ONA ethics code committee invites comments pertaining to interviewing, social media issues

New York City — How many online news ethical practices can you think of that merit revision? The correct answer is 40, according to the Online News Association.  That’s how many issues are covered in the just-released version of its ethics code. ONA is inviting industry comment via a direct link.

Ethics Updates code aims to provide members with options to customize their own ethics guidelines.  A “building blocks” approach is being employed that allows any journalistic organization (or individual blogger) “to create an ethics code that is thorough and transparent while reflecting how that organization or blogger sees journalism,” said Associated Press standards editor and ONA project leader Thomas Kent in a previous interview with Ethics Updates.

Previous Ethics Updates articles examined code proposals dealing with accuracy and archives. This article includes passages from the prospective code about Interviewing and Social Networks.

  • Interviewing: “Sometimes interviewees insist on ‘quote’ approval’; that is, that even an on-the-record quote must be sent back to the source (or a spokesperson) for approval. Sometimes, the interviewee also claims the right to modify the quote. Some journalists accept this practice as the price of getting an interview with a sought-after subject. Others will give up an interview rather than agree to quote approval, believing the practice essentially reduces an interview to a set of written statements approved by the interviewee or his public relations team. These journalists may occasionally voluntarily check a quote with a newsmaker to make sure the quote is right. But they believe this must be at the journalist’s initiative, not a condition of the interview.”
  • Social media: This section focuses strictly “on the use of social networks for engagement and distribution of information and content.” In the Impartial news organizations advisory urges journalists, at a minimum “to avoid expressing opinions on contentious issues. Opinionated tweets and posts can easily become associated with your news organization as a whole and can damage its reputation as an impartial outlet. That, in turn, can harm relationships with customers and sources.” At another point, the section focuses on source verification practices. If a prominent public figure, government agency or business directly shares information over a social network, “in most cases, this would reasonable to reshare with some caveats. You need to be certain that the account is authentic.” When in doubt, the best approach “is to ask an official representative whether the account is real.” And when you verify an account, “you’ll be able to make better decisions if you know whether a celebrity or a staff member, for example, is doing the tweeting. Keep an eye out for red flags indicating someone’s account has been compromised, like uncharacteristic posts, surprising grammatical errors or sharply worded political opinions.”

The primary author of the interviewing section is Thomas Kent of the Associated Press. The main author of the social media module is AP social media editor Eric Carvin.

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