July 9, 2013

The New Ethics of Journalism is a Poynter blog dedicated to examining how the transformation of media is changing the ethics of journalism.

For the longest time, it seemed our ethical values would remain exactly the same. While our publishing platforms, business models and story forms evolved, we hung onto three core principles — truth, independence and minimizing harm — to guide the ethical decisions we made in journalism.

But the more things changed, the more we found that this specific articulation of values was an unhelpful starting point when confronting new challenges. After a year-long collaboration, we’ve arrived at a new articulation of journalism values. Truth remains our most important goal. Transparency and community rise in prominence. They don’t replace independence and minimizing harm, as much as subsume them.

The New Ethics of Journalism is a Poynter initiative to encourage all who practice journalism to embrace principles that serve democracy. We don’t believe these are the only principles, nor even the best possible articulation. They are one articulation of the values of journalism in the 21st century.

It is through this framework that we intend to explore the process that newsrooms and others use to produce the news and opinion that populates our marketplace of ideas.

We hope that you, our Poynter audience, take these Guiding Principles and put them to good use. Debate them, debunk them. Break them apart and use the pieces to build your own set of guiding principles. It’s not important that we agree universally on the precise language we use to describe our value. It’s more important that we begin a conversation about the process we use as we commit acts of journalism in the name of democracy.

Guiding Principles for Journalists

1. Seek truth and report it as fully as possible.

  • Be vigorous in your pursuit of accuracy.
  • Be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; document the unseen.
  • Hold the powerful accountable, especially those who hold power over free speech and expression.
  • Be accountable.

2. Be transparent.

  • Show how the reporting was done and why people should believe it. Explain your sources, evidence and the choices you made. Reveal what you cannot know. Make intellectual honesty your guide and humility (rather than false omniscience) your asset.
  • Clearly articulate your journalistic approach, whether you strive for independence or approach information from a political or philo­sophical point of view. Describe how your point of view impacts the information you report, including how you select the topics you cover and the sources that inform your work.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and errors, correct them quickly and in a way that encourages people who consumed the faulty information to know the truth.

3. Engage community as an end, rather than as a means.

  • Make an ongoing effort to understand the needs of the community you seek to serve and create robust mechanisms to allow members of your community to communicate with you and one another.
  • Seek out and disseminate competing perspectives without being unduly influenced by those who would use their power or position counter to the public interest.
  • Recognize that good ethical decisions require individual responsi­bility enriched by collaboration.
  • Seek publishing alternatives that minimize the harm that results from your actions and be compassionate and empathetic toward those affected by your work.
  • Allow and encourage members of the community to self-inform. Make journalism a continuing dialogue in which everyone can responsibly take part and be informed.

 The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century will be available Aug. 1. The book is a compilation of essays and case studies edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel, with a foreword by Bob Steele, for use in newsrooms, classrooms and other settings dedicated to a marketplace of ideas that serves democracy. You can find more information about the book here. On August 15, McBride will host a News University Webinar about the book.

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Kelly McBride is a journalist, consultant and one of the country’s leading voices on media ethics and democracy. She is senior vice president and chair…
Kelly McBride

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