Media Ethics, MCOM 533

Media Ethics syllabus, Prof Beth Haller
Media Ethics, MCOM 533
Instructor: Prof. Beth Haller, Ph.D.
Phone: (410) 704-2442
Office: Van Bokkelen 205B

Office Hours:
2-3:15 p.m. MW, 5-6:15 Mondays and by appointment. Feel free to send me E-mail messages with questions about the class.

Course Description:
“Ethical principles, issues, dilemmas in mass communication; professional codes; personal, interpersonal, small group, organizational and societal factors affecting ethical mediated communication.” (Towson University Catalog).

Media ethics is designed to help students become aware of the theoretical approaches that underlie the application of ethics, use ethical decision-making strategies to analyze actual and proposed cases, develop ethical guidelines for personal and professional behavior, and evaluate cases given ethical codes and offer recommendations for ethical communication.

Course Objectives:
At the end of this course, you should be able to:

  • Recognize ethical issues inherent in mass communication theory and practice;
  • Identify, use, compare, and contrast major ethical approaches and decision-making strategies;
  • Apply critical thinking skills to ethical dilemmas;
  • Analyze media messages, issues, and cases in terms of their ethical implications;
  • Develop personal and professional codes of ethics for yourself and your performance as a media professional; and
  • Evaluate diverse approaches, practices, and effects within media, using sound, logical reasoning and effective writing.

Course Format:
We will begin the semester with a number of readings and lectures designed to familiarize you with ethics as a philosophical field and approaches to decision making. Then we will begin to examine ethical theories in depth, one at a time, applying each to different case studies. You will be expected to contribute meaningfully to class discussions and case analyses, which means you will need to keep up with readings as they are assigned. You should read carefully and critically, taking notes on your reading as well as class lectures and case studies presented, so that you are prepared to discuss and apply the material intelligently in class discussions and activities.

Required Textbooks/Supplies:
Media Ethics. Cases and Moral Reasoning by Christians C.G., Fackler, M., Richardson, K.B., Kreshel, P.J., & Woods, Jr., R.H., 2011, Allyn & Bacon.

Ethics in Public Relations by Fitzpatrick & Bronstein, 2006, Sage.

Publication manual of the American Psychological Association. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.

Participation/Attendance: 15%
Critique of 5 student Powerpoint presentations: 5%
Exam 1: 20%
Exam 2: 20%
Final research paper and its presentation: 40%

Final grades will be calculated on the basis of points scored in each evaluation activity. The following scale will be used. The Graduate School does not permit instructors to assign earned +/- grades.

A = 90-100%
B = 80-89%
C = 70-79%
D = 60-69%
F = below 60%

General Grading Criteria:
C = Your work is essentially accurate, follows most instructions, applies APA style correctly and provides relevant examples, but (1) lacks a clearly stated thesis or research questions/hypothesis, (2) lacks a comprehensive literature review, OR (3) does not follow the methodological structure discussed in class.

B = Your work is accurate, follows directions, is well-organized, applies APA style and has a clear thesis, research questions/hypothesis and analysis. However, your paper does not elaborate enough on why your analysis and findings are particularly interesting or important from a media ethics perspective.

A = In addition to the virtues of a B assignment, your work explores multiple examples about your ethics topic. Your project’s analyses and your paper’s conclusions are especially compelling, insightful, and creative.

D = Your work contains many APA style, grammatical, mechanical or spelling errors; it reflects minimal effort, but there is some evidence that you have done the assigned readings.

F = Your work contains numerous APA style, grammatical, mechanical and spelling errors; it reflects minimal effort; OR there is no evidence that you have read or understood the assigned readings.

NOTE: Compliance with the guidelines of the APA style manual (most recent edition) will be included in the grading of your assignments. This includes but is not limited to cover sheet, margins, formatting, in-text and reference list citations. If you are unfamiliar with these guidelines, please familiarize yourselves with them as soon as possible.

The Structure of the Course

Participation: You will need to attend all classes, contribute to discussions and be an active listeners when students are presenting their ethics Powerpoints. Attending class and doing the readings are the BEST things you can do to master the course material. Just showing up does not count as active participation and is not enough to earn you points for class contribution. To earn points for class participation, you will have to demonstrate that you have read the assigned readings by contributing to class discussion and voicing your ideas and opinions. If you consistently arrive late or leave early, you will receive no class participation credit at the end of the course.

Attendance Policy: Attendance and active participation are expected. You are allowed a maximum of two unexcused absences. If you accumulate more than two undocumented absences, your final score will be decreased by 5% per each additional absence. If you leave early or arrive more than 15 minutes late you will receive an absence. As per Towson policies, I will accept documents for absences only in one of the following five situations: illness, religious holidays, family emergency, jury duty, and traveling for university purposes. (Please bring supporting evidence).

Some General Course Policies

Laptop Policy: You are welcome to take notes on your laptop while attending class. However, please use your laptop only for class purposes. Web browsing or other non-class related activities will result in a class participation deduction.

Cell Phone Policy: Please make sure to switch off your cell phone before coming to class. The vibrate mode is still too disruptive to be acceptable. If you have an emergency and must leave your cell phone on during class time, please let me know before the beginning of the course period and use vibrate mode.

Academic Dishonesty: Please familiarize yourself with the University policy on academic integrity by accessing the following link: Several types of behaviors constitute academic dishonesty and are not acceptable. Academic dishonesty includes plagiarism, which involves but is not limited to presenting other people’s words and ideas as your own, submitting essays or portions of essays written by other people as your own, improper source citation, no source citation, or using materials posted on websites without acknowledging the source. Additionally, using fictitious sources also counts as academic dishonesty. Should you behave dishonestly, you will fail the course. If you have any questions or doubts about this issue, please consult with me.

Sexual Harassment: The University specifically prohibits sexual harassment in any form. Please consult the University’s policies on this issue.

Disability Statement: If you are registered with the Office of Disability Support Services (DSS), please see me during the first two weeks of class to arrange your specific accommodations. If you believe you may need accommodation and have not registered with DSS, please do so by calling ext. 42638. To access the website for Disability Support Services, please access the following link:

Analyses of student Powerpoint presentations: The undergraduate students will create and present a Powerpoint that analyzes ethical cases/situations from the book. These should discuss the facts, possible actions, consequences, as well as applying ethical theory or theories. You will do written evaluation  of 5 student Powerpoints during the course of the semester. Following the rubric of what should be in the student presentations, you will evaluate how well they cover all aspects of the ethics case, as well as the effectiveness of the Powerpoint, i.e. including its visual elements such as related photos, videos, or screen captures. For this assignment, think of yourself as a manager: How would you give feedback to employees who are required to make a Powerpoint presentation.

Exams: You will take two exams, one in-class and one take-home. Each exam will feature a variety of questions designed to elicit your knowledge, understanding, analysis, synthesis, and evaluation of the topics presented in this course. Exams may include true-false, multiple-choice, matching, short-answer, and essay questions.

Final research paper and presentation: PR ethics research paper

Read chapters 1-2 in the Ethics in Public Relations book and then select a topic. The final paper should use the chapter as a jumping off point to explore the topic. The paper should update the topic with recent research and focus on a case study example of the topic selected by you. (After you read the chapter about your topic, you will meet with me so we can discuss possible case studies.)

Topic: Students will select one topic each.
Chap. 4: Responsible advocacy with activist groups
Chap. 5: Ethical PR for non-profits
Chap. 6: Negative impact of corporate scandals
Chap. 7: Best ethics practices in online communication
Chap. 8: Ethical risk communication practices

Research paper (18-24 pp.): This paper should contain:

(1) An introductory section (2-3 pages) that presents an overview of your topic and why it is important and explains how your case study will be explored through your analysis of the PR ethics literature.
(2) A literature review section (5-8 pp.) will frame the scholarly discussion of your case study. This section should provide the reader with a context for the significance of the PR ethics case study.
(3) Case study section (2-4 pp.). Discuss your case in-depth. Discuss the uniqueness of ethical decision-making in this area of public relations.
(4) Findings (10-15 pp.): In this section, you should discuss the internal and external factors that may influence decisions about your case study, the key values at play, the affected parties, the ethical principles that can be used, and rationale for actions taken (or not taken). Support your discussion with the scholarly literature that applies, as well as how the PRSA Code of Ethics applies,
(5) Conclusion (about 1-2 pp.): You should draw out the significance and implications of the literature and case study and discuss what is the best decision to make regarding these types of case.
(6) References: Your paper should cite 20 or more sources you included in the final paper, including any citations related to the case study.

(7) You will make a presentation to the class about your case, the ethics literature related to it, and other information relevant to it. A Powerpoint presentation is the expected format.


(Schedule changes will be announced in class.)
(Readings are for the week and should be read before attending class.)

Sept. 9 Media Ethics, Ethical Foundations and Perspectives, pp. 1-30
Sept.16 Media Ethics, Chapter 1: Institutional Pressures, pp. 31-46
Sept. 23 Media Ethics, Chapter 2: Truthtelling pp. 47-59
Sept. 30 Media Ethics, Chapter 11: Telling The Truth In Organizational Settings, pp. 213-225
Oct. 7 Media Ethics, Chapter 3: Reporters And Sources, pp. 60-77
Oct. 14 Exam 1 (Ethical foundations & chapters 1-2, 11 from Media Ethics book)
Oct. 21 Chapter 3: Reporters And Sources, pp. 60-77 Case presentations: 12. Risky Foods 13. Watergate and Grand Jury Information 15. “A Hidden America: Children of the Mountains”
Oct. 28 Media Ethics, Chapter 5: Invasion Of Privacy, pp. 95-114. Case presentations: 18. Facebook and Social Media Networks 19. The Controversial PATRIOT Act 20. Bloggers’ Code of Ethics 21. A Prostitute on Page 12 22. Dead Body Photo
Nov. 4 (Nov. 6 is the last day to withdraw from regular semester.) Media Ethics, Chapter 6: The Commercialization Of Everyday Life, pp. 120-137. Case presentations: 23. Is That an Ad? Are You Sure? 24. DTC Advertising: Prescription Drugs as Consumer Products? 25. Shopping to Save the World 26. How Did You Know That? Ethics of Behavioral Targeting
Nov. 11 Media Ethics, Chapter 7: Advertising In An Image-Based Culture, pp. 138-154. Case presentations: 27. Making the Same Different: Branding 28. Stereotyping Attitude 29. Everyone Know Her: The Unattainable Ideal 30. But She’s Only 4! The Hypersexualization of Young Girls 31. Real Beauty: Responsible Images? 32. Animal Rights: Responsible Images?
Nov. 18 Media Ethics, Chapter 9: Advertising’s Professional Culture, pp. 177-198. Case presentations: 38. “. . . Perhaps the Absence of a Code of Ethics”? 39. Ethical Vision: What Does It Mean to Serve Clients Well? 40. Kids Are Getting Older Younger 41. A Woman’s Place Is . . .? 42. A Diverse Advertising Workplace: An Oxymoron?
Nov. 25(Nov. 27-Dec. 1,Thanksgiving holiday) Media Ethics, Chapter 10: Public Communication, pp. 201-212. Case presentations: 43. What Happened to Mr. Ethics? 44. Publicity and Justice 205 45. The Many Friends of the Candidate 46. Bundling Campaign Support
Dec. 2 Media Ethics, Chapter 12: Conflicting Loyalties, pp. 226-238; Chapter 13: The Demands Of Social Responsibility, pp. 239-250. Case presentations: 53. Indictments Indicate Corrupt Lobbying 54. Accelerating Recalls  56. Tragedy at the Mine 57. One for One: Helping Consumers Become Heroes 58. Promoting “Hope for Haiti Now” 59. Pepsi Challenged by Rumors 60. Swept Away in a Storm
Dec. 9 Take-home exam* given out Graduate student PR ethics presentations

*Take-home exam due on the day of the final exam.

Liability Statement
“In all assignments, students must comply with all laws and legal rights of others (e.g., copyright, obscenity, privacy and defamation) and with all Towson policies (e.g. academic dishonesty). Towson University is not liable or responsible for the content of any student assignments, regardless of where they are posted.”

College of Fine Arts and Communication
Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies
Towson, MD 21252

TO: All Students in the Department Of Mass Communication and Communication Studies
FROM: Department Faculty

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies adheres to the following policy regarding plagiarism:
1. Any words or images taken directly from another source (including the Internet) must be footnoted or cited and in quotation marks. Similarly, in oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
2. Any ideas derived from a source not in the public domain or of general knowledge must be clearly attributed.
3. Any paraphrased material must be footnoted or cited. In oral presentations, attributions must be clear.
4. All papers and presentations must be the student’s own work. Submission of papers or presentations authored by others, even with their consent, constitutes plagiarism.
Any student found plagiarizing in any of the above ways will receive an automatic “F” for the assignment and may receive an “F” for the course. Documented evidence of the plagiarism will be kept in the department office, and will be reported to the Office of Judicial Affairs.

Any student discovered soliciting others to write a paper, speech, test, or other assignment for that student will receive an automatic “F” for the course.

There are ambiguities in concepts of plagiarism. Faculty will be available for consultation regarding any confusion a student may have.

Most students are careful to avoid blatant plagiarism, the unacknowledged copying of exact words of the source. However, students must also be aware that the concept of plagiarism extends not only to wording but to patterns or sequences of ideas. If you paraphrase without acknowledgement, using the same sequence or structure as the original author, then you are plagiarizing.

Students have the right to appeal a charge of plagiarism. An appeal starts with the chairperson of the department.

The Department of Mass Communication and Communication Studies has adopted the following policy regarding cheating: ANY STUDENT CAUGHT CHEATING ON ANY QUIZ OR EXAM WILL RECEIVE A MINIMUM OF AN “F” ON THE QUIZ OR TEST AND A MAXIMUM OF AN “F” FOR THE COURSE.

Revised 1-11-05


Civility Code Introduction
Revised (approved by COFAC College Council 11/8/2011)

All College of Fine Arts & Communication Studies students, staff, and faculty are committed to collegial and academic citizenship demonstrating high standards of humane, ethical, professional, and civil behavior in all interactions.

We must take responsibility for the relationship between our personal conduct and the quality of campus life. What we do and say always has an effect on others, whether we see it or not. Civility means more than respecting campus facilities and grounds. Civility means consistently treating people with consideration and respect. It means being courteous, polite, and fair. It means recognizing diversity and honoring differing points of view. When our behavior is guided by concern for others in our community, we are being civil. Practicing civility requires thoughtful behavior and checking our assumptions and perceptions of others’ race, ethnicity, gender, gender expression, sexual orientation, abilities, culture, belief systems and economic status.

Civility Code
COFAC places a priority on learning. We value the inherent worth and dignity of every person, thereby fostering a community of mutual respect. Students have the right to a learning environment free of disruptive behaviors. Faculty have the right to define appropriate behavioral expectations in the classroom and expect students to abide by them. Faculty have the responsibility to manage and address classroom disruption. Staff have the right and responsibility to define appropriate behaviors necessary to conduct any university activity free of disruption or obstruction.

We believe that in order to achieve these ideals, all COFAC students, staff, and faculty are expected to exhibit and practice civil behaviors that exemplify: (1) respecting faculty, staff, fellow students, guests, and all university property, policies, rules and regulations; (2) taking responsibility for one’s choices, actions and comments; (3) delivering correspondence – whether verbal, nonverbal, written, or electronic – with respectful language using professional writing standards and etiquette; and (4) accepting consequences of one’s choices and actions.

The use of threatening or abusive language, writing, or behavior will not be tolerated and can lead to academic dismissal. Further information about civility can be found in Appendix F of the university catalog.


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