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Posts Tagged ‘journalism ethics’

This continues my analysis of a draft of a revision to Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. I commented Friday on the changes to the “Seek Truth” section of the code. Here I’ll address the next three sections: Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable.

I remain disappointed in the revisions and hopeful that SPJ members will insist on a more thorough update. My primary criticisms from Friday’s post still stand: The Ethics Committee went into this process with most members having already decided that the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1996, just needed a little tweaking. I argued in 2010 and on various occasions since that the code needs an overhaul. I don’t know if we’re in a majority of journalists, but lots of people have told me privately that they agree (a poll on that 2010 post showed a vote of 138-22 in favor of updating, but I’m under no illusion that my blog readers are a cross-section of journalists.

The committee’s draft just tweaked and didn’t sufficiently address the needs of journalists today or the recommendations of a digital “subcommittee” on which I served (only one member of the subcommittee was an actual member of the Ethics Committee). (more…)

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Tom Kent, linked from his Twitter avatar

called yesterday for detailed practical advice on making ethical decisions in today’s journalism. After I posted, I emailed the people I mentioned in the post, inviting them to respond. This is the response from Associated Press Standards Editor Tom Kent, who is leading an ethics initiative of the Online News Association:

Steve, you raise some excellent points about where we stand in the ethics conversation. Sometimes, as you suggest, we’re a little too philosophique, thinking big thoughts without the concrete examples that would make them immediately useful. Meanwhile, we’re trying to write ethical codes for a profession that’s in the process of splitting into some distinctly different philosophies.

However much we agree on certain unifying concepts (tell the truth, don’t plagiarize, don’t take money to skew your stories), after that we start to differ widely. You referred to the contrast between those who think it’s fine to write from a certain political point of view (as long as you’re transparent about it) and those who favor an updated version of objectivity and neutrality (find my defense of that here). There are disparate points on view on many other questions. (more…)

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McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismI like the new Guiding Principles for the Journalist, spelled out in the opening chapter of The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.

The overall concepts of these principles reflect the same core values as Bob Steele’s Guiding Principles from about 20 years ago, but also reflect the need to update journalism ethics. Bob’s principles were organized around these three themes:

  • Truthfulness
  • Independence
  • Minimizing harm

The new principles, authored by the book’s editors, Poynter’s Kelly McBride and the American Press Institute’s Tom Rosenstiel, are organized around these three themes:

  • Truthfulness
  • Transparency
  • Community

The new principles note the value of independence, but recognize the complexity of today’s journalism and give excellent advice on being transparent about connections that may influence our content. In my October suggestions for the Guiding Principles, I merged independence and transparency into one section, so I’m pleased with this change. The new principles still call on journalists to minimize harm, but do so in the broader context of guidance about our relationships to the communities we serve. As a frequent advocate of community engagement, I am delighted to see it recognized as a core principle of journalism.

My primary disappointment in reading through the principles was their failure to explicitly address the ethics of linking. The transparency section generally calls on journalists to show their work and “explain” their sources, but in an apparent effort to avoid mentioning specific platforms in the principles, the authors stopped short of directly addressing a significant issue on which many journalists are either lazy or resistant. (more…)

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I will be leading a workshop this afternoon on ethical aggregation at the conference of the American Copy Editors Society.

I will draw heavily on points from my earlier blog posts on aggregation and curation. I also commend to your attention Maria Popova’s Curator’s Code.

Here’s the definition I will use:

I also mentioned this tweet from Andy Carvin and the subsequent Storify account of how he found his answers and his book Distant Witness (which I haven’t read yet, but a participant said the episode is discussed in the book).

 

Here are my slides for the workshop:

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A while back Scott Leadingham of the Society of Professional Journalists asked me to contribute to a feature asking journalists for our personal codes of ethics. He posted my reply at the SPJ Works blog:

A journalist’s job is pretty much like a witness’s oath in court: to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth. …

I hope you check out SPJ Works for the rest of my response, which was brief.

I called on SPJ in 2010 to update its Code of Ethics. I also recommended some changes in Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist, which are being updated.

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What if we denied mass killers the attention they crave?

I’ve covered too many mass murders in my career, and I wasn’t even involved in yesterday’s coverage. I want it to stop. Like lots of people, I felt helpless and frustrated at our inability as a nation to prevent this mass-killing madness that strikes more often in this nation than anywhere and that this year has struck again and again.

I don’t feel that I have any great insight on the gun-control debate that inevitably swirls around these incidents. But I always agonize about journalism’s role in these stories. Clearly this is attention-seeking behavior, and we give these killers what they want. (more…)

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Bob Steele

As journalists discuss the need for some new guiding principles, I want to salute Bob Steele for the guiding principles that have served journalism well for a couple of decades.

Bob told me in an email exchange this week (see our Q&A at the end of this post) that he wrote the Guiding Principles for the Journalist in the early 1990s. I used them extensively in the ethics seminars I presented for the American Press Institute.

I have noted the need to update the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics (I’m not aware of any plans to do so). And I was pleased to be part of last week’s discussion about updating Bob’s guiding principles, which have considerable overlap with the SPJ Code. I blogged some suggestions for what the new principles should say. But I also want to salute Bob for how well these principles have served journalism.

Bob’s principles follow with my comments: (more…)

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This was originally published Feb. 12, 2008, on the Training Tracks blog I wrote for the American Press Institute. I repost it today as a supplement to a separate post about Bob Steele’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist. I removed outdated links and added a couple of updates.

Bob Steele

I hesitate to write about Bob Steele‘s accomplishments, because I don’t want this to sound like a eulogy. He’s not dead and he’s not retiring. He’s not even fully leaving Poynter.

But Bob’s contributions to journalism — specifically to the teaching and thinking about journalism ethics — have been monumental and his semi-departure from Poynter seems like a time to take note of those accomplishments.

Journalism is one of the most ethical pursuits in the world. Not only do we hold ourselves to high standards, but we enforce those standards with great transparency and public verbal floggings of offenders. Still, we don’t think enough about our ethical standards and how to make good ethical decisions. We think about those things a lot more — and a lot more clearly — though, than we did before Bob began teaching and writing about ethics for the Poynter Institute in 1989. (more…)

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As I blogged last week, I was involved in a discussion of new guiding principles for journalism.

I’m glad that Poynter and craigconnects are leading this effort. I think that we need some new guiding principles to cover the challenges of digital journalism and recent ethical controversies. I also think Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist are a good place to start (I blogged separately about those principles).

I would encourage retaining two of the primary section headings of the current guiding principles: “Seek Truth and Report It As Fully As Possible” and “Minimize Harm.” I would revise the other one, “Act Independently,” to read: Act Transparently and Independently.

I like Craig Silverman’s blog post, Journalism ethics are rooted in humanity, not technology. The principles he lists at the end there might be better headings than I propose, but I think most or all of my suggestions would fit under those headings.

I like the brevity of the points in the Guiding Principles. In some of my proposals here, I try to achieve similar brevity. At other times, I elaborate more than the principles probably should. While I hope our discussion of these issues is extensive (and some of my extended comments are part of that discussion), we want to keep the principles themselves clear and simple wherever possible.

In a preamble to the three main sections, I propose saying something like this: (more…)

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I was privileged to participate today in the symposium Journalistic Ethics in the Digital Age at the Paley Center for Media in New York, presented by the Poynter Institute and craigconnects.

The symposium was part of an effort to update the Guiding Principles for the Journalist, developed 25 years ago, when Bob Steele was Poynter’s ethics leader. After I argued unsuccessfully that the Society of Professional Journalists should update its Code of Ethics, I was pleased to join Poynter’s effort to update the guiding principles (which overlap closely with the SPJ code). (more…)

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I guess I should admit that I occasionally recycle points and lines in my blog and in speeches and workshops. I don’t think I do this in the way that Jonah Lehrer did in his New Yorker blog. I think Lehrer crossed a noteworthy line and I don’t think I have. But I do recycle.

I’ll discuss all that shortly, but here are some points I believe I have repeated in some fashion (and I’m pretty sure this list is incomplete):

  • Don’t turn obstacles into excuses; make them the war stories of your innovation success.
  • Newspapers are experiencing a time similar to the pre-Gutenberg monks who handmade artistically inscribed Bibles.
  • Several points about why paywalls on newspaper websites are a bad idea.
  • Tips on using Twitter.
  • Criticism of newsrooms with restrictive, fear-based social media policies.
  • Tips on maintaining your digital profile and finding jobs in digital journalism.
  • Blogging tips.
  • Never say no for someone else.
  • Newspapers need to develop more diverse digital revenue streams. (OK, I’m going to stop coming back here and adding bullets; I think you get the point and I already said this list was incomplete.)

Some people have used the term “self-plagiarize” to describe what Lehrer did. I don’t consider that phrase accurate. Plagiarism is theft of words and you can’t steal from yourself. Recycling, remixing or repurposing seem to better describe what he did (I just changed that sentence to take out the word “offense” because I don’t think recycling, remixing and repurposing are offenses in themselves. They are honorable and common writing practices). (more…)

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Craig Silverman has assembled eight “must reads” on how to verify information gathered through social media. I don’t have time to elaborate on them (and I would mostly just repeat what Craig and the writers say).

So don’t waste time reading my blog. Click on the link above and read what Craig and the others he has linked to have written. I will add them soon to my resources for accuracy and verification.

 

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