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Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet by Howard Gardner, Mihaly Csikszentmihali and William Damon




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Tough Choices

Three psychology professors decided to examine how professionals maintain ethical standards when faced with dramatic changes in their fields. Over three years, the authors interviewed more than 100 people involved in genetics and another 100 journalists. Their results appear in a new book, Good Work: When Excellence and Ethics Meet. While there are some compelling stories in the book of people facing tough decisions in carrying out their professional lives, most of the book is either plodding or preachy. There are lessons for professionals in every field, but gathering those lessons will take a lot of your attention and patience. To sample the work they did and learn more about this project, visit  Here’s an excerpt about a television professional:

“As noted in Chapter 8, Carol Marin is a highly respected investigative reporter for a CBS affiliate in Chicago and a contributor to 60 Minues II, the national weekly television news magazine. Marin’s career itself became newsworthy during May 1997, after our interview with her. At the time, she was a coanchor and news reporter with NBC-owned Channel 5. In a highly publicized controversy, the station hired Jerry Springer, the nationally syndicated host of a salacious talk show to do a series of commentaries for Marin’s nightly news show. Marin objected to management that Springer’s approach promoted a ‘cynical trivialization’ of the news and violated essential journalistic standards, but her protests fell on deaf ears.
After some soul searching, Marin resigned. At the conclusion of her farewell newscast, Marin’s newsroom colleagues gave her a standing ovation. Her coanchor, Ron Magers, resigned a few days later. The Chicago public expressed its support for Marin and its displeasure with Channel 5 by turning away from the station in droves. Most stingingly, this public spurning occurred during the critical ‘May sweeps’ ratings period. As a consequence, after only three days on the air, Springer resigned from Channel 5. By then, Marin already was preparing to move to the competition across town. In this Chicago there is widespread public perception that Marin’s actions, which were extensively covered in the local news, affirmed in an enduring way the mission and high standards of traditional journalism.
Marin represents a particular kind of response to today’s market-driven pressures toward sensationalism and trivialization of the news. She confronted the unwelcome market pressures through an explicit and unyielding protest. The protest led Marin to her peremptory solution of resignation, the ultimate act of moral resistance in a professional world. Her response was unquestionably brave and effective. It was ideally suited for the occasion. Such a courageous stand merits a prominent place among the best methods for meeting today’s media challenges to good work.”

The authors define good work as “work of expert quality that benefits the broader society.” In their book, they examine the results of their study of two major professions and use these results to offer insights that can assist professionals in any field. If you’re struggling in trying to do good work in your professional life, consider reading Good Work. Be sure to pass along a copy to your independent auditor.

Steve Hopkins, March 13, 2002


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