Describe your company and benchmark the codes of conduct used by similar companies. Critique the codes of conduct for three other companies.
Benchmark codes: The code of conduct for my company (a newspaper publisher in a small town) is quite straightforward and unsophisticated. Basic to the code for my company are ethical issues which are in effect behavioral issues: there shall be no use or profanity, no alcohol or drug use, no wagering and no activities that detract from the daily routine. The federal laws against discrimination (based on gender, ethnicity, age, disabilities and other issues), and sexual harassment, are clearly spelled out in the code of conduct. Also federal laws pertaining to the workplace are posted conspicuously in several areas, including the cafeteria.
Our company also warns against conflicts of interest, that is, using one's position or the knowledge an employee has to some kind of personal advantage. That would be letting another writer or newspaper in on a scoop that we have rather than keeping it confidential in order to personally benefit somehow. Another example of a conflict of interest would be to take a part time job with another newspaper and secretly be writing for two different publications. Receiving a gift from a person that was the subject of an article is a conflict of interests as well.
In our code of conduct it also is spelled out about not doing things outside the office that would bring embarrassment or disgrace to the company. It is also against the ethical standards of our weekly publication to use "unnamed sources" to report controversial or provocative stories. These are benchmark codes used by many publications in the industry. They are basic to keeping reporting honest and ethical.
The Los Angeles Times goes a lot deeper into ethical issues than our newspaper (for which I am a freelance contributor). Fairness to the LA Times means being fully objective, and in a story where people are portrayed in a negative light (because of what they did or are alleged to have done) must be given "a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves") (LA Times). Under "sources" the LA Times is against "anonymity"; sources must be named. Under "access" the LA Times "…does not make deals in exchange for access" nor does it pay for information. "Precision," "Credit," and "Corrections and Clarifications" -- these subtitles are self-explanatory (stories must be precise and sources are credited correctly). Conflicts of interest: "Guidelines cannot cover every conceivable conflict of interest"; check with a supervisor if in doubt (LA Times). The paper expects employees members to behave ethically in their personal lives and some outside work is prohibited (if it competes with Times' interests).
The Sacramento Bee has ethical guidelines very similar to the LA Times, and their rules (regarding the ethical behavior of reporters) mirrors those of the Times. The Bee is in the process of reviewing its guidelines regarding whether or not to note in a story that the interview was conducted via texting. Should a reporter tell readers the interview was via text, or does it matter as long as the quotes are accurate? The editor (Joyce Terhaar) believes the reader should be told exactly how the interview was conducted; for example if the response to a question from a reporter came as a "written statement," that fact should be presented to readers because it lets the reader know there was no back and forth exchange. The Sacramento Bee recently fired photographer Bryan Patrick for manipulating a news photo; he made flames slightly higher in a photo of a distant fire). Manipulating a photo to any degree is unethical. The editor said that if Patrick was willing to slightly alter flames, and to "…move a couple of egrets around" in another photo, "…how do we know there aren't more…how do we trust the work?" (Myers, 2012).
The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) has a number of bullet points for reporters that are more specific than either the Times or the Bee. Some of the ethical points are obvious but others are worth noting: a) don't over simplify headlines; b) avoid stereotyping (by age, gender, race, disability, sexual orientation or social status); c) "show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage"; d) "avoid pandering to lurid curiosity"; e) "be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable"; f) "encourage the public to voice grievances against the media"; g) avoid imposing cultural values on others (SPJ); and h) understand that private persons have a "greater right to control information about themselves" than public officials and others that seek influence or attention (SPJ).
TWO: Analyze the ethical challenges that affect your business; create a code of ethics and give a rationale on how these will help my company's ethics program. The ethical challenges in a small town with a weekly newspaper are far fewer than those in Los Angeles or Sacramento. Still, the same basic ethical guidelines apply here in a small town.
Code of Ethics
Be honest, report only verifiable facts (no hidden agendas), never offer a deal for information; tell readers how the interview was conducted; follow up on stories after the news cools down; never quote "unnamed sources"; press politicians and other public servants for openness and integrity.
Live clean and honest in private lives; avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts of interest; avoid bad behaviors in the office including profanity, harassment, and use of drugs or alcohol and do not share details of investigative stories with others in the office unless collaborating with others.
Never use stereotypes; respect the rights of private individuals; never manipulate photos or slant news stories to one's own ideological bent; seek editorial authorization from superiors before delving into provocative stories.
The publisher has a right to know what outside jobs all writers are engaged in; Use compassion and good judgment at all times; twice annually all reporters and editors and photographers will meet for a mandatory 1-day seminar to review all issues related to ethics and honest reporting.
The publisher has a right to know what jobs -- or activities, even involvement in nonprofit fundraising projects or charitable activities -- the spouses or partners of all reporters and editors are engaged in; the publisher has a right to drug test reporters under the applicable federal and state laws.
THREE: The Federal Sentencing Guidelines have not influenced my ethics program to a great degree except to emphasize that a code of ethical conduct should be in place and should be understood and complied with. The sanctions outlined by the Federal Sentencing Guidelines seem harsh and severe, and are mostly dealing with "criminal conduct." The likelihood of one of our reporters for a weekly local newspaper behaving in a criminal way is extremely rare; that said, it is important for even small town newspaper reporters to adhere to strict ethical guidelines because libel cases can pop up anywhere, even in small towns, if a person believes his or her reputation has been attacked or otherwise stained.
FOUR: What challenges or setbacks can I expect given my ethical guidelines for the small newspaper I work for? How will I address the challenges to these codes? There may be those who don't believe it is necessary to tell the publisher what one's wife or husband or partner does vis-a-vis his or her employment or social activities. This reticence will be met with a private conversation to more fully explain the rationale behind that particular ethical code. In fact if a reporter's wife is a member of Rotary and the reporter is asked to do an in-depth story on Rotary and its drive to eliminate polio internationally, the reporter must pass the assignment along to another writer. Some reporters may also resist taking a drug test, saying it interferes with their need for privacy. But while some may dislike that rule, the newspaper cannot afford (speaking of reputation here) to have a reporter arrested for possession of illegal substances, which is always a possibility when a person is using banned substances like marijuana or cocaine, for example.
Still others may object to not using "unnamed sources" because one of a journalist's jobs is to create reliable sources, and some sources don't want to be quoted; using a quote from a source who wishes to remain anonymous results in losing that source. Still, the ethical thing to do is to say, for example, "a source in the Democratic budget committee of the legislature explained that the bill can't pass," rather than "unnamed legislative sources say the bill can't possibly pass…" (the committee should be identified to take the mystery out of the story).
FIVE: How can I be sure the code of conduct remains relevant to the changing times? By keeping a good line of communication open with the staff, the code of conduct can be challenged any time and when it is, the publisher should call all reporters and editors into a…