Media Ethics

Last Tuesday we had our Media Ethics meeting with former Washington Post Ombudsman and current Ohio University Ethics instructor Andy Alexander.

Media Ethics is a difficult issue that encompasses more than might immediately come to mind. If you are working as a journalist in any medium you have no-doubt ran into some sort of ethical situation. Even “cleaning up quotes,” something nearly all journalists do to eliminate the ums, uhs and you knows out of an interview, can have ethical implications. Janet Malcom, staff writer for The New Yorker, learned this the hard when when she was sued by psychoanalyst Jeffrey Mason for $10.2 million, charging that she had changed his quotes in a two-part profile about him.

Examples raised during the meeting included when to publish graphic images, when there is a conflict of interest in your reporting, thus skewing a bias; as well as ethical dilemmas raised through the use of Twitter as a journalistic medium.

Andy Alexander provided this convenient list of questions to ask yourself when making your next ethical decision:
1) Have I sought the truth and reported it as fully as possible?
2) Have I acted independently?
3) Have I sought to minimize harm?
4) Is there a journalistic purpose to what I’m doing?
5) What do I know? What do I need to know?
6) Have I complied with company policies, professional guidelines and laws?
7) Should I consult with others with expertise or a different perspective?
8) What are the consequences of my actions, both short and long term?
9) Are there alternative solutions?
10) Are my actions transparent?

One of the primary causes of SPJ is to promote ethical journalism. It’s Code of Ethics is widely used and followed in the journalism world and can be found here (there’s even a convenient one-page printable version!) Another useful service SPJ offers is an ethics help page, including a list of frequently asked questions and even an ethics hotline–so you’re covered during your next ethics debate!

See you next Tuesday!

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