Trying to hold the media up to the highest standards of ethics, it’s easy lose sight of just how hard it can be to decide what those standards are. A February post by Martin Moore at PBS’s Idea Lab poses the question “What Are the Universal Principles that Guide Journalism?”
Moore, director of the Media Standards Trust, won a Knight News Challenge grant for his project to create a way for media sites to brand their stories as adhering to an ethical code of practice.
Most traditional journalism organizations already follow a code encompassing the important standards of ethical reporting. But, as Moore writes, creating these codes is difficult and takes time. “The Committee for Concerned Journalists took four years, did oodles of research and held 20 public forums, in order to come up with a Statement of Shared Purpose with nine principles,” he writes.
Many online journalists have yet to adopt a transparent set of best practices, which Moore argues they need. He writes,
These principles serve multiple functions. They act as a spur to good journalism, as well as a constraint on bad. They provide protection for freedom of speech and of the press — particularly from threats or intimidation by the government or commercial organizations. And they protect the public by preventing undue intrusion and providing a means of response or redress.
They also allow sites to use the system Moore is developing to mark their stories with the principles to which they adhere. Readers could then search for articles filtered according to what principles they embody. (For an example of this tagging, scroll down this page, and mouse over the box labeled “Value Added.”)
Citing a range of ethics guides from the Committee for Concerned Journalists to the Los Angeles Times, New York Times, BBC and others, Moore outlines a list of central themes “in an effort to help those who haven’t yet defined their principles.”
Moore’s Idea Lab list comprises ten “themes” –not rules : Public Interest, Truth and accuracy, Verification, Fairness, Distinguishing fact and comment, Accountability, Independence, Transparency, Restraint, and Originality.
But the list isn’t complete. Moore writes,
These themes are by no means comprehensive — nor are they intended to be. They are a starting point for those, be they news organizations or bloggers, who are drawing up their own principles and need a place to start.
We’d really like some feedback on whether these are right, if ten is too many, if there are any big themes missing, and which ones have most relevance to the web.
If you have any suggestions/additions, check out the Media Standards Trust list and comment or email with any ideas, here.
There are only 3 comments so far since the Feb 2 post. Hopefully this important topic will garner more serious interest from those in PBS’s Media Shift-Knight Projects’ journalism community.