When faced with this kind of story, it can be helpful to create a list of people and institutions that might be affected by the story and to consider the impact the story might have.
The story about the factory would affect the boys directly, of course, but it would also affect their families and the factory owner.
Knowing the possible consequences, journalists can begin to look at alternatives for presenting the information so the story remains truthful but does not cause as much harm.
In the case of the factory, the journalist might decide to use photos of the children but not to name them, in an effort to limit the potential harm the story could cause.
That’s just one example of a journalistic decision that can have ethical consequences. Others include the type and placement of the coverage, as well as its tone.
The impact of a front-page story with a banner headline and a large photograph is considerably greater than a smaller story that runs on an inside page.
A television story that is promoted multiple times before it airs would have more impact, and therefore greater ethical consequences, than a story told once in the middle of a newscast.
Going through a process to make good ethical decisions puts journalists and news organizations in a position to justify their actions clearly.
By explaining what was done and why, journalists are able to bolster their credibility and justify the public’s trust in them.
Newsrooms that value ethical decision-making make sure these kinds of issues are discussed, and not just when a dilemma occurs. Some newsrooms hold regular meetings to discuss what they would do in hypothetical situations.
Journalists who practice listening with an open mind and who keep their emotions in check and avoid becoming inflexible about their positions are able to put these skills to work when facing a real ethical concern.
Journalism associations and federations around the world have established codes of ethics to guide the work of member journalists. Ethics codes can cover everything from plagiarism to privacy and from corrections to confidentiality.
Some are brief and vaguely worded, while others are lengthy and quite explicit.