Patrick Lee Plaisance, Elizabeth A. Skewes, Joanna Larez

The moral psychology of journalism exemplars

The theories and methodologies of moral psychology open important avenues for media ethics research. This pilot study of journalism exemplars offers opportunities to examine a range of factors that influence virtuous action among media practitioners. Results of this mixed-method study, which examines life-story narratives, moral reasoning skills, personality traits and ethical ideologies, point to an emergent profile of exemplary journalists in which personality traits and idealism are linked with concerns of justice, harm and professional autonomy. Thematic patterns in exemplar narratives also appear to emphasise notions of moral courage, humility and the ideological and professional implications of pivotal life experiences.

Keywords: ethics, moral psychology, media workers, journalists, personality traits, idealism


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Note on the contributor

Patrick Lee Plaisance is Professor at Colorado State University. He is author of Media ethics: Key principles for responsible practice (Sage) and Virtue in media: The moral psychology of excellence in news and public relations (Routledge, in press). He also is editor of the Journal of Mass Media Ethics. Contact details: Department of Journalism and Technical Communication, Colorado State University, C 236A Clark Building, Fort Collins, Colorado 80523, USA. Telephone: (970) 491 6484; fax: (970) 491 2908; email:

Elizabeth A. Skewes is Associate Professor at the University of Colorado. She is author of Message control: How news is made on the presidential campaign trail (Rowman and Littlefield).

Joanna Larez is a graduate student and journalism instructor at Colorado State University.