By Lynn Walsh
A few months ago I was asked to step in for a journalism ethics class at Northern Kentucky University.
While I was excited, I wasn’t quite sure what to talk about. What are college journalists taught about ethics in our field? What do they already know?
Looking back on my college experience, I realized a lot of what I have learned about ethics in journalism has come from jobs and stories post-college. I had great ethics courses in school that led to great debate and discussions. But sometimes it’s how you respond in the heat of the moment that shows the ethics a person holds true.
During the class, I talked about some of my experiences, and that’s when the discussion and debate began.
Acceptance of food/gifts. What’s OK to accept? How about free concert tickets to a band you are writing a review for? The class was split. Some believed it was OK. I tend to always say no to anything, just to eliminate the thought or possibility of a conflict of interest. But the idea of adding a disclaimer to the review came up, so the reader always knows what’s going on: transparency.
Codes are guidelines, not laws. Students were surprised to learn there isn’t a set of regulations or rules journalists have to abide by. Codes of ethics, like SPJ’s, are just guidelines. Ultimately it’s up to the individual to decide what he or she will do. Some were so surprised by this, they thought there should be a sort of certification or requirements for journalists to be journalists. But, as I brought up, what does this mean for our right to speak freely? So, the debate continues.
At the end of class there was a wider conversation around the importance of transparency. I’m a believer in having and keeping it in tact on both ends of the reporting process, so people know what’s happening and have all the facts to make their own decisions.
Lynn Walsh is an investigative journalist currently producing stories for 30+ properties across the country owned by the E.W. Scripps company. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Find her on Twitter @LWalsh or email her Lynn.firstname.lastname@example.org.