The internet has thrown the world of journalism off balance. The reality today is that anyone can be their own publisher and editor. The Society of Professional Journalists have a code of ethics. These ethics are the definition of right and wrong in reporting news.
The Fireside Post is doing a series on ethics in journalism. We will rely heavily on history – these ethics have matured over time; time that has granted professional journalists the opportunity to see the consequences of their reporting.
We understand The Fireside Post as an opinion magazine – and we clearly state our bias in “Who Are These Guys.” While we are most often an opinion magazine – we should have some ethical foundation. The Fireside Post now (October 2008) has about fifty thousand readers every month – a large readership demands responsibility. Presently, two of us discuss and edit each post. As much as this may surprise some readers – we have actually withheld information that seemed too personal to the subjects of our posts. We will be examining the ethics that drive our writing.
As the current election has unfolded we have heard a great deal about the Main Stream Media. Both the left and the right claim bias and unfair reporting. Let us be clear again – The Fireside Post is an opinion page – and again – there should be boundaries of ethical opinion.
The following codes of ethics represent professional ‘reporters’ – those folks who report events – news, presumably without bias.
Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
— 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.
See also: Ethics in Journalism – Minimize Harm