Last weekend, the Society of Professional Journalists revised their code of ethics. There are two great reasons public relations pros should care: because PRs interact so frequently with journalists, and because being a PR pro now includes a lot of content creation and involvement in content marketing. While that doesn’t necessarily make you a member of the media, the SPJ standards provide an excellent guideline to follow in creating content.
The revisions address anonymous sources, which are an ethical rats’ nest. While anonymous sources might sometimes be the only way to break a story, when journalists protect their anonymity, it makes them and their information nearly impossible to verify (and we all know fact checking is vital). Journalists can also find themselves facing severe legal penalties, and even jail time, for not revealing their sources.
The new ethics code urges journalists to clearly identify sources and question the sources’ motives. Anonymity should be reserved for “those who may face danger, retribution, or harm.”
So if you’re ever talking to a journalist to give information, think twice about requesting anonymity, as it may conflict with the ethics journalists strive to follow.
The new code also addresses paying for interviews. Poynter reports that the previous code stated journalists should “avoid bidding for news,” while the update states unequivocally, “Do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.”
In the same post, Poynter also noted that the Radio and Television Digital News Association has introduced its new proposed code of ethics, the first update in 14 years. Perhaps the most modern update is this one:
“Scarce resources, deadline pressure and cutthroat competition do not excuse cutting corners factually or oversimplifying complex issues. ‘Trending,’ ‘going viral’ or ‘exploding on social media’ may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.”
These are all excellent reminders to pros in the journalism and public relations industries.
What do you think about the proposed revisions? How do you think they complement PRSA’s Member Code of Ethics?