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When there are no simple answers to complex ethical questions such as the Terri Schiavo dispute, the best thing journalists can do is raise questions that help frame the conversation, in the opinion of Kelly McBride writing in Poynter Online.
McBride says the Schiavo case was an opportunity for journalists to lead by attending to the way they presented the positions advocated by the various persons concerned with Ms. Schaivo’s medical condition.
At the intersection of complex medical science, fiercely held beliefs and the unknowable, it’s important to consider how we talk to each other. Journalists who recognize this and act on it can make a positive contribution to the conversation.
Increasingly, it’s becoming clear that framing is critical. Journalists have an ethical responsibility to provide us with the information we need to carry on a helpful conversation while also avoiding, in so far as its possible, being used by any side. This is a matter of style and content.
Framing involves setting the context of a story, precisely describing the medical circumstances, reporting the multiple dimensions and assuring that pertinent voices are heard. The current practice of featuring extreme voices and inflammatory language results in a synergy in which journalists use advocates and advocates use journalists. When this happens, the public good is rarely well-served.
As we move forward with stem cell research and abortion policy among a host of other ethical policy debates, we will have the opportunity for a more thoughtful and considerate conversation. The questions become as important as the answers because they provide the means for the multiple dimensions to be given attention and multiple voices to be heard. Journalism that opens the way for this wider conversation to occur will strengthen the whole civic community.