The Ten Commandments of Journalism

The Ten Commandments of Journalism

  1. When approaching any ethical concern or dilemma, above all else strive for these three qualities:
    • Truthfulness/Honesty – This should be your first practice when it comes to reporting. Without truth, you cannot be successful in this line of work.
    • Independence – You work for your readers/viewers first, so think of them first when making tough decisions. Your newspaper or station may pay your bills, but your audience benefits most from your work.
    • Compassion – There’s probably a good reason films and television so often depict reporters as slimy, fast-talking hounds dead set on getting the scoop before anyone else. Lack of empathy might be one of the biggest factors in the largely unfavorable view.
  2. Reporting is a privilege, not a right. Don’t do anything to compromise the integrity of that privilege (plagiarism, falsification, sensationalism).
  3. Never pay, or get paid (beyond your working salary) for your words. Sponsorships and paid content straddle the line between journalism and public relations. Make sure you stay firmly on one side of that line.
  4. Objectivity is an ideal but rarely a possibility. Be fair, be honest, be balanced to an appropriate extent but understand that total neutrality is not always a good thing.
  5. Whenever publicly representing your paper, website or program, make sure that you adhere to the standards you would in your work. For example, if you were to appear on a TV show or do a talk for a university, be as professional as you would in your reporting – don’t say anything you wouldn’t write. Understand that with press credentials comes great responsibility.
  6. Know the difference between on the record, off the record and deep background, and honor them. If a source wishes to be kept confidential, you should not disclose their identity to anyone except in certain extreme circumstances. Compromising such relationships can greatly harm your credibility moving forward.
  7. Strive for accountability in the subjects you cover, as well as your own organization. Be unafraid to go after corrupt politicians but equally unafraid to expose corruption within (suspect reporters, poor practices, editors bowing to advertising pressures).
  8. Engage with your audience when you can. Own up to mistakes and fix them, and try and recognize the comments your readers/viewers give. Perhaps consider providing a glimpse of your reporting process on social media to give the public an inside look.
  9. Trust your gut feeling. Of course, when faced with a massive problem you should absolutely make an informed and well thought out decision… but also listen to your instincts. More often than not, you’ll find they can align with your critical thinking assessment.
  10. Check, double check and triple check everything you publish. Remember grammar, spelling and AP Style guidelines. It’s the details that count and a polished product is what you should strive for as an accredited member of the press (because the internet will already have beaten you for speed regardless).

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