Ethical Code Is at Heart of Newspaper's Credibility

By Clark, Mike | The Florida Times Union, February 3, 2002 | Go to article overview

Ethical Code Is at Heart of Newspaper's Credibility


Clark, Mike, The Florida Times Union


Byline: Mike Clark, Times-Union Reader Advocate

An ethical newspaper gives up short-term gains for long-term credibility.

That is the essence of the Times-Union's Code of Ethics.

Each year, I devote a column to this code because it influences many of the decisions made in the newsroom.

Sensitivity is a key part of the ethics code. Quoting the code: "Our business is publishing information. Generally, that means publishing complete names and addresses. But responsibility must temper the desire to publish."

A good example came several years ago when a Gilchrist County girl was abducted. The news media were asked to alert everyone to her disappearance, which was done. When the girl was found and her abductor was charged with sexual battery, editors of the Times-Union stopped using her name because it is policy not to name victims of sexual assaults. Many other newspapers in Florida continued using the name. But Editor Patrick Yack said the situation had changed, and that it was never too late to do the right thing.

Here are more examples:

-- Anonymous sources are supposed to be used as a last resort. Multiple sources usually are required. I find that giving the reason for granting anonymity usually makes it clear whether it was needed.

-- A key part of any ethics code is guarding against conflicts of interest. Therefore, staffers are not allowed to accept free gifts, free tickets or free travel. For instance, movie and concert reviewers usually pay for their tickets and are reimbursed by the newspaper. Unsolicited items are collected and auctioned off twice a year to newspaper personnel with proceeds going to charity. Benefiting from inside financial information is discouraged.

-- When a staffer gives a speech, payment is forbidden. That is part of the job.

-- Journalists give up certain rights and privileges in return for working for the newspaper. …

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