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UC experts consider media ethics

Media choices create challenges in deciding what's news

by Deborah Rieselman

Despite the bottom line of profit and loss statements, media still have a responsibility to an informed society, says University of Cincinnati journalism director Jon Hughes, who bemoans media's failure to uphold its obligation, leaving "readers and viewers less informed on issues than they should be."

Experts consider media ethics

Manfred Wolfram, chair of the Division of Electronic Media at UC's College-Conservatory of Music, shares his concern. "What is the purpose of media? Are they there to simply amplify what's being stated or are they there to question?  "I believe their function is to question, but we are discovering that too many media are reinforcing positions that turned out to be false. We love this country, but we have to understand the system to become constructive citizens.

"Yet who is the media? It is us. The responsibility is ours. We thrive on technology in this (electronic media) program, but we also have to thrive on ethical dimensions."

The explosion of media outlets through cable and the Internet makes getting reliable information a challenge. "A blur exists between news and entertainment," complains junior Sam Johnson in his Mass Media Ethics class, a required course for electronic media majors. "And it's easy for us to walk away from something we don't like and find something in line with our own views."

Philosophy professor Chris Cuomo agrees, "It comes back to good critical thinking skills -- being able to evaluate good evidence from bad evidence. That's one thing a liberal education provides -- a familiarity with evaluating evidence. We all had to take science for a reason. That, plus having a background in history, can help you find social reality."

She may be right, but it sounds a lot like work. And people burdened by complicated and hectic lives often run from the thought.

"The younger generation is particularly overwhelmed," Hughes says, "going to school full time, working part time and taking care of a family. It's understandable that they want to enjoy what little time they have. They go to the media for its entertainment value rather than its informational value. It's simply an overload of information."

"It's not apathy so much, as we're disheartened," says electronic media junior Dave Crisante, referring to the frustrating powerlessness he and his fellow students feel. "So many people can shut down an idea. We can watch a game, see all the open spots, but unless someone lets us play, what can we do?"

Still, media's positive benefits outweigh the negative, insists Julian Wuerth, associate professor of philosophy. "The Internet and technology provide new opportunities to be more enlightened. The sheer volume of information on the Internet is staggering, then technology allows us to have more free time to become enlightened. It's a great opportunity.

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