Code of Ethics
News sources vary a great deal in terms of their delivery, their focuses, and of course, their style. While different news sources are constantly in competition with each other, the most important aspect of any news publication should be its insistence and persistence to communicate the truth with its audience members. This provides a basis upon which an audience can be accumulated as well as maintained. It is understood, as a general social practice, that people most often do not appreciate being lied to; this is especially true for news publications. As these forums are generally more formal than “word of mouth,” as a news consumer, I expect there to be a certain level of integrity and accountability in the delivery of the stories that I am constantly immersed in.
The concept of news — I would argue — is becoming more fluid as publications such as Buzzfeed and Vice gain popularity. I find that the types of stories that are reported by these institutions can still be considered news, although the stories told may not always be relevant to all members of society, and there may not be a great deal of prominence. However, I still view these publications as official news sources, given that they follow a code of ethics, as should all other legitimate news sources. While not every news publication follows the exact same code of ethics, I believe it’s important to institute one and adhere to those moral obligations with every story that is published. That being said, the following paragraphs constitute a code of ethics that I believe any news publication — especially those prominent on social media (ie: BuzzFeed or Vice) — should follow.
Seek Truth and Report It
- Gather all possible information and include it in stories. Every story should present all the facts. Should there be a seemingly large lack of evidence regarding a specific subject, the story should not be published until nearly everything relevant is uncovered.
- Accuracy must be the main priority. Above everything, the content of the story must be true and express an objective standpoint. While speed is often an important factor to journalists, the story itself must contain everything the audience should know.
- All external sources must be verified and credited, unless specifically requesting anonymity. All sources requesting anonymity must have a legitimate reason for requiring such an action from the journalist, in order to avoid any slander/bias. All other sources must be properly accredited, so that audiences can judge whether or not the content is reliable.
- No quotes should be tampered with. All quotes used from interviews must maintain the original content, and the opinion of the interviewee must be clear and unchanged.
- When dealing with social issues, attempt to gather evidence from many different perspectives. In gathering a wide range of opinions, this encourages diversity as well as dismisses any bias on the journalist’s behalf. It also helps to expand the reader’s viewpoints on the issue, instead of formulating a predetermined mindset.
- All inaccuracies must be acknowledged and fixed promptly. Any mistakes made must be confessed by the journalist. If new information arises, it should be a highlighted addition to the existing material rather than a replacement.
- Never plagiarize. All written material must be original, and any outside analyses or interpretations must be properly credited if the content is to stay the same.
- Always ensure embeds/interviewees/other sources are aware of the story. Every individual has a right to know that their words are being used, and the purpose of attaining their statements must be made clear.
- Never forcefully inquire. Interviews and statements must be made willingly, and sources should be given the right to retract their statements before stories are published.
- Keep in mind the general comfort of the audience. Certain individuals should be kept anonymous such as victims of sex crimes, and youth. All journalists should report stories in a way that is minimally offensive to a wide variety of cultures.
- Balance all cases with common sense, humanity, and relevance. While all stories should report the truth, it is important that journalists be mindful of the feelings and positions of those who are featured. No article should ever be used to slander an individual.
- Controversial cases should be taken up with a group of editors in order to ensure minimum harm. In the public’s best interest, a controversial story should be read meticulously by many people in order to maintain objectivity and ensure benefit.
- Private information must remain private, unless otherwise authorized by the source. The consequences of revealing private information can be dire, and to do so breaches the code of always ensuring participants are aware of their statements being used. If the information is in the public domain (on social media), it is fair to use.
Be Accountable and Transparent
- Keep audience in the know. All processes and practices should be explained, especially with regards to ethics involved in controversial issues.
- True identity should be revealed at all times. Journalists should not conceal their identities unless information cannot be uncovered any other way. Any form of deception must be explained to the public.
- Acknowledge mistakes and explain corrections. This ties into the concept of reporting truth. All mistakes should be accepted on behalf of the accountable journalist(s) and all corrections must be made in plain sight.
- Any monetary exchange must be made public along with associated reasons. Understandably, some sources will refuse to make statements without some sort of compensation. However, these statements have the potential to be loaded with bias, and the public needs to be made aware of this interaction.
- Any offers of money, free travel, or any other valuable gifts must be refused. Upon accepting these, the publication can be deemed unfair, impartial, or not credible.
- Sponsors and other various sources must be denied special treatment. Any act in favour of these parties presents itself as an act of bias.
- Report the truth when necessary, even if there are conflicts. Occasionally, situations will arise in which conflicts occur between the journalist and sources, the government, or even employers. However, if it’s in the public’s best interest, the priority should always be to seek and explain the truth of a situation.
- Pay your own way. Whenever possible, journalists should fund their own means of acquiring information. If this is not possible, and payments must be accepted, this should be made public to the audience as well as the sponsor providing the funds.
- Information obtained should not be shared. This should be kept private by all means, unless collaboration with individuals outside of the media source is necessary to secure the facts and establish the truth.