Reader-submitted complaint: Journalism ethics? HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!
That was really un-called-for. I demand that you apologise to me and all of my readers who are either current or former journalists.
Journalism ethics are real, although they're not like, say, medical ethics. They are a voluntary code and there are no standard consequences for reporters who violate them. There is no licensing body and, at least in theory, anyone can work as a reporter. However, a reporter who really screws up will get fired and won't work in journalism again.
I cannot point you to any definite set of rules, because different publications have different standards. My former employer has a pretty good set of guidelines, and that would be a good place to start.
I can provide a brief overview, though:
Journalism must be accurate. This means challenging a person's false statements. It means presenting as much information as possible. It means checking facts and getting as many sources as possible. Really outrageous stuff should be double-sourced, and things that are easy to verify should always be verified. Information should not be presented in a misleading way. Corrections should be prominent and online versions of stories should be updated with the correct information.
Journalism must be objective. This can be tough. Journalists are people (yes, ha ha...) and people can get wrapped up in their work. It doesn't mean that they have no stake in the issue -- usually reporters will have SOME stake in their stories -- but that they can fairly evaluate the issue. Often, one of the following things will cause problems for a news organization's objectivity:
- The reporter will be unable to accept the possibility that he or she has been duped.
- The reporter is convinced that someone is hiding a big secret or is corrupt to the core, despite evidence to the contrary.
- The reporter (or his friends or family) somehow gets involved in the story.
- News breaks late in the day and there is no time to allow the subject of a story to respond to a nasty allegation.
- There is not enough or no separation between news and editorial staff.
- There is censorship of some kind -- perhaps there is pressure to avoid making an advertiser look bad.
- A source has been paid for his or her information.
Journalism ethics can be complicated and it would take an entire blog to discuss them in any depth. There is no list of rules; you just have to learn the basic principles and apply them to situations as they arise. Sometimes this will be a matter of weighing principles that appear to be in opposition to each other: for example, there is no real consensus about how to deal with confidential sources who turn out to be lying or with government agencies that present compelling reasons a story should not be published.
Thanks for your complaint.