Ethics of Online Journalists

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As a communication major, you have many career options, including journalism, broadcasting, writing, advertising, public relations, and more. However, the market is rapidly changing, and more and more communications students are moving toward careers in online journalism. All journalists are expected to follow a strict code of ethics, and given the speed of online journalism, it is equally or more important to be without reproach. Here is what you need to know in the digital reporting world.

1. How to Tell a Good Source From a Poor Source

Image via Flickr by ota_photos

As an online journalist, you will do most of your research on the Internet. This can be frustrating, because websites are often unreliable. Always investigate the source to maintain sound research ethics. The following tips will help you find reliable sources:

  • Generally, reputable news sites can be trusted to provide accurate information.
  • Stay away from Internet sources that do not cite the author’s name.
  • Always check the author’s credentials.
  • When information is linked to an organization, verify that the organization is reliable and does not have an agenda.
  • Check for statistics and data to back up the source’s claims.
  • Government sites are full of accurate statistics.
  • Look for articles that cite their sources.

2. How to Find a Good Image if You Don’t Have Your Own

Photos can enhance online content and are a necessity for online journalists; however, not all journalists double as photographers, nor do they always have media at the ready for the content they are writing. So how do you find good online images without breaking copyright laws? The following information will help you with your search:

  • Use public domain images, paying close attention to attribution requirements.
  • If you find a photo you like, ask the owner if you can have permission to reuse it.
  • Check photo-sharing sites that offer Creative Commons search and appropriate attribution.

3. How to be Transparent Online

Being transparent as a journalist is important, but being transparent as an online journalist is necessary. A transparent online journalist is one that demonstrates openness and accountability. The following practices can help facilitate this:

  • If you make a correction to an article that is already published, note the correction on the updated version.
  • When you are connected personally to a story, share that information in the interest of full disclosure.
  • Maintain open communication with your audience.

4. How to Demonstrate Credibility

Many online writers have taken advantage of the ability to hide behind their computers, reporting information that is inaccurate or supports their own biases and agendas. Because of this, online journalists are constantly under scrutiny. Credibility is earned over time, but you’ll achieve it faster by following these tips:

  • Check your facts and use documentation to support them.
  • Don’t insert personal opinions.
  • Supply supporting links to reliable sources.

In their Code of Ethics, the Society of Professional Journalists states, “Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.” By following this Code, you will uphold the standards of excellent online journalism, and enhance your own professional reputation.