Thursday, December 07, 2006

Andy Griffith Show and Media Ethics

I had the honor of visiting the campus of Evangel University on Wednesday, Dec. 6 and leading a class session for a group of college journalists. I appreciate getting the invitation from my friend and former classmate, now turned professor, Melinda Booze.

I used an episode of the Andy Griffith show to foster class discussion about media ethics and libel. It was the same episode I've used with high school journalism students in the past, most recently at Aurora High School.

The story line for "Opie's Newspaper" (Episode 153 which originally aired on Mar 22, 1965) is as follows:

Opie's friend Howie has received a small printing press as a gift and the boys decide to publish their own newspaper. Their first edition of The Mayberry Sun covers events from the fifth-grade class. The initial sales are kind of slow. Barney and Andy encourage Opie to not to give up and to widen the scope of the paper to attract more readers. In their effort to widen their scope, Opie and Howie look to the big Mayberry paper for ideas. The boys decide to emulate the most popular news section, the gossip column called "Mayberry After Midnight." The boys spice up their penny newspaper by publishing gossip they overhear. When Barney and Andy get a look at the new issue, they have to scramble to collect the copies before they are read by the rest of the town.

The episode is funny, and it strikes a cord with all of us, because it is so truthful. Just like in Mayberry, "gossip" still sells newspapers. If you don't believe me, just take a look at the publications available in the checkout line next time you are at Wal-Mart or the grocery store.

Those same publications are also competition for local newspapers which have become more feature oriented and also print more "Hollywood" or celebrity type news to try and keep up. And, when celebrity news is getting printed other information important to our local area, or our democracy in general, is not.

This Andy Griffith show can lead to discussion about why newspapers exist (as a public service or to make a profit), what type of journalism sells more newspapers, libel, proper reporting techniques and the state of American journalism.


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