What would you have chosen to do as a journalist in this situation? Because this case study is intended primarily as a teaching resource, a password is required to view the epilogue. The purpose is to encourage readers to pause and think about how they would resolve the difficulty, before learning how the journalist(s) involved […]
The Breed Ban Dilemma
Protected: 8. Epilogue
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7. What to Show? What to Disclose?
Video proof in hand, Winter returned to the newsroom to consult Donovan about how the materials would be used. They were confident that the fruits of their undercover investigation were ethical — the story was in the public interest, they had exhausted all other options and they would disclose the fact that it was an […]
6. The Results of the Undercover
Winter got more from the undercover interviews than just footage of the puppies for sale and images of adult pit bulls snapping and growling for the camera. He got the sense that the ban was being ignored not just by breeders selling dogs online. One of the breeders admitted to Winter that the dogs were […]
5. The Pit Bull Problem
The changes made to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act in 2005 effectively implemented the first government-mandated breed ban in North America. The ban defined “pit bull” to include several breeds — pit bull terriers, Staffordshire bull terriers, American Staffordshire terriers, American pit bull terriers and any dog that “has an appearance and physical characteristics substantially […]
4. When is Undercover Work Justified?
Most journalistic organizations have codes of conduct to guide the decisions of reporters, including actions while undercover. The Toronto Star is no exception. The Star’s Newsroom Policy and Journalistic Standards Guide states that “journalists must clearly identify themselves as journalists gathering information for possible publication, be it in person, on the telephone or through social […]
3. Identifying Sources from an Undercover Investigation
The use of undercover techniques poses a second substantial ethical dilemma. Does lying to or misleading a source in order to get the story influence how the source should be presented? Does a journalist have an obligation to protect the identity of that source? These questions represent a deviation from journalism’s presumptive starting point that […]
2. When Journalists Go Undercover
Undercover techniques date back to the early 1900s  and questions about the ethics of this approach have been debated for almost as long. The likes of Hunter S. Thompson and Elizabeth Jane Cochrane (writing as Nellie Bly) are two of the most legendary names in undercover journalism . Their respective reports from inside the […]
1. The Breed Ban Dilemma
The Toronto Star’s undercover footage identified two breeders claiming to sell banned pitbull puppies, but was it fair to make the unaware breeders the faces of Ontario’s failed ban? Case Study by Abigail Plener, Samantha Relich and Brittany Spencer February 2017 Introduction Since the Ontario government made changes to the Dog Owners’ Liability Act in […]