Posts Tagged ‘ONA’


ONA Unveils Ethics Project

unnamed (1)The Online News Association (ONA) unveiled this week its much-anticipated project that allows people to “Build Your Own Ethics Code.”


ONA’s website features a tool that allows people to add specific “building blocks” to a group of fundamental principles that should apply to all journalists. The build-your-own approach is meant to create unique codes for people and organizations.

The project “recognizes that no single ethics code can reflect the needs of everyone in our widely varied profession,” according to ONA’s website. “We believe the best hope for convincing all journalists to adopt and live by an ethics code is to give them ownership and flexibility in creating one.”

There are obviously differences between the approaches of ONA and the Society, which continues to endorse a single document of abiding principles as its ethical code. However, comparing the two approaches is a futile exercise.

The committee responsible for revising the Society’s Code of Ethics was conscious of the fact that it should represent journalism presented in any media: print, broadcast and digital. From the small newspaper without a Twitter account or website to the Huffington Post, the Society’s Code needs to provide guidance.

To accomplish its goal, the committee avoided language specific to any media. After all, journalism is essentially unchanged since the dawn of time: something happens and people tell each other about that something. Journalists now just tell people about events in different ways.

Also, the Society’s Code “is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium,” according to the document.

ONA, on the other hand, took a much different approach by allowing people and organizations to create very specific codes. The project is reminiscent of a common project employed by college journalism professors, who often encourage their students to create personal ethical codes.

The ONA approach also mirrors that of large news organizations that create unique ethical codes. Those organizations include the New York Times, NPR, Reuters and AP.

What’s interesting is that many of the people who worked on ONA’s project also helped last year to revise the Society’s Code. The common origin shows there is room in the world for both codes from ONA and the Society – along with the dozens of codes from other journalism and news organizations.

In general, every person – whether he or she is a journalist or not – has an innate sense of right and wrong that will not be perfectly captured by an ethical code. What’s wonderful is that there are more and more resources to provide people with guidance as they wrestle with the unique challenges of being a journalist.


Andrew M. Seaman is the chair of the Society’s Ethics Committee. He’s also a journalist in New York.

The Intersection of Communication History

The bust of Walter Cronkite greets visitors to the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The bust of Walter Cronkite greets visitors to the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The city of St. Joseph is about a 40-minute drive north of Kansas City in Missouri. The city hugs the banks of the Missouri River and is blanketed with stately buildings that give any visitor the sense that it’s an intersection of history.

I visited St. Joseph earlier this month to speak at a conference on media ethics and integrity held at Missouri Western State University. The conference was held in honor of the late Walter Cronkite, the famed broadcaster and St. Joseph native.

In addition to being the place of Cronkite’s birth, St. Joseph is also the location where riders began their journey for the Pony Express. Serendipitously, in my opinion, the city gave birth to two of history’s most storied communication figures.

A wall of Walter Cronkite's most famous broadcasts is displayed at the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

A wall of Walter Cronkite’s most famous broadcasts is displayed at the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The Cronkite Memorial, which houses artifacts from the journalist’s life, housed the conference. Clips from his most famous broadcasts, caricatures and multimedia presentations are displayed on the walls.

A copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette issue carried by the first Pony Express riders hangs in the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

A copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette issue carried by the first Pony Express riders hangs in the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. (Click to Enlarge)

Downtown in St. Joseph, the Pony Express National Museum chronicles the detailed history of the business that connected communications between Midwestern and Western U.S. states in record time.

As I walked through the Cronkite Memorial and the Pony Express National Museum, my mind resonated with what I often say about journalism ethics: technology may change but principles remain unchanged.

The first Pony Express riders carried a copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette to California in 10 days. On the other hand, Cronkite’s image and voice instantaneously beamed into the homes of millions of Americans. Yet, both aimed to responsibly deliver accurate information.

Please stay tuned for another blog post about the conference and (possible video) of the panel featuring ONA, RTDNA and SPJ representatives.

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