Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists Talk Ethics at Confab

Magazine article Editor & Publisher

Columnists Talk Ethics at Confab

Article excerpt

Many newspapers have codes of ethics, but the ones David Chartrand has seen have "no language about columnists."

That can mean columnists "know they've gone too far only when they get in trouble," said Chartrand, the self-syndicated and Universal Press Syndicate writer speaking during a Saturday ethics session at the National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference (NSNC).

"Ethical guidelines are helpful," but a columnist's own moral compass is the key to avoiding unethical behavior, added another self-syndicated panelist, former NSNC president Suzette Martinez Standring.

Basic ethics for columnists, of course, include being factual and fair even when giving an opinion (although there can be somewhat different ground rules for columnists using humor and satire). And columnists at a number of papers have the leeway to advocate for causes -- a leeway reporters usually don't have in their stories.

Some recent ethical no-nos by a few columnists? "Faking sources, making up events, masking paid-for opinions as your own, and writing about events before they happen," said Standring.

There are also gray areas when it comes to ethics. Philadelphia Daily News gossip columnist Dan Gross noted that he might keep an unsolicited T-shirt from a musician he's already written about often, but definitely not keep more expensive merchandise from a person or company seeking coverage for the first time. …

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