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Journalism is a powerful -- and fascinating -- profession because it explains the world by sharing people's everyday lives, thoughts and feelings. But there is an enormous responsibility that comes with this kind of work: one bad journalist can damage the reputation of all journalists, and each time a Stephen Glass or Janet Cooke becomes the news by faking the news, all journalists have a much harder time telling people's stories.
Journalists and journalism groups pride themselves on their codes of ethics, the guidelines we use to help solve problems in the gray areas where what's right is not immediately clear. Here are a few of the best codes of ethics available online:
The Society of Professional Journalists:
The New York Times Ethical Journalism Guidebook:
National Public Radio's Code of Ethics and Practices:
The bedrock of mainstream journalism is a dedication to "fairness" or "balance." But in this day of "papers of record" playing politics with their stories, with Fox News distorting the meaning of "balance" and the rise of often highly partisan blogs, it becomes even more important for alternative or independent journalism to be forthright about our perspective and create reliable, accurate journalism that can provide an antidote to the hidden and not-so-hidden biases of the mainstream media.
With that in mind, here are some basic principles WireTap writers are expected to follow:
Honesty: do not deceive sources about your publication and/or your intentions.
Fairness: this is different than "balance," wherein news reporters quote or include the opposing viewpoint regardless of whether there is any reasonable support for that viewpoint. A perfect case in point is global warming, where many articles quoted a global warming skeptic long beyond the point when scientific consensus was reached on the topic.
Accuracy: You are solely responsible for presenting the facts about your story in a truthful manner. Test the accuracy of information from all sources, including from progressive leaders and activists. Diligently seek out subjects of news stories -- including public officials and local police departments -- and give them the opportunity to respond to allegations.
Diversity: Make media that are representative of the diversity of your community. Always make an effort to include as your sources youth, women, and people of color, whose voices are not present enough in the mainstream media.
Respect: Differing viewpoints are just that: points of view. As important as disagreeing with a point of view is, there is no cause to disrespect another human being.
Conflicts of Interest: We believe that activists and commentators can also be fair and accurate reporters, but we ask of everyone to disclose all potential conflicts of interest -- the organizations a writer has worked for, volunteered for, or promoted, as well as activism in areas that he or she may be writing in. It is important in allowing readers to understand the beliefs that a writer brings to a story.
If you have suggestions for our evolving Code of Ethics, please email them to Tools@WireTapMag.org.