Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Ethical Codes in the New Era of Media

Adam McCauley

With the ever-evolving advancement of the digital age, many professions have been forced to alter their practices in order to adapt. Maintaining a brand and curating an online presence has become essential whether you're a prominent individual or a business of any size. The rise of online journalism has given a voice to many who had never spoken, with a side effect being a renewed focus on the ethics of journalism.

Codes Across Careers

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) is one of the larger organizations whose code of ethics provides a base framework for making decisions as any form of a journalist. Codes similar to this one can be found for many professional organizations as it pertains to them. For public relations and advertising pros, organizations like the Institute for Advertising Ethics and the Public Relations Society of America (PRSA) provide ethical codes that cover similar ground as the SPJ's.

Common Ground #ad

Recently online journalism has reached the point where the lines can become blurred between featured and sponsored content. Whether you are a journalist of some form or work in PR or advertising, all related ethical codes highlight the importance of honest advertising. For many blogs and websites, sponsored articles may take the form of regular articles, this makes it imperative for sites to distinguish the difference before it hurts their credibility.

Personal Conflict

More so than any other professions, those in the media have a greater responsibility to keep their personal feelings private in order to maintain credibility. For example, a reporter sharing political views on social media reveals a bias that could cause an audience to lose trust in their reporting, regardless of content. 

Similarly, PR and advertising pros can be affected by being too forthright with their personal views if it could affect standing with a client. Separating personal and professional views is one of many acts that those in the media need to balance.

Leading Language

Yesterday Paul Klugman published an opinion piece in the New York Times discussing media coverage in the 2016 election. The piece gained attention for seemingly calling out the media, and their ethics in regards to how they can shape the narrative in an election. The SPJ code of ethics and others highlighted the need to report facts and let the readers make decisions from there. Klugman hit on this when urging reporters to report facts and not promote innuendo or rhetoric. He warns of phrases like "raising questions" and "creates shadows," as they are leading phrases that can make something innocent seem problematic.


Codes of ethics are not like laws where someone can get in trouble for violating the code. The SPJ code is voluntary and meant more as a resource for ethical decision making. On top of that, enforcing a code of ethics for any organization with many potential members would be a logistical nightmare to implement. A membership organization like the PRSA can suspend membership if there is a clear code violation from a member. Being a critical media consumer is essential to creating and viewing content.

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