Some Further Meditation on the Christmas Ornament Dilemma
It seems as though a solid argument that supports a question of ethics is the best means of overcoming a sticky ethical dilemma. Although several cases provoke a definite yes or no gut reaction, in media ethics, that is not enough. We need a "why" rather than a mere "what." In the case of the ornament dilemma, if the reporter were to explain exactly WHY (through the method of the potter box) his loyalties/values favor the grieving parents over the general readership by arguing why it is irrelevant that the reader know such a trivial fact and that it is not worth calling the parents back to ask such a question in their delicate state. I as a strict reader and non journalist would not even wonder what the color of the ornament was after reading the story, nor would I get any reader satisfaction from reading that fact if it were printed. Unless it had important relevance to the story as a whole, (say, the child mistook it for some kind of fruit, thus choked and died, and the story is now a forewarning against purchasing ornaments that resemble fruit when there are small, unknowing children in the house) then why would a reader want or need to know that fact.
When tackling ethical dilemmas that have to do with the publishing or withholding of facts and details, I think it is important to weigh what the story is about and what it is exactly trying to accomplish, and also, if the general readership would really want to know those facts and details. Does the newspaper lose any credibility if that fact is not published? What exactly is being lost by not seeking out the color of the ornament?