Top Five Interesting Ethics Codes for New Media

26 Sep

“Interesting” can be a bit of a loaded word. Too often, it’s used when someone can’t think of anything more specific, or nicer, to say about the subject in question. Merriam-Webster says something that’s “interesting” is supposed to hold my attention… Still, I’m not sure that classics like “That’s an interesting outfit you’re wearing” convey an appropriately positive interpretation of this adjective.

I set out to find new media ethics codes that defy the way that “interesting” is used all too often today. The list below contains new media guidelines that earned my respect; these are the codes that stood out from the rest of my Google search in a good way. These are the guidelines that caused me to wonder, “Why didn’t anyone else say that?” or “Why haven’t I thought about ___ this way before?” These are the new media ethics codes that made me go “Hmm,” “Wow,” and/or “Huh?” I hope that they’ll hold your attention, too.

  1. NPR’s Social Media Guidelines – NPR won me over, once again, with their clear, intelligent wording. Their social media guidelines tell us, point-blank, why they exist. I’m a journalist; it’s my job to figure out why something is important, and I respect such disclosure immensely when I find it. Also, some of my fellow journalists feel that their actions, both on- and off-line, are harshly restricted by such codes… At least these guidelines offer some explanation, instead of a generic paragraph about how the times are a-changin’ and a list of rules on appropriate Facebook behavior. “The line between private and public activity has been blurred by these tools, which is why we are providing guidance now.” Thank you, NPR.
  2. The Food Blog Code of Ethics – I’m a big reader of food blogs, but that’s not why this code made the list. These guidelines were written by food bloggers who wanted an ethics code, but “couldn’t find any that already existed.” I love the initiative that they took. I love that they defied the stereotype of bloggers not being “real reporters” by holding themselves to high standards regardless of their medium. I love that these girls didn’t expect anyone else to follow along, and, perhaps most of all, I love how many people talked and blogged and buzzed about their ethics code anyway. This is one example of how social media can create fascinating conversations and can make for better journalism in the long run. So much for the Internet making us stupid.
  3. RTDNA’s Social Media and Blogging GuidelinesThese guidelines truly embody the spirit of social media: They not only provide a set of standards, but also pose questions and encourage discussion in the newsroom about various ethical dilemmas. RTDNA’s guidelines follow the same basic principles as many others — be accurate, be fair — but the approach of encouraging those responsible for following such guidelines to discuss them is wonderfully different. Instead of jokingly telling newcomers not to be a jerk, or that plagiarism is bad, we should discuss what it means to be a good reporter. We ought to acknowledge that new media might mean new ways of operating as journalists, and we ought to talk about it.
  4. Reuters’ guidelines, “Reporting from the internet – For big news organizations, social media guidelines are usually an addendum to an original code of ethics. Given that this is new media we’re talking about, not the centuries-old medium of print, that makes sense. Still, I appreciate how Reuters’ guide to online reportage begins with the basics, the ethical approaches and moral guidelines that shouldn’t vary depending on a reporter’s medium. These guidelines for using social media (with, I’ll admit, a bit of an odd focus on Twitter) have a clear mindset: Honesty is the guiding principle. Some might disagree with the stance on Wikipedia in this code of conduct, but I respect Reuters’ insistence that the online encyclopedia shouldn’t be used as a source because it falls in line with the entire statement’s focus on truthfulness and responsibility. Their mix of old and new is laudable.
  5. A Blogger’s Code of Ethics – This set of principles made my previous list of noteworthy ethics codes, too. I found many others — from big publications like the Los Angeles Times, and from other bloggers like Rebecca Blood — but I like this one too much to set it aside. It’s clear, concise, and focused on integrity and honesty; it treats bloggers with the same respect as more traditional reporters; it encourages discussion. Anyone publishing online can read it, understand it, and join the conversation about what it means to be a new media journalist. I also appreciate that it’s based on the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics code. Both’s respect for the world from whence online reportage came, and its insistence on making the future credible, appeal to me.

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