Writing and Your Moral Code

picture-1There are times when a story is so hot you can write article after article, blog after blog and milk it for all it’s worth, but doing it gives you pause. You may wonder if you are feeding the media machine so many complain about, or you may wonder if you’re causing more harm than good, or putting profit over your moral code.

I write a parenting blog for Examiner.Com and the hottest story on the parenting scene is a domestic violence incident between two young music stars. The national news, Oprah, The View and other current event shows are all weighing in on rumors, sections of police reports, leaked photographs and giving advice to two young people they don’t know and probably hadn’t heard of until the story broke.

This story came with all of the goodies media people love – sex, violence, pretty people and money. I talked about it once for TwitterMoms, discussing the issue of violence against males and the double standard in which girls are applauded and excused for slapping, hitting their partners and shown destroying their partner’s property out of spite.  Howeer, as more news came and more rumors were “exposed” and more people began sending “messages” and “warnings” the more the thought of writing about it anymore turned my tummy.

There are a variety of parenting issues that could be discussed and drawn from the incident. Linking back to the red hot story of these two stars would surely lead to some nice Google juice, but at some point you have to draw the line. When are you using media to shine light on issues and when are you using your powers for exploitation?

Have you ever written something against your better judgment or refused to partake in a particular media frenzy? Discuss this writing dilemma.





8 responses
  1. Lisa Avatar

    Good question. The answer is – yes, sorta, but never to the degree that I felt I was doing something that could cause problems that weren’t already there.

    That is – I wrote about Jett Travolta’s death in my autism blog, and some parents objected, saying I was poking into his parents’ private lives. Of course, the story was also carried in living color on all channels, so I felt it would have actually been remiss to just ignore the story on the basis that the Travoltas deserve privacy.

    I’ve occasionally written in language that I thought undermined the quality of the product I was producing, because the client – for example – preferred the passive voice or unnecessarily “scholarly” language.


  2. Ben Avatar

    I’ve written on a few celebrity-type topics just to see how popular they would be. It made me feel dirty, and I haven’t done it again since then. Some people like that kind of thing, but they can have it!

  3. David Dittell Avatar


    I personally try to write within my voice and to my vision, so going against my moral code is to break from that. I had a writing job once that was meant to be creative, but turned out to be more like a stenography job. That wasn’t what I signed up for, and after a lot of deliberation and trying to make the other person happy, I needed to get out.

    In terms of content, however, I think the most important thing is sticking to your own code. There doesn’t need to be a clear cutoff between what’s okay and what’s not for everybody, just an understanding that we all should never go beyond our own limits. If something I revel in is distasteful for you, you should never feel compelled to write about it.

    I know it wasn’t the point of this piece, but I commend you for sticking to your guns.

  4. Bobbi C Avatar

    When I first looked at your article, I thought you’d be discussing things further down the moral code scale like reviewing adult videos, writing erotica, or writing for a term paper mill.

    For me, I don’t see anything immoral with taking part in media frenzies–especially when celebrities are involved. After all, they thrust themselves in the public limelight for better or worse.

    I can’t say I have any writing regrets but I sometimes do kick myself for the writing I DIDN’T do but should have!

  5. James Avatar

    I’ve been sitting on a story for several months that would (and I have absolutely no doubt about this!) undermine a government in an Asian country to the extent that it would certainly make front pages (in that country), make people extremely angry and influence foreign residents to the point that protests and strikes would probably be inevitable. I’m not a particularly well known writer (I do okay), and this story could be a big break for me. It would also probably prevent me from ever getting a visa for this country again, though I could live with that.

    The reason I dont publish is because the story would involve undermining a former employer. They are the reason I have the story in the first place, and they paid me very well. I still think about sending it every day, and have even written it up on a couple of occasions and then deleted what I wrote. Not writing it might be the biggest mistake I ever make. Equally, writing to could be too. I reckon the shelf life is perhaps another six months, and it kills me every day! Is it my duty as a writer to publish what I know, when I know it’s something that would be of great interest (and very relevant to) the public? Or is my duty to my former employer (who paid well, but didnt treat me particularly well)?

    Moral code is a difficult thing, and I dont envy anyone in this kind of position. It gives me nightmares!

  6. Jenn Mattern Avatar

    Will the timely reference help your readers understand the issue, or make them more interested in an issue you consider important? Then I don’t see anything wrong with it.

    That said, there may not be a need to link anywhere to similar stories. It comes down to the basic “does it add value?” question. If it does, go for it (guilt-free). If not, it’s time to re-evaluate your motives.

  7. Amy Booe Avatar
    Amy Booe

    Hey James! What are you waiting for? Hmmm….the very mention of “undermining a government” tells me your moral obligation is to write your story and to get it out there. Writers are only as good as their content. Anything else is a waste of the gift and ability to construct words into sentences and sentences into meaningful communication. Why would (please don’t say money) any of us want to spend our valuable time gossiping about the lives of ridiculous people when it is harmful to them and to our society as a whole. Because at the end of the day, it just doesn’t matter. You are obviously sitting on something that would be of real importance to real people, who it sounds like, deserve to know and deserve the right to dissent. The fact that you left your comment tells me you know what to do, but just needed to hear it from someone else. Well, I am someone else. I look forward to reading it when it makes its way out into the world.

    Good Luck and God Bless,
    Amy Booe

  8. John Carmack Avatar

    @James: I have to wonder if what you are dealing with is a false loyalty question. If it can topple a govt, then I must assume that they were doing something illegal. If it undermines the previous employer, then I have to assume they also were doing something illegal. It is not moral if it is covering up wrongdoing. Remember, loyalty is only as good as the trustworthiness of the relationship.

    However, if it was the case that the govt was doing something illegal, but the company was an innocent victim, I don’t see how bringing it to light can hurt the company — unless of course they continued in the relationship, thus becoming an accomplice, which is just as wrong.

    I find this to be much different than reporting on faults of famous people, which usually degenerates into nothing more than gossip, IMO.

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