Thursday, April 7, 2011

Modern Media’s Morale

Catherine Caldwell

“Truth is like the sun. You can shut it out for a time, but it ain't goin' away.” Elvis Presley

Ethical standards are an issue in all professional arenas. Whether one is a nurse, lawyer, schoolteacher or journalist, he or she will be held to a higher standard of character in a specialized field, due to a job title. Each job entails its own set of rules governing expected behavior. Yet journalists, in particular, are under immense pressure for their ability to portray (and sway) public opinion – especially in an era of quick and constant communication.

Amidst a world of endlessly streaming tweets, a journalist’s core function is still to produce news, and news inevitability has the power to influence. The way information is presented or worded can positively or negatively skew someone’s viewpoint, which is why reporters are under strict scrutiny for ethical standards.

But what does it mean to be ethical in 2011 anyway? Should codes of ethics require the minimum standards, or hold news gathers and communications experts to idealized codes of behavior? How does social media come into play?

While opinions vary, how best to revise journalistic and related codes of ethics is up to debate. It comes as no surprise that, just as each job has its specific set of standards, each specialized area of communication, too, follows its own set of rules.

A common theme of truth and accuracy in the presentation of information are apparent in the AAF, SPJ, PRSA, RTDNA, ONA and NPPA codes of ethics. While the objectives of journalism and public relations, for example, may differ, a core foundation of honesty transcends all codes.

In my opinion, now is the time to revisit and revise the ethics codes, due to the rising importance of social media in our society. Addressing ethical issues on the Internet throws a curve ball to the traditional means of monitoring transparency in journalism, because it is much easier for the truth to surface in a world of iPhones and BlackBerrys constantly producing social media content. With Photoshop and the rise of the “citizen journalist,” it is especially important for professionally trained media moguls to stay on their toes and abide by ethical standards for job security reasons.

The Media Helping Media article “Editorial Ethics for Twitter Journalists” addresses some of the issues facing Twitter journalists, while the article “Twitter: tweeting louder than ever,” discusses the social site’s future role and influence.

It is striking to me how similar the Twitter "code" of ethics was to that of SPJ and RTDNA, etc. Claiming, “Editorial ethics are at the heart of all good journalism,” the article stressed the importance of accuracy, impartiality, fairness, integrity and privacy over Twitter: all values at the heart of journalism.

Similar standards also surfaced in the codes of ethics for print, online, photojournalism, advertising and public relations after my initial analysis. While all codes were unique, a cornerstone of truth was present in each.

Social media’s role is still evolving and growing, but I believe its influence on altering ethical codes should be kept to a minimum. Honesty and information provided through well formulated research should always remain the key to success in journalism, whether it be a ten-page magazine article or a 140-character tweet.

Don’t be another statistic: "Journalists do not live by words alone, although sometimes they have to eat them." Adlai E. Stevenson

Want to learn more? In addition to each society’s code, the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation’s website also provides an online community and resources to other industry advocates.

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