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Ethical Journalism

Journalists write about things which increase readership in their given area of expertise, or newsworthy items of interest to the public. Where then is the line drawn between ethical and unethical reporting?

It’s a very hard deciding point, although one which can be addressed in a commonsense manner, bearing in mind the restraints which the law puts upon journalists, and the consequences of inaccurate and unethical presentation of newsworthy items.

*Reputation of the publication.

*Deciding between freedom of speech and lack of ethics.

*The public right to know.

*Working within set parameters and guidelines.

*Individual rights.

*Selling your soul to get a story, at any cost.

Reputation of the publication.

One of the first considerations a journalist has to be aware of is that the publication for which they report has their reputation to protect. When taking a look at popular press, it is easy to see why some publications are considered more serious than others. The reporting style and accuracy of a publication helps them to gain status as a reliable source of information.

This is vital to the reputation of the particular news outlet, and where journalists cross lines, they put the reputation of their chosen publication at risk. Although much is controlled by editorial staff, a journalist who crosses the boundaries and cannot back up their stories with sufficient background proof or substantiation also crosses the line between ethical and unethical reporting.

Freedom of speech.

Although it is popular to believe that freedom of speech exists in different countries across the world, the extent of that freedom has to be limited by common sense and the responsibility of journalists. Freedom of speech can be harmful. Placed in a situation of trust, those reporting instances of interest have to weigh the balance between keeping the public informed and telling them too much. Unethical reporting can have consequences, and the responsibility of the journalist is to produce news which does not cause harm or incite the public based on individual opinion.

The public right to know.

Although many believe that the public have a right to be informed, journalists have to again weigh the balance between accurate reporting and over-reporting. Not all knowledge is helpful to the public, and often discretion needs to be exercised in keeping the public informed while limiting what they need to know. For example, if reporting without this restraint, the consequences could be public unrest and public reaction to a stimuli which may or may not be substantiated.

Although many situations may seem clear cut, and journalists want to get the news onto the news stand, what invariably happens when the public right to know is ignored is that the public can be misinformed simply because the full facts are not reported or known at the time of publication. It is an ethical consideration to report accurately, and often the accuracy of a situation is only apparent as the story unfolds.

Telling the public about things which may incite hatred, public reaction or assumption all have to be considered by a responsible journalist. It serves little purpose to incite riot.

Working within set parameters and guidelines.

A journalist will be expected to work within guidelines which help them to maintain the standards required by a publication. Step outside of these guidelines and occasionally the publication will take a risk, seeing the approach as innovative, though this is rare. The responsibility of the journalist is to respect the guidelines given by the publication they write for, as these have been established for the very reason of maintaining standards acceptable to that publication.

Individual rights.

The rights of an individual should always be respected. If a journalistic approach puts an individual’s life or livelihood at risk, then every piece of information reported should be substantiated, as it is the journalist’s responsibility to provide accurate information based on fact. Often facts are distorted and it is within this distortion that journalists cross the line between ethical reporting and distorted reporting. Selling your soul to get a story, at any cost.

Journalism is demonstrated in media such as movies and television shows as an adventure into seeking the best story. This isn’t the way in which professional journalists work in general. The substantiation of work provided for a publication comes first and foremost, and those who cross boundaries into sensationalism do so at the risk of their professional reputation. Often, it is not the newspaper who broke the news in the first place which demonstrates the best coverage of an event, or who will be remembered for that coverage.

Ethical coverage often takes time, since the journalist will be able to cite sources and be sure that what they are presenting is factual, rather than speculative. The ethics surrounding reporting are vital to the end product.

Those who report in a speculative manner fail to sustain their professionalism, and put the publication’s reputation at risk, making them less desirable as employable assets. Just as sources are important, so is the attention to detail. The question of how the news item or article will affect the public or what would be the consequences of that particular presentation are vital to the success of a journalist and their reputation as an ethical source of information.

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