I started my last semester dreading my ethics, law and diversity class. The class was required, and if I’m being completely honest, I didn’t think I’d really learn anything new or get excited. A little Steven Colbert and a few heated discussions changed all of that. I walked in class the first day expecting the same lectures about privacy and the PRSA Member Code of Ethics. I saw it as a class designed so we’d graduate with all that information fresh in our minds. The class surprised me, not only by being ironically applicable to my life, but by being lively and tangibly helpful. It’s a class I know I’ll be thankful for in my career.
One aspect I appreciated was that it combined advertising and public relations studends. We got to have a variety of perspectives on ethical issues. If I had more digital and artistically creative skills, I could see myself as an advertising student. I hate to reveal this, but I didn’t even know advertising had codes of ethics. I assumed they had some sort of ethical code to follow, but didn’t know people had collaborated and published any uniform documents outlining standards. I didn’t know about much aside from the PRSA Member Code of Ethics and Society of Professional Journalists. It turns out advertising has several codes such as the Word of Mouth Marketing Association, or the Principles and Practices for Advertising Ethics. When I got to reading the actual codes for advertising, I realized a lot of it centered around a key principle for public relations: that we must be honorable and ethical in our communication as both representatives of an organization and protectors of consumers, or those outside the organization. In fact, principle one of the Advertising Ethics code states, “Advertising, public relations, marketing communications, news, and editorial all share a common objective of truth and high ethical standards in serving the public.”
When anyone talks about ethics, I love getting involved in the conversation. It’s something I can get passionate about. Honestly, I love having deep philosophical debates over intellectually challenging issues. This class not only gave everyone a chance to get involved in the conversation, it revealed a very important truth about my chosen career.
I love to think in terms of absolutes. To use a fancy word from class, I’d say I prefer a deontological approach to ethics. If I take anything with me to the workplace, it’s that you have to examine each case individually. I’m of the belief that there are some ethical guidelines that will never change. Aside from those few, this class convinced me that consequentialism is an excellent method for evaluating possible choices. The best way I’ve seen it described is the more positive consequences an action brings, the better the action. After all the case studies, absolute rules can’t perfectly apply to all situations. The realization brought me out of my comfort zone, but I know it will help me in the long run.
In addition, my professor didn’t simply teach me about ethical models and various media laws. She helped me learn lessons that apply to all of life. She helped me tangibly understand that I need to live by the ethical standards I hold and not worry about what other people think. It’s been an uncomfortable lesson to learn, but I know that doing the right thing is the right thing to do.
Evidenced by the amount of moments when the entire class sat stunned by bad choices, I’d also say I’ve learned that people can make really dumb mistakes. We’ve talked about everything from the “accidental” US Airways tweet to the various racially stereotypical Summer’s Eve ads. My favorite memories involved the class staring with their mouths open or awkwardly laughing in unison.
It’s regrettable that many of the laughs resulted from the unwise decision of others, but they did give people something to discuss. As I enter the workplace, I don’t want to bend my ethical standards. I want people to write more blogs and news stories like the one from Bulldog Reporter. It explains how PR professionals are stepping up and acting ethically, even when pressured to do the opposite. That is the kind of reputation I want to perpetuate with my actions. I don’t want my decisions to become a topic of discussion in this class. As my final semester comes to a close, the memories from this class will always be some of my favorite. Now, on to apply what I’ve learned to the real world.