Lesson 1: Mind the Gap:  Key Ethical Principles for Ethical Literacy in Public Relations

Two college football stars pose at the bedside of a beaming young boy, the hastily signed football looming large in the child’s small hand. The beep of the heart monitor fades into the background as the three laugh in answer to a reporter’s question. After a few moments, the players maneuver around the hanging IVs and bulky medical equipment effortlessly as if tiptoeing down the sideline into the end zone. A wave goodbye, and the players move down the hall to the next room. It was a surprise visit from the local university football team, and the patients -- and staff -- loved it.

The university’s sports public relations director organized the impromptu visit yesterday following a heartbreaking loss to their state rival. The team had taken a beating on the field and in the press for a game that they had been favored to win. To quell the escalating negativity, the public relations director had arranged the visit to the children’s cancer ward for the head coach and a few star players, and had invited the media to come along. The tactic had been successful. The patients and staff were overjoyed at their visit, and positive stories were now flooding traditional news and social media outlets. The tide had turned.

Certainly, sports figures visiting sick children is good, but is it ethical? Often public relations professionals respond to a situation without considering the ethical ramifications of their actions. This lesson seeks to highlight the underlying ethics of our actions and reactions and to explain the various ethical orientations that guide these behaviors. It lays the foundation for ethical literacy.

ethical literacy- the ability to recognize the ethical choices that public relations professionals face and the ethical philosophies that guide these choices.

In essence, this lesson helps public relations professionals “mind the gap.”

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