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February 03 2010

10:58

Martin Moore: ‘What are the universal principles that guide journalism?’

The UK’s Media Standards Trust is trying to define the principles of journalism, as part of its Value Added News transparency project.

The hNews microformatting system, recently adopted by 200 new sites, requires its users to sign up to journalism principles. “One of the key elements of hNews (…) is rel-principles,” explains MST director Martin Moore. “This is a line of code that embeds a link within each article to the news principles to which it adheres. It doesn’t specify what those principles should be, just that the article should link to some.”

In a blog post for the MediaShift Idea Lab, Moore outlines some of the problems associated with drawing up such a code. He describes the themes identified so far. “These themes are by no means comprehensive – nor are they intended to be,” he says. “They are a starting point for those, be they news organizations or bloggers, who are drawing up their own principles and need a place to start. We’d really like some feedback on whether these are right, if ten is too many, if there are any big themes missing, and which ones have most relevance to the web.”

  1. Public interest Example: “… to serve the general welfare by informing the people and enabling them to make judgments on the issues of the time” (American Society of Newspaper Editors)
  2. Truth and accuracy Example: “[The journalist] strives to ensure that information disseminated is honestly conveyed, accurate and fair” (National Union of Journalists, UK)
  3. Verification Example: “Seeking out multiple witnesses, disclosing as much as possible about sources, or asking various sides for comment… [The] discipline of verification is what separates journalism from other modes of communication, such as propaganda, fiction or entertainment” (Principles of Journalism, from Project for Excellence in Journalism)
  4. Fairness Example: “… our goal is to cover the news impartially and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and all parts of our society fairly and openly, and to be seen as doing so” (New York Times Company Policy on Ethics in Journalism)
  5. Distinguishing fact and comment Example: “… whilst free to be partisan, [the press] must distinguish clearly between comment, conjecture and fact” (Editors Code of Practice, PCC, U.K.)
  6. Accountability Example: “The journalist shall do the utmost to rectify any published information which is found to be harmfully inaccurate” (International Federation of Journalists, Principles on the Conduct of Journalists)
  7. Independence Example: “Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know… [and] Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived” (Society of Professional Journalists)
  8. Transparency (regarding sources) Example: “Aim to attribute all information to its source. Where a source seeks anonymity, do not agree without first considering the source’s motives and any alternative, attributable source. Where confidences are accepted, respect them in all circumstances” (Australian Journalists Code)
  9. Restraint (around harassment and intrusion) Example: “The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial. There are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, the public good and the public’s right to be informed. Each situation should be judged in the light of common sense, humanity and the public’s rights to know” (Canadian Association of Journalists)
  10. Originality (i.e. not plagiarising) Example: “An AP staffer who reports and writes a story must use original content, language and phrasing. We do not plagiarise, meaning that we do not take the work of others and pass it off as our own” (Associated Press Statement of news values and principles)

Full post (and themes) at this link…

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