Dr Daniel Laufer, PhD, MBA (The University of Texas at Austin, USA), is an Associate Professor of Marketing at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, and a former head of the school and member of the faculty management team at the Business School (2014-2017). His primary area of expertise is Crisis Management, and his research focuses on crisis communications, and gaining a better understanding of how stakeholders react to crises. In addition to publishing articles in leading academic journals, he previously served as an Associate Editor at the managerial journal Business Horizons from 2020-2023, and he currently serves as an Associate Editor at the European Journal of Marketing. The article “All the news that is fit to print? Reporting on a victim’s character during a crisis” was published in the Journal of Contingencies and Crisis Management in 2023, together with Professor Sabine Einwiller and Ariadne Neureiter from the University of Vienna.
Consequences of Journalists Violating their Code of Ethics
During the 2017 crisis involving United Airlines, most of the attention was on the company. The dragging of the passenger from the plane because of an overbooking situation generated a lot of anger towards the airline. However, a number of newspapers also reported on the history of the victim which generated less attention. This reporting was a violation of the harm limitation principle in the journalism code of ethics which stipulates that irrelevant information about the victim should not be used in reporting. In the case of United Airlines this information included the victim’s past history involving a sexual relationship and alcohol abuse.
This research project conducted with researchers from the University of Vienna examined how a violation of the journalist’s code of ethics impacts newspaper reputation, victim reputation and empathy towards the victim. In an experiment conducted in the UK using the United Airlines crisis as the scenario, we found that the reporting of the past history of the victim’s character adversely impacted both newspaper reputation and victim reputation. However the type of past history reported in the media about the victim had an impact on empathy towards the victim. In our experiment a history of alcohol abuse adversely impacted empathy towards the victim, however an inappropriate sexual relationship in the past did not. This finding is consistent with the literature on pretrial publicity which has found that different types of information can differ in their adverse impact on the victim.
To summarise a violation of the harm limitation principle in the journalist’s code of ethics not only harms the victim, but it also adversely impacts the reputation of the newspaper.