Almost Famous: Ethics in Music Journalism

Bryce, I. (Producer), & Crowe, C. (Director). (2000).  Almost Famous. United States of America: Vinyl Films.

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When William, a 15-year-old music fanatic, is given the opportunity to interview an up-and-coming rock band for Rolling Stone magazine, he embarks on an eye-opening journey filled with sex, drugs and rock and roll. While on tour with Stillwater, William attends concerts, raging parties and builds relationships, all while dealing with an over-the-top lead singer, Russell Hammond. Throughout the tour, William interviews all of the band members with his deadline approaching except for Hammond. William’s deadline is up and Rolling Stone wants their article with Stillwater taking the cover. The story that William brings to Rolling Stone involves every aspect of the tour: good, bad and questionable. However, Stillwater denies 90% of the story, which ultimately ruins William’s credibility. After the members of Stillwater go their separate ways, Hammond ends up visiting William and reveals that he admitted to Rolling Stone that the story was true. It is at this point that William gets the interview he strived to achieve with Hammond.

Journalists should be accurate, fair and honest when reporting and interpreting information in ethical journalism.  According to the SPJ Code of Ethics, journalists are required to take responsibility for the accuracy of their work and fact check. Journalists are also asked to be vigilant, courageous and use consideration (SPJ Code of Ethics). In Almost Famous, William’s first major task as a journalist requires him to go on tour with a band and create a riveting article. Throughout the film, William is faced with numerous obstacles and uncomfortable situations that he doesn’t know if he should write about or not. All he promised to Stillwater is that he would make the band look good in Rolling Stone. Although he made a promise to the band, William knows the article that Rolling Stone wants to see and that’s what he gives them. William discusses the major struggles that Stillwater faces with conflicting band members and an overly self-righteous lead singer. William writes about sex, drugs and specifically, Hammond’s stunt taking acid and proclaiming to be a “golden god” on a rooftop.  Although William’s story was 100% accurate, Stillwater refused the story to be issued because of its falsities.

But, William wrote accurate information that gave a proper image of Stillwater. Why is this a problem? William guaranteed that he would make Stillwater famous in his article. He didn’t leave anything, which is what journalists are supposed to do. However, William did not take in the consideration of what the image or perception of Stillwater would be created by readers. In an ethical standpoint, William gave Rolling Stone information that could potentially ruin the careers of the band members before they even made it big. Since journalists are required to minimize harm, William should have considered the harm that the article would cause. Journalists should always ask themselves: How much does the public need this information? How will this information affect the people involved? Do the people involved have a right to privacy?

On the other hand, it is important to argue that journalists also have the right to provide accurate and true information to the public. Since this is one of their responsibilities, where do journalists draw the line?

References

Society of Professional JournalistsImproving and protecting journalism since 1909. (n.d.). Retrieved March 5, 2015, from http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

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