Like every major profession, journalism has a set of guiding principles at its foundation.
Journalism ethics are a set of rules to help reporters and publishers make the best possible decisions when writing and printing stories.
These ethical conventions are meant to protect the reporter, the publisher, the public and the sources behind the stories.
However, unlike the legal profession, with its bar associations that oversee their code of professional conduct, journalists are self-managed.
No outside committee keeps tabs on them, unless laws are broken.
The code of journalism ethics boils down
to these eight principles:
Search for and report the truth
When working on a story, your goal is complete honesty and fairness in reporting. Sometimes, you will be asked to interpret information for public use.
Be honest and fair here, too. It won't always be easy, often requiring the courage to do the right thing, the difficult thing.
But you have an obligation to your publication, to your public and to yourself to maintain strict honesty and fairness.
Be accurate in reporting the facts
As you gather and prepare to report the facts, check and double-check your information.
Strive to be as accurate as you can based on the information you can gather in the time you have. This includes seeking reliable sources, both people and data.
You have a responsibility to your audience to keep your personal views out of your stories. Maintain a strong line between fact and opinion.
Avoid conflicts of interest – stories you are personally involved in or opportunities to slant the reporting for gain. Give both sides of a situation to the best of your ability. And if anyone blocks your efforts, let it be known.
Fairly and honestly handle sources
Maintain confidentiality of anonymous sources, but avoid using them as much as possible. Be sure you give proper credit for quotes or information within your story.
Don't deliberately take quotes, pictures or video footage out of context in a way that presents a misleading view of the situation. Of course, don't plagiarize. You will be caught and it will ruin your career.
Do no harm
Respect everyone you work with and talk to. This includes sources, fellow reporters, supervisors and even untried criminal defendants. Each of these people is a human being who deserves to be treated as such.
Never forget that you are reporting about people, to people and for people.
Avoid slander and libel concerns
If you report only the truth, you never have to worry about slander or libel. This goes back to the emphasis on accuracy.
It also means that you must respect the privacy of the people you report on and speak to, whether private citizens or public figures.
Understand the privacy laws of your state and country and abide by them, all the while, balancing these laws with the need of the public to know certain information.
Your guide as you build your story is simply the right of the public to know the information you are gathering.
No other influences should be part of your reporting. In other words, you must act independently of outside influences.
This may mean having to doggedly and courageously pursue the story, even at some level of personal risk.
It also means not caving to censorship, and revealing such censorship when it occurs. Above all, you must maintain your credibility.
Never let it be said that you were a puppet for government or corporations or anyone other than truth.
Practice full accountability
You are responsible for your stories. Never forget this. You cannot just write a story and walk away.
If you make a mistake, admit it and correct it right away.
If you find unethical practices by other journalists and the media, expose them.
Without this type of accountability, journalism loses its integrity and its value.
In every area of journalism, you will face situations that challenge your commitment to these ethical standards. How well you abide by them will determine your long-term success in the field.
By upholding and practicing these principles, you will earn respect and the knowledge that you have done your job well and done it right.
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