The committee that revised the Society’s Code of Ethics felt the document’s tenets and underlying principles apply to all journalism regardless of how it’s ultimately presented. Still, the committee knew people interested in ethical journalism may benefit from additional guidance from the Society and other people and organizations.
Below are several resources that the Society’s ethics committee compiled to help people with day-to-day decisions. These resources are not formally part of the Code. Also, these lists will grow and change as more resources are found, or as resources become obsolete.
For those people who still have questions, please email the Society’s Ethics Hotline: firstname.lastname@example.org
Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
- A previous Ethics Committee position paper on anonymous sources explores the reasons for a reporter to keep the promises he or she makes, including potential damage to the reporter’s own credibility and impact on the ability to get information in the future.
- Reporters should be aware of the limits to sticking to a promise of confidentiality or anonymity. As the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press notes, keeping a promise could come into play during a defamation suit against the reporter and his/her publication.
- A reporter who makes a promise may be held to it legally. The Digital Media Law Project has outlined the rights and obligations that can arise when a reporter promises confidentiality.
- And every reporter should be aware of a 1991 U.S. Supreme Court case of Cohen v. Cowles Media Co., in which two reporters in Minnesota were sued by a source who had relied on their promise of confidentiality. When the reporters breached the promise, the source claims “detrimental reliance” and won $200,000 in damages. A 1992 University of Missouri law review article examines the case and its import.