The central objective of journalism is to provide people with valuable and valid information. Journalistic ethics are practices that outline the conscience, beliefs, and actions that a good journalist must follow. Although these cannons of journalism may differ, depending on the professional organization that issues them, for example, an association of journalists may have different standards when compared to a media company, and some core principles remain unchanged. For instance, truthfulness, objectivity, accountability are some of the standards that any journalist has to follow in their work. This paper will examine journalistic ethics and standards and provide an outline of principles that any journalist must follow.
In this state, journalistic ethics are outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ). SPJ states that “public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy” (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014, para. 1). Hence, the work of any journalist should be guided by the principle of exchanging information that is truthful, fair, and well-researched. SCJ’s standards consist of four core principles – “seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable and transparent” (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014, para. 2). Another example is the code of ethics by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ). Moreover, each reputable media company has its code based on the core principles of journalistic ethics.
One important ethical principle is the limitation of harm, which may prompt a journalist to withhold some information from the general public. For example, one should avoid using the real names of minors, victims of crimes, or some personnel information not related to an issue, which can potentially harm people if released to the general public. However, not all journalists and media companies abide by this principle, which is a distinguishing factor between professional reporting and fridge unreputable news sources (“Journalism ethics & standards, n.d.). Here, a conflict between the legal access to data and the ethical implications of releasing some private information must be considered as well. With this principle, a journalist must be guided by compassion and an understanding that the release of some information, especially about private figures, may cause significant harm, incomparable to the benefit of accessing this information.
Journalists must ensure that the information they gather and present to the public is accurate. Following the “seek truth and report it” standard, one has to be accountable for their work’s accuracy (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). This means that time constraints or any other pressures cannot justify publishing information that was not thoroughly reviewed and checked. These principles also refer to journalists who work with sources — anonymity should be guaranteed only to those who may face danger (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). In other cases, society is entitled to look for more information and verifications.
A journalist must be unbiased and base their work on facts. The ethical principle of acting independently means that any professional should avoid potential conflicts of interest pr biases that may affect the way a story is presented (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). For example, receiving gifts or special treatment can be interpreted as questionable actions that damage journalists’ integrity. In some cases, this may mean that one has to work under the pressure of changing a story’s coverage. However, the personnel and professional integrity of a journalist, as well as accountability, imply that one must avoid any circumstances that can negatively affect the objectivity of their work.
The fourth principle explains the potential consequences of a journalists’ actions. Accountability and transparency mean that apart from following the standards, a journalist may need to acknowledge mistakes (Society of Professional Journalists, 2014). Moreover, it is essential to encourage dialog and respond to questions and inquiries to ensure the accurate presentation and understanding of the information. Another example of this ethical standard is the need to expose the unethical behaviors of others to hold them accountable.
In today’s age, it is easy to publish a story or collect information, overlooking some of the core principles of journalism. Notably, Witschge et al. (2016) argue that the transition towards digital media has changed some of the ethical standards and principles of the journalists’ work. The authors state that in contemporary times, every standard and ethical principle is challenged, such as verification before publication or objectivity.
The ethical principles and standards of work were developed to account for the influence that media has on the public. Media is often referred to as the Fourth Estate, meaning that it is a part of the political system that has a substantial impact on society (Caroll, 2020). This is the main reason explaining the importance of journalism standards – the news reports and investigations can shape the public’s opinion on an issue.
Overall, this paper examined the ethical principles and standards of work that journalists must follow. The main concern with journalism is the impact that the reporting has on the public’s access to information and opinions of people regarding specific issues. This is why journalists must assess the potential harm, be accountable for their publications, act independently from other parties, and verify the information they choose to report.
Carroll, E. (2020). Platforms and the fall of the Fourth Estate: Looking beyond the First Amendment to protect watchdog journalism. Maryland Law Review, 79(3), 529-589.
Journalism ethics & standards. (n.d.). Web.
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014). SPJ code of ethics. Web.
Witschge, T., Anderson, C. W., Domingo, D. & Hermida, A. (Eds). (2016). The SAGE handbook of digital journalism. New York: SAGE.