Journalism Ethics*

Sharon Stoerger MLS, MBA

Articles & Publications ~~ Centers & Institutes
Issues in Journalism
Professional Organizations & Associations ~~ Media Watchers ~~ Resources & Centers
Additional Ethics Resources

Articles & Publications

Ethics and Journalism
Pam Platt, public editor of The Courier Journal (Louisville, KY), presents 3 scenarios in this column that address ethical situations often faced by journalists. Feedback from readers is requested at the end of her piece, and the responses can be found at

The Ethics of Online Science Journalism
Bruce Lewenstein prepared this article that claims journalists in the United States do not discuss the same types of things when discussing ethics. Values outlined in professional association codes of ethics are addressed but social and ethical factors are not. Lewenstein discusses the differences between US and non-US journalist codes, and he explores journalism in the context of science, ethics and the role of the Internet. The issues outlined in this article were developed for workshops in Barcelona, Spain; Singapore; Punta del Este, Uruguay and Sidney, Australia.

JournoPorn: Dissection of the Time Scandal
Critics claimed that a cover story article that ran in Time magazine may have been "bogus, error-ridden, or just plain wrong". HotWired explores this controversy in an October 30, 1995 special report.

Medical Reporter Performs Surgery in Iraq,1,4039572.story?coll=chi%2Dnews%2Dhed
Is it medically and morally right for a TV correspondent, who is also a practicing physician, treat a patient while on assignment? Sanjay Gupta, a neurosurgeon at Emory University in Atlanta, was reporting on a U.S. Navy medical team for CNN when he was asked to perform emergency brain surgery on a 2-year old Iraqi boy. Reactions and responses to Gupta's actions are discussed in this article from the April 3, 2003 edition of The Chicago Tribune.

News Organization at Brigham Young U. Returns Awards for Copied Web-Site Design (must be subscribed to The Chronicle of Higher Education to access)
NewsNet, a news organization operated by students at Brigham Young University (BYU), received honors in May for its site design, but they had to decline the awards because much of the layout came from another site. Two students, who are no longer at BYU, created the NewsNet site and used many of the style elements found at the CNET Networks site, This June 3, 2003 article from The Chronicle of Higher Education examines how this type of plagiarism occurred and discusses the steps BYU is taking to correct the situation.

Online Journalism Review (OJR): Ethics
OJR is produced at the Annenberg School for Communication at the University of Southern California, and its content comes from professional journalists and editors as well as the faculty, students and staff of Annenberg. The site was launched March 1, 1998 and is devoted to issues important to online journalists. Links to various online news ethics stories can be found at this site.

Online Journalists Face New Ethical Dilemmas: Report from The Netherlands
Daphna Yeshua and Mark Denze, at the Amsterdam School of Communications Research (ASCoR) developed this "discussion piece" based on their research project involving online journalists and online journalism graduate students in The Netherlands. It discusses findings on online journalism in the literature plus this piece addresses issues surrounding online journalism and the daily practices of the online journalists involved in the project.

Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach
Photojournalism: An Ethical Approach is the online version of Paul Martin Lester's book by the same title (Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publishers, Hillsdale, NJ, 1991). In the 8 chapters outlined in this online "book", Lester discusses ethical issues of concern to photojournalists like victims of violence, picture manipulation and rights to privacy.

Reporter Quits After Deception,1,6251150.story
Jack Kelley resigned from his post at USA Today on January 6, 2004, after admitting to acts of misconduct involving deception. The paper announced that it plans to investigate any specific challenges to the reporting of Kelley. This article, published on January 14, 2004, from the Tribune news services, discusses the allegations of story fabrication, and presents USA Today's response to the situation.

Setting the Testbed for Journalistic Values
Peter C. Goldmark Jr. , Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the International Herald Tribune prepared this article for the Fourth Annual Aspen Institute Conference on Journalism and Society. Goldmark discusses whether or not journalistic ethics and values are dying within the context of elements needed for an independent media to survive.

Texas Seven Interview Provides Case Study in Media Ethics
Lee Hood, Teaching Standards Committee Chair of RTVJ, the Radio-Television Journalism Division of AEJMC, discusses whether or not the decisions made by a Colorado Springs, CO television station helped law enforcement officials capture two of the "Texas Seven" fugitives hiding out in their area. Hood presents criticisms made regarding the stations' decision to give into demands made by the fugitives and the factors considered by the station in making their decision to cooperate.

Times Reporter Who Resigned Leaves Long Trail of Deception
Jayson Blair, a staff reporter for The New York Times, resigned after numerous instances of fabrication, plagiarism and journalism fraud were uncovered. Blair, a prolific writer who had been at the paper for four years, resigned on May 1, 2003 after errors were found in several of his articles and professional misconduct allegations were varified. Details of how Blair was able to commit this type of fraud plus what is being done with the on-going investigation are presented in this article from the May 11, 2003 issue of The New York Times.

Other articles about the Jayson Blair/New York Times plagiarism controversy can be found in numerous resources including the following:

Washington's Scandals Spotlight Journalistic Ethics, Too
In scandal cases covered by the media, journalists are examining and exposing the moral and ethical failings of others. John Hughes, editor of the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, UT, contributed this opinion piece to the March 18, 1998 issue of The Christian Science Monitor and discusses how these controversies spark journalists to examine their own standards.

Watching the News
In 1999 for 10 months, a documentary crew followed reporters at WCNC, an NBC affiliate in Charlotte, NC as they chased news leads, visited crime scenes, put on make-up for a newscast and went about their normal reporting activities. After over 300 hours of film, PBS viewed five, 1-hour segments outlining how this station was working to improve their newscast and uncovered some of the dilemmas they faced in an attempt to make it something beyond sensationalized news.

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Centers & Institutes

Annenberg School of Communications

The Freedom of Information Center
This University of Missouri School of Journalism (Columbia) "library" was established in 1958 and was central to the enactment of a national Freedom of Information Act. Currently the Center's collection contains over one million articles addressing the issue of access to information at the federal, state and local levels. Many of these articles can be found at this Web site.

Institute for Applied & Professional Ethics
Ohio University's Department of Philosophy, College of Business and School of Journalism have teamed up to develop the Institute for Applied & Professional Ethics. The Institute is dedicated to "promoting the application of fundamental ethical techniques to decision-making in an ever-changing world". One of its many initiatives is to offer online help for any ethics questions including ones in the area of journalism.

Two arenas to ask questions and discuss ethical issues include posting questions to the e-team and submitting topics of discussion to the e-forum.

Institute for Global Ethics (IGE)
IGE is an organization dedicated to promoting "ethical behavior in individuals, institutions, and nations through research, public discourse, and practical action". Sections of note on the IGE Web site include the Dilemma Database: Right vs. Right ( and the links to other ethics sites (

International Center for Information Ethics (ICIE)
ICIE is an academic Web site that acts as a forum for the exchange of information about teaching and research in the area of information ethics. Links to news, institutions with information ethics programs, people teaching in this field and other resources can be found at this site.

The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy
The Joan Shorenstein Center on the Press, Politics and Public Policy is a center at Harvard University that conducts research in areas such as U.S. campaigns & elections, journalism & public policy and gender & the press. It was established in September 1986 with the help of a gift from Walter H. and Phyllis J. Shorenstein in memory of their daughter Joan Shorenstein Barone. Joan was known as a journalist who was dedicated to "accurate, thorough and dignified reporting of current events".

Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
The Markkula Center for Applied Ethics was founded in 1986 and has grown into one of the most active university applied ethics centers in the country. It is based at Santa Clara University, and was initially funded by an endowment by Linda and A. C. "Mike" Markkula Jr. Articles, cases, briefings and dialogue in all areas of applied ethics can be found at this online center.

Media Ethics Resources on WWW--Centre for Applied Ethics (CAE)
The Centre for Applied Ethics was created in 1993 by the University of British Columbia's Board of Governors as an interdisciplinary research center. Their goal is to advance research in the area of applied ethics, and their site includes resources in areas such as health care, business, animal welfare & use, and the media. The section on media ethics has links to other related institutions & organizations, publications and specific topics of interest like censorship and photo manipulation. This page is maintained for the CAE by Chris MacDonald, author of

Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism
The Payne Awards for Ethics in Journalism were established in 1999 at the School of Journalism and Communication at the University of Oregon. These awards, given out annually, are presented to student journalists, professionals in the field and news organizations. The awards are designed to "reward performance that encourages public trust in the media".

The Pew Center For Civic Journalism
The Pew Center for Civic Journalism, an initiative of the Pew Charitable Trusts and based in Washington, D. C., was developed to be "an incubator for civic journalism experiments that enable news organizations to create and refine better ways of reporting the news to re-engage people in public life". Since its enactment, the Center has helped over 107 different initiatives in this area.

The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press
Formerly known as the Times Mirror Center for the People & the Press (1990-1995) and now sponsored by The Pew Charitable Trusts, The Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, is an independent opinion research group that studies public attitudes toward the press and public policy issues. They also examine trends in values and social issues.
Nelson Poynter, once a publisher for the St. Petersburg Times, founded the Poynter Center to act as a vehicle that would add academic excellence to the field of journalism. The motto of the Center is "everything you need to be a better journalist".

  1. Guiding Principles for the Journalist; and

  2. Ask Good Questions to Make Good Ethical Decisions

The Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law
The School of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Minnesota is the home of the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law. Otto and Helen Silha provided an endowment for the development of the Center, and it was established in 1984. Major projects of the Center include 1) media accountability; 2) points of convergence of media ethics & law; and 3) libel & privacy.

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Issues in Journalism

First Amendment Handbook
The First Amendment Handbook was first produced in 1986 as a tool produced by the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press as part of their initiative to provide legal advice to reporters. This publication has been updated on a regular basis, and the entire handbook can be accessed at this site. This 10 chapter document covers issues such as copyright, freedom of information, gag orders and libel.

The Bob Greene Scandal
The highly respected Chicago Tribune columnist, Bob Greene, resigned during the weekend of September 15, 2002 over an incident that happened several years ago with a female, high school student. Greene's resignation and the investigation of the allegations by the Tribune and other news outlets have sparked lots of dialogue over the ethics surrounding this situation. The following are merely a few of the articles discussing this situation.


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Professional Organizations & Associations

American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE)
ASNE is the "main organization of daily newspaper editors in America". The organization began in 1912 from a discussion around a campfire in Glacier National Park (Montana). Numerous resources are available at this site, including first amendment information.

Specific examples of types of codes found in this section include the following:

  1. Associated Press
  2. The New York Times: Guidelines on Our Integrity
  3. The Washington Post Standards and Ethics

Association for Education in Journalism & Mass Communication (AEJMC)
AEJMC exists to "promote the highest possible standards for education in journalism and mass communication, to encourage the widest possible range of communication research, to encourage the implementation of a multi-cultural society in the classroom and curriculum, and to defend and maintain freedom of expression in day-to-day living". This organization has 8 special interest groups and 2 commissions. The Media Ethics Division is merely one of 17 divisions that are associated with AEJMC.

Association for Practical and Professional Ethics
The Association for Practical and Professional Ethics was founded in 1991 with the support of Indiana University and a Lilly Endowment. Their mission is to "encourage interdisciplinary scholarship and teaching of high quality in practical and professional ethics by educators and practitioners". This site includes association information, activities, publications, and electronic networking opportunities.

Chicago Headline Club: A Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists
The Chicago Headline Club is made up of a Chicagoans in the communications business, and those in the Headline Club are also members of the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ).

Codes of Ethics Online: Media
Codes of Ethics Online is a list of media organization and association codes compiled by the Illinois Institute of Technology's Center for the Study of Ethics in the Professions. International groups are also represented at this site.

College Media Advisers: Code of Ethical Behavior
College Media Advisers is a professional association for college students and the media advisors. The mission of the group is to:

  1. educate and inform advisers about their roles in serving students and about the teaching, advising and production of collegiate media; and
  2. advance the aesthetics of the student media our members' advice and the technologies of these programs.

Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ)
CCJ is a group of journalists representing all facets of the profession, including reporters, editors and producers, who are concerned about the future of the profession. One thing the group has attempted is to spark a national dialogue about concerns and principles among journalists. Workshops, forums, statements and surveys are ways CCJ has worked to encourage these conversations.

European Codes of Journalism Ethics
The core of this extensive collection was the result of several projects conducted in the Department of Journalism and Mass Communications at the University of Tampere (Finland). Codes from "most" European countries are represented at this site, and all codes have been translated into English. The following are two examples from this site:

International Journalists' Network (IJNet): Code of Ethics
IJNet, an organization based in Washington, D.C., provides an extensive list of codes from around the world. Information on media laws and other resources can also be found at this site. One section to check out is Training Resources, which includes journalism ethics materials and links to useful Web sites. The Training Resources section can be found at

JEA Press Rights Commission
JEA, the Journalism Educational Association (, was founded in 1924 and is now located on the campus of the University of Kansas, Manhattan. It is the "only independent national scholastic journalism organization for teachers and students". The Press Rights Commission portion of JEA's online resources was launched in April 2002, and sections of this site are under construction. Information currently available at the site include topics such as law & ethics links, policies and exercises & activities related to journalism issues.

National Press Club Online
The National Press Club was founded in March 1908, and currently boasts 4200 members. Its purpose is to be a "center for the advancement of their professional standards and skills, the promotion of free expression, mutual support and social fellowship".

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA): Ethics
The National Press Photographers Association (NPPA) section on ethics provides links to the NPPA code of ethics, their digital code of ethics, plus articles, books and videos related to this topic.

Radio-Television News Directors Association & Foundation (RTNDA)
RTNDA is the "world's largest professional organization devoted to electronic journalists". Over 3000 news directors from more than 30 countries belong to RTNDA.

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)
SPJ, a professional organization based in Indianapolis, IN, is focused on maintaining an independent media while promoting high ethical standards among journalists.

World Press Institute (WPI): Global Journalism Ethics
Stephen J. Ward, an associate professor at the Graduate School of Journalism at the University of British Columbia, is the editor of this ethics forum. The site provides featured topics for discussion, and journalists can participate in online discussions or present ideas for future dialogue.

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Media Watchers

Accuracy in Media (AIM): For Fairness, Balance and Accuracy in News Reporting
AIM is a non-profit "watchdog" organization whose mission is to "encourage members of the media to report the news fairly and objectively--without resorting to bias or partisanship". This organization uncovers inaccurate news stories and attempts to present the information in a truthful, unbiased light.

CAMERA, the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America, is a non-denominational organization that works to encourage reporters and the media to provide balanced coverage of the events in the Middle East, especially between Israel and Palestine. The CAMERA staff monitor and review stories coming out of the Middle East, and they contact reporters about biased coverage. Reports of this nature are posted at this site.

Communication Studies Resources: Media Watchers and Activists
Karla Tonella, Department of Communication Studies at the University of Iowa, developed and continues to maintain this site. A list of annotated resources to regional, narrowly-focused and national media watchers are provided.

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR): The National Media Watch Group
FAIR has been working to promote balanced and unbiased reporting since 1986. The group works with journalists and activists to carry out this task. Links to articles pointing out media blunders are provided.

The Freedom Forum
The Freedom Forum is a non-partisan group based in Arlington, VA that is dedicated to "free press, free speech and free spirit for all people". This foundation was founded in 1991 by Allen H. Neuharth, and succeeded one founded in 1935 by Frank Gannett. The Freedom Forum is not connected in any way to the Gannett Company.

Grade the News
Grade the News is a special project of KTEH, the public television station affiliated with Stanford University. Those associated with this project include journalists, ethicists, professors and members of the public who are concerned about the quality of the news.

Media Research Center (MRC)
In 1987, a group of young conservatives banded together to expose the liberal biases they believe were prevalent in the news media. They developed the Media Research Center, currently based in Alexandria, VA to be an educational organization dedicated to bringing balance to journalism. MRC claims to be "the leader in documenting, exposing and neutralizing liberal media bias".

Minnesota News Council
After 28 years in operation, the mission of the Minnesota News Council is still to "promote fair, vigorous and trusted journalism by creating a forum where the public and the news media can engage each other in examining standards of fairness". The organization provides public forums, workshops and other events. They also accept formal and informal complaints about news coverage with the goal of creating awareness and reducing the number of issues warranting a complaint.

PressWise is a charity that was established in 1993 by "victims of press abuse". The group believes that journalists operate on behalf of the public, and PressWise works to promote ethical journalism standards and assist those with complaints about the media. They also provide research in areas dealing with media laws and regulations.

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Resources & Centers

Asia Media Ethics
Asia Media Ethics is one of the resources found on the Asian Journalism Network (AJNet) site ( Codes of ethics from various regions of Asia, like India, Malaysia and Australia are provided. Information for countries, like Cambodia, Japan and South Korea are not posted at this time, but they will be added to the site as they become available.

Can We Tape?
Journalists often tape record phone calls as a tool in their reporting. Many obtain consent from the interviewee, but some do not. Each state has different rules and regulations regarding the act of taping phone conversations, and this site outlines those laws. Policies regarding hidden cameras are also addressed.

Civic Journalism: A New Approach to Citizenship
Lewis A. Friedland, Jay Rosen and Lisa Austin prepared this article for the American Civic Forum. They suggest that reporters and news outlets have a responsibility to the public to provide them with the data needed for them to make informed decisions that shape the entire community. More civic journalism resources, including case studies, can be found at

Creating a Code of Ethics for Your Organization
Chris MacDonald, PhD, Philosophy Department, St. Mary's University (Halifax, Canada) has put together this site with links to resources to assist individuals and groups in the process of developing a code of ethics. He discusses why organizations and institutions should even have a code and provides guidance in writing one. He also provides links to essays on ethics, sample codes and contacts for ethics consultants.

MacDonald has also worked on several other ethics sites including the following:

Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists
Loyola University Chicago Center for Ethics & Social Justice and the Chicago Headline Club Chapter of the SPJ teamed up in January 2001 to provide this free public service to area journalists. Most questions are answered within 24 hours by volunteers who have been trained in journalism ethics. Volunteers for this service are people who either teach ethics or work with ethics on a professional level.

Ethics Case Study Detail
Robert F. Ladenson, Department of Philosophy at the Illinois Institute of Technology, prepared this case study involving a New York Times reporter and minors who were interviewed for a story without parental consent. This is merely one of numerous cases presented in a section of the Ethics Updates site (, edited by Lawrence M. Hinman.

The complete list of case studies can be found at

Ethics for Digital Information Providers
Janna Quitney Anderson, a professor at the Elon University School of Communications (Elon, NC), conducted a survey in 2000 about ethical standards practiced by those working with online media. The survey received an "overwhelming" response from industry professionals. One thing that came out of the survey, however, was that many involved in this rapidly evolving environment were not upholding the level of ethical standards that are practiced with more traditional information outlets.

Ethics on Campus: Journalism & College Newspapers
Francis A. Rizzo III was a senior in the School of Communications at Hofstra University when he created this site as part of an independent study project. Some of the issues Rizzo addresses at this site include how to cover classmates, to what extent can a college newspaper reporter criticize a student athlete and can school advertising dollars affect coverage.

Rizzo also worked on another independent project entitled, Journalism in the New Media, and the site can be found at

Ethics on the World Wide Web
The School of Communications at California State University, Fullerton developed this ethics site that contains information on associations, codes and topic areas such as journalism.

A complete list of ethics topics can be found at

Journalism Ethics Cases Online
The School of Journalism at Indiana University has pulled together this often cited list of journalism ethics cases. Barry Bingham Jr. developed the core set of cases found at this site, and they were initially published in his newsletter, FineLine. Cases are designed to be used by teachers, researchers, professional journalists and anyone interested in media ethics.

Media Ethics Resources
Media Ethics Resources is one of the many sites found on the site ( operated by Chris MacDonald. This site has links to Canadian resources, international resources, media ethics in the news and other ethics articles.

Mystery of the Missing Pole
In May 1995, Life Magazine published John Filo's famous photo of Mary Ann Vecchio next to the body of Jeffery Miller at Kent State on May 4, 1970 after National Guardsmen fired shots into a group of students, killing 4. This site provides comments taken primarily from the National Press Photographers Association listserv, NPPA-L, and discusses the changes made to the copy that ran in Life verses the original photo from 1970.

Online NewsHour: Media Watch
Media Watch is a section of the online version of the program "NewsHour with Jim Lehrer on PBS". Links to NewsHour segments plus media critiques, media study centers, media organizations and online reports are provided.

The Project for Excellence in Journalism
The Project for Excellence in Journalism is part of the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism with funding provided by the Pew Charitable Trust. It started as an initiative by journalists to "clarify and raise the standards of American journalism".


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Additional ethics resources can be found at the following sites.

Anthropology Ethics

Art Ethics

Bioethics. See also the Biotechnology Web Page (UIUC)

Business Ethics

Ethics Case Studies

History Ethics


Research Ethics

Social Science Ethics: A Bibliography

Sociology Ethics

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*This site is an adaptation of Web pages I created for the Office of the Vice Chancellor for Research at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.

Created by Sharon Stoerger MLS, MBA
©October 12, 2002
Updated January 20, 2004