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Ethical pressure points: Handling unverified information, navigating between personal and professional boundaries and providing context and narrative structure. From the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives.
By Casey Bukro
A young freelance photographer who has tight connections with local law enforcement and fire departments submits a photo of a fire in a private business to an Arkansas newspaper but refuses a photo byline.
An editor of the newspaper asked the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists whether his refusal was unethical? Should the photographer have taken the photo, and if the photographer had unfair advantage in taking it, should the newspaper use it?
The AdviceLine advisor pointed out that the case raises issues of transparency, accountability and conflicts of interest, but that the bigger issue was the newspaper’s lack of guidelines for dealing with bylines and credits. The newspaper in question was one of a group of newspapers lacking a code of ethics or standards.
For starters, the advisor suggested that the editor consult the Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics “because the code has many guidelines about what she was asking.”
The editor pointed out that “these papers are small and some newspaper personnel work for volunteer fire departments, then take photos while they are on the job — photos that eventually appear in the paper.”
The editor said that she and the rest of the staff planned a meeting to create guidelines and discuss the SPJ code. That resulted in a decision to use “special to” credits for photos submitted exclusively to the newspaper by outside sources.