Washington Post to Train Staff on Ethics

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The Washington Post newsroom will be trained on ethics. (Credit: Washington Post)

The Washington Post will train its newsroom staff on ethics and standards next year, its ombudsman Andrew Alexander announced in this weekend’s public editor column.

The training comes as a result of the “broad confusion” on how the Post’s style book transitions to online reporting.  It also serves as a reminder for the Post’s staff of what the style book advises.

Further, Alexander noted that the Post’s “internal policies” aren’t public information, but they should be.

“The lengthy ‘Standards and Ethics’ section of its Stylebook, along with newer guidelines on the use of social media, are inspiring,” Alexander explained.  But, the public needs to be able to read that for themselves.

Earlier this year, the Post created guidelines for its newsroom staff’s participation in events sponsored by companies.  The Post’s publisher, Katharine Weymouth,  had in 2009 intended to host sponsored dinners with Post reporters and business and political leaders.

Some recent Post stories have indicated the discrepancy between the Post’s standards and the online Post edition, Alexander noted.

  1. Gawker’s “salacious” anonymously-written sex story about Christine O’Donnell:  While news director Sara Goo advised a Post “Aggregation blogger” to not “touch” the story, an editorial writer, Alexandra Petri spoofed the story.
  2. The Post’s June 3 fake story that UCLA coach John Wooden died: The hoax story which could have been corrected pre-publication if it had been fact-checked.

Alexander has highlighted Post stories that haven’t adhered to the style book in recent columns.  A few weeks ago, he reported readers’ complaints over the Post’s unfair use of labels such as “wheelchair-bound” and “illegal immigrant.”  He also criticized the newspaper for censoring a cartoon and slammed the newspaper for misusing anonymous sources earlier this summer.

“The contrasting decisions illustrate the challenge of interpreting traditional print standards in the digital age. Whether they deal with news or opinion, Post journalists often find themselves in uncharted waters,” Alexander wrote.

Earlier this summer, Washington Post blogger Dave Weigel resigned after his private e-mails to listserv JournoList were leaked.  In the e-mails, Weigel criticized conservatives, the beat he covered.  His resignation was a high-profile example of the new ethical quandaries online journalism has added to media ethics debates.

iMediaEthics has written to Alexander asking when the training will be and if and when the style book will be made public.  We will update with any response.

UPDATE: 11/15/2010 12:52 PM EST: Alexander responded to iMediaEthics via e-mail. He wrote:

“Peter Perl, the assistant managing editor for personnel, told me that the training would begin ‘early next year'” He is meeting today with a team of editors from the newsroom to begin crafting the training sessions.

“Separately, I don’t know when, or if, The Post’s Stylebook will be made public. In a column more than a year ago, I urged that the ‘Standards and Ethics’ be made public and Executive Editor Marcus Brauchli agreed that they would be once they were updated. To my knowledge, that updating concluded months ago. Mr. Brauchli currently is in Europe, so I have not been able to get a response from him as to when (if) they will be made public.

“As you may be aware, I operate independent of The Post. I mention that so you are aware that I am not part of the staff and, thus, I’m not part of the decision-making process on training or publication of policies.”

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Washington Post to Train Staff on Ethics

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