A Journalists’ Code of Ethics: Applied to Online Journalism

The Journalism Code of Ethics is very important in all news outlets, including online journalism. It is obviously impossible to control what happens on the Internet, however, if online journalists want to be taken seriously they must still abide by some rules. A journalist can’t just publish whatever he or she wants and call it ‘newsworthy.’ Fortunately for all you online journalist, there are a few principles that help separate the good writers and publishers from the frauds and con artists online.

Here are a few online journalism codes to follow, provided by the Online Journalism Review:

1. No plagiarism

This may seem like the simplest rule, but you’d be surprised how easy it is to plagiarize on the Internet. To put it in raw terms…You wouldn’t want someone else stealing something you worked hard on and passing it off as his or her own. So don’t do it to others! Plagairsm is stealing. With the Web, plagiarism does not just apply to print and cutting and pasting articles. It also applies to copying photos, graphics, video and putting them on your website without citing a source. If you want to reference something on another website, it is best to link to it. It also doesn’t hurt to give readers the name of the publication that published the page and its date of publication.

2. Disclose

Tell your readers how you got your information, and why you chose to publish your content. Describe your personal or professional connection to people or groups you’re writing about. Readers deserve to know what has influenced the way you reported or wrote a story. It’s important not to hide from your readers. Tell them who you work for, or where the money to support your site comes from. If your site runs advertising, label the ads as such. This will only gain your readers’ trust!

3. Do not accept gifts or money for coverage

To avoid any sort of conflicts of interest, it is best to refuse all gifts or money from sources you may cover. Journalists who accept gifts or money from someone they write a story about, open themselves up to the belief that their work is a paid advertisement. You don’t want readers thinking that you are not being honest. If offered a gift, just politely decline.

Some major news organizations do allow their writers to accept free admission to events for the purpose of writing a feature or review. But journalists should deny anything else from such groups, such as free travel and hotel rooms.

Some companies also send items such as books and DVDs to writers who review them. These items can be returned, or even donated.

When writing about an employer, let readers know your relationship. Identify yourself as an employee, so people know can make their own judgment about your credibility.

The same rules apply in the other direction. Journalists should NEVER ask for anything in return for writing a story. If your website or blog runs ads, do not solicit people or groups you cover to buy ads or sponsorships on your site.

Although the world of the Internet and ethics may seem tricky, just following a few simple rules will help online journalists become more credible and respected. Just by tweaking a few things here and there, a Code of Ethics for Online Journalism such as this one can serve as a good guide.

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  1. Nice refresher. I developed a personal code of ethics a while back, but this was a nice way to remember some of the things I don’t read back over on a daily (or even weekly) basis.

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