Wednesday, March 28, 2007

If All Journalists Followed Code of Ethics, the Profession and Democracy Would be Better Served

Good journalism is vitally important for a strong democracy, but studies and surveys show Americans increasingly do not trust the news media.

This mistrust comes from several directions (liberal and conservative) but examples seem to abound, even locally.

No wonder Americans mistrust the news media when we have weekly newspapers where the editor writes news stories and then editorials on the same subject (actually taking sides). No wonder American trust of the media is waning when hosts disguised as “journalists” on talk radio shows only give one side of a story – and give it as fact.

Some national experts believe negative influences in journalism have been allowed to flourish because journalists have been working without identified standards of conduct.

As a result, they have lost sight of journalism as a public service.

Supporters of this approach point out that many professions, such as accounting, law, and teaching, require ongoing certification for participation in the field. Journalists should be subject to this kind of scrutiny especially given their unique role in our society.

It has been suggested that journalists should develop and post standards that help citizens discern fair and accurate news coverage and then should be officially tested and certified in these new standards.

What most Americans don't realize is that the Society of Professional Journalists ( already has a comprehensive "Code of Ethics” with four major components.

First, journalists are to seek truth and report it. "Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information," reads the Code. This covers the need for accuracy, as well as different aspects of reporting and the need to not impose their own values and biases on readers.

Second, journalists are to "minimize harm." In other words, "ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect” by showing compassion, not being arrogant, respecting people's privacy and showing good taste.

Third, journalists should "act independently." The SPJ Code of Ethics says, "Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know."

And finally, journalists should "be accountable … to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other." The SPJ Code of Ethics says this can best be done by "inviting dialogue with the public over journalist conduct, encouraging the public to voice grievances against the news media, admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, exposing unethical practices of journalists and the news media and abiding by the same high standards to which they hold others."

If every journalist followed this code of ethics, the profession and the democracy would be better served.


Anonymous bennett said...

david, your thoughts are brilliant.
may i contact you for an interview for a feature i'm writing?

1:20 AM, April 03, 2007  

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