The world of journalism ethics can be a complicated, scary place. The New York Times’ code of ethics [PDF] is almost thick enough at 57 pages to qualify as a textbook. Even some of the shorter ones, such as that of The Washington Post, serve more as references as opposed to simple guidelines one can follow in a heartbeat.
That’s why I liked the list presented at a workshop yesterday by Orlando Sentinel public editor Manning Pynn. Manning, in an act that might make George Carlin proud, has drilled down on ethics codes in an attempt to capture the essence of them into something more understandable — especially for folks new to journalism who haven’t sat through semester-long ethics classes in college. So here’s Manning’s list, which any cub reporter can easily keep in his pocket and use to stay out of trouble:
* Don’t accept free stuff.
* Don’t cover family, friends — or enemies.
* Don’t use your position for personal benefit.
* Don’t make stuff up.
* Don’t steal other people’s work.
* Don’t alter photographs.
Now clearly, journalism ethics can become more complex than this small list. The Poynter Institute has a Geek Squad of experts ready at a moment’s notice to help you solve tough ethical conundrums, and they produce plenty of excellent, valuable content to hammer out these issues.
But when I’m spotted at a venue by a friendly press agent who wants to slip me some tempting tickets for a hot concert next week, the first thing I’m going to fall back on is simply “don’t accept free stuff.”
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