Five ethics for content creators, including journalists
My focus next week will be on the ethics of journalism. The prosecution is making its case in the Brooks et al trial at the Old Bailey. And I have to lecture on journalism ethics on Tuesday.
Ethics, journalism: it’s a joke, isn’t it
It could be a short lecture: can you get ethics and journalism in your head at the same time? How can journalism say it has ethics? But yes, it has an ethic: a guiding principle, at least in the UK.
The ethic is “get the story”. As a journalist, I’ve lied to get or defend a story. I’ve stolen to get documents to get stories. I’ve impersonated other people to get a story. All unethical. But I thought, and still think, that I was serving the readers. That was my ethic.
A strong ethic
Get the story to them. Tell the readers what I know is going on. That way we have a strong ethic of journalism. But as for ethics, let’s try these 5 ethical tips. They are for all content creators, including journalists.
- Defend your sources. Make sure you keep your confidential sources confidential to you.
- Quote accurately. So many quotes can be changed to fit the story. I caught a journalist on a magazine I edited inserting “not” into a quote, quote changing the meaning. Private Eye has many examples of quotes used in film posters or theatre promotion which have ripped the quotes out of context.
- Know that you have a “mind set”, that you see the world in a particular way. The Economist sees the world through its neo-liberal eyes. The Spectator through its conservative eyes. That’s why I read them. I want to know what they are up to. But make sure your readers know this as well.
- Don’t take bribes. This seems simple but is complex. I have been flown round the world and slept in excellent hotels paid for by the host company I was reporting on. Others, for example in the fashion press, are “gifted” products. Don’t let that twist your coverage of the event or of the product.
- Let all subjects of stories comment. But if they have a professional PR operation, give them as little time as possible.
Interestingly, I could not make it the classical 10 ethical tips. These are enough to guide any content creator. And there is a sixth, as the trial shows: get the story and get it right as you see it.
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