Poynter Expert: Newsrooms Should Review Ethics Policies

With the 2020 election a year away, newsrooms nationwide already have started covering stories related to it.

Kelly McBride, senior vice president at the Poynter Institute and Craig Newmark, chair at the Center for Ethics and Leadership, spoke about the need for newsrooms to update ethics policies for the election season at the News Leaders Association Conference Monday.

She said ethics policies grow out a need “to have a system that they (audience) can trust, to have a way they can trust what we are doing.”

“I know that you will not all go back to your newsrooms and make these changes because I suggest them,” McBride said. “Instead what will happen is you will have an experience, you’ll come up against one of these and you’ll be like, ‘Oh! We need to include that in our ethics policies,’ and that’s how you’ll really make the changes.”

She recommended these six changes or updates:

  1. Social media policy:
    Apply editorial standards for accuracy, taste and political activity or other conflicts of interest to everyone associated with a news outlet, beyond just the newsroom. Sponsored content should be labeled.
  2. Polling:
    Apart from following Associated Press guidelines, provide context with all polls and a boilerplate language on the news outlet’s polling policy. A single poll should not be the basis of a news story she said.
  3. Content Removal:
    Remove content for humanitarian reasons, such as criminals who have served their sentence, but find it difficult to find jobs and access other resources because of a news story associated with their name. If newsrooms do remove content, she said they should clearly state the policy.
  4. Events:
    Develop a policy stating the mission and business strategy for the event, as it pertains to connecting to community and building brand, not journalism.
  5. Protecting Public Discourse:
    Write a clear policy promoting public discourse and addressing harassment by mail, online or otherwise.
  1. Donations and Sponsorships:
    Clearly state what relationship the sponsor has with the news organization and be  transparent about donations and gifts in-kind.

Photographer Eric Pritchett is a senior at Ball State University in Muncie, IN, majoring in Photojournalism and minoring in scuba. He graduates in December 2019 and can be reached at empritchett@bsu.edu or on his website http://ericpritchett.com/ 


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