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Ethics Code

Introduction

Working as a journalist can be exciting, challenging, and fun. It is also a great responsibility. Because journalism plays a vital role in society, journalists need to carefully consider what they do and say.

No ethics code could cover every complication; this code considers only some major issues. Still, this will help: please read it carefully. And know that ethical problems can appear suddenly, without warning. If you find yourself in a tricky situation – uncertain what is the best, most ethical action – talk to your instructor.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is unfair and wrong and a cardinal sin of journalism. It is also an academic offense – for information on King’s academic policy, see the university calendar.

Plagiarism will be dealt with severely. Please be smart and self-respecting and do not present anyone else’s work as your own. Neither is it reasonable to present work that is substantially the same as work for which you have already received professional or academic credit.

Rewriting is not enough. Quotes, original ideas, and researched information (unless common knowledge) must be credited.

If in doubt, credit.

Freebies

Story subjects, P.R. firms, and others sometimes offer journalists free gifts, materials, services, or samples. Know that journalistic independence can be damaged by accepting free stuff.

If an unsolicited gift is received, return it immediately. If this is impractical, donate it to a homeless shelter, food bank, or some other recognized charity. (In rare circumstances, a small gift may be accepted if refusing to do so will be perceived as an insult. If you think this situation has arisen, explain it to your instructor.)

Free entrance to sporting events, movies, musical performances, etc. is okay if you are covering the event: it is access, not free stuff. (Access should be accepted only by the student reporter, not for any other person.) Free transportation to events, and/or hotel accommodation, are more than access and cannot be accepted. CDs and books may be kept if they are relevant to journalism that will be published or aired – for example, if you review the book or CD.

Food and drink can be tempting. If you are covering an event where a free meal is offered, try to arrange to interview the newsmaker without accepting the free meal. Generally speaking, accept only food or drink of minimal value. (A basic sandwich and coffee at a press conference may be okay; a sit-down dinner or fancy dessert is not.)

Conflicts of Interest

Please advise your instructor if there may be a conflict of interest – or perceived conflict of interest – between your work as a student journalist and your activities as a private citizen. Volunteer work, serving on a board, or being paid by an organization you are covering may all result in a real and/or perceived conflict of interest. Present or past allegiance to a person or organization may also need to be considered.

Also, as a general rule, avoid interviewing family and friends. News tips and story ideas from family and friends are valuable, but these people should not be quoted or the subject of your story. Ask an instructor to clarify any confusion.

Subjects and Sources

Treat all contacts, sources, and story subjects with respect. Always disclose, at the first point of contact, that you are a working journalist. If requested give your full name, and the contact information and name of your instructor.

Inform all sources that your work may be published in a variety of formats widely available to the public. Do not say that the story will appear only in a student publication or only in one specific publication, as interviews and material may be used in formats that cannot always be foreseen.

Do not lie about the nature of a story in order to obtain access. (Don’t say your angle is X if you know it is Y.) Also do not promise any source anonymity, or use an anonymous source, without approval of your instructor. Remuneration of any kind, in exchange for an interview or information, is never permitted.

If a source accuses a person or organization of wrongdoing, do not just report that. Go to the accused and ask for a response. The audience needs every side to a story.

Student journalists may be required to give their instructors and/or the director of the School the name and contact information of all sources used for a story or assignment.

Students may publish and/or link to publicly available contact information. However, students and instructors should not otherwise share source information, or contact information for sources, with anyone outside the School of Journalism, including other media, without the permission of a source and/or the director of the School of Journalism. If asked for information about sources, students should direct the inquiry to the director.

If a source wishes to see your work before it is published or goes to air, politely decline this request or discuss with your instructor. (It may be acceptable, in unusual circumstances, to read a source his or her quotes – but a source will never be allowed the power to change or kill copy.) If you seek to clarify technical definitions or a chronology of events, discuss how to proceed with your instructor.

Transparency

Staging: Staging and re-enactments are sometimes part of broadcast/online production. They should never fake emotion or pretend to be present for an important part of the story. Here are examples of the line between okay and not okay. It’s usually ethically okay to stage “wallpaper” – someone talking on the phone, or walking down a hall – both of which merely establish location. It is not okay to ask strikers to chant, or to pretend a voter who earlier lectured a politician is doing so now when your camera is rolling. Any scene dramatized for storytelling purposes must be clearly identified.

Asking permission to record: You don’t need permission to do your job at public and media events. In other circumstances, most people expect reporters to mention that they are recording audio and/or video. As a rule, follow this tradition. To do otherwise, get prior approval from your instructor beforehand. If you do attend an event and record surreptitiously, you must reveal and explain this to the viewing/listening audience.

There is no legal requirement for journalists to tell a source he or she is being recorded on the telephone, as long as the recording will not be broadcast. (If the source asks if you are recording, that must be revealed so the source is not misled.)

Going undercover: Do not misrepresent yourself as other than a King’s journalism student. In the rare, extreme case where misrepresentation is allowed, permission must be received – in writing – from both the course instructor and the journalism school director. In this rare case the audience needs to be told why no other means could have uncovered the information, and why this story is of crucial importance.

Disputes

All complaints and allegations of error need to be responded to, calmly and promptly. If a complaint or allegation is made, the course instructor must be informed.

In case information in a report is disputed, keep all material (documents, notes, recordings, etc.) for a minimum of six months from the assignment due date or date of airing or publication, whichever is later.

Online corrections & change requests

The school stands behind the content it publishes and aims to retain it as a historical record. We welcome readers’ efforts to correct factual errors in our stories; however, generally we will not “unpublish” stories or change content for any other reason. In rare circumstances, we will consider a request where the content of a story profoundly affects a person’s well being.

Online comment moderation

The school welcomes a respectful discussion of student-produced content. Faculty and student editors will not normally alter online comments. However, they will remove ones that are abusive, threatening or potentially libelous. The may also remove ones that are, in their judgment, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive to our audience.

Work seriously

Laziness is the crux of bad journalism. Don’t let overwork, fatigue, or other distractions lead you astray. Make that extra phone call, invest the extra hour in yet another rewrite. This is what is needed to tell the whole story as fully as possible, to do excellent work.

Courage

One key ingredient in all great journalism is courage. Journalists stand up to power, search out the nuance of truth, and reveal to the audience how and why stories are delivered.

This is not easy work, and it takes many fine qualities. Among these, do not underestimate courage.

Be human

Work hard to overcome the common tendency to regard people of different races, religions, socio-economic classes, ages, sexual orientation, or gender as “other.” To serve the full community it’s best to develop a perspective that is unbiased and fair-minded. Consider your fears, and work to move beyond them.

Serving the greater good will at times cause pain to some; this is unavoidable. Know, though, that being a journalist does not give you permission to be haughty, unfeeling, or mean. Minimize harm when possible. Bring compassion to your work. Be human.

 

Posted: November 27, 2011, 7:18 pm ADT
Modified: August 19, 2016, 8:46 am ADT