Journalists hold a massive responsibility in sharing news, and sharing it with care. It’s crucial for a journalist to know a code of ethics, and to follow that code their whole career. By reporting under a code of ethics, a journalist will gain respect from other journalists, sources, and their followers.
When starting out in journalism, one might not know too much about ethics and how to go about sharing news in a professional manner. Thinking about some of the morals I go by when broadcasting sports and sharing information about the team’s I cover, I took a look at the Radio Television Digital News Association’s (RTDNA) and the Society of Professional Journalist’s (SPJ) code of ethics to see if they too go by the same rules as myself, and they do. Although I go by more rules than the ones listed, these codes are great to start out with before finally building your own code of ethics.
1. “Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.” – SPJ
In the world of sports broadcasting, and the world of journalism as a whole, this code is super important because when you deal with sources, they can trust you with the information they give you. I take this code very seriously because being around coaches and athletes all day, you learn a lot about certain individuals and who they are off the athletic playing field.
As a journalist, you have to keep your eyes peeled and ears open all the time, but know what to share and know what to keep quiet. What do you keep under the table and what do you openly share to the public? Here’s my rule, if a player or coach says it while they know they’re on record, it is alright to be shared and to be turned into a story. Once you turn off the record button, everything they say is off limits. If you think that what they said afterward will put more value to the story, ask them if it’s alright to publish it.
“Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.” If coach wants to take his wife out to dinner tonight, or if an athlete is having girlfriend issues, don’t tweet that. Being a student broadcaster and dealing with college athletes my age, sometimes I have “run-ins” with these athletes on weekends off campus. It isn’t my business who’re they’re with, what they’re doing, and where they’re going. These kids have lives too, and if my Twitter or any kind of publishing platform has information about these kids’ personal lives on it, will anyone want to talk to me at media day? No. Unless there’s legal trouble involved, it isn’t my job to ask, just say hello, how are you, and move on.
2. “Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.” – SPJ
This moral code can be a struggle for young sportswriters/broadcasters, because the need for information and the inside scoop is always trying to be uncovered. We see this with Ohio State’s current quarterback situation here, journalists have been asking for weeks about the QB situation, but Meyer refuses to name who it’ll be. Journalists and fans alike have been begging for this answer, so bugging head coach Urban Meyer while he’s out getting a chicken tenders at Kane’s would be intrusive and and discomforting for him.
Also, if a player is struggling or has had a bad stretch of games, don’t be the reporter to handle it in an arrogant and rude manner. Especially at the college level, the athletes don’t get paid, so why criticize kids who play for the love of the game? At the professional level, it’s a little bit more accepted, but still, never be the one to create moments like these:
3. “Truth and accuracy above all.” – RTDNA
The most important thing in any kind of journalism. Tell the truth, and be as accurate as possible. There’s nothing the audience hates more than a lying journalist. Being dishonest will also hurt the relationship with your sources, who give you the information in the first place! If the starting quarterback throws five interceptions, don’t sugar coat him over the air, tell the listeners he struggled, because they won’t respect you for not telling the truth. Don’t bash the quarterback, and tell everyone he stinks and shouldn’t play football again, because that’s just ignorant. If he throws five interceptions, that’s not good, tell the listener that he faced struggles tonight. Why? Because it’s true!
If it’s accurate, tell it. One thing with criticism in sports is that it has to be reasonable and constructive. A starting point guard who’s shooting 20% from the field shouldn’t be playing, or at least shouldn’t be shooting because it’s harming the team’s offense. Tell the truth, even if it’s not what the fans want to hear. Is the team thinking about trading the fans’ favorite point guard? If so, release that information, even if you might get backlash for posting it. If I didn't convince you enough about how important telling the truth is in journalism, maybe MediaHelpingMedia.org can convince you.
All in all, these are just some morals that SPJ and RTDNA have posted that I agree with and follow. Do your job to get the information, but be understanding of the real person behind the coach and the athlete. Don’t be pushy, don’t be arrogant and be the broadcaster that they can trust.