Ethos Ethics Ethicker Ethicist

Spring for jour­nal­ists marks the end of con­test entry sea­son and the begin­ning of con­fer­ences and work­shops. Heavy think­ing threat­ens the daffodils.

Collecting arrows at Dunster Archery competition, Somerset, 2009. Source: Wikimedia Commons

Col­lect­ing arrows and scor­ing at a 2009 Som­er­set (UK) archery com­pe­ti­tion.
Source: Wiki­me­dia Commons

Ethics com­mit­tees of two groups, the Soci­ety of Pro­fes­sional Jour­nal­ists and the Online News Asso­ci­a­tion, are mark­ing this cli­mate change with pro­pos­als. SPJ’s is revis­ing its Code of Ethics, last dolled up in 1996, and ONA’s panel wants a new approach it calls “Build Your Own Ethics Code.”

A key dif­fer­ence: SPJ will engrave its code in stone and ONA plans con­tin­ual updat­ing. One sim­i­lar­ity is promi­nent: How ethics (sin­gu­lar noun) effects Inter­net news.

Or com­men­tary, for that mat­ter. (My gang, the National Soci­ety of News­pa­per Colum­nists, has a Code of Con­duct, set in 2009. Valid in any medium.)

A point by point break­down can’t be done until ONA com­pletes its list. Until then, here’s their links:

Even their post­ings’ titles (which I’ve edited for form) indi­cate a sig­nif­i­cant issue. Ethics has a rep­u­ta­tion as the Law’s way­ward brother — while the Law grad­u­ated with high hon­ors and is out mak­ing a name for itself, ethics still is in school, par­ty­ing with the atti­tude, “What­ever, Dude.”

If you can go to jail or lose a law­suit, it’s the Law. Ethics runs into its brother and bounces off: It is the agree­ment we jour­nal­ists have with our audi­ence; it’s how news providers are trusted to be as com­plete and fair as pos­si­ble in the moment and not too offen­sive. While the Law has excep­tions, Ethics func­tions by its elasticity.

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