The journalism code of ethics, we have heard it often before. Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable (Society of Professional Journalists website).
From day one, as incoming freshmen sitting through introduction to mass communications, we have learned about the ethics of journalism. As our education continues, we are still consistently reminded of the importance of these values and the necessity that our own stories match up with such standards. We know what they are. We know what they mean, or so we think we do. We have learned about them, memorized them, and been tested over them.
However the true questions are, have we established these ethics of journalism in our writing and do we continue to live as journalists dedicated to these moral standards? More specifically, does our writing explicitly reflect our knowledge of the ethical foundation we are building our future profession upon?
As students, many of us are busy and short on time. As a result, I feel our writing and reporting may tend to lack some of the ethics and techniques we have been taught.
Instead of “testing the accuracy of information from all sources and exercising care to avoid inadvertent error”(SPJ website), we may idly believe a source’s information and simply take his or her account to be accurate. Instead of checking and rechecking facts, we may just use the scant information we have in order to turn something in on time to receive a grade.
My fear is that if we, as students, are not practicing good ethical journalism now, what is going to happen when we are in the real world writing for a professional paper, not just a class or the OU Daily? Will these poor habits we have unknowingly formed continue to be prevalent in our writing?
“It is easy for them [journalism students] to pick up the habits and conventions that produce adequate but not excellent journalism. But stopping to reflect on the ethical implications of writing techniques is vital-not only to achieving personal excellence but also to sustaining the best practices of journalism at a time when the profession faces significant challenges.”
Once we graduate and are working as professional journalists, our lack of time is not going to change. In fact, our days will probably become even busier with the stress of stories and the pressure of deadlines. If we don’t have a strong ethical foundation as students, how are we going to have a strong ethical foundation when we are working as professional journalists?
“Every journalist, from the newsroom to the boardroom, must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility- a moral compass. What’s more, they have a responsibility to voice their personal conscience out loud and allow others around them to do so as well,” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 231).
Not only is it important for us to develop a sense of ethics, but it is also important for us to abide by those ethics and to challenge authority.
In “The Big Picture,” Merrill explains how large metropolitan newspapers are facing profit pressures, which has caused them to cut back on various resources and is consequently lowering their once high ethical standards in writing and editing.
“It is important for students, journalists, and those who study journalism to think about what the best practices in the use of writing techniques look like before staff cut backs and limitations on resources drive away the best practitioners of the craft or further eat into the time to reflect on good work” (Merrill, 194).
Nothing should take away from good journalism and high ethical standards. Not even a fear of authority.
“We need our journalists to feel free, even encouraged to speak out and say, this story strikes me as racist or boss your making the wrong decision. Only in a newsroom in which all can bring their diverse viewpoints to bear will the news have any chance of accurately anticipating and reflecting the increasingly diverse perspectives and needs of American culture” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 213).
If we want to speak out against authority for what is ethically correct we must have a foundation of strong ethics that we abide by ourselves. This ethical foundation does not automatically begin when we graduate from college or when we start our first jobs as professional journalists. It starts here and now as journalism students. It is a process and a skill we must practice and a craft we must one day master.