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Posts Tagged ‘Rules of the Road’

I taught a class today in professional codes of ethics for various media careers.

A central point of the class was to discuss whether and why ethics codes should be updated: How much do they present timeless principles and how much should they provide specific guidance relevant to today’s ethical situations and challenges?

I won’t review all the points I made here, but I cited these ethics codes (or principles):

I also cited these narrower but more detailed examinations of slices of journalism ethics, all of them completed in the past few years:

We discussed native advertising, product placement as efforts to blur the lines between advertising and news or entertainment, including the Cities Energized paid post in the New York Times.

I also cited blog posts by Tom Rosenstiel and Tim McGuire about the relative merits of independence and transparency as core principles of journalism ethics.

I also cited Bob Steele‘s 10 questions to make ethical decisions as advice that is as helpful making ethical decisions today as when he first published them in 2002.

I made points covered in more detail in these earlier blog posts:

These were the slides I used in the class:

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BYO ethics codeIn late 2013 I called for detailed guidance for journalists on various ethics issues. I’m pleased to have had a role in answering that call through the Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project.

The BYO code gives journalists and journalism organizations thoughtful guidance on 40 different topics relating to journalism ethics. Though it’s formally labeled ONAethics, the editing committee focused on Build Your Own and shortened it to BYO (hey, we’re journalists), which is how I’ll refer to it here.

The BYO project was released Thursday at the #ONA15 conference in Los Angeles (which, unfortunately, I am missing this year).

Disclaimer up front acknowledging my obvious bias in writing about this: I was a leading contributor in the writing of the project and participated with four others in editing. I will applaud all of them and others personally later, but first want to address the final product.

Disclaimer #2: Though we’ve been working on this project for two years, it’s still a work in progress. We welcome your feedback and will improve it as we receive suggestions and people point out flaws that we missed. And we’re still working on some design issues. The link I provide above is a beta. We welcome beta testers.

As I’ve said many times, good ethical decisions don’t come from good rules but from good conversations about ethics. What I like most about the BYO project is that it’s designed to prompt newsroom conversations about ethics, or at least to prompt individual journalists to think about the issues. As you use the tool to develop a code for your organization (or yourself), you have to think about what your values are and how to apply them in your journalism. (more…)

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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

McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismThe 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. (more…)

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Ethics codes should guide journalists in the world where we live and work, not the world where we wish we worked.

At a discussion at the Excellence in Journalism conference last August, several members of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee indicated they thought the SPJ Code of Ethics just needed “tweaking,” if it needed anything.

Here’s a surprise: They decided just to tweak it.

The code needs an overhaul and it got a touch-up.

Journalism is changing and journalists make ethical decisions in unfamiliar situations. Journalism ethics codes need to provide helpful guidance for journalists. The SPJ Code of Ethics, last revised in 1996, is perhaps the most-cited code and for many years was the most helpful. Now it’s terribly outdated and needs to reflect the world where journalists work.

The first draft at an update feels more like an effort to resist change than an effort to guide journalists in a time of change. (more…)

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I am a frequent advocate of conversation rather than rules when it comes to guiding journalists in the ethical use of social media. But I give my enthusiastic support to Rules of the Road: Navigating the New Ethics of Local Journalism, released Wednesday by J-Lab and written by Scott Rosenberg.

My primary criticism of “Rules” is that the title isn’t accurate (which pleases me). This isn’t a collection of rules. It’s a conversation (and, I hope, a conversation-starter) about journalism ethics at the community level in the digital age. The misleading title might actually be a good thing, because it might attract the attention of the people who want rules, and draw them into the conversation. And thoughtful conversation about journalism ethics leads to good ethical decisions and practices.

I’ve already noted on this blog and in Quill how outdated the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics has become. While I maintain hope that SPJ will update the code, I am most interested in thoughtful conversations among journalists about how to apply ethics in the new situations of journalism. So I applaud J-Lab and Rosenberg for this contribution to the conversation. (more…)

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