In addition to what you find here, I now have an entire website dedicated to journalism ethics. I update it constantly with fresh ethics cases from journalism, advertising and public relations.
See how a Tampa TV station carefully and ethically reports about a teen’s suicide.
Then, watch this video where I deconstruct the station’s story line-by-line to discover what they did well and what could be better.
Look at these two photos:
Now look at the third version:
Clearly the photographer, Brian Walski, a staff photographer for the LA Times, morphed the two images into one dramatic image (and was fired for it.) How did it happen and what should journalists learn from this? Here is an excellent essay from Frank Van Riper.
I wrote, co-wrote or consulted with others to write most of these guidelines as part of RTDNF’s newsroom ethics project.
Social media and blogs are important elements of journalism. As such, RTDNA has created guidlines for journalists who use social media both personally and professionally as well ethical considerations to account for while blogging.
Make sound decisions when your community is looking to you for information during disasters and other emergencies.
What is the journalistic purpose for airing the 911 call? Does using the call help better tell the story in a way that is not sensational? Can the 911 tape illuminate broader issues about the 911 system and its effectiveness? Can using the tape help critically examine the 911 system or help illustrate how effectively the system works? When deciding to use the call, ask yourself these questions about the 911 system.
Television and radio stations should provide the information necessary for the safe return of a missing child. News staff should insure information is factual and detailed and carefully evaluate its validity before going on the air. News staff should find answers to the following questions when making decisions to broadcast or stop broadcasting an Amber Alert.
“Professional electronic journalists should gather and report news without fear or favor, and vigorously resist undue influence from any outside forces, including advertisers, sources, story subjects, powerful individuals and special-interest groups.” The Radio Television Digital News Association declared this traditional journalistic value when it revised the RTDNA Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct in September 2000. Times of economic pressure test that value, challenging journalists to see it anew-and to practice it in new ways.
When journalists cover funerals, they must do so with the highest degree of sensitivity and professionalism. Although stories of funerals can be deeply moving, newsworthy and even healing for an audience, there is great potential for journalists to intrude on a family’s privacy and cause pain to already vulnerable people.
Ask: what is my journalistic duty in reporting this story? What do our viewers need to know? What is the threat to life or property? What are the consequences of the event itself? How significant is the evacuation and the interruption to normal life in your community? What is the impact this event has on law enforcement or emergency crews ability to respond to other calls? What else is this story about? What is the story behind the story? (In some cases, racial slurs and threats have been sprayed on school walls.)
What do you know? What do you need to know? How well do you understand the story? You need to be involved in the discussions and development of the story on the front-end. It is an especially dangerous practice to write and even begin production of promotions before a reporter has begun the work of reporting the story.
The public is greatly affected by how you edit sounds and images for radio and television news stories you put on the air. Photojournalists and editors should exercise the same level of ethical professionalism and accuracy in editing sounds and images as reporters and producers are expected to exercise in their choice of words, soundbites and facts.
How does this source know what he/she knows? Can I prove the source’s information through government records or other documents? How can I confirm this information through further reporting or other sources?
Television stations often use file tape to illustrate stories but few have guidelines that govern the use of file tape.
Periodically electronic journalists must make difficult decisions involving graphic video and sound. Television news managers understand that the visual images always overpower the spoken word. Powerful pictures can help explain stories better or they can distort the truth by blurring the important context of the report.
When might it be appropriate to use deception/misrepresentation/hidden cameras in newsgathering?
Newsrooms have to make tough decisions about when and how to identify juveniles who become involved in news stories. Some media companies have policies against identifying juveniles, but often those policies conflict with a reporter’s duty to seek truths and report them as fully as possible. On the other hand, juveniles deserve a special level of privacy protection. Crime victims and juveniles below teenage years deserve more protection because of their vulnerability.
There are circumstances where hearing the views of young people can prove valuable in our understanding of how they see the world around them. Adults need not be the only ones who express worthy views of news events. It is the method journalists use to collect the views of young people that raise the most challenging ethical questions.
Electronic journalists have a unique ability and opportunity to provide viewers and listeners with vital news information instantly. Journalists have a special responsibility in such situations to be accurate and to be measured in the tone of their coverage. A good guideline in such situations is to â€œover-react in the newsroom and under-react on the air.
Journalists should be good citizens, and sometimes that means they are torn between their journalistic duty and their desire to help others by raising money or making other charitable donations. After the September 11, 2001, attacks on America, journalists asked the public to give money, donate blood and help pay for scholarships for children whose parents died. All are worthy causes.
The use of racial identifiers in the media was for decades a means of singling out those who were not white. The practice helped form and fuel stereotypes and continues today to push a wedge between people. We can handle this delicate material better if we flag every racial reference and ask these questions . . .
When does the free flow of information that serves the public good outweigh the rights of individuals to personal privacy? That is a balancing act journalists regularly face.
When using a caller on the air, it is imperative that KUSA-TV determines the person’s relationship to the story and we must establish a confidence that the caller is in a position to offer legitimate eyewitness or insider information about the news event.
RTDNA suggests the following questions be asked before airing or publishing user-generated content:
Be especially careful in the use of confidential sources. The reporter’s job should be, as fully as possible, to conduct interviews and seek information on the record. The news managers job should be to ensure confidential sources are used only when absolutely essential to an important story.
Be extremely cautious to not compromise the secrecy of officials planning and execution. If staking out a location where a raid will occur or if accompanying officers, reporters and photographers should demonstrate great caution in how they act, where they go, and what clues they might inadvertently give that might compromise the execution of the raid. They should check and double-check planning efforts.
Television and radio stations should strive to protect the editorial integrity of the video and audio they air. This integrity, at times, might come into question when stations air video and audio provided to newsrooms by companies, organizations or governmental agencies with political or financial interests in publicizing the material. News staffs should find answers to the following questions when making decisions to broadcast video or audio produced and/or supplied by non-editorial sources.