What’s changed in the area of journalism ethics? Quite a bit if the new RTDNA Code of Ethics is any indication. In the news release, RTDNA indicated that the code was last revised 15 years ago, with this latest version taking a year and a half to develop.
“During 18 months of work, RTDNA’s Ethics Committee considered search, social media, ‘native’ content and other important changes in the way news is produced, distributed and consumed.”
The first tenet of the code — “Truth and accuracy above all” — clearly recognizes the 24/7, social media-driven news world journalists live in today with these two bullets:
o “Trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media” may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.
o Facts change over time. Responsible reporting includes updating stories and amending archival versions to make them more accurate and to avoid misinforming those who, through search, stumble upon outdated material.
An increased focus on transparency is made evident by the headline for the second tenet — “Independence and transparency” — with three bullet points devoted to the idea that financial pressures are tougher than ever for news organizations.
o Editorial independence may be a more ambitious goal today than ever before. Media companies, even if not-for-profit, have commercial, competitive and other interests – both internal and external — from which the journalists they employ cannot be entirely shielded. Still, independence from influences that conflict with public interest remains an essential ideal of journalism. Transparency provides the public with the means to assess credibility and to determine who deserves trust.
o Acknowledging sponsor-provided content, commercial concerns or political relationships is essential, but transparency alone is not adequate. It does not entitle journalists to lower their standards of fairness or truth.
o Effectively explaining editorial decisions and processes does not mean making excuses. Transparency requires reflection, reconsideration and honest openness to the possibility that an action, however well intended, was wrong.
The issue of privacy was recognized in a more comprehensive way in this newest code, with the third tenet — “Accountability for consequences” – indicating that preserving privacy needs to be “balanced against the importance or urgency of reporting.”
Just for fun, we created two word clouds of the old and the new codes. The 2015 code is featured in the image at the top of this post, the 2000 version (pdf) is below. Missing from the old version, words like “responsible” and “transparency,” “commercial” and “audience” — all signs of changing times for journalism ethics.