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Research / Discovery

Study seeks ways to make exemplary, moral work closer to the norm

November 28, 2011
by Kendall Greenwood

The main concern of Patrick Plaisance, an associate professor for the Department of Journalism and Technical Communication at CSU, is making sure he does justice to the stories and time these journalists have devoted and what all they have shared.

Plaisance has taken on a new media research project focusing on journalism and public relations that is to be published after spring semester 2012.         

The study is a social science project that aims to help researchers and professionals understand what makes certain media experts more outstanding and ethical than others.

Beyond normative claims

“In media ethics we are very good at making a bunch of normative claims,” Plaisance said. “The moral claims we make about media practice would be much more compelling if we actually had a better idea of why the hell people did what they did.”

Plaisance has chosen 24 media specialists as subjects, whom he calls “exemplars”. Twelve of them are journalists, who share five Pulitzer Prizes among them, and twelve are public relation professionals. He chose his candidates by going to each person from the board of directors of the national organizations for each trade.

Plaisance interviewed them to get their life story and conducted a survey to ask each one of the exemplars, both of which allows him to map their traits, beliefs and experiences. Themes from the interviews are outlined. In the project, Plaisance said, he hopes to create a profile that enables us to understand what enables them “to do what they do.”

Inspirational research

The research will be compiled into a pilot study and a book. However, Plaisance hopes this will inspire more than researchers.

“I’m taking people who are unusual and, by looking at factors that make them who they are,” Plaisance said. “I’m hoping to suggest ways to make moral exemplary work closer to normal.”

He got the idea for the study from a panel he was on at the Association for Practical and Professional Ethics conference Plaisance tries to attend almost every year. A psychologist faculty member from St. Olaf College in Minnesota was discussing how he did this project with computer scientists.

“I was like ‘Oh my gosh’,” Plaisance said. “’That’s exactly what I need to do. That’s it.’” 

The faculty member helped Plaisance adapt the study and apply it to media professionals.

The difficulty of doing good work

The research has re-fueled what Plaisance, who worked for newspapers all around the country for 15 years, believes is the power and value of exemplary work in journalism and PR.

“They have renewed my belief that, in both journalism and public relations, it is very easy to do a mediocre job,” Plaisance said. “To do that work well is enormously difficult.”

For CSU, media ethics research has made the university more prominent through awards. However, this specific research is starting it’s affect through the stories Plaisance now has for the classroom.

“The stories from my interviews are amazing anecdotes and examples of how media professionals deal with ethical dilemmas that my students need to hear,” Plaisance said. “This has really informed some of my teaching.”