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Former Hearst Television V.P. of news talks ethics at Cronkite School

In a fast-paced world that demands immediacy, maintaining and developing a standard of journalism ethics is becoming increasingly difficult. However it is still a crucial aspect of the field, as Fred Young, former senior vice president of news, Hearst-Argyle Television, discussed at the Walter Cronkite School’s latest Must See Monday event.

“I am particularly excited about tonight’s guest,” Christopher Callahan, dean and university vice provost of The Cronkite School, said. “Fred Young has been a leader in broadcast journalism in the United States. He led all Hearst TV stations as senior vice president of news. That is TV stations in 26 markets across 22 states.”

Young began his career at Hearst Broadcasting in 1962, starting off at the Pittsburgh station WTAE-TV in a variety of positions, including vice president and general manager and news director.

On stage, Young addressed the crowd humbly and with good humor, showing a short clip of a man using an iPad as a cutting board as a way to digress into a conversation about the digital age.

“We’re here to talk about contemporary times,” Young said. “We’re talking about ethics and why it’s important today.”

Young assured the audience that choosing a career in journalism is not a poor choice. Looking out over the crowd, he said that a career in journalism where individuals are the message carriers to those who seek to be informed is a wonderful opportunity and a critical role in society.

However, Young pointed out that living in a world of immediacy, accuracy, integrity and balance have fallen from the top of journalistic lists.

“The road signs that used to say ‘fair,’ ‘objective,’ ‘balanced and unbiased’ have been removed from a lot of the highways,” Young said. “They’ve been replaced with signs that read ‘now,’ ‘urgent,’ ‘breaking news’ and ‘fair and balanced’.”

Interacting with the audience in a way that shifted the Must See Monday presentation into a group conversation, Young relayed that ethics are principles that govern the appropriate conduct for individuals and organizations. Consumers, Young said, are more likely to believe and respect those they see as ethical.

“Let’s talk about something that crosses our desks, our minds, our brain every day,” Young said. “It’s an ethical issue…it’s the impact of social media. How many of you today, and there’s a lot of students in the room so I’m interested in what you think, how many of you get your news from Twitter?”

A small cluster of hands went into the air and some students admitted that while relying solely on the social media platform was not the most reliable way to consume news, they use it as a tool to find stories later by more reputable sources.

Peter Bhatia, the former executive editor of The Oregonian and the Edith Kinney Gaylord visiting professor in journalism ethics, said he uses Twitter as more of a tip sheet and would suggest caution in using Twitter as a source.

“As we know, there are so many horrible examples of things being tweeted out that weren’t true,” Bhatia said. “I would urge caution. You talked about speed…I would much rather as a news organization be right than be first in this day and age, because a scoop lasts about 30 seconds.”

Young continued the conversation with audience members by discussing the ethics practiced by news organizations in coverage of cases ranging from the current Ebola pandemic to the Boston Marathon bombing in 2013.

“Use major ethical challenges as teaching or learning opportunities,” Young said. “Remember there are no rules of ethics. Be flexible. One question to always ask yourselves as young journalists or mature journalists, ‘What can we do better the next time?’”

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