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By Casey Bukro

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

Case study: Is it ethical to publish, in an online magazine, emails and blog posts forwarded to the magazine?

That was the question an Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists advisor got from a student who is the executive editor of an online magazine that provides space for bloggers.

The magazine published an email conversation between a student and a professor, which first appeared in the student’s blog. The professor is threatening to sue the student who posted the contents of their email exchange, saying he had no right to do that.

Some of this is a legal issue, which AdviceLine is not equipped to answer. State laws may differ.

The AdviceLine advisor wanted to know if the professor contends that his email conversation was confidential and the executive editor did not know. The editor wanted to know if it was ethical for the offending student and the magazine to publish email messages?

The AdviceLine advisor believes the executive editor is not responsible for what the blogger put on his site, and cannot be held ethically responsible for the student’s action on his own blog.

As for the offending student, “I said his action may be rude, insensitive, even reprehensible, but I am pressed to say unethical (borderline maybe).” On a broader issue, the advisor said: “Anyone using email is naïve if they do so without knowing they are creating a written document that can be forwarded, copied and even placed on blog sites. Users use email at their own peril. While certainly not condoning what the student did, without getting into the student’s own mind and motive, I cannot call his/her action unethical.”


The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists was founded in 2001 by the Chicago Headline Club (Chicago professional chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists) and Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics and Social Justice. It partnered with the Medill School of Journalism at Northwestern University in 2013. It is a free service.

Professional journalists are invited to contact the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists for guidance on ethics. Call 866-DILEMMA or

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