Every decision you make as a journalist has ethical overtones. You must be skilled enough — and confident enough — to weigh competing pressures and loyalties and to make choices that match your journalistic purpose and allow you to uphold the ethical values that you, your organization and your profession hold dear.

One key choice is the use of sources. It can be easy to capture whatever information a source gives you, but always evaluate where that information comes from.

Ask yourself:

How does this source know the information? Can I confirm this information through further reporting, documents or other sources? Are there underlying assumptions that my source depends on and that I should question? What is the past reliability and reputation of this source?

Why is this source sharing this information with me? What could the source get out of sharing this information? Does the information make the source look good or bad to anyone?

What is my relationship with this source? Why am I talking with this source? Continually expand your pool of sources and avoid relying heavily on one or two people. Try to find sources who can give you similar information; a wide array of sources leads to greater storytelling.

Taken from Ethics of Journalism, a self-directed course by Kelly McBride, Caitlin Johnston, Bob Steele and Al Tompkins at Poynter NewsU.

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