Les Rose’ Master’s Thesis

Edward R. Murrow: His life, Legacy and Ethical Influence

Every student in journalism needs to read, understand and practice good ethics.



EDWARD R. MURROW: LIFE, LEGACY AND BROADCAST ETHICS TODAY Howard Lester Rose, M.A. University of Nebraska, 2010 Adviser: Nancy Mitchell This study researched the life and legacy of Edward R. Murrow and examined broadcast ethics today. Murrow invented radio news, as we know it and was the standard-bearer of journalism, ethics, and reporting. Many consider him the father of broadcast journalism.

This study covers ethics in broadcast journalism today, with remarks by veteran journalists (and one student) and journalism educators. These experts comment on where TV news stands today based on the ethical standards that Murrow set five decades ago. They speak about the importance of getting the story right, what is wrong ethically with journalism, and how to stay on the journalistic high road at a time when many journalists have taken a low road detour.

With the paper’s objectives in mind, surveys and questions were sent to student, active, and retired journalists, as well as academics involved in journalism. The findings of these surveys are presented as edited conversational responses, email responses and telephone interviews. Complete verbatim responses of each person interviewed are included for closer analysis in this paper’s appendixes.

The interviews with the journalists indicate that Murrow’s ethical influence is still present, even though many journalists do not know where or when the standard was set. Journalists may not think of Murrow daily, but virtually all consider him the standard-bearer of good reporting and ethical decision-making. It should be noted, that even Murrow was not perfect ethically and made some egregious errors in his decision-making. Overall, the findings in this paper show that there is a pronounced difference between local news and network news ethics in the United States. Internationally, many foreign news entities have decidedly different approaches to ethics. Some, in fact, are, unethical. Among the journalist surveyed, there was a noted difference between cable news and network news ethics. They said that cable and network news have standards and practices as gatekeepers, while most local and foreign news providers do not.