Handbook of Independent Journalism (7-End) : Ethics and Law

The reporter who has an exclusive story may want to rush it into print before any one else gets it, but he also needs to consider the possible consequences.

What if the story turns out to be wrong? Journalists should not sacrifice their ethical values to achieve other objectives, such as beating the competition.

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For journalists, the most basic responsibility in a free society is to report the news accurately and fairly.

The next step after defining the problem is to collect more information to help you make a good decision. Consult newsroom policies and guidelines, if any exist, and talk to others about the dilemma.

Begin with colleagues and supervisors in the newsroom, but don’t stop there. It’s often useful to include other voices, people who are not directly involved in the story but who are knowledgeable about the circumstances.

It’s important to note that journalists, unlike doctors, are not expected to promise to do no harm. Many truthful and important stories will hurt people’s feelings or reputations.

It’s inevitable. But journalists do try to minimize the harm by not putting people at unnecessary risk.

Bob Steele, who teaches journalism ethics at The Poynter Institute, likes to ask: “What if the roles were reversed? How would I feel?”

Let’s say a reporter has discovered a factory where boys under the age of 12 work 10 hours a day, six days a week, and are paid less than half the country’s minimum wage.

The country’s constitution prohibits employers from hiring anyone under 14 and it is illegal for anyone to work more than 45 hours a week.

Finding the factory means the reporter has proof of child exploitation, but what more does he need to know before publishing or broadcasting the story?

Telling the truth about the factory would certainly have consequences, and some of them could be hurtful.

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