By Kate O’Rourke

Writing for an online news start-up about an international issue raises ethical decisions that many college journalists do not address in their reporting experiences.

The Syrian refugee crisis is difficult to cover for several reasons, the most obvious being that it is becoming increasingly more complex and is occurring on another continent.

It is easy for a college student to overlook the crisis since it does not affect his or her daily life. Still, Syrians were about to become new neighbors to some Americans until attacks in Paris that killed 130 people prompted 26 states to block refugees from the war-torn Middle Eastern nation.

As an ethical journalist, I needed to address this crisis truthfully and give a voice to the voiceless, even if talking directly to refugees was not possible.

Sissela Bok’s model for ethical decision-making served as my guide. Bok said that “we must have empathy for the people involved in ethical decisions and that maintaining social trust is a fundamental goal.” As a philosopher, Bok focused on helping working professionals learn to make good ethical decisions. She believed that there are three steps in analyzing any ethical problem.

Bok’s model first prompted me to consult my conscience and think about my reporting strategies as journalism and not merely research. I knew that it was important to localize the crisis as much as possible.

Gathering information ethically

Ideally, I would have liked to speak to policymakers involved in deciding how many refugees the United States will accept. They would have added an invaluable element of expertise to my story. An interview with a Syrian seeking asylum in the United States would also have added insight.

But these contacts were out of my grasp, so I had to seek other sources. I gathered most of my information by going to reputable websites and from there to their primary, official sources, to lend authority to the story.

Next, Bok’s Model led me to consider alternative ways to gather information ethically. Feeling limited by my resources and the sensitivity of the crisis for those directly affected, I contacted a variety of professionals who have experience dealing with refugee issues.

I was only able to interview them via email because several were traveling or too busy to do more than respond briefly in writing. Still, I received some solid information that I was able to confirm and which inspired me to do further research.

Finally, Bok’s model encouraged me to seek feedback about my story and the quality of my reporting. My story aimed to help the average college student better understand the Syrian refugee crisis and what it means for the United States.

By publishing my story online, I will be able to reach my desired audience and can provide them the opportunity to comment and engage in public discussion through News-Decoder’s forums.


korourkeKate O’Rourke is a third-year student at Indiana University in the United States, focusing on broadcast journalism, economics, mathematics and marketing. Last summer she interned with Emerge Poverty Free in London and studied international journalism. Kate enjoys running, baking, and connecting with friends.

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World Americas Ethics and reporting on Syrian refugees