Stephen Ward, director of the centre for journalism ethics at the University of Wisconsin-Madison’s school of journalism and mass communications, argues that ethics is the only thing that defines a journalist.
The craft must not sacrifice ethics on the alters of changing business models and emerging technologies, he argues.
We need a radical, systematic rethinking of journalism in our global, media-saturated world.
In particular, journalists need to develop comprehensive journalism ethics – a set of principles and practices that apply to many types of journalism across all the platforms that can deliver journalism to citizens.
This means determining not only how to maintain existing standards but also how to formulate standards and practices for new situations, such as whether to grant anonymity to online commentators or how to use Facebook and Twitter on breaking stories.
Another task is to develop new formats for good journalism. Schools of journalism are making great strides in teaching future journalists how to use new media to tell engaging and well-researched stories.
The fact that new forms of media have evolved in a chaotic, sometimes irresponsible, fashion is no reason not to use these tools for good journalism. Let’s be creative and accept this challenge of ethical, responsible storytelling in new ways.
If traditional business models are not sufficiently supporting quality journalism, let’s develop alternate models. For example, the decline of investigative journalism in mainstream media is balanced by the rise of new agencies dedicated to investigative journalism. Schools of journalism and private foundations across North America are experimenting with ways to fund investigative journalism.
The problems of journalism today require a new era of co-operation among the many players of our news media system and our media education system. Together, these organizations have the critical mass to influence the course of journalism.
To conclude that ethical journalism is impossible, only puts quality journalism in further jeopardy. In this media revolution, ethical journalists have two choices: They can harness the new technology and social trends to the cause of quality journalism; or they can give up and let themselves be swept along by the tide. I urge all journalists to choose the former option.