DIY: How To Be an Ethical Journalist
How is a journalist different from a normal person?
Congratulations! You’re going to be reporting for YR Media. But with great power comes great responsibility.
Journalists are sticklers for facts, and we need to be careful about letting opinions cloud our reporting. While advocates are out to convince people, reporters give people info to decide for themselves.
Here is the Society for Professional Journalism Code of Ethics, which provide a super useful bullet point list divided into four main categories:
- Seek truth and report it
- Minimize harm
- Act independently
- Be accountable and transparent
But being a journalist isn’t all rules. We also get some pretty powerful privileges.
Journalists’ special powers:
- Access to spaces and people (example: press passes to a political convention)
- We’re not supposed to get arrested while doing our jobs (such as sticking around at a protest after police give the order to disperse)
- We’re legally protected from being forced to reveal our sources in most cases
- We influence whose voices are heard in the media landscape
- People we talk to may try to impress us. We may be offered special privileges or gifts (which you should not take)
What are some common ethics considerations specific to working for YR?
- Clearly identify yourself as a journalist when you are working. Many of our reporters wear many hats and are not employed as full time journalists, so making sure your source understands when you are acting as a reporter is important.
- Recording in secret is illegal in many states. If someone asks if you are recording, respond truthfully.
- If someone asks you to leave or stop recording while in a private residence or business, you must stop (but record them asking you). If you are unsure if you are in a private or public space, call your editor.
- Tell people that you are working for YR Media, “an award-winning news outlet where young reporters produce stories for national audiences.”
- If you are a student, make sure sources understand that YR Media is not a school paper/site/podcast/station.
- Your safety comes first. If you feel threatened or in physical danger while reporting a YR Media story — leave (even if you technically have the right to be there).
- Never promise anonymity to a source, especially unprompted. If someone asks or if you feel there is a case to grant anonymity to minimize harm, take it up with your editor.
- If you start to feel uncomfortable/triggered reporting on a story (for example, reporting on a person or issue that is close to you), communicate this to your editor ASAP.
- YR Media publishes correspondents’ content on our own platform and with partners that include NYTimes, NPR, and Teen Vogue. It’s okay to mention those outlets when booking interviews, but don’t make promises about whether a source will end up on a particular partner outlet. Depending on how the story goes, any source could end up edited out.
- Check out YR Media’s Editorial Policy here.