Sunday, April 10, 2005

The Media and the Pope's Death

There are so many stories about bets, gossip, chatter and desire surrounding the upcoming conclave and election of a new pontiff that I won't even bother linking to any of them.

My journalism ethics professor (who is Jewish) said last week during class that she thought all of those stories are ridiculous. One or two, fine. But in a story where there is no sure bet and the people who have real knowledge of the issue cannot speak about it under fear of excommunication, why waste newsprint on stories that don't actually present news, but only speculation? I thought that was a very insightful comment. Instead, she said, we should be pursuing those stories about the Holy Father and his death that aren't out there yet, including stories specifically about his theological writings and their impact on the Church.

I really like this professor, and not just because of that statement. This is the second class I've had with her and both have made me think about journalism and my responsibility more than any others I've taken. She teaches through discussion and never lectures. She has no class rules about being 10 minutes late for class, eating in class, and encourages us to keep our cell phones on if we need them to be and call her (she's in her 50s) by her first name. But she will raise hell with you if you don't participate thoughtfully. She tells us the very first day of the semester that she's a flaming liberal and asks us to check her on it if it influences anything she says. She always plays the devil's advocate in discussion on journalism ethics and never allows us to answer a question with "It depends on the circumstance." Instead, she argues, we must have a consistent ethical framework on which we practice journalism. She has a law degree from Georgetown and a master's degree in journalism from Columbia and, despite her liberal political leanings, is rather conservative when it comes to journalism and always encourages us to err on the side of caution when faced with an ethical problem in journalism.