By Kenneth Rosen

Having the ability to express any thought instantaneously on an open forum—the Internet—presents an ethical challenge to writers, journalists and most importantly copy editors.

What should we post? Can we take it down? Should we be allowed to edit an article after it has been posted? What about comments? These are questions that have no finite answer, but there are many ways to approach these and other questions with an ethical eye.

Some time ago, the editor-in-chief and myself faced our first ethical decision, and addressed the situation with no problems. The issue was resolved and we would live to see another post, but where does one turn to in the event that ethics may be in question?

To the Potter Box!potter1

“But, it’s just a box with other boxes within the bigger box,” you might say. And you would be wrong. Within the Potter Box (credited to Ralph B. Potter, Jr.) is a thought process that guides you through four pivotal steps when analyzing ethical dilemmas.

Empirical definition
These are the facts. Using communications as an example: who, what, where, when, why and how.

Identifying values
At this stage, noting the values and interests of the decision maker, yourself, and those around you lends to a “larger picture” of the effects your choice may have.

Appeal to ethical principal
Principles are philosophies of reasoning. Aristotle, Confucius, Kant, John Stuart Mills, and John Rawls have their own principles or “golden mean.” One should understand them all as knowing them will help support your final decision.

Choosing loyalties
In communications and journalism, the highest loyalty is to the public. But, keep in mind; crossing bridges without burning them may lead to bigger bridges worth demolishing.

The feedback generated after resolving to a new policy or decision then influences the empirical definition. But, there is no right or wrong answer, thus beginning your fall into the abyss of media ethics.