Update: The final draft of the code update was revised again yesterday. I like what I’ve heard about the changes, but I haven’t analyzed it yet.
I will be leading a session at the Excellence in Journalism conference today about the broader ethics discussion in journalism.
At the EIJ conference, the Society of Professional Journalists will vote on adoption of a new ethics code. Here is the latest draft of the code, though it could be amended in floor debate today. My criticism of the revision stands, and I won’t belabor it either in this post or in my EIJ session.
Other ethics initiatives I will discuss include:
Poynter’s Guiding Principles
The new Poynter Guiding Principles for the Journalist, published in the 2013 book, The New Ethics of Journalism, edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel. I blogged in 2012 from a Poynter event to discuss updating the Guiding Principles, then blogged again with suggestions for the new principles and in 2013 with praise and criticism for the completed guidelines. Among other changes, the guiding principles changed two of the three core values from the original Guiding Principles, authored by Bob Steele in the early 1990s. The 1990s principles were organized around the values of truthfulness, independence and minimizing harm. Now the core values are truthfulness, transparency and community. The 1990s SPJ Code and Guiding Principles were strongly similar, with SPJ using the same three core values, plus accountability (Bob dealt with accountability in his elaboration on the other values). In the final draft of the SPJ update, the core values are unchanged, except that transparency is paired with accountability in the last section.
Telling the Truth and Nothing But
Telling the Truth and Nothing But, the ebook produced last year by a coalition of 10 journalism organizations and more than 23 media companies, universities and institutions. The coalition was formed in response to a call by Poynter’s Craig Silverman after he blogged about the 2012 “Summer of Sin” when journalism was plagued by several plagiarism and fabrication scandals. The ebook was published and promoted last year at the American Copy Editors Society conference in St. Louis. I wrote the first draft of a section on linking and blogged about the book last year. The book defines plagiarism and fabrication and presents strategies for preventing and detecting the offenses as well as for dealing with incidents of either offense.
The Verification Handboook, published earlier this year by the European Journalism Centre and edited by Craig Silverman. Like Telling the Truth and Nothing But, the Verification Handbook goes in depth on a particular topic, rather than addressing the full range of journalism ethics. I wrote an overview chapter on verification fundamentals and others wrote chapters on such topics as crowdsourcing and verifying images, videos or user-generated content. The handbook addresses verification issues not just for journalists, but for emergency responders, activists and others who share information in emergency situations. I blogged about the handbook when it was published.
Rules of the Road
Rules of the Road, published by J-Lab and written by Scott Rosenberg. This book, edited by Jan Schaffer and Andrew Pergam, addresses the ethical issues of local news startups, including police reports, privacy and community contributions. When I was working at TBD, I was one of 16 people involved in local journalism startups that Scott interviewed for the project. I blogged about Rules of the Road when it was published in 2011.
ONA building blocks
The Online News Association’s ethics committee is working on a set of “building blocks” for organizational ethics codes. The effort, led by Tom Kent, recognizes that journalists disagree on such ethical matters as whether we should attempt to be neutral on the issues we cover or whether we should be transparent about our opinions. The do-it-yourself code presents some fundamentals such as truthfulness and originality that journalists should agree to, but then presents differing approaches an organization could take on other issues, such as balance and fairness and corrections. I wrote the initial drafts of the sections on accuracy, confidential sources and removing material from archives.
While those are the primary organizational efforts recently (that I’m aware of; please let me know if you think I’ve missed one), I’ll also discuss other significant contributions to the ethics discussion in journalism, including:
- Accuracy, Independence, and Impartiality: How legacy media and digital natives approach standards in the digital age, written by Kellie Riordan for the Reuters Institute for the Study of Media at the University of Oxford.
- The Radio Television Digital News Association (which collaborates with SPJ for the EIJ conference) surveyed its members earlier this year one whether it needs to update its code of ethics.
- The University of Colorado hosted a digital media ethics symposium in March. I was a keynote speaker.
- Jay Rosen has blogged eloquently about our need to reconsider journalism standards in his criticism of “view from nowhere” journalism and “he-said-she-said” journalism and his articulation of the differences between “politics-some” and “politics-none” approaches to journalism.
- The spring 2014 edition of the IRE Journal focused on investigative ethics.
What other ethics-code updates or ethics discussions should I include here. I think we’re in a period of thoughtful conversation about journalism ethics and I’m pleased to be part of it at EIJ today.
One point I will make today is that I think Bob Steele’s 10 questions to guide ethical decision-making are as valid today as when he first published them in 2002.
While I am disappointed with the Ethics Committee’s revisions to the Code of Ethics, I thank the committee members for their hard work on the revision. While we disagree on some matters of ethics and what the code should say, we are united in our view that journalism ethics are important and that discussions about ethics are important. I especially thank Mónica Guzmán, who led the digital subcommittee and asked me to join it. While I’m disappointed that the full committee didn’t adopt more of our recommendations, I’m pleased that we had some input on the final draft being considered today.
Here are my slides for the discussion today: