This Week in PR Ethics (4/30/20): Utilitarianism, Stoicism, Virtue and The Nature of News

This week’s PR ethics highlights are a bit unusual, many of them brought me joy and had me whooping and clapping my hands and frankly scaring my family and students. There were articles that looked at utilitarianism, stoicism, virtue and the nature of news.

  • CNN writes about Utilitarianism – I woke up last week to an entire feature article on CNN on utilitarianism, and how it is the grounding of many models of medical ethics and also the driving force behind many of the Open It Up campaigns. It is a great way to show the strengths and drawbacks of one of the main ethical theories.


  • What we can learn from the Classics – One of my favorite communications professionals is Scott Monty, the former Global Digital Manager at Ford. He is an outspoken advocate that we can learn quite a bit from the classics, particularly Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations. This week the Guardian agreed with him and commented how the philosopher and stoicism can help during a Pandemic. While he doesn’t get the love of S.P.A. (Socrates, Plato, Aristotle), he is a great thinker and worthy of more discussion than he gets.


  • Do newsmakers deserve live coverage? – Four professors wrote a missive asking for broadcast networks to no longer cover President Trump’s briefings live for they are not news, but political rallies. It is an interesting point for communicators for larger brands that when they say something drive coverage. Is this another case of cancel culture? Should professors be encouraging censorship? Or is this a case of saying staged events aren’t new. I do think it is telling that they omit the President’s title, but this topic is ripe for debate.


  • The ethics of bailouts and loans – From Harvard and Shake Shack to Ruth’s Chris and beyond, the ethics of larger companies accepting money earmarked for small business is an interesting topic. Does it boil down to the maxim – “just because you can, doesn’t mean you should?” Or are there cases where businesses are being attacked when they should not be?


What have you seen this week?


Mark McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA
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Mark W. McClennan, APR, Fellow PRSA, is the general manager of C+C's Boston office. C+C is a communications agency all about the good and purpose-driven brands. He has more than 20 years of tech and fintech agency experience, served as the 2016 National Chair of PRSA, drove the creation of the PRSA Ethics App and is the host of


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