ONA Asks Members to Build Their Own Ethics Code
In an effort to help newsrooms, bloggers, and media startups navigate the ethical questions that arise in online journalism, the Online News Association is crowdsourcing ideas for its DIY Ethics Code.
In the weeks following the bombing at the 2013 Boston Marathon, news organizations, companies, and even the public were scrutinized for how they used social media to respond to the tragedy. For the media in particular, important questions emerged: Did breaking news reports online jump to conclusions? Were the news updates by tweet accurate? Was everything moving too fast?
Last summer, the Online News Association hosted an off-the-record workshop in Boston to discuss the topic with local media, public safety officials, and tech companies like Facebook, Twitter, and Google. Based on those discussions and a follow-up session at its annual meeting last fall, ONA launched a News Ethics Committee, which has since begun a Build Your Own Ethics Code project aimed at helping news-producing organizations of all shapes and sizes develop their own codes.
“There are some things that all journalists are going to agree on: Tell the truth, check your sources, and check your accuracy—the basic sacraments of journalism,” said ONA Executive Director Jane McDonnell. “But because social media and all of the other [internet] technology… has pushed reporters toward moving too quickly, we’ve found that maybe some ethics can be flexible. Our goal is to help journalists walk that line.”
A team of about 40 volunteer writers and editors looked at ethical issues and developed core areas that a do-it-yourself code should focus on, McDonnell explained. But ONA knew that more input was needed.
“The committee did a really good job, and they were very thorough, but we wanted to make sure that we were not missing anything, and we also wanted to make sure that we were getting comments from folks who were going to help us complete the guide and actually put it to action,” she said. “So we opened it up to our community of journalists—the real experts and practitioners.”
An invested audience and open process have resulted in a tremendous response from members since the crowdsourcing portion of the project opened earlier this month, said McDonnell.
“It always seems like a really difficult, daunting thing to open up your work to public inspection and comment,” she said. “You just have to make sure that that’s what your community wants and needs. Once you do it, you just have to do it openly. Do it in a controlled way so that it’s not overwhelming for you on the back end, but you really do have to commit to it and make sure that you pick the right tools to make the process open.”
The next step will be to bring the finished product, or something close to it, back to members when they convene for the group’s annual meeting in September.
“We’re thinking maybe we need one more shot at getting everybody together and going through the guide before we release it,” McDonnell said. “The hope is that the more members see and touch the project along the way, the more invested and interested they’ll be in putting this thing to work.”