Ethics Standards Are Crucial for Credibility in the News Biz

By Clark, Mike | The Florida Times Union, January 25, 2004 | Go to article overview

Ethics Standards Are Crucial for Credibility in the News Biz


Clark, Mike, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

Reading a newspaper is an act of faith.

Readers must have faith that the news reports are as accurate, fair and complete as human beings can make them. There should be no hidden influence to color the reports. Errors should be admitted. Conflicts should be disclosed. To maintain the credibility of their reports, newsroom employees give up certain rights.

-- They can't work for a political candidate, organization or cause. They can't even volunteer.

-- They can't seek or hold public office or accept appointment to public positions or committees without the written permission of the editor. Even with permission, the staff member may have to take unpaid leave during the service.

These ethics are formalized in a code that has been taken seriously here for about 25 years.

The code is not written like a book of statutes, but as a series of guidelines describing appropriate behavior.

Every January, I describe the ethics code that newsroom personnel follow at the Times-Union.

Since it's an election year, let's focus on a few related issues. As the code states, it is a guideline: "It cannot envision all circumstances. It should be used as an aid to common sense."

What do you think?

-- Is it OK for newsroom employees to have political bumper stickers on their cars? How about a campaign sign in the front yard? Should standards be tougher for a reporter who covers politics?

-- Should reporters who cover candidates vote in the elections they cover? Should journalists vote at all? Would that be the ultimate example of stepping back from the fray? Or should they register as independents, even in areas where primaries determine most of the winners? (That is my practice).

-- Should journalists march in an abortion protest or an Iraq war demonstration on their own time and expect the readers to believe they can be objective at work? …

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