August 1, 2009

Personal Ethics Statements

I think the idea of journalists publishing personal statements about their ethical standards is a good step toward transparency. Individuals should take responsibility for “oughts” and “ought nots” of their work. For an excellent example of this, check out Walt Mossberg’s personal ethics statement at the Wall Street Journal.

Mossberg’s statement is typical of what we should expect from a technology columnist. There’s nothing surprising here. Much of his statement is grounded in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

I was alerted to Andrew Alexander’s blog post by a Tweet from Jay Rosen who makes this claim (with which I agree): Transparency is the new objectivity. “Where I’m coming from” works better than the View from Nowhere.

But there’s something missing (and I do not mean to pick on Mossberg; he’s merely an example): The concept of transparency, I think, must include the concept of show-your-work journalism, which is a proper understanding of what objectivity was supposed to be.

Further, Mossberg’s statement, in its typicality, fails to account for biases that I have claimed are far more important to understanding journalists and journalism than the sorts of things we see in codes of ethics. Show-your-work journalism is all about making plain more than one’s adherence to a code or a defense / explanation of one’s politics. If we can see your work we can make better decisions about the quality of your news.

Again, posting personal ethics statements is a good idea. I posted one on Rhetorica the first year. But now I’m thinking it’s time to re-think and re-write. I’m not at all confident it fits the needs of transparency as I imagine them.

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