By the end of the discussion, some students were ready to admit that journalists possess some ethical responsibility to tell the truth. But this was an ethical responsibility that had to be balanced with the need to get a paycheck. So, really it came down to situational ethics. If a journalist felt that he or she could quit the job after being pressured by the advertiser, then that journalist should quit the job. But - that would be a choice that few would make.
I guess that's par for the course. In fact, most journalists don't make that choice. I did once, but I was young at the time.
Overall, I found a high level of cynicism in my students. One summed it up well. The young man didn't feel much ethical responsibility to be honest, he said, because no one believed the media anyway.
I was at a loss for words. He had a point, albeit a grim one.
Before they left, I conducted an impromptu poll. How many people don't consume any news, get no news at all except second-hand, through conversations? One young woman raised her hand. She the news was depressing. Can't argue with that either, I guess.
How many get news from the TV?
About eight raised their hands.
How many get news mainly from the Internet?
The remainder raised their hands.
So - this is the future of the media apparently. The information that serves as "news" for these students might be a mixture of Facebook info, Drudge Reports, New York Times articles or posts by Perez Hilton. The students as a whole have little regard for ethical responsibilities of journalists and nearly no trust in any information they consume. What does this mean for our democracy?