COMM 431: Communication Ethics

Department of Communication, North Dakota State University, Fargo

Instructor: Ross Collins, Ph.D.
Telephone: 231-7295; e-mail:; web page Choose the Class Resouces link to access the class web site. the site includes this syllabus, lecture synopses, other class handouts and resources, a student roster, announcements page and class bulletin board.

Office hours: 9:30-11 Tuesdays and Thursdays, and by appointment.

Course Objectives
People on the receiving end of mass communication do not think the media are very ethical. Polls consistently show people believe journalists, advertising people and public relations practitioners to be around the bottom of the pile in ethical behavior. Yet central to credibility of media, whether it be television news, movies, newspapers, advertisements, or political publicity is the question of ethics. Answers don't come easy, but be the end of the semester, you should be able to:

Most important of these is the third; without a method of critical analysis, ethics discussion too easily falls into an exchange of mere opinion leading nowhere.

Required texts: Knowlton and Parsons, The Journalists's Moral Compass. Patterson and Wilkins, Media Ethics. Issues and Cases. Other readings may be required as necessary.

Roll will not be taken. As adults, you have the freedom to decide whether it is ethically defensible to skip lectures! Keep in mind, however, that, one,, lectures are seldom text-based, but instead supplement material presented in the text; two, your presence during class discussions is a necessary supplement to your weekly assignments. In-class exercises will also be given from time to time.

Make-ups: If you skip, you cannot make up the in-class work! Late work for weekly out-of-class assignments will be accepted, but the grade will suffer, the later, the lower. Communications practitioners live in a world of tight deadlines and quick decisions. We want to at least try to reflect that pressure in class.

But you're only a student, you say? Okay, how about this: skip two class sessions, and at the end of the semester, I'll drop the F from any in-class work missed. Think of this as a "bank account" for when you're sick, your car's sick, or your sense of motivation is sick. Out-of-class assignments will still be due, however.

Projects and examinations
Grading weights may be broken into the numbers presented below, reflecting highest possible points.
Mid-semester exam, 150 pts.
Final exam, 250 pts.
Final paper, 300 pts
Other assignments, 125 pts.
Total: 825 pts.

Letter grades will not be given during the semester, but you can calculate your grade anytime by finding the percentage as related to the total possible points. For instance, you have collected 220 points by midterm, out of a possible 250 so far. Divide 220 by 250, and the result is .88, that is, 88 percent. Your grade so far is in the B range. Need help to keep track? Download a grade computation worksheet.

Official Notices from the University
If you need special accommodations for learning or have special needs, please let the instructor know as soon as possible.

Work in this course must adhere to the NDSU Code of Academic Responsibility and Conduct. This addresses cheating, plagiarism, fabrication, or facilitating dishonesty. Instructors have the right to respond to a student's dishonesty by failing the student for the particular assignment or test, or even the entire course, or recommend the student drop the course.

Class web site: Accessible from the URL above, the COMM 431 site includes lecture synopses, other class handouts and resources, a student roster, announcements page and class bulletin board.

Tentative Schedule
Week One

Introduction, ethical relativism, movie, "Ethics in America." Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 1-30; Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 1-33.

Week Two
You, a pro? The big names. Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 34-87.
(Professionalism, great philosophies.)

Week Three
Not all opinions are created equal. Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 88-130.
(Introduction to ethics worksheet.)

Week Four
Making decisions using ethics worksheet .Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 131-144.

Week Five
Liar, liar, pants on.... Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 207-222.
(Truth in media.)

Week Six
The right to be left alone. Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 145-164; Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 109-119.
(Privacy issues.)

Week Seven
I've got a secret.... Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 165-178.
Midterm exam.

Week Eight
Conflicts of interest. Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 179-183; Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 227-239.

Week Nine
Ethics, schmethics, think of the money. Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 184-206; Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 168-180.
(Economics and responsibility.)

Week Ten
You can't print that in the paper! Readings: Knowlton & Parsons, pp. 223-233.
(Freedom and responsibility.)

Week Eleven
And justice for all. Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 82-93.
(Media and social issues.)

Week Twelve
Eithcis and advertising. Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 51-64.
(Media stereotypes.)

Week Thirteen
Obscenity. Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 136-148.

Week Fourteen
The juvenile audience. Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 193-205.

Week Fifteen
Ethics and popular culture, media in corporate society. Readings: Patterson & Wilkins, pp. 254-265.

Week Sixteen
Final lecture.

Term paper is due ON or BEFORE last day of class, 4:30 p.m.

Want to Know More?
Mortimer J. Adler, Aristotle for Everybody. New York: Macmillan Publishing Co., 1978, pp. 100-126.

Clifford G. Christians, Kim B. Rotzoll, & Mark Fackler, Media Ethics. Cases and Moral Reasoning. 2nd ed. New York and London: Longman, 1987.

Carl J. Friedrich, ed., The Philosophy of Kant. New York: The Modern Library, 1949, pp. 140-208.

H. Eugene Goodwin, Groping for Ethics in Journalism. Ames: Iowa State University Press, 1983.

Richard McKeon, ed., The Basic Works of Aristotle. New York: Random House, 1941, pp. 928-1112.

James M. Smith and Ernest Sosa, eds., Mill's Utilitarianism. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Co., 1969.

W.D. Ross, The Right and the Good. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1930.