One of the major elements that distinguishes journalists from other news gatherers is their adherence to a code of ethics. These ethics are designed to protect the quality of news, ensure journalistic independence, protect sources and maintain accountability.
Here is an excerpt of some of the guidelines, found on the Society for Professional Journalist’s website.
“— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.”
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
— Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
— Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Never plagiarize.
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and
not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.”
These rules are not legally enforceable, nor do they spell out hard and fast rules of conduct but they do provide clear guidelines and a set of expected behaviors that have been voluntarily agreed to by a number of newspaper professionals. I wanted to do something different and bring back a clip we used a while ago on whether bloggers should be “held” to a standard of ethics. After following this story so far, watch the clip and tell me what you think.