“But they are only thinking of non-Christian writers,” I mentally re-assured myself. To be Christian and non-ethical fits the oxymoron category perfectly but I didn’t want to discuss that issue.

The conversation came about at a weekly business networking luncheon in which I’d shared my 2007 commitment to continuing education for myself and for those who work with me. In the past, on-going training too often has been relegated to the “if I have the time, I don’t have the money; if I have the money, I don’t have the time” syndrome.

“Not this year,” I told my friends, “Things will be different.”

While the first step in this upgrading process was to commit myself to attend our national Christian writers’ conference in June, the other undertaking involves setting up quarterly seminars in our town and that’s the part that really interested my colleagues.

“The first seminar will be held in March and I have a speaker coming in,” I told them. “He’s the editor of a trade publication and I’ve asked him to talk about the subject of ethics. Of course there are black sheep in every profession,” I said in reference to their comments, “but I know lots of writers who maintain the highest standards of integrity.” Their raised eyebrows and cynical smirks made me drop the subject.

At the time it seemed so noble and so easy to respond to them, one a lawyer and the other, a financial advisor. That was before I got an email from a dear friend who lives on the other side of the country.

“I shared some of my published writing with a pastor,” she said. “He edited it without permission, changed some of the core themes, and used the pieces in a church publication without my knowledge. I’m so angry with him that I don’t want to have anything to do with him,” she continued.

There were no pious platitudes on my part because just two days earlier, an editor and member of the Body of Christ had done something similar with my work. I was still reeling from my own disappointment when I heard from her.

That’s not the end of the story, though. By God’s grace, the end of the battle had come in the early hours of the same day I faced my dilemma.

“My wrath is aroused against you and your two friends,” God told Job’s comforters. “For you have not spoken of Me what is right, as my servant Job has.”

As I’d read that I had prayed, asking God to help me represent Him rightly no matter what the situation. Not for one moment, however, had I realized all that entailed. I just know that I’m glad I did because I’m not sure how I would have reacted to the situation otherwise.

As painful as it was, the whole incident has taught me the power of the Word to cleanse our words. It has sobered, almost frightened me, to realize how God views the unethical presentation of who He is in us and it provided me with the blessed privilege of choosing to represent Him well in my forthright discussion with the editor in question. It’s also given me a new perspective on ethics in journalism.

1 comment:

Belinda said...

Wow, Linda, it's very hard, and shocking to imagine anyone doing that.

As for how God led you by the Holy Spirit in your response--that was very encouraging and affirming to read about.

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