A journalist, of course, serves the public interest but he or she is also a decision-maker in a myriad of ways. Some choices will be easy but other times, you may find yourself picking the lesser of two evils.
It’s important to remember that our vocation is more than just scribbling words on a page but the nature of our work has impact on real people with real lives. It sounds obvious, I know; but that is the precise reason why the media need to better understand the process of decision-making. With that said, I’ve written my own personal ethics code I feel I should abide by as a journalist.
- What is the point? That is the first question I should ask myself. If I cannot identify the purpose of my story, something’s not right. Stories are certainly allowed to change direction but if I’m unable to justify I’m writing what I’m writing in the beginning, that’s an indication there is little to no value in the story.
- I will always disclose my identity. Trust is an incredibly important element in order to be successful as a journalist. Not everyone is eager to speak to the media but I would also not want to start off any relationship with a subject or a source with a lie. In other words, when seeking out sources or new characters for my article, I want to ensure they know exactly who they’re sharing information with.
- Be compassionate. Sometimes we do need to be aggressive and the annoying, persistent reporter who won’t stop calling or e-mailing until we get a response. However, our sources and subjects are real people who were willing to let us into their lives. This is especially something I will keep in the forefront when dealing with more sensitive issues such as domestic abuse victims.
- Honesty is the best policy. I will always be honest with my editors and continue to keep them in the loop.
- Be diligent and patient. With any story, I should and will verify any and all facts to the best of my ability. Sometimes that might take longer than I want, which is why I mentioned patience, but as the old-aged saying goes — better safe than sorry. I’m sure there are instances when taking the time to fact-check is not always applicable, but for the most part, I will always aim to double-check myself.
- Always consider a third option. As we’ve discussed in class, sometimes the best way to go is to strive for the third option. It may not always be obvious but whenever I’m at a crossroads, I will not only evaluate all my options but try to come up with alternatives as well
- What if I was on the other side? The last question I believe is one I should ask every time is “If this story was about me, how would I feel about it? Would I be okay its portrayal?” Empathy is a powerful tool in my opinion in helping us, or myself, making decisions.
This list is by no means exhaustive nor does it cover every possible scenario. However, I think the points above will help enable me to make better, more ethical decisions. In the end, I think it boils down to “Will I be able to stand by my choice if it were to be printed on the front-page of a major newspaper?”