Journalism Ethics for New Media Publications
With the advent of new media and its impact on news publications, journalism has continued to evolve in this new environment where content can be viewed on screens such as mobile devices, computers, or tablets. The implications of new technology and the potential it creates to both disseminate and edit content offers an entirely new world in which many previous standards are no longer applicable.
This code of ethics aims to articulate standards for new media outlets and the professional journalists who write for them. Such a position automatically incurs more trust than a civilian on Twitter, for example, and this is not something that should be abused. As a news consumer, I have higher expectations about the ethical guidelines that are followed by professional journalists, but will tend to be more wary of other sources.
However, ethics is not a topic that ceases to apply at any time, as ethical standards are not limited by the question of whether or not someone has training in the field of journalism. Those guidelines that are applicable (such as Equity, Accuracy and Sourcing) should be considered in any situation by anyone posting online — citizen journalists, social-media users and professional journalists alike.
Finally, issues of ethics and morality are a complex and shifting grey area. In this light, it is the spirit of these guidelines that should be followed rather than the word, as no two situations are ever the same. It is the principles of truth and transparency and that should always be aimed for, even if this means disregarding certain ideas laid out below. The purpose of journalism is, first and foremost, to relay information to the public, and this must be done with a commitment to integrity, honesty, and the truth in whatever way best fits the situation.
- Do not discriminate against anyone, for any reason, be it their race, gender, sexual identity, political beliefs, etc.
- Do not stereotype in representations of people, especially in descriptions or use of images of victims and perpetrators of crimes.
- Ensure the use of appropriate, respectful terminology when referring to people, especially in the case of minority groups.
- Write in a way that treats everyone fairly so that those people and events being written about are presented fairly and without distortion, and audience also has access the truth.
- Find and use trustworthy sources.
- Verification is key — gauge the reliability of the original source, and if this is not possible, evaluate those who continue to share the information.
- For content that could be photoshopped or edited in some other way such as an image, embed the original, if possible. If it has been deleted or is unavailable for another reason, find other sources that can verify its validity. (see also Privacy re: deleted or private content)
- Always attribute content to its source, including quotations, statistics, and information, and above all, do not plagiarize.
- Credit artists and photographers for their images and videos.
- Always ensure content is edited, reviewed, and fact-checked as much as possible by those who are qualified.
- Ensure that nothing is presented in a misleading way, including statistics, quotations, video clips or images that may be misconstrued without the proper context.
- Consult qualified experts or other source for knowledge you lack to ensure the accuracy of statements and overall presentation of a situation.
- Be respectful of content posted on social media platforms, and consider the implications of using content such as images that were intended to be private or only shared with a certain audience, especially if it has since been deleted.
- Time and parameters of story permitting, ask permission or alert the person if they or their content (Tweets, Instagram images, Facebook posts etc.) are being used in a story.
- Rights to privacy must also always be weighed against the public’s right to know certain information that affects them and is of importance, and the proper measures taken to ensure no one is unduly harmed.
- In some cases sources may remain anonymous to respect their privacy and safety, however this should be avoided as much as possible in the spirit of transparency.
- When possible, identify the state of knowledge at the time of publishing, particularly rumours which have not been confirmed or that do not have a reliable source, but are relevant to the story.
- Errors should be corrected as soon as possible to avoid further dissemination of false information, but this should be done in a way that still clearly explains what the original mistake was and why it was fixed. Other than changes such as a small typo, evidence of editing should not be erased after publication.
- New media introduces the potential for continual editing of content — this means that if there is a new development in a breaking news story, an effort should be made to mention this in updates, if possible (for example, appending a timestamped update to an article).
- Once published, editing should be kept to a minimum to avoid confusion that may result from multiple versions of articles, unless it is seen as an accepted practice for that style of the content (such as updates on developing stories).
- Content should not be deleted other than in extreme cases. Rather, it should be edited in some way to provide a comment or clarification on the issues that have arisen (for example, identifying a story as a hoax, or apologizing for problematic content)
- A journalist’s goal is generally not to convince an audience of a point of view, but rather to present the facts in an unbiased manner so that they may form their own opinions. Give fair consideration and representation of all sides of a situation.
- Be aware of any biases you may have. Consider how this may affect the integrity of the story you are reporting, and ways in which to counteract this.
- Consider any conflicts of interest that may result from the subjects of any stories, and how this may be avoided.
- If unable to stay objective, consider not reporting on the story, or if it cannot be avoided, someone impartial to edit and review the accuracy of statements made (See also: Advocacy).
- Do not accept financial or other gifts as incentives to write in a certain way.
- In certain situations, it is acceptable to write from and argue for a certain position, however principles of objectivity should also be considered and balanced against this.
- Freedom of expression is not an excuse to argue against equality for oppressed groups and their civil rights.
- If writing for a publication, be aware of their reputation, guidelines and standards for opinion-based writing and in what situations this is acceptable or not.
- Fully disclose any affiliations or beliefs that may affect how you are writing about the issue.
- Do not mislead or attempt to argue a point in any other way than through presentation of factual and correct information. It is unacceptable to misconstrue or omit relevant facts that do not align with the argument of a piece.
- Personal social media accounts on platforms such as Twitter and Facebook are acceptable places to post your own opinions, but be clear that they are your own and not those of any companies you may be associated with. Consider the implications for everyone either directly or indirectly involved.
- In situations where authorities or other officials are involved, consider their suggestions, and consult with them (such a request not to cover a topic for the public’s safety) but remember that they may have different ethical codes to follow than you, and it is your decision to decide what to write. Do not abuse this privilege in the name of truth or transparency, if information may do more harm than good.