Journalistic ethics: What guides you?

The News of the World scandal is on every journalists’ mind (and lips, and in their tweets, too) this week. It’s turned the principles and ethics of the people who make the news into news itself: opinion pieces about journalists’ dastardly deeds and extensive discussions about the media in the U.K. It’s also got a lot of people outside the media industry asking: just what are journalistic standards these days?

For journalists with a regular gig, their publication will most likely have its own established guidelines and code of conduct. The Toronto Star, for example, has its Atkinson Principles, which provide an “intellectual foundation” for the paper, as well as more specific Statement of Principles, and a separate code of ethics for its photographers. The CBC also has extensive Journalism Policies on its site, and Canadian Press includes ethical guidelines in its Editorial Values. Other publications are less public about their guidelines, but most have at least something for contributors and editors to consult.

But where can freelancers turn? A number of journalism-focused non-profits and industry associations have their own standards.  For its part the Canadian Association of Journalists has a “Statement of principles and ethical guidelines” as well as guidelines for investigative journalists. Other Canadian organizations with published codes of ethics include RTDNA Canada (the Association of Electronic Journalists), CWA Canada, and CEP Canada (and, by association, the Canadian Freelance Union).

So when you’re confronted with a “should I or shouldn’t I?” situation in the pursuit of a story, what guides you? Is there a written set of standards you adhere to (something like the SPJ’s Code of Ethics)? Do you think back to a journalism ethics course you took in J-school? Or maybe ask a mentor or a freelancer friend? Or do you just go with your gut? Tell us in the comments below.

Posted on July 8, 2011 at 3:26 pm by editor · · Tagged with: ,

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