Ethical Sensitivity in Viewer Evaluations of a TV News Investigative Report



    1. Rebecca Ann Lind (Ph.D., University of Minnesota, 1992) is an assistant professor in the Department of Communication at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
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  • The author wishes to thank David L. Rarick for his advice and Basma Ibrahim for coding assistance. The author is also grateful for the useful comments made by the editors and the anonymous reviewers. Please address correspondence regarding this article to Rebecca Ann Lind, Department of Communication (m/c 132), University of Illinois at Chicago, 1040 West Harrison Street, Chicago, IL 60607–7131; e-mail:


This exploratory study uses cognitive-mapping techniques to investigate the ethical sensitivity of 99 television news viewers. Transcripts of structured in-depth interviews were analyzed according to four critical content dimensions of ethical sensitivity: story characteristics, ethical issues, consequences, and stakeholders. The study identified the indicators of ethical sensitivity that represent the specific concepts making up each of the content dimensions and found a consistent pattern of heavy reliance on just a few of the available concepts. This study also investigated the differences in ethical sensitivity among viewers and presented preliminary descriptions of some different types of ethical sensitivity. The study concluded that although it may indeed be useful to consider individuals as having low or high ethical sensitivity, it may be more fruitful to consider them as reflecting different types of ethical sensitivity. Strengths and weaknesses of using cognitive mapping are also presented.