Tag Archives: Ethics

British Journalists Chastened on Ethics

newsofworld

Ethics violations close Britain’s News of the World. itv.com photo.

“Let not England forget her precedence of teaching nations how to live.” —Milton

By Casey Bukro

British journalists are more likely to pay sources for information than American journalists, but journalists in both countries agree that providing reliable information is their chief goal.

These are among the conclusions of a survey of 700 of the United Kingdom’s almost 64,000 professional journalists, by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism at the University of Oxford.

On ethics and standards, said the report:

“There is a close correspondence between U.K. journalists’ views on ethics and their professional codes of practice. However, they are more likely to find justification for ethically contentious practices, such as paying sources, than journalists in the United States.

“Rank and file journalists in the U.K. push ethical boundaries more than their managers, and 25 percent of all journalists believe it is justified, on occasion, to publish unverified information.”

As for misrepresentation and subterfuge, U.K. journalists expressed mixed views about whether claiming to be somebody else is acceptable. Fifty-four percent believe it is never justified and 46 percent think it is justified on occasion. U.S. journalists, according to the study, are more disapproving, with only 7 percent agreeing that misrepresentation is justified on occasion.

Continue reading British Journalists Chastened on Ethics

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Rules of the Code

By Casey Bukro

The Society of Professional Journalists is thinking about amending or replacing its code of ethics, the current version of which was adopted in 1996.

One before that was adopted in 1973 and amended a couple of times with some word changes.

Some documents stand the test of time, others do not. SPJ is trying to decide in which category its present code belongs.

The society is surveying its members, asking what they think: Keep the code, replace it or change it?

Some members argue that in the 17 years since the code was adopted, journalism in the United States has changed a lot, including the technology journalists use, such as cell phones and social media.

Others say ethical standards, like honesty, fairness and accuracy are not governed by changes in technology. They are constants even in changing times.

We’ll see how that plays out.

Meanwhile, the Joplin Globe points out in a piece on “guiding words” that Walter Williams, the first dean of the Missouri School of Journalism, wrote what now is known as the “Journalist’s Creed” in 1914.

The Globe printed the “Journalist’s Creed” in full “to remind our readers and ourselves why these ethics are as timely today as they were almost 100 years ago.” And just as important.

The words are a bit flowery, reflecting a writing style that was fitting 100 years ago. The creed makes no mention of horses, buggies, pens or ink.

It begins, “I believe in the profession of journalism.” Such implacable resolve in the importance of journalism in a Democracy is as vital today as it was 100 years ago.

Copy Cat Journalists

By Casey Bukro

Here’s an interesting idea:

Journalists should stop mimicking what’s happening on the internet.

Poynter said the idea sprang from the ninth annual Kent State Ethics Workshop in September, which focused on the world of entertainment and how journalists cover it.

You get a pretty good idea that it can be an ethics imbroglio just by some of the topics: Privacy vs. adoration, stalking and paparazzi.

A workshop organizer, Jan Leach of Kent State’s School of Journalism, said they picked entertainment ethics “because there’s so much entertainment and celebrity journalism available in all media…..”

The news, she adds, “is often part truth and part rumor, ” but consumers might not be able to tell the difference. “There’s so much spin from publicity departments.”

And, it might be fair to say, journalists fall for it or go along with it.

It’s easy to cover and does not take much imagination. But how much wall-to-wall coverage does the public need about Lindsay Lohan and Miley Cyrus?

Even while reporting the latest escapades of such human train-wrecks, TV announcers can be heard to say: “Why are we doing this again?” They admit to giving more publicity to people acting odd, because they want the publicity.

The Society of Professional Journalists code of ethics encourages journalists to act independently and “avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.”

Though it’s called entertainment, there doesn’t seem to be much entertaining about it. It’s more like voyeurism.

Here’s an idea for what could be an entertaining story: The funny behavior of men and women in business, commerce and industry.

When’s the last time you saw a funny story about business? It’s all so serious, and people who cover it take it so seriously. There must be some humor in it somewhere, even though economics is called the dismal science.

Corporate publicity departments work overtime to make their CEOs look almost god-like.

Another example of copy cat journalism.

When to Quit, When to Fight

By David Craig

How do you respond when your boss asks you to do something you think is unethical?

A web editor for several business-to-business publications told me she was facing that question after a brief item she wrote drew a complaint from sales staff because an advertiser was not mentioned. She said her editor was pressuring her to add information about the advertiser even though it didn’t fit with the original story.

She was looking for confirmation that this was an ethical problem and trying to decide how to respond.

We talked about the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and I agreed that there was an ethical problem based on the principle of acting independently. That was the easy part.

The hard part: what to do about it. She was considering quitting her job – a decision no one should take lightly.

I asked her whether this kind of request was part of a pattern or an isolated incident. That’s an important question when the personal stakes are this high. And if nothing like this had happened before, that suggests it might be better to stay and try to do things right than lose the opportunity. I also asked her whether she thought the incident itself was serious enough to justify quitting immediately.

She said nothing like this had happened before. But she was troubled by the support for the advertiser’s view.

She read me an email she had drafted saying she thought the decision was unethical. I suggested she explain why based on the SPJ code so it was clear this was not just her individual judgment but reflected the standards of the profession. As a result, she decided to raise the point about acting independently and (her idea) to include a link to the SPJ code.

I found out later that the editor did not agree and ran the story anyway with the added information from the advertiser. As of the time of this post, the caller was still working there but was trying to line up enough freelance work to leave.