What is the nature of your journalism?
An important step in writing your ethics code is deciding what type of journalist or organization you want to be and what type of journalism you will be performing. Consider how you answer these two questions:
- Is your journalism impartial or point-of-view?
- Are your journalists independent or involved?
We discuss both questions here briefly, concluding with some ethical choices for you to consider and choose from for your ethics code. Separate longer essays may help you in deciding which kind of organization you are and considering how that decision influences your journalism and your ethics (see Impartial or point-of-view, by Tom Kent, and Independent or involved?, by Steve Buttry – also linked from the following page).
Impartial or point-of-view?
The traditional approach for most of journalism in recent decades has been to maintain an impartial approach in news coverage (often described as being “objective”). This approach requires reporters avoid expressing opinions and attempt to present factual accounts that show no bias on the part of the reporter. Organizations practicing impartial journalism often have a separate opinion operation, with editorial writers, cartoonists and columnists who express opinions freely, separated from the news operation.
In recent years, other news operations have reported from a particular political position, such as Fox News from a conservative viewpoint and Talking Points Memo from a liberal position in the United States. Other organizations don’t take a particular position themselves, but encourage their journalists to be transparent about their own political views when they report.
Independent or involved?
Traditional journalism in recent decades has valued independence from advertisers, sources and organizations they cover. These organizations believe their independence protects their integrity and credibility.
Some non-traditional news organizations and journalists have decided that involvement with the organizations, people and issues they cover is not only acceptable, but essential. Bloggers covering neighborhoods, sports teams and parenting issues unabashedly promote their neighborhoods, cheer (or boo) teams and tell stories about their own children. On a larger scale, organizations involved in newsworthy issues have started to produce their own journalism, either to fill a gap left by shrinking traditional news organizations or to counter coverage they consider biased or insufficient.
While these two decisions — impartial or point-of-view and independent or involved — are related, each is a separate decision and doesn’t necessarily dictate the other. Most impartial news organizations will likely choose to be independent. But a news organization started by an involved non-profit in a particular field, such as health, could decide that the journalism it wants to do is news coverage, not opinion. So it might choose to take an impartial approach. Or a liberal news organization could be open about its opinions but still maintain independence from liberal organizations and politicians, figuring that will help it maintain credibility and hold them accountable.