Building and using your customized ethics code
Welcome to ONA’s Build Your Own Ethics Code. If this is your first visit, consider browsing the various sections of the site to get a feel for how the project works. When you’re ready to start building your own code, follow the steps below.
If you run into questions as you navigate the site and build your code, visit our FAQ page, which provides additional tips.
- Create an account. Doing so allows you to save, edit and share your code.
- Once you have an account, we’ll ask you to review and accept our journalism fundamentals, those principles we believe should apply to all journalists and be part of every code.
- Next, you’ll want to consider whether your journalism is impartial or point-of-view. The section titled “The nature of your journalism” will help you make that determination. Remember that you’ll need to click “save and continue” on each page as you add content or make changes.
- From there, visit the specific modules that let you customize the remainder of your code. You can engage with all of the modules or just those that apply to the work you do. The 45+ modules are organized into seven categories: Financing your Journalism, Multimedia and Data, Organizational Policies, Professional Conduct, Reporting Issues, Social Concerns, and Writing and Editing.
- In each module, we introduce a specific issue and then offer arguments that represent the various perspectives on it. Once you’ve read them, click on the “Ethical Choices” link to select statements from the list we provide. You can also edit the statements or write ones that more precisely reflect your own views. In several modules, we also include a link to best practices relating to the issue.
- You don’t have to create your code all in one session. Save your work as you go, so you can always go back and revise your code. Just remember to sign in at each visit, and click “save and continue” each time you make changes.
Once you have worked through the site, you should have a comprehensive, personalized code that easily can be shared.
When your code is ready, you should make publicly transparent who participated in — or bears responsibility for — its creation, as well as whose conduct the code binds: just the journalists at your news organization, or everyone who works there.
Please help us continue to improve this project by posting questions or comments at the link on this site or by writing us at firstname.lastname@example.org. Once your code is complete, we encourage you to return at least annually to see additional material we’ve added.
Below are some thoughts that may help guide you as you think through ethical issues.
The process of ethical deliberation
Ethics codes are important in helping guide daily practice; on an ordinary day — if there is such a thing in journalism — journalists should find it easier to comply with the various pieces of the code. However, when it comes to tough ethical issues, ethics codes are only part of what should be a robust process of ethical reflection and dialogue in every newsroom.
When you confront an ethical issue, you should bring multiple tools to the decision-making process. The ethics code is key, but so is the wisdom you’ve gained through your own experiences, the insights others can provide and a clear framework for working through ethical questions.
In fact, a framework that has dialogue and deliberation built into it is essential in cases that involve tough ethical calls.
One relatively simple framework walks you through a process that is, ideally, conducted as a dialogue with others at your organization (or you could use Bob Steele’s 10 questions to make good ethical decisions):
- What is the issue? What’s creating the ethical concern?
- Who are the stakeholders we need to consider? In other words, who will likely be affected by the decision we make?
- What clauses from our code of ethics — or other guiding documents — can inform deliberation on the issue?
- What consequences (for stakeholders and beyond) can you predict might occur from different decisions we might make?
- Have we encountered cases like this in the past? What did we learn?
- What else, if anything, do we need to consider?
- Once we’ve made our decision, how will we justify it, particularly to those who disagree with us?
You’ll find links to other, more specific frameworks in some of the individual modules of the ethics code project.