These days, journalists are perhaps more apt to be talking about algorithms than ethics when they speak of “code.” But for generations, the word carried connotations of honor, responsibility and doing the right thing as news professionals.
You might expect the Online News Association to be primarily interested in the former kind of code, but earlier this week a subcommittee working under the ONA umbrella released an exciting new tool that allows any journalist or news organization to “build” a code of conduct from a handy online tool that prompts you through sticky questions for our millennium.
“We started with the recognition that the journalism profession encompasses ever more people, philosophies and technologies. There are many definitions these days of a ‘journalist,’ making it more important than ever for journalists to be clear about who they are and what they stand for,” said Thomas Kent by way of explanation. Kent is the standards editor at the Associated Press and a leader of the ONA “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project.
The idea is that too many of us operate with a fuzzy understanding of what we will and will not do in the course of our journalistic function. The project, announced during the ONA’s annual meeting in Los Angeles, aims to make that relatively easy to change. You still have to do the hard work of thinking these things through. …
Importantly, the project allows wide latitude for individual code builders. We do not all have the same ethical standards. However, the ONA project does set a series of “fundamentals” to which players must agree. Otherwise, Kent argues, you are not a journalist. Broadly, they cover truthfulness, conflicts, respect for your community and professional conduct. They include “Be honest, accurate, truthful and fair.” “Do not plagiarize or violate copyrights.”
The tool recognizes some new real-world problems that many of us didn’t consider in J school, such as whether we should ever remove things from our websites. That is something we think about with increasing regularity at Wick news sites.
It’s a really cool tool and project, and kudos to ONA and the Ethics Code Committee for tackling something that can feel so shapelesss and hard to handle. That they provided the rest of us with a free tool like this is nothing short of amazing.
I plan to play around with it in the next couple of weeks, learn how to use it, then perhaps enlist help from some of you in freshly codifying our own rules of the road.