Approved by Faculty Senate October 6, 2003

Per WSU Regulation 3-4 ("Departments are required to submit information to the USS specifying how [the] flagged course addresses the outcomes for each flag"), the following material addresss points 1-5 under the Oral Flag section of the 3/20/00 "University Studies at WSU' document with regard to USS approval of MCOM 405 Issues and Ethics as a USS oral communication flag course.



1. "...earn significant course credit through extemporaneous oral presentations."

            Mass Media Issues and Ethics requires students to know how to think about ethics, how to construct their own ethical framework based on classical ethical frameworks and apply those ethics to issues in the industry. They must be able to clearly articulate these ideas and applications during class discussion as well as within the framework of an oral presentation and a debate in which they are required to participate. The oral portions of the class work account for 45% of the grade.


2. "...understand the features and types of speaking in their disciplines."

            The features and types of speaking in the mass communication field varies, depending on which area a student concentrates their efforts. What students must do, regardless of the area in which they are concentrating their efforts, is to be able to adequately defend any position they may take in relationship to supporting their actions and behavior. This requires that students be able to clearly outline a reasoning and articulate that reasoning to anyone who questions it, whether it be from an internal source or an external source. Students will learn these skills in MCOM 405 Mass Media Issues and Ethics.


3. "...adapt their speaking to field-specific audiences."

            Students, in their presentations and debates, are coached to present as if they were speaking to an audience comprised of adults who have had no mass communication training or experience. They  must be prepared to defend their positions to an audience outside the classroom.



4. "..receive appropriate feedback frm teachers and peers, including suggestions for improvement."

            The oral presentations and debates in which students are required to participate during the course of the semester are evaluated by each student in the class as well as by the professor. The criteria focuses on speaking skills and associated characteristics as well as the way in which the content is organized.


5. "...make use of technologies used for research and speaking in the fields."

            Students are encouraged to use a variety of technology to better aid in the understanding of their oral presentations.


6. "...learn the conventions of evidence, format, usage and documentation in their fields."

            Students learn how to apply The Potter Box, a model in which they must clearly define the problem, list their values and loyalties, and look toward a classical ethical theory to support their actions and behavior.


Mass Media Issues and Ethics

MCOM 405



Instructor: Cindy Killion, Associate Professor


Office: Phelps 113D           Office Hours: Posted on office door

                 or by appointment

Phone – Office: 457-5098                 Home: 687-8294 (don’t call after 9:30 p.m.)

Email address:


Messages: I am very good about checking my email and phone messages at home. However, I tend to forget about voice mail. You can leave messages for me in my mailbox in the departmental office. I check it regularly too.



Students should have completed the following:

Comm Studies 191 (Oral Communication, 3 S.H.)

            MCOM 100 (Mass Media and Society, 3 S.H.)

            Must have senior standing

If you have not met these prerequisites, you should not enroll in this class.


University Studies Flag Requirements:

          MCOM  405 Mass Media Issues and Ethics fulfills the University Studies 3 semester-hour oral flag requirement. Numerous assignments in this course contribute to the oral flag including the a debate in which you will participate, daily class discussions and a presentation you are to make to your classmates.


In this class you will 1) earn significant course credit through extemporaneous oral presentations; 2) understand the features and types of speaking in this discipline; 3) adapt your speaking to field-specific audiences; 4) receive appropriate feedback from your teacher and peers, including suggestions for improvement; 5) make use of technologies used for research and speaking in the field; 6) learn the conventions of evidence, format, usage and documentation in mass communication.


Catalog Description

MCOM  405 - Mass Media Issues and Ethics-3 S.H. Introduction to perspectives on ethics as applied to case studies and issues in advertising, broadcasting, journalism, photojournalism and public relations.


Course Description

            This course explores the issues and ethical questions that face mass communication professionals in today’s society. You will become acquainted with moral development theory, ways to model moral reasoning and ethical principles as we journey toward developing your own personal/professional code. You will be asked to apply what you are learning to a variety of case studies drawn from journalism, photojournalism, advertising, public relations and broadcasting. One of my goals as an instructor is to make you uncomfortable because I truly believe that it is only when we challenge ourselves to exceed our comfort zones that we begin evaluating things differently and learning begins.


Course Objectives

            The course objectives include:

        Introducing you to a plethora of different ethical theories developed by philosophers over the centuries

        Increasing your critical thinking skills through the application of a variety of ethical theories to cases drawn from the profession

        Increasing your ability to thoughtfully construct an ethical position for your actions/behavior and be able to clearly articulate it

        Providing you a framework in which to begin thinking critically about ethics, your own as well as others

        Providing you with enough information so you can begin developing your own professional ethical framework, and

        Encouraging you to be thoughtful in all your ethical decisions



          You need at least one 100 mb Iomega Zip Disk. You should keep ALL the work you do for this course on a disk so if I, for some reason, misplace your papers, you can easily print another one for me. Also, keep all the copies of papers I return so you can produce them if, for some reason, I fail to record your grade.

You also need something for a journal. I would suggest you use a binder so you can insert and eliminate pages if you wish. Please keep in your journal all your notes from the exercises we do in class.



            Required for this course is Ethics in Media Communications: Cases and Controversies, third edition; Louis Alvin Day; Belmont, Calif.: Wadsworth Thomson Learning, 2000. You also are required to purchase a packet of readings I have compiled. It is titled simply Mass Media Issues and Ethics MCOM 405. It is available in the bookstore, as is the text.


Course Methods

The value of this class lies in the interaction between you and me, you and your other classmates and a joint effort by all of us to learn from each other. This course focuses on theory and the application of that theory to case studies. Theory, whether you agree with it or not, provides you a foundation on which you can build a better understanding of yourself, the world in which you live and the profession you are going to practice. So it’s valuable to know theory. It’s also valuable to hear others’ opinions and perspectives. When you begin combining theoretical concepts with what you learn from other people, the process of change begins.

So with that in mind, I have decided to use a variety of class methods that will enhance your learning through interaction among us. There will be class exercises, case studies, group presentations, group exercises and class discussion.

To make this semester a semester in which true learning occurs, I ask these things of you: do all your assigned readings on time, be thorough, participate in class and keep your mind open to new concepts, new ideas.

Daily doses of news

Because each of you have chosen to practice some form of mass communication, it is absolutely necessary that you know what’s occurring in the community, in the state, in the country and in the world. Additionally, the news media are a rich source for contemporary ethical issues facing our society and our profession. So I want you to develop the habit of regular news media use. To help motivate you to keep up with the news, we’ll have discussions throughout the semester about current events. I want you to read regularly the Winona Daily News, the Winonan and the Minneapolis Star Tribune. All are available in the library. You also should pay attention to the following news media:

National Public Radio’s news programs "Morning Edition" and "All Things Considered," as well as the morning "Saturday Edition" and " Sunday Edition" during weekends.

National Public Television’s news program, "The Newshour with Jim Lehrer."

Network and local TV news programs on channels 5, (KSTP/St. Paul/ABC), 10 (KTTC/Rochester/NBC), 11 (WXOW/La Crosse/ABC) and FOX NEWS (check your local listings).

Daily newspapers in addition to those I’ve already mentioned should include the Chicago Tribune, USA Today, The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, and The Washington Post.

National news magazines such as Time, Newsweek, U.S. News & World Report and The Economist.

Web sites of various news organizations.

I regularly read news items in the alternative press as well and subscribe to The Nation, Utne Reader and Native Americas. You are more than welcome to browse through these publications as well, just ask me about it.

ALSO, we should be scanning these websites at least once a week to determine what issues are being discussed at these “watchdog” organizations:

            Media Watch


            GLAAD (Gays and Lesbians Against Defamation)


            FAIR national media watch group


                        (There are numerous links here that we can explore such as the

Women’s Desk, Racism Watch Desk and sites that deal exclusively with news, advertising and public relations)

            Center for Media and Democracy: investigative reporting on the PR


            Media Research Center: addresses media and politics, political balance


            Media Watch: a feminist site devoted to eliminating sexism (this site

has some great images of positive and negative ads that we might look at later in the semester)

Other Policies

            Like an employer, I expect you to notify me of any absences and provide me with an explanation. You should notify me ahead of time unless there is an extreme emergency. If it is an emergency, you should notify me as soon as possible after you’ve dealt with it. If you don’t notify me, it’s a black mark on your record and will be considered when determining grades. If you’re having difficulties, I encourage you to talk with me immediately. I’m not very sympathetic to someone who waits until the end of the semester to tell me they’ve been having problems and want some slack. It doesn’t work that way. Also, you are responsible for completing all missed work and maintaining deadlines.

            Special Needs: If you have special needs or concerns, especially needs as addressed by the Americans with Disabilities Act, please share them with me. Efforts will be made to accommodate your needs.

            You are responsible for any rules or guidelines not covered here but given in class.

            If there is something you don’t fully understand, you are to ask for clarification. There are no stupid questions . . . what is stupid is to refrain from asking.

            Deadlines:  Turn in completed assignments on deadline to me. Deadlines are just that – the time your assignment is due. PERIOD. Should extreme circumstances warrant an extension on the deadline, it should be cleared (in writing) with me. Difficulties with computers is not an extreme circumstance nor an acceptable excuse for missing a deadline.

            If you run into problems with assignments, talk to me. They can be worked out. I really am here to help you through this course.

            Keep copies of everything you do. Stuff does get lost, misfiled, misplaced or goes unrecorded. It is up to you to have back-up copies of all your assignments.

Professionalism:  MCOM 405 tries to create a professional environment. That means, among other things, that we respect each of our colleagues in the classroom. It also means that missing a class is like missing a day of work. I expect you to show up on time and to show up prepared. If we start class with a quiz or exercise and you come in late, you will not get a chance to make up the work. If you know you’re going to miss class or be late, please let me know in advance. Excused absences usually involve personal or family illnesses or emergencies. Routine medical appointments, job obligations, computer problems, missed buses and scheduled interviews are not valid reasons for missing class. Again, you should keep copies of all your assigned course work, either on paper or on disk.

Help ! I want you to succeed in MCOM 405 and to enjoy it. I am always available to discuss any assignments, ideas, concepts or grades so feel free to stop in the office during my office hours or make an appointment with me. If you are stressing out about your grade, then it is your responsibility to come visit me to talk about it. Don’t wait until the last few weeks, however, at which time there most likely is little we can do to improve your grade. I encourage you to call, e-mail or stop by my office to discuss your work.



            Honesty is fundamental to me in both education and the craft I practice. Plagiarism or fabrication of material is inexcusable and intolerable. Because I respect you and because I want to minimize even the outside chance this might occur, I want to make it clear that plagiarism or fabrication will result in an F for the course. That F will remain on your transcript permanently and does figure into your GPA. I’m hoping that none of you will take unethical shortcuts in your work. In case you’re unsure about what constitutes academic misconduct, remember that all work must be your own, and your work alone.




          Since each of you have chosen to work in the mass communication field, I believe it’s important that you continue improving your communication skills, both verbal and written. Therefore, your assignments in this class will consist of (1) class discussions in which you are expected to clearly articulate your ideas and opinions, and (2) writing in which you are expected to communicate in a mature, thoughtful and well-organized manner. I also expect your writing to be grammatically correct with no spelling errors. All of these considerations will be made when grading and evaluating the assignments you submit to me EXCEPT your journal, which I’ll get to in a minute.

            As we begin the class, you can expect the following assignments: an oral presentation, participation in a debate, the creation of your own personal/professional code of ethics and an 8-10 page  case study. You also are to keep a journal for each day we meet. This is the minimum. I reserve the right to assign more as the course proceeds. The paper must be done on a word processor and double-spaced. In the left-hand corner on the first page, please put your and name and the title of the paper (Individual Case Study). Put your name on every succeeding page. Staple the paper before submitting it to me, and please do it in a professional manner. I WILL NOT grade any paper that is submitted to me without a name. If I must return it to you so you can attach your name, it will be considered late. See the section on Late Work below.

Late Work: I will accept late work and give you feedback on it, but the highest grade you will receive is 60% of the possible points for the assignment (a D). Planning, accepting responsibility and meeting deadlines are a fact of life if you are going to work in the media. It is crucial that you meet deadlines, and this course is no exception. Handing in your work late also deprives you of critical feedback. Therefore, it is imperative that work be ready for discussion at the specified time. Assignments are due at the time I request them in class. Anything submitted after that is considered late (and the highest grade you will receive is 60% of the possible points for the assignment).








Grading is based on a number of criteria. I expect all your written work to be free of errors in spelling, punctuation, style, usage, etc. Clarity, conciseness, and organization are additional considerations.


            Grades will be based on the following formula:


        Journal                               10% or 100 pts.

        Oral presentation                   10% or 100 pts.

        Participation in a debate            20% or 200 pts.

        Ethics Code                         25% or 250pts.

        In-depth Case Study                   20% or 200 pts.

        Class participation                   15% or 150 pts.

Total:                                   100% or 1000 pts.





You are required to do a journal during the 16 weeks we meet. You should make an entry every day of class – whether we meet or not. So there should be a total of 45 entries in your journal by the time final exams roll around. BRING YOUR JOURNAL TO EVERY CLASS ! I will randomly gather journals at least twice during the semester before they are submitted to me on the day in which our final exam is scheduled. The purpose of the journal is to give you a place in which you can reflect, articulate and preserve your ideas and feelings; examine your intellectual/attitudinal/emotional changes and growth; examine your attitudes, ideas, reactions, experience, etc., and discover how they relate to your identity; to actively participate in your learning rather than being a passive recipient of information; and improve your writing skills and have a useful tool for creating your own personal/professional code of ethics, a major component of this course.

Here are some guidelines for your journal: Write in it after class, recording critical responses to something that has occurred in class, a specific issue with which you may be struggling, any insight that may have been evoked by an experience in or out of class. Whatever you choose to include in your journal, however, should pertain in some way to the class objectives. If you choose to respond to experiences, films, books, other classes then you need to provide a brief summary of the item or event before your response. Clearly date and label all your entries. Leave space at the end of each entry for later expansion or commentary, as well as adequate margins for my responses. You may be given specific journal assignments, but most entries will be based on your own initiative. Imagine an audience for your entries: are you writing to the author: to me? To yourself? Your writing “voice” will differ accordingly. Convince your chosen audience that you not only have read but are thinking about the material and its implications or connections to your growing knowledge base and personal experiences.

Evaluation of your journal will be based on the correct number of entries in the journal, its completeness, thoughtfulness and your willingness to deal with the issues raised by the materials and apply them to your own experiences. You will not receive a grade, per say, on the journal. It will be given a – for inadequate (which translates into a D-F); a checkmark for adequate (which translates into a B-C); or a + for excellent (which translates into an A). If there are entries you do not wish me to read, fold down the page. If there are entries to which you particularly want a response, please indicate it in some way.



You are responsible for a personal code of ethics. Increasingly, employers and graduate school directors are less interested in your ambitions or professional goals and more interested in the values that you embrace to accomplish these ambitions and goals. Thus, as part of this class, you are required to conceive and design your own code of professional/personal ethics. This document is meant to accompany your clipbook, tape or professional portfolio. It also might be something you want to put in your required assessment portfolio. This assignment is based on topics we hope to cover in the first portion of the course. One of the ways in which you might want to approach this assignment is to review the content of your class notes, noting significant passages. Then review your ethics journal entries, isolating passages and entries for concepts covered in class and including influence, responsibility, truth, lies, manipulation, temptation, bias, fairness and power (NOTE: I expect each of the preceding items to be addressed in your code). Write a brief statement about how you feel about each item/concept (about 50-100 words). Review the particular code of ethics that relates to your option (and/or media interest) and find a statement relating to each topic on your list. Compare your statements with ones in the code and revise, if appropriate, clarifying terms or harmonizing content in keeping with industry standards. Reevaluate each statement and circle key words and terms, listing them on a separate sheet. Now condense each statement and keep or combine as many of those key terms as possible – about 10 to 50 words per item. Assemble your codes in the same document and revise the wording of each so that all codes are similar in length and read in a consistent and parallel manner. (Common style errors include using the first person, I, in some codes and not in others, and switching verb case or tense.) Decide on the format. You should design your code so that you can include it in a clipbook, tape or portfolio. So, for instance, a journalism and/or photojournalism major might want to develop a resume-like or files document or perhaps a web site; public relations majors might consider a brochure, a newsletter, a poster, a media kit, a calendar or a website; advertising majors might favor a poster, a brochure; a broadcasting major might want to do a video script or a multimedia presentation. The content of your personal code must be typed or printed (unless it’s an element of the design). If appropriate, put your ethics code in a folder with pockets (rather than in a spiral or plastic binder). Use your best judgment as to how to submit the project but whatever you choose, be professional about it. In sum, you should use your professional design skills to make a document that any employer or graduate school director would be eager to read. You can view some examples of what students have done for a similar course at Ohio University at





            You will take a media case study of my choosing that relates to your particular option and analyze the case, employing either the Potter Box model of reasoning or the SAAD Formula. This paper should be 8 to 10 pages, typed and double-spaced. I will provide you with some guidelines for writing this paper.




To get an idea of the range of enduring issues in mass communication, you might want to browse these books in the library:

Hiebert, Ray Eldon and Carol Reuss (1988). Impact of Mass Media:

Current Issues, second edition, New York: Longman, Inc.

Rodman, George (1984). Mass Media Issues: Analysis and Debate,

second edition. Science Research Associates Inc.

Emery, Michael and Ted Curtis Smythe (1986). Readings in Mass

Communication: Concepts and Issues, sixth edition. Dubuque, Iowa: Wm. C. Brown Publishers.



Dennis, Everette E., Arnold H. Ismach, Donald M. Gillman (1978).

Enduring Issues in Mass Communication. St. Paul, Minnesota: West Publishing Co.


You might also want to browse through these journals that are at the library to get a topic:

Critical Studies in Mass Communication

Journal of Mass Media Ethics (a portion of this is online)

Journalism and Mass Communication Quarterly

Mass Communication Review

Mass Communication and Society

Media Studies Journal


And these sites might be valuable to you if you wish to read more about media ethics and issues:

            Media Watch Archives


            Index of Media Ethics Resources: Media Ethics online


            Journal of Mass Media Ethics


            Center for Applied Ethics: media ethics resource list on www


            The Poynter Institute ethics site (case studies)


            The Poynter Institute bibliography of ethics resources:



I also have some journals, articles, and textbooks in my office that you are more than welcome to use in your search if you wish.



We are in the communication profession, so mutual exchange of information is important. I expect each of you to be prepared to participate in discussion each class period (see Course Methods and the Professionalism sections above).

If you have questions about how you’re doing in the class, please see me early in the course. Don’t wait until the final few weeks of the class; by then it may be too late to salvage a bad grade, and I rarely grant incompletes.







I grade on the familiar 10% scale, and here are some guidelines as to what criteria I use when grading your work (except the personal code of ethics)

90-100 percent: This is reserved for excellent work. You have applied excellent methods in your paper – solid research (legitimate arguments that are properly supported) with solid writing that exhibits good organization, no spelling errors, no grammar errors, accuracy, elaboration, consistency. Your journal is complete and exhibits maturity, depth, thoughtfulness and you tackle the issues.

80-89 percent: This work indicates that you have gone beyond the minimum requirements and completed the work as assigned. Your ideas are original and relevant but possibly your arguments are not well supported. Papers are virtually free of spelling errors and grammar errors. It is an example of solid writing and displays some sensitivity and responsibility. Your journal is complete but you haven’t tackled any real issues in your thinking.

            70-79 percent: This work meets minimum requirements and there’s some good organization in your papers but your arguments lack support, it contains spelling and grammar errors, lacks depth and needs polishing. Your journal is incomplete and you haven’t applied any critical thinking to issues.

            60-69 percent: This work conveys some information but is sloppy in organization and has no focus. It contains serious problems and a multitude of errors of fact, spelling and grammar. Your journal is incomplete.

            59 percent or lower: This work has major errors in it including, possibly, plagiarism. The mechanics are shoddy, it’s plagued with bad grammar and is confusing. This work is not acceptable.



Mistakes in spelling, grammar, style and punctuation will be treated as technical errors. I’ll deduct points from all your writing assignments for these errors as follows:

        One point off for every technical error

        Three points off for every factual error or misspelled proper name

Personal Code of Ethics grading criteria:

PART 1: Content

            Technical: correct language and term usage                           1 – 60 pts.

            Right/Wrong: Code for each of the following:

                        Influence, responsibility, truth, falsehood,

manipulation, temptation, bias, fairness, power             1 – 60 pts.

            Thoroughness: indication of anecdotes, research,

contemplation                                                                       1 – 60 pts.

            Other: appropriateness of content for sequence

                        or job/graduate school aspirations                             1 – 20 pts.


                                                                                    TOTAL, PART 1:     200 points

PART 2: Design

            Appearance/Creativity: attractiveness as document/

                        innovative or unique approaches                            1 – 50 pts.

            Appropriateness for Sequence: acceptablity by members

                        of a professional sequence (journalism,

                        advertising, photojournalism, public relations,

                        broadcasting, etc.)                                                              1 – 30 pts.


                                                                                    TOTAL, PART 2:             180 points


TOTAL for Projects: 280 points






            Case studies are good vehicles for ethics discussions. They can help you appreciate the complexity of decision making; they can help you understand the context within which difficult decisions are made; they can help you track the consequences of choosing one action over another; and you can learn both how and when to reconcile and how and when to tolerate divergent points of view. But case studies are not the ultimate destination. The purpose of our discussions in class is to show you the processes by which you can practice and improve your own critical decision-making abilities. The end point for each of us in our discussions is to reach a reasoned response to the issue at hand. When discussion stops short of this point, it is often because the destination has been fogged in by one or more myths of media case discussions:

            Myth 1: Every opinion is equally valid. The best opinion (conclusion) is the one that is best supported by judicious analysis of fact and theory.

            Myth 2: Since we can’t agree on an answer, there is no right answer. There may be a number of acceptable answers, but there also will be many wrong answers.

            Myth 3: It hardly matters if you come up with the “ethical thing to do” since people ultimately act out of their own self-interest anyway. The point of critical reflection is to find and deal with those situations when one should not simply do that which benefits oneself. Acting ethically means to refrain from causing unjustified harm, even when prudential concerns must be set aside.

            Here are some guidelines we can use to map our discussions. As the case is discussed, check to see if these questions are being addressed:


            1. What are the morally relevant factors of the case?


                        (a) Will the proposed action cause an evil such as death,

disability, pain, loss of freedom or opportunity, or a loss of pleasure, that any rational person would wish to avoid?


(b) Is the proposed action the sort of action, such as deception, breaking promises, cheating, disobedience of law, or disobedience of professional or role-defined duty, that generally causes evil?


            2. If the proposed action is one described above, is a greater evil being prevented or punished?


            3. If so, is the actor in a unique position to prevent or punish such an evil, or is that a more appropriate role for some other person or profession?


            4. If the actor followed through on the action, would (s) he be allowing herself (himself) to be an exception to a rule that (s) he thinks that everyone else should follow? If so, then the action is prudential, not moral. One way to test this out is for journalists to ask how they would react if a person in another profession did what they are thinking of doing. Would the journalists applaud the action or would they write an expose?


            5. If, at this point, the proposed action still seems justified, consider if a rational, uninvolved person would appreciate the reason for causing harm. Are the journalists ready to state, explain and defend the proposed action in a public forum?


            (From Cases and Moral Systems: An Essay by Deni Elliott, University of Montana, published in Media Ethics: Issues and Cases by Philip Patterson and Lee Wilkins, Boston, Massachusetts: McGraw Hill, 1998, pgs. 18-19)



            ALSO, refer to “Some Preliminary Guidelines” from your handout, “The Need for Ethics,” pgs. 3-13 from Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, third edition, by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1992.



Refer to “Writing About Moral Issues” handout by Vincent Ryan Ruggiero, Thinking Critically About Ethical Issues, third edition. Mountain View, California: Mayfield Publishing Company, 1992, pgs. 167-174.