ASU professor explains ethical journalism and its evolution since the days of Walter Cronkite

December 28, 2020

The discussion of racial justice, the COVID-19 pandemic and the presidential election this year have challenged news outlets and stations to remain ethical in their reporting. In efforts to build trusted relationships with its consumers, news outlets and journalists have attempted to engage in nonpartisan reporting.

While this is a goal for some, other outlets and journalists have demonstrated partisan news sharing, therefore showing a conflict of interest in terms of ethical reporting. Rick Rodriguez, a professor of practice in Arizona State University's Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication, focuses on in-depth reporting on Latino and borderland issues. With the events of 2020, understanding how to report on diverse backgrounds remains a key discussion.  newspapers Photo courtesy of Download Full Image

We spoke to Rodriguez to get his response on how ethical journalism has changed and why it remains a core value of news. 

Question: What does ethical journalism look like?

Answer: Ethical journalism looks like a news organization has tried to be fair, accurate and thorough in its pursuit of the truth. Often, people speak about being objective, but I believe the standard is trying to be fair to the best of your abilities with the information that is available and that has been verified and presented in the proper context. I don't think anyone is completely objective; we are all products of our life's experiences and may choose to emphasize different things. But I believe that people can reach a standard of fairness when weighing facts and gathering information. Ethical journalism is often guided by a code of ethics that stresses principles in truth-seeking such as independence, avoiding conflicts of interest, transparency and minimizing harm when appropriate.

Q: Why do people view different news outlets in a certain way?

A: We are in an era in which news outlets, particularly television cable stations, have become increasingly partisan, driven in part by the desires of their audiences. Until recently, Fox News was the channel of choice for President Trump and many of his followers. Since the election, there appears to have been a split of sorts and Trump is pointing to Newsmax and OAN as his alternatives of choice. On the opposite side, you have MSNBC and CNN, for example, seen as opposing Trump because of their critical coverage and commentary. This is all part of a media ecosystem that has evolved with the internet in which people tend to look to newscasts, websites and stories that reinforce their own views. On television, that is the way the outlets are building their audiences.

Q: What makes a news station partisan?

A: Extreme partisanship involves not fairly considering facts. If a news station has preconceived political goals that don't involve seeking truth in a fair and independent way, they are not doing ethical journalism. What has happened is that 24-hour news cycles are combinations of news and commentary. The two often blend together, making it hard for viewers to separate what is fact-based, ethical journalism and opinion.

Q: How has ethics in news coverage changed since the Walter Cronkite days to now?

A: There will never be another Walter Cronkite, dubbed "the most trusted man in America." He could sign off with, "and that's the way it is," because there were so few gatekeepers — people who decided what, when and how news was to be disseminated — and he was the best of them. Today, anybody with a cellphone or a laptop can disseminate their versions of the news. Far more news and information are disseminated through social media than any news outlet. News organizations still play a key role in democracy, but they are not the only voices out there competing for the trust, hearts and minds of their readers and viewers. That is why newsrooms must abide by ethical rules to earn credibility and set themselves apart in a changing, crowded and complex media landscape.

Q: What should journalists keep in mind when reporting on a story? Photographers when covering a story?

A: Lots of things. When I tell people that I teach journalism ethics, I'll often get a snicker and a comment like, "Isn't that an oxymoron?" But journalists from credible news organizations think more about ethical conduct than most professions that I know of. Key principles like verifying information before publishing; avoiding conflicts; being fair, thorough and accurate in the pursuit of truth; deciding whether to grant source anonymity and whether it meets the standard that the information the source is going to provide is vital to the public; I could go on. I so admire photographers because they have to make split-second ethical decisions like whether the photographs invade privacy; how to minimize harm on people not used to being thrust into the public eye; how to take photographs without influencing a news event; again, there is a lot more.

But the bottom line is that journalists from bonafide news organizations think about ethics every day. It is ingrained in them from J-school on. That's not to say some don't break the ethical codes — some do, and it not only wrecks their careers but damages the media's credibility. But far, far more adhere to widely accepted ethical codes in the pursuit of informing the public. That's what makes them journalists — vital to democracy — and not propagandists.

Elon Graves

Student worker, Media Relations and Strategic Communications

Changemakers to unite at ASU's ShapingEDU Winter Games

Program aims to design the future of education, smart regions

December 28, 2020

Three days of highly-interactive, creatively inspiring and collaborative sessions are at the center of Arizona State University's upcoming ShapingEDU Winter Games, a free virtual conference from Jan. 5–7, 2021.

Described by program organizers as a “digital immersive experience” for dreamers, doers and drivers interested in learning, co-creating and community, Winter Games will offer plenty of opportunities to explore with and be inspired by colleagues who are innovating what comes next in education and in smart region planning during and after the pandemic. ShapingEDU Winter Games ShapingEDU Winter Games, a free virtual conference, will take place Jan. 5–7, 2021. Download Full Image

“We know you have thousands of other things you could be doing while you work/learn during a pandemic, but I think this is a foundational ‘reset’ event,” said Samantha Becker, who serves as executive director of creative and communications at ASU's University Technology Office, as well as community director and co-founder of ShapingEDU. “If we don’t take an intentional pause to together address the question of, 'Where do we go from here?' we risk splitting off in different directions. This is an opportunity to bring together a chorus of voices to present and spark real change.”

Winter Games is organized by the creators of Learning(Hu)Man virtual summer camp, which brought together more than 2,100 registered participants from around the world in July 2020 to advance emergent strategies for learner success. This new set of games invites students, faculty, education leaders, technologists and business leaders to engage in a breadth of activities designed to surface the best in emerging approaches for shaping the future of smart campuses, cities and education.

ShapingEDU Winter Games At-a-Glance

Daily keynotes, breakout and hackathon sessions, lunchtime activities, and end-of-day gatherings that combine entertainment, collaborative activities and socializing are all part of the highly interactive schedule. Participants can expect to learn and collaborate with colleagues, and also walk away with ideas of how to design smart city and region planning, as well as deliver engaging online learning experiences.

“ShapingEDU is a really fun community,” said Michelle Sullivan Govani, who serves as director of strategy and partnerships for ASU’s Office of Applied Innovation and will be among the presenters at Winter Games. “Many of the people who are engaged with ShapingEDU are optimistic about the potential for technology to change lives, expand access to opportunities and improve outcomes in our education system. The reality, however, is that the work of achieving that potential isn’t really that technological. Social and political systems — including our education system — are complex, have multiple competing purposes and tend to ‘domesticate’ our technological interventions in ways that end up limiting the promise of change. There are also many stakeholders to be considerate of: learners, families, educators, administrators, policymakers and more.”

It is the continual effort to reach out to and include as many of those stakeholders as possible that leads to the consistently productive results flowing out of ShapingEDU events, and the Winter Games virtual immersive event promises to extend that process in significant ways.

“Last year UTO, along with other internal and external partners, hosted the Smart Region Summit, which focused on the application of new technologies, systems and innovation strategies that could be directed to the idea of the ‘smart city and region,’" Becker said. "It was a week of activities attended by more than 300 regional smart changemakers who grappled with themes like sustainability, transportation, community partnerships, ongoing education and more.

Cross-Countries Smart Skiing Track“Based on the engagement around this event, which ultimately launched The Connective —a Diamond Co-Convener of Winter Games — we saw so many thematic overlaps with ShapingEDU and thought it would be interesting, and very much in the spirit of Winter Games, to build a ‘smart’ track into our event. Smart campuses are often incubators to build smart cities and regions, after all.”

Cross-Countries Smart Skiing, one of three tracks to be featured at the upcoming Winter Games, is the official track of the third annual Smart Region Summit. 

Allie NakonekSlack is among the list of Co-Convenors helping to bring the games to virtual life.

“We joined the conversation at Learning (Hu)man this summer, and Slack was eager to participate in the next gathering of education changemakers," said Allie Nakonek, Slack customer success manager for higher education and another Winter Games co-presenter.

“In our (Learning(Hu)Man) sessions and others, it gave me great perspective to consider the challenges and opportunities faced in higher education, at a deeper level than just how Slack fits into the picture," Nakonek said. "It was also really encouraging to hear how solutions developed by students and professors can resonate across and beyond the education community. Makes me very excited to hear about the ‘smart cities/classrooms’ at Winter Games!”

For more information and to register for the free event, visit the Winter Games website.

Written by Paul Signorelli, one of three Storytellers in Residence for ShapingEDU. He can be reached at