Last week I was invited to speak to Candis Callison and Kirk LaPointe's class on Media Ethics and Leadership at University of British Columbia School of Journalism.
Before going, I polled a few journalists on my staff and asked them how they define ethics in terms of their work. I asked them what standard they hold themselves to.
Really ethical journalism is never lying about what you are doing, although you don't always tell people the full story, and above all else you cannot print that which you know is not true, or the best semblance of the truth. If there is any sign you may be wrong, you don't print it, no matter the pressures on you. You don't take money from outside parties to do a story, you don't reveal sources who have asked for privacy and you treat people with respect, even those who don't deserve it.
Why has Bruce devoted his life to being a journalist?
I think there are many reasons: from the mundane to the more noble. On the mundane it's a lot of fun and you get to meet interesting people and do interesting things and go to cool places (occasionally). On the noble, you can expose bad people doing bad things, you can set the historical record straight on events big and small, and you can occasionally get some justice for people who need it.
And one of the most ethical people I’ve ever known, my long-time colleague and journalist, Jenny Uechi, writes:
To me, being an ethical journalist means recognizing the objectivity of truth -- important given the post-truth, fake news times. Which means that even if you have personal beliefs/a narrative in your mind about what would make a good story, to point out the nuances, like the good efforts a politician or company made, or the troubling allegations against someone your audience might consider a hero.
It also means some degree of considering the power of media. If someone is more vulnerable and marginalized (homeless, of a visible minority that suffers unprovoked discrimination), to consider the impact of the story on their lives. At the same time, but in the opposite direction, to not be afraid of publishing information that could make powerful people angry or burn bridges/access, if that information needs to be known and the relevance of that information to the public's decision-making outweighs a powerful person's desire to safeguard reputation.
And, then, of course, I asked Mike De Souza, our Managing Editor, and a reporter who is outstanding in his commitment to balance and fairness.
Mike De Souza
To me it means taking the time to hear and listen to everyone we speak to and everyone we report on.
Yes, I ask tough questions, but I accept the answers that are given to me. If I’m skeptical, I won’t report that unless there is clear evidence to confirm or refute what a source is saying.
Thinking about what’s in the public interest.
Thoughts from readers
On Facebook, I’m always posting about the state of journalism, and people who follow my page are interested. I asked them what the term 'ethical journalism' means to them.
Clayton Thomas-Muller First Nations environmental activist with 350.org
The imaginary third rail of objectivity otherwise known as the Hippocratic oath of western journalists does not factor systemic racism or colonialism in its application. Things are not fair and balanced especially in an Exxon/KKK governed USA
Donna Morton, Co-Founder and CEO, Change Finance
Truth, unflinching, un-paid-for, no prettiness of the truth is in the middle, the truth is the truth . . .
Manda Gillespie, Author, The Green Mamma
I think there are baseline ethics of journalism: not to take at face-value any form of propaganda and not to exploit the weak for instance. But I think truly great ethical journalism goes after deeper truth and works to rebalance the power out there. It's storytelling combined with research and it under covers the cracks in what we see as reality. It also works hard to show us the light, the potential, the possible of humanity.
Next, I asked Jenny when she feels gratified by her work.
Probably the most gratifying feeling for any journalist is when something big happens as a result of their reporting, like a major resignation or policy change. But a lot of the time I think the impacts of news stories are more subtle. I remember the news stories that shifted my way of thinking around First Nations, the Middle East, homelessness, LGBTQ issues. The changes are internal after seeing different sides of a story and that could have never happened without news reports.
So I'm gratified by my work when I receive feedback from a source saying they felt their voice heard and the issue represented accurately. Also when there's (rare) feedback from someone who shouldn't have been happy about a story who nevertheless felt it was fair representation.
As for me, I’m gratified when we break a story that would never have come out if we hadn’t pursued it, stories that move the dial politically in a direction towards the common good, better government, justice, human rights, peace, security for everyone: that’s at the core of what is meaningful to me.
Editor's note: This piece was revised at 10:20 A.M. on Feb. 18 for clarity.