Monday, July 20, 2009

Consider yourself a journalist? Post your ethics code

No TC column this past week (CanWest cutbacks), but I thought I might fill the blank by posting my personal ethics code as a journalist.
I put it together last fall when I was teaching a journalism course at the University of Victoria. We got into a big discussion one day about ethical behaviour in journalism, and I went home and for the first time wrote down the personal code I followed as a journalist.
In these times of disintegrating mainstream media and anyone-is-a-journalist, I think it's going to be essential for readers/viewers to ask their favourite bloggers and writers to produce their own codes. If we're all going to be getting our news from wildly diverse sources, we'd be wise to understand what principles our news gatherers are using when collecting their information.
Anyone can call themselves a journalist, but there's no association that journalists have to belong to, or code that we have to swear to uphold. So the only thing that separates a conscientious journalist from an irresponsible, muck-raking fiction writer is the internal ethics code that the writer is guided by. Here's mine:

Jody’s personal ethics code:

- Through my own efforts or that of trusted sources, I have done my best to ensure that the information I’m presenting is factual.

- I believe the story I’m writing is in the greater public interest or meets the test of the public’s need to know, and is not merely voyeuristic, sensational or exploitive.

- I have done my best to present all sides of the issues, and have set aside my own personal views in order to provide a fair and balanced story that puts the issues at hand in context for the reader.

- I understand that people may be harmed in some way as a result of my story, but have considered those risks and believe that the greater public good in this case outweighs the risks of individual harm.

- I am familiar with Canada’s laws around libel, defamation and contempt of court, and have done my best to present a story that is not in conflict with those legal issues. Where a story still may be a concern on those fronts, I have notified my editor.

- While I have been very careful to avoid making mistakes of any kind - errors of fact, spelling, geography, timelines, etc - I recognize that mistakes are always a possibility. I take full responsibility for correcting those mistakes quickly, graciously and without malice.

- I identify all sources of information for my readers, and in the rare case when it’s not possible to identify a source, I tell the reader why anonymity is justified.

- I recognize that “facts,” perspectives and knowledge are ever-changing, and am always willing to take another look at an issue or change my mind.

- I do not lie or falsely represent myself to anyone I am seeking information from or interviewing.

- I am proud to put my name to the pieces I write and recognize that my personal reputation is on the line with every story that appears under my byline.

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