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Why Denzel Washington Wants Reporters to Tell the Truth

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In a recent interview, actor Denzel Washington, stated his belief that one of the long term effects of having access to too much information is the prioritization of being the first to report a story. This desire to be first sometimes comes at the expense of taking time to verify the accuracy of a story.

“If you don’t read the newspaper, you’re uninformed. If you do read it, you’re misinformed.”

– Denzel Washington

When speed to market is more important than accuracy and truth, consumers of prematurely delivered goods, information or services will suffer.

Imagine applying this concept to a pharmaceutical company. When businesses are more concerned with being the first company to introduce a new medicine, they could be tempted to bring the product to market without conducting proper testing.

What makes this concept even more challenging is determining what length of time or amount of research is enough. Has enough research been conducted to determine if using cell phones throughout your lifetime can cause cancer? How many years of research are need to see whether or not early childhood vaccinations can lead to autism?

Is it ethical to offer these items to the public without 100% certainty that they will not cause harm? If 100% certainty is not needed, then what percentage is right…75%….50%…or is it up to the consumer to conduct their own research to determine what products and services they use?

My guess is that the answers to these questions may be different for each person. Throughout our careers, we are continuously trying to balance the way we add maximum value, while minimizing harm. However, there are always multiple perspectives to consider for these types of issues.

If you were a sports reporter and received an anonymous phone call that a bomb was planted inside of a large sporting event, how would you respond? If you prioritize speed and report the bomb threat without verifying your source, you could potentially cause people to panic and unnecessarily evacuate the event. If you prioritize accuracy and fail to report the threat until it can be verified, you could be putting thousands of lives at risk. So what is the right decision?

There is no perfect answer to this question. It is simply a judgement call, based on all of the information you have available in that moment. That’s why it is important to continuously refine your ethical decision-making skills. Ethical dilemmas can occur in an instant, and we don’t always have as much time as we would like, to think through all of the advantages and disadvantages of each response.

As it relates to preparation, there is a common saying that “if you stay ready, you won’t have to get ready.” Are you doing enough to stay ready for these types of dilemmas? Your reputation is one of the most valuable assets you own. As you enter 2017, I encourage you to invest in activities and programs that will help you protect your reputation and prepare to make wise decisions throughout your career. Stay ready!

Always remember, Leadership is a Lifestyle.

Ryan W. Hirsch
Operations Manager, NASBA Center for the Public Trust (CPT)