A customized ethics code for every organization

Team | Other Codes

The “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project grew out of an open workshop at the Online News Association annual conference in Atlanta in October 2013, where journalists expressed a need for codes that fit the world we live in and report on, and the tools we use.

Aimed at helping news organizations, small startups and individual bloggers create codes of ethics for our digital times, the project has involved the work of more than 20 journalists and journalism educators over two years. The project has also been crowdsourced for comments, bringing suggestions from all over the world.

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.

Our “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project recognizes that no single ethics code can reflect the needs of everyone in our widely varied profession. We believe the best hope for convincing all journalists to adopt and live by an ethics code is to give them ownership and flexibility in creating one.

After laying out the fundamentals we believe should apply to all journalists (e.g. tell the truth, don’t plagiarize, promptly correct errors), this project offers a set of specific “building blocks” that let you customize the remainder of the code.

Once you’ve worked through the site, you should have a comprehensive, personalized statement of how you see journalism ethics — a code that can be publicly posted and lived by.

Even if you don’t create a full code from this website, we hope that looking through it will spark discussions of the most important ethical issues for your organization. We also encourage you to look beyond our building blocks to the sources we consulted in the course of this project and to the much wider range of codes throughout the world of journalism.

We know that given the political and financial pressures many news organizations face — along with ethical challenges that are often difficult to anticipate — complying perfectly with any ethics code is not easy. Still, we believe it’s important to have a code as a guiding star. Even if journalists feel forced to violate their code, a code often makes it clear that they’re being asked to act contrary to their principles. In cases like this, some collective bargaining agreements recognize a “clause of conscience” that allows journalists to leave their jobs with some form of compensation if they feel their organizations’ ethical principles are being violated.

Writing and posting an ethics code doesn’t solve every issue. Whatever you proclaim about your beliefs, the ultimate test remains how you behave over time and the reliability of what you report.

In whatever way you end up using this project, we hope you’ll find our work useful. We encourage you to help us continue improving this project.

Thomas Kent
Leader, ONA ethics code project

This is a project of ONA’s News Ethics Committee. Funding was provided through a generous grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.