Best way to reinforce ethics principles? Gannett guidelines offer on-target advice

McLean, VA. – What are six ways editorial managers can reinforce to staff members the importance of news gathering ethical practice? And can you think of 11 considerations to take into account when fashioning an editorial corrections policy? You’ll find useful answers to these questions contained in the Principles of Ethical Conduct news gathering advisory developed by The Gannett Co. Inc. Newspaper division.

Recently Ethics News Updates learned about two cases where Gannett newspaper staffs saw fit to review corporate ethics guidelines. There probably were several similar sessions held around the country.  After studying the advisories, ENU concluded other editorial staffs might do likewise.

Six ways to reinforce principles

Of special interest is the six-step section emphasizing the importance of communicating ethical principles to staff members and the public:

  1. Ensure that sound hiring practices are followed to build a staff of ethical and responsible journalists. Such practices include making reference checks and conducting sufficient interviewing and testing to draw reasonable conclusions about the individual’s personal standards.
  2. Provide prospective hires with a copy of these principles and make acceptance of them a condition of employment.
  3. Conduct staff training at least annually in the Principles of Ethical Conduct.
  4. Require staff members at the time of hire and each year thereafter to sign a statement acknowledging that they have read the Principles of Ethical Conduct and will raise any questions about them with their editors.
  5. Communicate these principles to the public periodically.

(Editor’s note: The transparency advisory contained at the outset of B2B Journalist Ethics: An ASBPE Guide to Best Practices urges “business, trade association and professional publications to adopt some ethics code, whether ASBPE’s or not. ASBPE also urges publishers and editors to make their ethical standards transparent, both for internal staff and externally for readers, advertisers, and others in their markets. Your publication’s ethical standards or guidelines ought to be published on your Web site.”

Correcting errors

Gannett’s “Correcting error” section includes 11 thoughtful recommendations worth emulating. Here are six excerpts:

  • When errors occur, the newspaper has an ethical obligation to correct the record and minimize harm.
  • Errors should be corrected promptly. But first a determination must be made that the fact indeed was in error and that the correction itself is fully accurate.
  • Errors should be corrected with sufficient prominence that readers who saw the original error are likely to see the correction. This is a matter of the editor’s judgment.
  • Factual errors should be corrected in most cases even if the subject of the error does not want it to be corrected. The rationale for this is rooted in the Truth Principle. It is the newspaper’s duty to provide accurate information to readers. An exception may be made – at the behest of the subject – when the correction of a relatively minor mistake would result in public ridicule or greater harm than the original error.
  • Newsroom editors have a responsibility to alert the appropriate editor if they become aware of a possible error in the newspaper.
  • When the newspaper disagrees with a news subject about whether a story contained an error, editors should consider offering the aggrieved party an opportunity to express his or her view in a letter to the editor.


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