Author: Michael Bugeja

Bourdain film illustrates ethical issues with voice cloning, media manipulation

by Michael Bugeja, Iowa Capital Dispatch
July 24, 2021

In a new documentary about the late celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain, he is heard discussing his life shortly before committing suicide. “You are successful, and I am successful, and I’m wondering: Are you happy?”

Questions arose about Bourdain’s voice. He wrote those words in an email, and people were wondering how the filmmaker purloined an audio clip.

As it happened, director Morgan Neville used “deep fake” technology in his film, “Roadrunner.” He resorted to voice cloning because he could not find adequate and authentic audio for the story he wanted to tell.

In journalism, we used to call this lazy.

When movie critics learned about this, they panned Neville’s use of deep fakes, currently being deployed to deceive viewers on social and multimedia, especially in political ads.

Neville claimed he was not manipulating the audience. “We can have a documentary ethics panel about it later,” he quipped.

We can do so now.

The term “documentary ethics” is oxymoronic. Neville believes deep-fake technology is a storytelling tool. It’s not. It’s manipulative.

I have no doubt the technique in due time it will become acceptable. We’re living in a post-truth age.

In one generation, media ethics went from differentiating between interviewing a source in person or by telephone to via email, tweet or text message, and now to deep fakes.

Neville argues that he wasn’t putting words into Bourdain’s mouth; he was just inserting audio.

That is true, in a sense; but it ignores the importance of tone. You can ask, “Are you happy?” in an introspective or infuriated voice.

Voice cloning not only is being used by filmmakers, but cybercriminals, too.

In one case, a chief executive officer’s voice was cloned to trick him into transferring $243,000 into the criminal’s account.

Cybercrimes are classic examples of manipulation, defined as attacking a person’s mental and emotional states, thereby creating an imbalance of power to gain control, benefits or privileges at the expense of the victim.

An encyclopedia entry, “The Ethics of Manipulation,” identifies three types:

  • Manipulation that bypasses reason, such as subliminal advertising or hypnosis.
  • Manipulation as trickery, such as advertising that promotes false claims or induces false beliefs.
  • Manipulation as pressure, such as scam phone calls warning about costs if demands are not heeded.

Watch out for deep fakes in political ads

Voice cloning has the potential to combine all manipulative types. You can anticipate its wide use in mid-term election political advertisements.

Edward Bernays, the so-called father of public relations, wrote this ominous quote in 1928:

“The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country. We are governed, our minds are molded, our tastes formed, and our ideas suggested, largely by men we have never heard of. … It is they who pull the wires that control the public mind.”

Little did Bernays realize his methods would be used years later by dictators.

In “The Manipulation of the American Mind,” Richard Gunderman, Chancellor’s professor of medicine at Indiana University–Purdue University Indianapolis, writes that Bernays used fear to sell products. “For Dixie cups, Bernays launched a campaign to scare people into thinking that only disposable cups were sanitary.” Bernays even founded the Committee for the Study and Promotion of the Sanitary Dispensing of Food and Drink.

“Bernays sought to turn citizens and neighbors into consumers who use their purchasing power to propel themselves down the road to happiness,” Gunderman writes.

If we change the words “purchasing power” to “votes,” we can see how manipulation plays a role in political advertising.

The news magazine, The Week, compiled some of the most manipulative political ads of the 2020 election.

One of the worst was titled “Meet Joe Biden’s Supporters,” showing riots and mayhem associated with Black Lives Matter and culminating with hellish music and a maniacal laugh.

Biden hit back, turning the tables on former President Trump in an advertisement titled, “You’ll Never See Me Again.”

The ad is only 10 seconds and shows Trump speaking at one of his rallies, stating, “If I lose to him, I don’t know what I am going to do. I will never speak to you again. You’ll never see me again.” Then we hear: “I’m Joe Biden, and I approved this message.”

To understand manipulation on a personal level, take an inventory of your deepest desires, convictions, fears, values and beliefs. Manipulators target them in a strategy to make you do something you ordinarily would not do.

When you respond emotionally to a political ad, positively or negatively, remember you are the target voter. You can still hold your political beliefs while acknowledging that the video, audio and voice is manipulating you.

This is true even if that voice is one you recognize and admire— Biden, Nancy Pelosi, Kamala Harris, Trump, Mike Pence, Mitch McConnell — because you no longer can trust what you see or hear.


Iowa Capital Dispatch is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Iowa Capital Dispatch maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor Kathie Obradovich for questions: Follow Iowa Capital Dispatch on Facebook and Twitter.

You can’t be a truth-seeker if you’re also a liar

Trump’s claim that he won the 2020 election is one lie in a culture of falsehood. Media ethics students learn they, too, often fail at truth-telling.

In this Jan. 12, 2021, file photo President Donald Trump walks to board Marine One on the South Lawn of the White House in Washington. In a fall 2019 and early spring 2020 media ethics class at Greenlee School Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University, Michael Bugeja and his students studied lies, deceit and secrecy in the first impeachment trial of Donald Trump (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert, File)

By: Michael BugejaJuly 22, 2021  

In 1996, 77 college students kept a diary of their social interactions every day for a week, noting all the lies that they told, whom they told them to, and their reasons for telling them.

According to an article titled “Lying in Everyday Life” published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, students told two lies per day on average. That translated into about one lie in every three encounters. In general, women told as many lies as men, but those tended to differ in substance, with women tending to lie to make people feel better and men to make themselves look better.

When that article appeared in June 1996, I had been doing a similar diary exercise for about six years in my media ethics classes at Ohio University. Students received these instructions:

  1. In a personal journal, for a period of one week, keep track of all the white lies, half-truths and falsehoods that you say or indicate to others. Under each incident or item, briefly note the immediate, future or possible consequences of the lie.
  2. Keep track of all the white lies, half-truths and falsehoods that others say or indicate to you. Under each incident or item, briefly note the immediate, future or possible consequences of the lie.
  3. Keep track of times when you wanted to tell a white lie, half-truth or falsehood … but caught yourself and told the truth or declined to answer the question (doing so in a polite, discreet, or otherwise appropriate way).
  4. In your personal journal, write about what you learned from the exercise.

I continued this exercise through my tenure at OU, ending in 2003. On average, students told between two to six lies per day underestimating the consequences, caught others in a lie every other day dispensing swift consequences, and were tempted to lie but told the truth about once or twice a week. Essentially, that meant students were interacting in an environment of lies as many went undiscovered with liars seemingly escaping consequences.

For the rest of the article, click here or visit:

Satire explores unspoken truths but is often misunderstood

By Michael Bugeja -June 25, 2021

Satire is common in editorial cartoons, such as this one by Ranan Lurie. (Image via Wikimedia CC BY-SA 3.0)

Satire explores the truths that few admit but all know, using a double-meaning title and what’s known in literature as an “unreliable voice” without making its points against innocent others.

That’s a tall order. Without truth, attempts at satire lapse into sarcasm or comedy, generating insults or laughs at the expense of another person, thing or group.

Satire doesn’t have to be humorous. It can be serious, as in some editorial cartoons. Often, those cartoons use few or even no words, relying on drawings.

One of the great satirists of our time is Adam O. Zyglis, a Pulitzer Prize-winning editorial cartoonist at the Buffalo (N.Y.) News.

Click here to view a two-panel cartoon.

Zyglis’ first panel features a soldier holding a rifle above his head as he wades in a rice paddy. A sign states “Vietnam.” The second panel features an aged veteran with U.S. Army cap. He holds a cane above his head, with medication in his pocket, wading in water. A sign states “V.A. Waiting Room.”

Written satire paints with words. Its title is simple but contains a double meaning. The “voice” (or sound we hear on the page) is unreliable, too, stating one thing but meaning the opposite.

George T. Conway III, a frequent critic of former President Trump, wrote a scathing satire about the first impeachment trial in 2020. At first glance, not realizing this was satire, Conway’s title in a Washington Post op-ed, shocked his followers: “I believe the president, and in the president.”

That title meant the opposite, which became obvious in the first paragraph:

“I believe the Senate is right to acquit the president. I believe a fair trial is one with no witnesses, and that the trial was therefore fair. I believe the House was unfair because it found evidence against him. I believe that if the president does something that he believes will get himself reelected, that’s in the public interest and can’t be the kind of thing that results in impeachment.”

In sum, Conway simply took every defense by the President’s lawyers and restated them. The cumulative effect was devastating, revealing a truth that many Senate Republicans were reluctant to admit.

Without unreliability, in title and text, written satire may fail and be misinterpreted, often appearing inappropriate or even offensive.

An example of that is Jonathan Swift’s satirical masterpiece titled, “A Modest Proposal.” That title, of course, is unreliable because his proposal is anything but modest.

Swift’s 1729 piece had a subtitle: “For preventing the children of poor people in Ireland, from being a burden on their parents or country, and for making them beneficial to the public.”

Those who first gleaned title and subtitle believed this would be commentary on poverty. That notion was reinforced by the tone of voice that Swift used in the opening paragraph of the piece, that of a royal lord:

“It is a melancholy object to those who walk though this great town or travel in the country, when they see the streets, the roads, and cabin doors, crowded with beggars of the female sex, followed by three, four, or six children, all in rags and importuning every passenger for an alms.”

Soon, however, as this civil voice continued, readers began to perceive what Swift was up to:

“I have been assured by a very knowing American of my acquaintance in London that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.”

As you can see, this idea would have been vile had it not expressed a truth that few in England were willing to admit about Irish poverty. Swift made that point in this sentence: “I grant this food will be somewhat dear and therefore very proper for landlords, who, as they have already devoured most of the parents, seem to have the best title to the children.”

Only satire can have this impact. It remains one of the best vehicles to express an uncomfortable truth.

The television show “Saturday Night Live” is known for its biting satire, forcing us to laugh and then feel guilty about laughing. This clip from December 2015 has been viewed almost 30 million times. Its game-show title is simple: “Meet Your Second Wife.” Then, as male contestants are interviewed, we get uncomfortable insights into so-called “May-December” relationships that abound in celebrity news.

One final note. Satire’s cousin is parody, an imitation of a person, celebrity or thing, revealing a seldom-discussed character trait or fatal flaw.

SNL has parodied presidents for decades. Here’s a YouTube compilation to bring back memories and sneers.

In addition to exposing truth, satire and parody are barometers of culture, forcing us to focus on public figures and controversial topics defining our age.

Basic truths: Can you cite the rainbow of veracity?


(Creative Commons photo via Pxhere)

With Americans spending on average almost 2 ½ hours a day on social media, small wonder that few of us can define the various categories of truth.

Sure, we know all about falsehoods — fake news, hoaxes, half-truths, exaggerations and so-called “white lies” — and can identify each with little prompting. 

Did you know that Politifact has been tracking the top U.S. lies since 2009? Its 2020 “Lie of the Year” involved reports that denied, downplayed or outright fibbed about COVID-19 fatalities. 

Americans are told between 10 and 200 lies per day. We believe many of them, perhaps because we overlooked the primary colors of authenticity.

This column will reacquaint you with them. To know them is to practice them.

SUBJECTIVE TRUTH is based on the limits of your perception, feelings, emotions, biases, experiences, etc. It is considered a “truth” because most human beings have critical faculties and can reason with varying grades of awareness. Also, experience can be a great mentor of validity.

OBJECTIVE TRUTH is knowing the limits of your perception, assembling facts from a variety of sources, and seeing the world as it is rather than as you wish it were. 

CIVIC VIRTUES are truths that the founders of the United States believed would balance immense freedoms in the Bill of Rights. They include equal opportunity, shared interests, concern for future generations, responsibility, respect for views of others, and conviction no one is above the law.

MORAL RELATIVISM claims that there are no definitive truths because virtues always are pegged to a particular culture or historical period, meaning that no assertion of truth should be believed over another assertion.

MORAL ABSOLUTES purports that some things are clearly right (keeping promises, being respectful and generous) or wrong (lying, stealing, tormenting, humiliating, thinking only of yourself). These truths are not subject to serious ethical debate.

ARCHETYPAL TRUTH is both mythic and personal, revealing “timeless truths about the yearnings, fears, and aspirations common to every individual.” There are two types, one involving the body and the other, the mind: 

  • Peak Experience is a transcendental moment of joy, wonder and elation generating intense bodily sensations.
  • Epiphany is a moment of sudden and complete clarity or revelation when one’s consciousness seems at one with the universe. 

UNIVERSAL TRUTH posits that all moral values can be condensed into a “protonorm” — the sacredness of life — which comprises human dignity, truth and non-violence. 

One could write a book about each of those categories. For the sake of brevity, below are summaries.  

According to Psychology Today, subjective truth is based on perception and hence occurs entirely in the mind. Conversely, reality exists outside of the mind. “To conflate perception with reality is to reject the Enlightenment and harken back to the Middle Ages.”

Objective truth occurs when our perception aligns with reality. Case in point: Three inmates escaped from their Omaha cell in 1978. Their method was to hone perception. Each time the jailer opened their cell with a key, they drew its perceived dimensions on sheets of paper. When the drawings aligned, they made the key in metal shop. It worked.

For generations, Americans have strived to uphold civic virtues, especially equality. First Lady Abigail Adams admonished her husband John, our second president, to empower women. In 1776 she wrote, “Remember, all men would be tyrants if they could. If particular care and attention is not paid to the ladies, we are determined to foment a rebellion, and will not hold ourselves bound by any laws in which we have no voice or representation.”

It took another 144 years before women got the vote.

Moral relativism has its limits. We can state categorically that human beings cannot survive on Mars without space suits. So there.

Moral absolutes have limits, too. Most truths are subjective or contain varying degrees of fact-accuracy. Surveys show truth depends on the circumstances; hence, philosophers espouse “situational ethics.”

Peak experiences and epiphanies are highly personal. Spend time recalling them, from your first kiss or athletic triumphHow did your body react? Epiphanies set your life on a new path. How did your mind react? Perhaps you recognized your soul mate or decided to divorce. If you jot down those moments and turning points, you will discover your deepest held truths.

Finally, there are two polar opposites precepts about truth. One, by the philosopher Immanuel Kant (1724–1804), concerns the “categorical imperative,” in which we always must tell the truth, no matter the situation, whom it hurts, or the inevitable consequences. 

The other is “inappropriate disclosure,” otherwise known as oversharing, especially on social media, in which users come to regret imparting intimate truths about themselves, family, friends, coworkers and acquaintances. 

For better or worse, knowing the various genres of veracity may enable you to detect more lies. You even might become a “truth wizard,” detecting falsehoods at least 80 percent of the time.

Conspiracy Theories Thrive as Journalism is on Life-Support Says Media Expert


Spectrum Logo

Conspiracy theories have grown and continue to multiply as newsrooms downsize and more people rely on social media to fill the void.

This is the belief of Dr. Michael Bugeja, distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at the Greenlee School of Journalism and Communication at Iowa State University.

“Journalism is not dead but on life support. Social media dominates civic, political and familial debate, offering snap judgments to affinity groups,” Bugeja adds in a recent commentary.

Bugeja, an author, scholar, ethicist and journalist, lays much of the blame on the rise in conspiracy theories, at the feet of a news industry that has lost its way.

As use of social media as a news source has risen, the reliance on mainstream balanced journalism has plummeted, according to Bugeja.

In a recent commentary for “Poynter,” a journalism think-tank, Bugeja said: “…conspiracy theories have less to do with breakdowns in social machinery, weaponized politics or reason vs. intuition. Polarization materialized as millions of Americans googled answers from affinity groups, increasing screen time while mainstream media downsized newsrooms.”

As newsrooms have cut back reporting staffs, the need to fill a 24-hour news cycle has increased. However, mainstream media cannot fill the void. So, instead, it is filled by bloggers, social media and affinity groups pushing wild theories.

Newsrooms need to hire more reporters, editors and producers, according to Bugeja, and more clearly delineate their content as objective reporting versus analysis.

He also says that we should require courses in “media and technology literacy” in our schools and he is a strong proponent of non-profit localized news models to supplement mainstream media.

He concludes his Poynter commentary by saying: “We must replenish newsrooms, create more nonprofit outlets and require social media payouts, or conspiracies will continue, eroding what is left of democracy and the public’s ability to differentiate between fact and factoid.”

Bucking the Status Quo in the Aftermath of the Pandemic

The Department Chair

ArticlesFree Access

Michael Bugeja First published: 26 March 2021

As students delay or reconsider attending college, academic departments must reinvent themselves. Universities have no other option but to explore immediate remedies. In 2021, the future of higher education looks bleak, with mounting student debt and lower enrollments exacerbated by economic shortfalls due to COVID‐19. That dreary outlook will prevail for years to come if institutions insist on business as usual. What, precisely, is that business?

Conventional Practices

Ballooning administrative costs. Federal financial data show universities spending less on student instruction—down by 0.7 percent between 2016 and 2018—and more on administration, up by 1.4 percent. Presidential salary remains problematic, rising on average 6 percent, year after year. The American Council of Trustees and Alumni and the Institute for Effective Governance (2017) warn that the rising costs of administration signals “misplaced priorities” undermining academic missions. A report in The New Republic notes how status quo fixes will fail, especially dependence on tuition—in the wake of “massive liabilities, as vacant dormitories, stadiums, and surgery wards collect not income but dust” (Taylor 2020).

Term rather than tenure‐track hires. In 2019, the Wall Street Journal reported that higher education added more than half a million administrators between 1987 and 2012, doubling the numbers relative to academic faculty, and noted that the bloat resulted from federally subsidized tuition, with administrators siphoning funds dedicated to the primary functions of colleges and universities (Hamburger 2019). As a result, those institutions hired fewer full‐time professors, replacing them with nontenured adjuncts earning “paltry wages.” The American Association of University Professors (2018) states that 73 percent of faculties across academic institutions are contingent, “known as adjuncts, postdocs, TAs, non‐tenure‐track faculty, clinical faculty, part‐timers, lecturers, instructors, or non‐senate faculty.” Because adjuncts lack tenure protection, shared governance has eroded, tilting the balance of power to administrators who habitually safeguard the status quo.

Curricular glut. The professoriate also plays a role in increasing numbers of adjuncts. Although academic senates, councils, and unions often bemoan low pay for term faculty, continuing professors grow the curricula without regard to cost, proposing marginal subjects for courses associated with arcane, duplicative subjects. Any new social or pop‐cultural concern is a candidate for a new course, especially if tangentially related to a professor’s research. Worse, tenure and promotion guidelines typically reward course creation. With fewer numbers of tenured faculty, adjuncts teach as many as six classes per semester. Curricular creep is at the heart of tuition increases, budget shortfalls, and legislative distrust. It also is a factor in student debt, as students struggle to comprehend the maze of required courses leading to commencement.

Excessive student amenities. In 2015, Senator Elizabeth Warren bemoaned luxury amenities, from climbing walls to lazy rivers, all of which undermine her goal of debt‐free college attendance. Warren had a point. Often residential living and associated fees, not tuition, are responsible for student debt. Moreover, according to The Atlantic, the United States ranks number one in the world for spending on housing, meals, health care, and transportation, otherwise known as “ancillary services,” averaging about $3,370 per student—“more than three times the average for the developed world” (Ripley 2018). A decade ago, these amenities were added to recruit students who relied on the availability of loans without thinking about the ensuing debt. In 2013, the Brookings Institution was among the first to warn that luxurious perks may enhance well‐being but do little to increase earning potential after graduation.

Failed budget models. In the past, provosts administered the budget as titular heads of the professoriate. Then they got the dual title of executive vice president and delegated more fiscal decisions to deans according to the tenets of responsibility‐centered management. Here’s how the decentralized model typically works. Budgets are pegged to tuition, with revenue generated by student credit hours. That puts departments in competition with one another, duplicating efforts and courses and thus creating a battle for credit hours. As a result, duplication abounds, with course catalogs expanding each year. With this model, you can balance budgets as long as tuition and fees keep rising because costs are passed on to registered students. The longer you keep them in the institution, the better for the budget, explaining why so few students graduate in four years.

Abysmal four‐year graduation rates. Many families are hurting financially due to the pandemic. Others experienced job loss while caring for loved ones who contracted the virus or are disabled with special needs. That has an additional effect on declining enrollments. In sum, many families cannot squirrel away funds for their children’s postsecondary education. A 2020 study of 10,839 college students found that 56 percent of those attending 255 colleges and universities say they no longer can afford tuition (OneClass 2020). Consider their viewpoint in light of lagging graduation rates. Data show that four‐year institutions on average have a 60.4 percent rate and that two‐year institutions have a 31.6 percent rate. A mere 41 percent of students earning bachelor’s degrees graduate within four years. Students who miss that benchmark are liable to drop out of college with massive debt and no degree to show for it.

Misguided alumni/donor relations. Foundation officers and support staff at department, college, and university levels typically focus on two goals: large gifts worth the time investment and new pledges from first‐time donors. They often overlook or minimize the third goal of donor relations: retention. Studies show that modest attention to retention brings extraordinary results. This oversight is indicative of status quo thinking in as much as it takes existing givers for granted.

Reflect, Reorganize, Reinvent

We can’t take anyone for granted anymore, particularly students. Their absence on residential campuses during the pandemic is a stark reminder of our mission. Every remedy must consider their welfare and future. Here are some recommendations.

Critique your strategic plan. It failed. Assess why it did. COVID‐19 was unanticipated, but that is an excuse to maintain the status quo. There will always be unforeseen crises, including Title IX judgments, class action lawsuits, fiscal malfeasance, racial unrest, campus crime, compliance violations, weather‐related disasters, and operational risks (especially ransomware attacks). How will each of these affect constituents? For instance, did your existing plan adequately foresee IT and technology needs during the pandemic, especially for faculty and students? Is your plan ready to confront any unforeseen realities? Tens of thousands of students are expected to delay graduation or drop out of college altogether because of pandemic‐related issues, a fiscal impact anticipated to last as many as six years. What preventive measures are in place to navigate that future or now may need updating in hindsight? How will public information communicate risk and manage reputation before, during, and after a crisis? The best strategic plan is based on adaptability, not aspiration.

Conduct a fiscal audit. Review your budget model and determine how it performed during the pandemic. Is a decentralized model, designed to spur competition in pursuit of credit hours, really the best option in a fiscally challenged climate with declining enrollments? Or is there a more flexible alternative that adjusts to changing circumstances? That used to be the standard decades ago when provosts worked with faculty leaders rather than with deans to cover costs. Put a cap on student amenities and determine whether any existing ones require defunding. Assess administrative allocations and freeze or cut leadership salaries, including athletic directors. Department chairs, deans, and foundation officers must focus on donor relations, with more effort on retaining and developing existing accounts. Create department or college advisory councils, using alumni in assessment efforts, which is important in unit and institution accreditation. Call on donors to provide internships to retain students and prepare them for life after commencement.

Promote advising and retention efforts. Instructors will have more time with fewer students and classes. That also means less grading. Administrators will be tempted to eliminate positions. Professors will be tempted to propose more courses advancing special interests. Instead, use that time to advise and retain students. This is important in community colleges because of the low graduation rates. Advising also is indispensable for incoming and graduating students because of the transition into and out of the institution. One‐on‐one advising, even via Zoom or WebEx, keeps students on track toward graduation. Advising methods can be enhanced to retain and recruit a more diverse student body.

Increase service for term faculty. Adjuncts are not only poorly paid but also frequently lack a voice in academic departments. They are expected to teach, and too often their institutional value ends there. Rather than eliminate term positions due to lower enrollment, tap this resource for committee assignments typically given to continuing professors. Junior faculty usually complain that service detracts from research needed for promotion and tenure. Associate professors in particular are overburdened with service, which is also an impediment to advancement. Adjuncts can help alleviate that burden and be empowered by the process.

Prioritize research for continuing faculty. Allow reduced course loads for tenure‐eligible and tenured faculty. Again, the budgetary temptation will be to cut adjuncts and redistribute their classes to continuing professors. Instead, set new scholarship benchmarks, including grant acquisition at research extensive institutions. Research is a core component of reputation and recruitment. Graduate students in particular vie to work with distinguished professors. National awards, grants, and academy membership are key indicators for inclusion in the Association of American Universities.

Streamline curricula. Administrators should work with faculty senates and councils to review requirements in existing majors, eliminating sequences, tracks, and emphases that never appear on the degree. Often these are silos created by professors, some long since retired, that still remain on the books. Remove as many prerequisites as possible that necessitate that students take one course to qualify for another when no new particular skill is gained. This impedes degree progress and delays graduation. Assess each course to see if it advances innovation or prepares students for advanced study. If not, revise or delete it. Streamlining curricula also simplifies advising, increases retention, and improves graduation rates. Require every first‐year student to work with academic advisers to devise a four‐year plan of study with specific courses.

Align Your Priorities

These recommendations buck the status quo—firing or furloughing adjuncts, redistributing workload to professors, creating aspirational rather than nimble strategic plans, maintaining failed budget models, ignoring administrative bloat and curricular creep, raising tuition and fees, supporting luxury amenities, undervaluing academic advising, and neglecting existing donors and alumni. The prototype for the reinvented institution values everyone, with a primary focus on student learning and affordability.

As demonstrated here, business as usual practices have a domino effect, with one indirectly aggravating another. The aforementioned alternative strategies are aligned for the opposite effect, with each one empowering the next. Institutions that adopt them will emerge from the pandemic with the wherewithal to meet any future challenge or crisis. Students will be the direct ­beneficiaries.

About the Author

Michael Bugeja is distinguished professor of liberal arts and sciences at Iowa State University. These views are his own. Email:


Volume31, Issue4

Spring 2021

Pages 1-3

  • References
  • Related
  • Information
  • MetricsDetailsCopyright © 2021 Wiley Periodicals, Inc., A Wiley CompanyPublication History
    • Issue Online:26 March 2021
    • Version of Record online:26 March 2021

Creating a digital portfolio with ethics code

View this YouTube video for step-by-step information on creating a portfolio via WordPress. After viewing, scroll down to see how to create a personal ethics code that can land your first media internship or position.

Digital portfolio via WordPress and HTML


Ethics Codes


Compliance and Ethics Codes

Legal Compliance: You also must ensure that your company as a whole is in compliance with any external laws, regulations, or standards relating to your industry.

Corporate/Ethical Compliance: The actions and programs an organization sets in place to ensure compliance with internal policies, procedures, and accepted behavior, as well as external regulations.


  • Do not ignore standards
  • You have responsibility to report the incident
  • Every employee is held to the same standards
  • Ethics codes affirm protected classes
  • Those who report conflicts of interest are protected as whistle-blowers
  • Compliance is essential: You can be held liable for non-reporting
  • If unsure, you need to discuss with supervisor, human resources or legal department.


1. What Codes Should Promote

• High, consistent standards of conduct.
• Teamwork, sensitivity, collegiality.
• Quality service and/or production.
• Resolution of problems via openness and other shared values.
• Fairness, respect, responsibility.
• Trust.

2. What Codes Should Prevent

• Temptation, taking shortcuts to attain goals.
• Deception, cheating to attain goals.
• Manipulation, treating people like objects.
• Bias, dealing unfairly with others based on race, gender, social class, or religion.
• Self-gain, using School or company resources for personal benefits.
• Incivility, reacting to rather than resolving challenges.

3. Four Values Found in Most Codes

• Truth, applying to all media careers.
• Responsibility, relating to service, product, and accountability.
• Respect, promoting teamwork, sensitivity toward others, tolerance of honest differences of opinion.
• Fairness, a process of continual improvement.

4. Goals of a Good Code

• Is legal, truthful, and responsible.
• Improves teamwork, morale, communication.
• Enhances internal culture and external image.
• Is sensitive toward others and viewpoints.
• Resolves problems without creating new ones.

Part Two: 10 Steps to Write Your Code

1. Write a brief statement about your own values concerning such concepts as responsibility, truth, falsehood, temptation, manipulation, bias, and fairness. Length: 25-75 words each.

2. Check out links for ethics codes at the bottom of this page. This will give you an idea about phrasing and topics.

3. Compare your statements with ones in codes that you view online. Then revise your codes, if appropriate, clarifying terms or harmonizing content in keeping with high standards.

4. Re-evaluate each of your statements, circling key words and terms and listing them on a separate sheet.

5. Now condense each statement and keep or combine as many of those key terms as possible–about 10-50 words per item.

6. Assemble your codes in the same document and revise the wording of each so that all codes are similar in length and read in a consistent and parallel manner. (Common style errors include using the first person, “I,” in some codes and not in others and switching verb case or tense.)

7. Show a draft of your code to a mentor or role model and/or share yours with peers in a group study or workshop. Ask for a critique and then revise your document so that it lacks embarrassing misspellings or grammatical mistakes.

8. Insert your code in the blog portfolio and format.

9. Keep updating the code you create in this class throughout your Greenlee career.

10. During job or internship interviews, wait until the personnel manager asks a “responsibility”-related question … and then display your code.

Part Three: Compare Your Code to Your Profession

And revise again:

Examples of Ethics Codes

Understanding journalism (or its absence) in the Age of Conspiracy

Social critics claim to know why conspiracy theories are pervasive but fail to acknowledge the primary reasons: too much internet, too little patience.

The United States Capitol Building in Washington, D.C. was breached by thousands of protesters during a “Stop The Steal” rally in support of President Donald Trump. (zz/STRF/STAR MAX/IPx)

By: Michael Bugeja

From Area 51 aliens and Bigfoot sightings to deep state cabals and QAnon fanatics, conspiracy groups proliferate content on social media, often eclipsing fact-based news.

There are numerous explanations. Some experts believe conspiracy theories flourish in environments of political or social unrest. They point to former President Donald Trump’s conspiratorial claims of voter fraud fueling the Jan. 6 insurrection.


Is there still value in teaching ethics?

By Michael Bugeja -February 20, 2021
Benjamin Franklin, an abused runaway, used his own study of philosophy to form his character and the nation’s. (Detail of “Benjamin Franklin” by David Rent Etter, after Charles Willson Peale after David Martin, 1835/ Independence National Historical Park via National Park Service.)

Each day we hear about fake news, far-out conspiracies and Facebook claims  — a media menu based on affirmation rather than information.

Small wonder some people believe ethics classes are useless.

Every era thinks its moral failures are epic. We might revisit this argument as we navigate the new year with resolutions and reservations.

The late 1980s were scandalous. News focused on the Iran-Contra scandal of the Reagan administration, which illegally sold weapons to fund rebels fighting Nicaragua’s socialist government.

James Wright, 48th Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives, resigned in 1989 amid allegations that he misapplied purchases of his book, “Reflections of a Public Man,” to generate exorbitant speaking fees.

And then there was the Savings and Loan crisis, which at the time was “arguably the most catastrophic collapse of the banking industry since the Great Depression,” with some 1,000 S&Ls going under in 1989.

That year, Michael Levin, professor emeritus of philosophy at City University of New York, published a column in the New York Times, titled: “Ethics Courses: Useless.” In the wake of scandal, he argued, there always is a cry for ethics courses.

“Moral behavior is the product of training, not reflection,” Levin wrote. “As Aristotle stressed thousands of years ago, you get a good adult by habituating a good child to doing the right thing.”

In sum, Levin believed that you learn ethics at home, not in the classroom (or these days, in a webinar) because by then it might be too late.

Each semester I read the above Levin citation to my ethics classes and ask if they agree with it. Many students do. Then I press the issue. “What are some things that can happen to you, not related to your parents or how you were raised, that can undermine your well-being, trust, confidence or self-worth?”

Typically, students do not have an immediate response, believing their family values would endure any challenge. But after some prodding, they begin to cite some examples: a victim of crime, domestic violence, sexual assault.

The nature of these offenses often results in long-lasting trauma, including depression, panic attacks, flashbacks, post-traumatic stress and other adverse after-effects.

Now for some critical questions:

  • If heinous incidents cause people to lose trust, confidence or self-worth, can those values ever be restored?
  • If trust, confidence or self-worth cannot be restored, then do we discount those persons ever regaining well-being?
  • If we can restore trust, confidence and self-worth, does it not follow that there are methods to help regain well-being?

Of course, there are. There are counselors, therapists, clergy, mentors and loving friends and family members to help in that recovery. And ethics — lessons about truth, falsehood, manipulation, deception, justice, fairness and empowerment — can be part of that protocol.

Many of America’s moral values trace back to Benjamin Franklin. He was the 15th of 17 children, suffered physical and mental abuse by his older brother James, and was a teenage runaway, leaving Boston for Philadelphia.

He survived as best he could, in part by learning moral values.

At age 20, he wrote his famous “13 virtues” — a homage to the 13 colonies — to keep him on the straight and narrow. They included temperance, reticence, order, resolve, frugality, industry, sincerity, justice, moderation, cleanliness, tranquility, purity and humility.

We all can use a refresher course on some of these values.

To practice sincerity, Franklin wrote, “Use no hurtful deceit; think innocently and justly, and, if you speak, speak accordingly.” If we value justice, he advised that we should monitor our own words and deeds and do no harm to others. “Avoid extremes,” he wrote about moderation, and do not rejoice in the shortcomings of others, “so much as you think they deserve.”

Tranquility means not being “disturbed at trifles.”

His definitions are succinct. “Humility: Imitate Jesus and Socrates.” states, “Of the 90 times Jesus was addressed directly in the gospels, 60 times he was called Teacher.”

Socrates (469–399 B.C.) spent his life teaching ethics. His lessons have been memorialized as the Socratic method, “asking question after clarifying question until his students arrived at their own understanding.”

Franklin loved the Socratic method. In his autobiography, he delighted in using it, “and grew very artful and expert in drawing people, even of superior knowledge, into concessions, the consequences of which they did not foresee, entangling them in difficulties out of which they could not extricate themselves.”

Can ethics be taught? Franklin’s life stands as testament to that as an abused child runaway whose study of philosophy established his own character as well as that of our country. Throughout his life, Franklin practiced and taught ethics in his almanacs, maxims and autobiography.

What about media ethics? For that, we look to Socrates. The best journalism should be based on his method, with reporters asking question after clarifying question until the audience arrives at fact-based understanding.

The media have work to do on that score.

Franklin and Socrates believed we not only should learn ethics; we should live them. If we heed that advice, as we emerge from the confines of pandemic, we might treat our neighbors as we wish to be treated, the Golden Rule.

New Data on Trigger Words

Trigger words are ones that you relate to strongly–in a positive or negative manner. Journalists, especially on-air or in ad and PR campaigns–have to know what words trigger that reaction inside them. The audience should be aware of triggers, too, as they color our perception. Once you identify your triggers, journalists and practitioners can adjust for them emotionally.

Michael Bugeja has played the “Trigger Word” game in his ethics classes for decades.

Trigger words are just that: words or phrases that elicit inside us an overwhelmingly positive or negative emotional reaction.  How does this relate to advertising, journalism and public relations?  When a source or client utters such words, they alone may alter our perception, prompting us to view the person as friend or foe, based solely on a word or short phrase.

Here’s how the “Trigger Word” game is played in media ethics classes with enrollments approaching or exceeding 100.

  1. Share only proper nouns. Students are warned not to share lowercase words that cause an emotional reaction. Lowercase words may violate privacy because they indicate that something associated with the word happened in the person’s life. Proper nouns emanate from culture, media, pop culture, social debate, government or other (miscellaneous). Example: “abortion” vs. “Roe v. Wade.”
  2. Record words on board. Each time a student shares a word, that proper noun is written on the chalkboard or whiteboard. A minimum of at least 30 words are listed there.
  3. Students vote on words. Students are asked which words on the board also cause a positive or negative emotional reaction in them.
  4. Top 10 words for each class are listed. After all the votes are tabulated, ties are listed in alphabetical order (i.e. #9 Clinton, #10 Trump).

Top words for each year are compiled in these categories:

CULTURE (history, education, religion, etc.). Students typically learn about these words as a part of U.S. history or through their religion, education or convention.

GOVERNMENT (government figures, officials, policies). Students learn about these persons in their capacity of holding office, leading state or nation, or issuing policy.

MEDIA (news, social media, films). Students learn about these terms from viewing news in a multitude of journalism platforms.

POP CULTURE (fads, hype, urban legend). These terms come to us via sensationalized or mythic terms and figures, such as UFO and Bigfoot.

SOCIAL DEBATE (legal, social, political debates). These are long-standing debates, such as climate change or planned parenthood.

OTHER (local terms, businesses, miscellaneous). These are local or regional terms associated with the place the game is played, such as “Hawkeye,” the rival’s nickname for Iowa State “Cyclones.”

Here is a snapshot of responses at Ohio Univ. and Iowa State University

Note: Ohio University years are in green and Iowa State in cardinal.

Here are cumulative categories of triggers

Categories of Triggers

As you can see, culture and media are the chief influencers of words that spark deep emotions.

Here is a detailed look at categorical breakdowns of each year

Categories of Triggers_detailed

Impact of “media” continues to rise over the years, inching up on culture. In some sense, we are dealing with media culture v. American culture. Social debate, government and “other” are consistent throughout the years without dominating any one year. Pop culture, which includes advertising, has little impact.

Keep in mind that this is just a snapshot. Living Media Ethics is in the process of collecting decades worth of data from this exercise in a more extensive research project.

In the meantime, it is important to note the impact that culture has, especially on social mores formulated by history, education and convention. As media, which includes social media, becomes more dominant, we might be more attuned to its impact on our collective psyches.