By definition, ethics is the moral principles that govern a person's or group's behavior. It's rules of behavior based on ideas that are good or bad. Various journalism societies have established ethic codes. These ethic codes list numerous values journalists should practice; and that's the key word- should. They aren't enforced by a governing body. There are no laws that force journalists to act ethically. In order for a journalist to have a good set of ethics they need to do ethics in their every day work.
The Common Code
Like mentioned above, various journalism societies have established ethic codes. But other communication fields such as advertising and public relations have codes as well. Each of these fields are similar; they construe messages to mass amounts of people. However their intentions are just different enough that one would think the ethic codes created by these societies would be different. However that isn't the case.
Most of these professional societies understand they're reaching a lot of people. So telling an accurate truth is one of the most important values found in these ethic codes. Another common thread was the idea of not deceiving the audience. Whether it's with a news story that's really an ad or not admitting the whole truth during a press release, deception leaves people feeling lied to and not trusting in the media.
Despite this common thread in ethic codes, a PEW study revealed, journalists and advertisers are ranked as some of the least trusted professions. People also believed these professions to have some of the lowest ethical standards.
Practice Makes Perfect
Many ethic codes are guidelines, not rules. There aren't enough resources to penalize every journalist who acts unethically. Furthermore there is no sole definition of ethics. There are various codes with similar definitions of ethics, but no single definition.
But by having these common ethic codes that rank truth and transparency so high, hopefully the public begins to trust media professionals again. But in order to gain that trust back, journalists, advertisers, etc. need to practice those ethics every day.
In order to do that professionals need to go beyond just reporting the facts. Professionals must analyze and think critically about the story they're putting out. They must distinguish between opinions and provide insightful analysis to the public. Professionals also need to be able to connect to the audience by reaching them through their channels of communication such as social media and mobile devices.
If journalists show their dedication and practice ethics in their stories and make a conscious effort to connect with their audience, the audience will notice and begin to change their minds.