Journalists in love: A California newspaper editor says one of his reporters is having an affair with the mayor of a town the paper covers. What to do? From the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives.
Defining conflict of interest: There’s no single definition, writes Nancy Matchett. It’s an “open concept.” “It is a reason why ethical professionals sensibly seek advice from time to time.” From the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives.
Ethics quiz: What major journalism organization voted unanimously — twice — to adopt its code of ethics at its 1973 annual convention? Strange but true. You’re really smart if you can answer this.
Building an ethical culture at NPR: The NPR standards & practices editor tells Victoria Kwan about language usage, social media practices and urgent ethics issues.
“The bottom line is still fact-checking and verification,” says editor Mark Memmott. “Your credibility as a journalist will depend upon how well yo do those things, more than whether you’re the most clever writer or the fastest to spot a viral tweet.”
A welcome shift in news ethics: Kelly McBride notes a vast majority of media covering the Virginia Beach murders refrained from naming the shooter unless absolutely necessary.
“It demonstrates that newsrooms can alter their standards and practices in a fairly dramatic way over a relatively short period of time….,” she wrote, to avoid glorifying a criminal and inspiring future mass murders.
Textbooks on the newsroom ethos: Raymond McCaffrey describes journalism textbooks from 1913-1978 and ethics codes telling how journalists should act.
The textbooks “contributed to the crafting of an ethos that encouraged detachment and discouraged the displaying of emotions in what was depicted as a macho profession,” he writes.
Newsweek seeks ethics advice: The historic news magazine retains the Poynter Institute to review its standards, ethics and processes, causing an uptick in calls from journalists and newsrooms seeking help with ethics issues.
Ethics quiz: If a man tells media that he will jump off a bridge, are journalists obligated to stop him? Is that becoming part of the story?
From Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists archives. Media mistakes.
By Lee Anne Peck
Should a news organization publish a dead man’s earlier prison sentence? A 36-year-old man, Kevin Benham, was discovered drowned by hikers in a wilderness area. The hikers tried to revive him but were unsuccessful. Benham’s death was ruled “unattended, ” and the coroner reported the death was not a suicide.
Benham had Huntington’s Disease, which is a hereditary, degenerative brain disorder; this disease has no cure. Take note: The disease also slowly diminishes a person’s ability to reason, walk and talk. Benham’s biological mother and two brothers died from Huntington’s. The coroner noted that Benham most likely died from the disease.
As a reporter from the Adriondack Daily Enterprise began researching background information for a story and obituary on Benham, he came across information that Benham had served eight years in an Arizona prison for kidnapping a woman. He was also listed as a sexual predator. Benham’s lawyer had told the court about his client’s disease and tried to explain this is why Benham had kidnapped the girl.
After Benham served his sentence, he had returned home a year ago from Arizona.
Managing Editor Peter Crowley and his staff struggled with whether to print that information in the Sept. 26, 2013, afternoon edition of the newspaper. The story had already been published online without the prison sentence.
When I talked with Crowley, we discussed what his staff’s professional values were. What good would printing the information do if Benham was already gone? What harm would happen to those who were left (his adopted family)?
The rival paper, The (Plattsburgh) Press Republican, did print the prison sentence and also reported that Benham had been registered locally as a sex offender.
In the end, the Daily Enterprise never did print the prison sentence information. I told Crowley I agreed with him: The reporting of the prison sentence would serve no purpose at this point.
See how two competing newspapers covered this same story:
Link to Adirondack Daily Enterprise:
The Press Republican of Plattsburgh link: