Before class (10 minutes)
Class time needed
Categories/Tags: Broadcast, ethics, misrepresentation, going undercover
At the conclusion of this activity, participants will be able to:
- Conclude that it is almost universally inappropriate for journalists to misrepresent themselves.
- Outline alternative methods to undercover reporting.
Are there times when journalists can misrepresent themselves to report on an issue?
Evan Dean, a reporter for NBC2 in southwest Florida, reported on a story about the rise of panhandling in Ft. Myers. He decided to pose as a panhandler to see how people reacted to him. He reported that he collected $80 in two hours at two different intersections, which he donated to The Homeless Coalition. He also talked to several other people who were standing at intersections, asking for cash from people who drove by.
- Think about (but don’t share) a time in your life when you thought about lying or misrepresenting yourself about who you were or what you thought. What went through your mind as you were trying to come to a decision on whether or not to hide the truth?
- Under what circumstances might journalists pretend to be someone they’re not?
- What would an alternative have been to Dean representing himself as a panhandler?
- What was the most compelling piece of this story?
- When you think about an issue that matters most to you personally at your school – issues related to the school, its policies, its leadership, or its support of students – what would an ethical undercover story related to that issue look like to you? Why?
For further reading
- “The lying game — Is it ever okay to tell a whopper in the name of journalism?,” CJR
- “Using deceit to get the truth,” Indiana University Media School case study
- “Is It Ever OK for Journalists to Lie?,” Politico