If I had to pick a color for that line between the ethical and the unethical, it would be gray. Not a bluish gray, not gray with purple undertones or sunny gray with yellowy steaks or even a metallic gray. It’s just gray. It’s never defined as strictly black or strictly white, but always somewhere in between.
The world of media thrives on that gray line and its description. Naturally, the media is all about communication. Actually, they are all about selling communication. As we are seeing over the past couple of weeks in Great Britain, celebrities, politicians and “newsmakers” alike are turning the tables on the media for the gray-toned actions of the paparazzi and even the more mainstream reporters. This comes in the wake of the News of the World scandal and the alleged criminal activities of the media in going well over that line into the unethical and even immoral – all for the sake of the story.
No one hates the media more than others in the media – aka, getting the scoop. Although I’m a communicator myself, I don’t routinely follow the he-said / she-said’s in the media industry. I’m more a Jack Webb “just the facts, ma’am” kind of guy. But I saw a blog posting on the “controversial agenda” media website Gawker.com that seriously twisted my view on the media’s bitter gray suit. “New York Times Staffers: Now is the Time to Rat Out Your Colleagues” was a near-nasty and sarcastic rant on a memo purportedly distributed internally to employees at The New York Times Company. In the memo, chairman/publisher Arthur Sulzberger and president/CEO Janet Robinson reiterated the company’s commitment to business ethics and standards and explained what employees should do (via their confidential ethics reporting hotline and other contact methods) should they see unethical behavior that could potentially harm the company. The memo was included in the posting.
Ok, maybe we should define “media gray” a bit differently from “standard gray.” But the point is that the leadership of this respected media company communicated its commitment to ethics using a “tone from the top” approach to describe its position on policy, corporate goals, ways to anonymously report bad behavior, anti-retaliation and escalation process. I say, good job, NY Times. That’s how a good company becomes a great company, a leader in its field. It’s how an organization builds a better, more ethical workplace.