Making Choices: Journalists and the Mean

Lee Peck, Ohio University

Many journalists rely on a “quick-and-easy” formula for making ethical decisions. Based on Aristotle’s doctrine of the mean, it involves casting out the two extremes (vices) of an ethical dilemma and acting on a middle point in the ethics spectrum. This paper explores what Aristotle intended with his doctrine of the mean and suggests ways journalists might better understand it.

Journalists are provided codes of ethics on which to model their behavior. But Aristotle cautioned that knowing the rules is not enough to ensure moral virtue. Journalists, like all people, cannot hope to understand the doctrine of the mean unless they have been brought up well by parents and early teachers. Teaching at this stage focuses on habituation — the practice of making morally correct decisions becomes second nature.

Codes of ethics cannot take the place of teachers and mentors. As Aristotle might say: it’s not enough to know the good; journalists must become good. This paper offers suggestions that might help journalists better understand what Aristotle meant by the doctrine of the mean.

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