FIVE ETHICAL PRINCIPLES FOR JOURNALISTS
How well does your reporting represent your community? The Society for Professional Journalists says that being more inclusive leads to better researching and reporter. Here are some tips.
One of the important ways in which journalists look out for their profession is by abiding by a journalist's code of ethics. Below are five of the best available online, although there are many good ones:
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics is probably the best known ethics code in journalism—and with good reason.
The "Standards and ethics" for The New York Times include detailed guidelines for specific areas.
National Public Radio's Ethics Handbook is especially well done: It's thoughtful and detailed.
The National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics includes issues unique to journalists who do photography or videography as part of their jobs.
One of the ways that news organizations protect the reputation of their profession is by being transparent about what they do and how they do it. This piece from the American Press Institute defines transparency and also provides a step-by-step guide for how journalists can do a good job of providing it to their audiences.
You'll be learning much more about how journalists can remain autonomous as you make your way through the book, but a good place to start is with the First Amendment Handbook, produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.
Journalists need to consider humaneness in any encounter with sources, but it's often especially important when dealing with trauma victims. The Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma provides advice and resources.
For an intriguing discussion about the conflicts that sometimes arise between humaneness and truth telling, see this Columbia Journalism Review article.
Truth telling means presenting a complete picture of the world, which means reporting diversity. NPR's code of ethics includes a section on the importance of talking to sources "from different political, socioeconomic and racial groups."
Fact checking can help you move beyond simply echoing spin you suspect may be false. Factcheck.org is one of the best-known organizations of this kind.
The American Press Institute is also leading a project to help journalists improve their fact checking. See some of their tips and stories here.
You'll find journalism awards in specialized categories, but here's a short list of some of the best known. The websites are a good place to browse through some of the best recent journalism.
The Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists is free. It's provided by Medill Northwestern and the Chicago Headline Club chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.
The Ethics Hotline provided by the Society of Professional Journalists promises that if you call and leave a message, someone will get back to you soon with advice.
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Events frequently ask us to weigh ethical principles against each other as we decide how to report them. Stories about mass shootings, for example, ask us to decide whether to include the shooter’s name.
Truth telling, freedom/autonomy, stewardship, justice and humaneness all come into play: Does truth telling require publishing relevant facts as we receive them? Is the identity of the shooter relevant—or is publishing it granting fame to the shooter, and maybe inspiring copycats? Is withholding the name violating the trust the public has in us to be good stewards, or would publishing it look to the public like sensationalizing to get clicks? What is justice in this case, and how is it best served? What about humaneness to the families of the victims and of the shooter?
Bob Garfield at WNYC Studios talks to a shooting victim’s father about naming a shooter.
The coverage of mass shootings has evolved, Kelly McBride at the Poynter Institute says.
Tony Biasotti crystalizes the discussion in his article for the Columbia Journalism Review.
See what decisions the Associated Press, the Dayton Daily News, the El Paso Herald-Post and the El Paso Times made once authorities released the shooters’ names in the two communities that saw mass shootings on a summer 2019 day.
One way that journalists serve as good stewards of their profession is by sharing advice and information—and by awarding excellence. And they've banded together to form organizations that make it easier to network and share resources. Below are several of the best (see the Networking page for a related list).
The Poynter Institute was established by Florida newspaper owner Nelson Poynter. Its training seminars for working journalists and educators are well-respected, but it also offers online guidance, news about the industry and tutorials (some of which are free).
Harvard University's Nieman Journalism Lab offers research, resources, reports and fellowships, among other services.
Reporters without Borders aims to help protect freedom of the press around the world, which sometimes means working to protect journalists' lives.
Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press also focuses on protecting press freedom. It focuses more on the U.S., and less on reporters' safety than Reporters without Borders. RCFP is a good place to check for help if you're having trouble getting access to public documents or meetings, and its services are free.
Society for Professional Journalists encourages excellence through its code of ethics, awards, and advice and training. It also helps journalists network with each other.
The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation is a nonprofit organization with several different journalism initiatives, but its main focus is helping to develop innovative journalism that better serves communities.
When should you help the subject of your story?
"I never interfered or got involved with what the soldiers were doing...But when I saw what happened to the children, things changed for me," says Nick Ut, the photojournalist famous for his Pulitzer Prize-winning photo after a Vietnam napalm drop. In this interview with Vice, Ut talks about why he stepped into the story to help save Kim Phuc, the girl in the center of the picture.
In his book, Love Thy Neighbor: A Story of War, Peter Maass describes the conflict in Bosnia in the mid-1990s. He also wrestles with ethical issues of being both a humane and a just journalist.