Journalism Ethics

Journalism ethics and standards describe the principles of ethics and good practice journalists adopt in response to specific challenges.

Learning Objective

  • Summarize the key components of ethical journalism

Key Points

    • Codes of journalism are designed to guide journalists through numerous ethical challenges, such as conflict of interest. A conflict of interest occurs when a single individual or organization adopts multiple interests, one of which could potentially corrupt the incentive to pursue another.
    • According to the accuracy and standards for factual reporting, reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted and the space available, and to seek only reliable sources. In addition, events with a single eyewitness are to be reported with attribution.
    • Independent fact-checking by another employee of the publisher is desirable. A fact checker is the person who checks factual assertions in non-fictional text (usually intended for publication in a periodical) to determine their veracity and correctness.
    • Harm limitation addresses the question of whether all information gathered should be reported, and if so, how. This principle of limitation creates a practical and ethical dilemma by acknowledging that some attention must be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure.
    • News style is the prose style used for news reporting in media such as newspapers, radio and television.
    • News writing attempts to answer every basic question about a particular event– who, what, when, where, why, and often how– at the opening of the article. This method of composition is sometimes called the “inverted pyramid”.

Terms

  • fact checkerA fact checker is the person who checks factual assertions in non-fictional text (usually intended for publication in a periodical) to determine their veracity and correctness. The job requires general, wide-ranging knowledge and the ability to conduct quick and accurate research.
  • journalism ethics and standardsJournalism ethics and standards describe the principles of ethics and good practice journalists adopt in response to specific challenges.
  • conflict of interestA situation in which someone in a position of trust, such as a lawyer, insurance adjuster, a politician, executive or director of a corporation or a medical research scientist or physician, has competing professional or personal interests.

Example

    • According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the German weekly Der Spiegel runs “most likely the world’s largest fact checking operation,” employing the equivalent of eighty full-time fact checkers as of 2010.

Full Text

Introduction

Journalism ethics and standards describe the principles of ethics and good practice journalists adopt in response to specific challenges. Historically and currently, journalists consider the subset of media ethics as their professional “code of ethics” or “canons of journalism”. These basic codes and canons commonly appear in statements drafted by professional journalism associations and individual print, broadcast, and online news organizations. While various existing codes have some differences, most share common elements: notably, the principles of truthfulness, accuracy, objectivity, impartiality, fairness and public accountability as they apply to the acquisition of newsworthy information and its subsequent dissemination to the public.

Codes of Journalism

Codes of journalism are designed to guide journalists through numerous ethical challenges, such as conflict of interest. The codes and canons provide journalists with a framework for self-monitoring and self-correction. A conflict of interest occurs when a single individual or organization adopts multiple interests, one of which could potentially corrupt the incentive to pursue another. The United States and Europe have typically been considered pioneers in the formulation and adoption of these standards, though similar codes can be found in nearly any country that enjoys freedom of the press. While the written codes and practical standards of journalism vary somewhat from country to country and organization to organization, they tend to overlap substantially between mainstream publications and societies.

Common elements

In accordance with the accuracy and standards for factual reporting, reporters are expected to be as accurate as possible given the time allotted and the space available for story preparation, and to seek only reliable sources. In addition, events with a single eyewitness are to be reported with attribution. Events with two or more independent eyewitnesses may be reported as facts. Controversial facts are reported with attribution. Moreover, independent fact-checking by another employee of the publisher is desirable. A fact checker is the person who checks factual assertions in non-fictional text (usually intended for publication in a periodical) to determine their veracity and correctness. The job requires general, wide-ranging knowledge and the ability to conduct quick and accurate research. According to the Columbia Journalism Review, the German weekly Der Spiegel runs “most likely the world’s largest fact checking operation,” employing the equivalent of eighty full-time fact checkers as of 2010.

During the normal course of an assignment, a reporter might go about a variety of tasks– gathering facts and details, conducting interviews, doing research, background checks, taking photos, videotaping, recording sound. Harm limitation addresses the question of whether all information gathered should be reported, and if so, how. This principle of limitation creates a practical and ethical dilemma by acknowledging that some attention must be given to the negative consequences of full disclosure.

News Style

Ethical standards should not be confused with the common standards of quality of presentation. News style is the prose style used for news reporting in media such as newspapers, radio and television. News style requires not only a unique vocabulary and sentence structure, but also a particular manner of presentation– the situational importance of tone and intended audience, for instance. News writing attempts to answer every basic question about a particular event– who, what, when, where, why and often how– at the opening of the article. This method of composition is sometimes called the “inverted pyramid” , named for the decreasing importance of information in subsequent paragraphs.

Media coverage strongly influences people’s perception of politics, society, and culture.

Learning Objective

  • Name some of the central critiques of American news organizations

Key Points

    • Perhaps the most important political function of the media is to put together a set of national priorities.
    • Agenda setting may be limited within a domestic political context because of the competition for audience interest.
    • American news media emphasizes more than ever the “horse race” aspects of the presidential campaign. This has led to criticism that audiences are not being given more substantive information about policy.

Term

  • horse raceAn exciting and arduous competition (as in a political campaign).

Full Text

Media coverage strongly influences people’s perception of politics, society, and culture. The political analyst and consultant Gary Wasserman attests that media institutions’ “most important political function” is to play the role of an “agenda setter,” where they “[put] together an agenda of national priorities – what should be taken seriously, what lightly, what not at all. ”

Agenda-setting is somewhat limited within domestic politics. Due to the commercialized context within which they work, media institutions must compete for audience interest and can often not afford to ignore an important issue which another television station, newspaper, or radio station is willing to pick up. In regards to foreign policy, agenda-setting could take place in areas in which very few Americans have direct experience of the issues at hand. In addition, the U.S. media has been accused of prioritizing domestic news over international news, as well as focusing on U.S. military action abroad over other international stories.

American news media emphasizes more than ever the “horse race” aspects of the presidential campaign, according to a new study. Coverage of the political campaigns have been less reflective on the issues that matter to voters. Instead, the media has focused primarily on campaign tactics and strategy, according to a report conducted jointly by the Project for Excellence in Journalism, part of the Pew Research Center, and the Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics, and Public Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University. The report examined 1,742 stories that appeared from January through May 2007 in 48 news outlets. Almost two-thirds of all stories in U.S. news media, including print, television, radio and online, focused on the political aspects of the campaign, while only one percent focused on the candidates‘ public records. Only 12 percent of stories seemed relevant to voters’ decision-making. The rest of the stories focused more on tactics and strategy. Many criticize this shift in emphasis for depriving audiences of substantive information about candidates’ policy platforms .

News Coverage

Press tables at a Barack Obama rally.