In this era of public mistrust of the media, online publications ought to disclose their standards and values
This column appeared in the October 1998 issue of The American Journalism Review.
By J.D. Lasica
In this age of public distrust of the media, one would think that enterprising executives would make every effort to draw distinctions between their brand of journalism and the questionable style of reporting practiced in some quarters of cyberspace.
Certainly, readers rightly judge a publication’s credibility based on its track record. But buttressing that record with a declaration of principles would send a powerful message, especially at a time when a cynical public often lumps Matt Drudge, MSNBC and the Dallas Morning News into a single ominous force called “the media.”
How to regain the public’s trust? Here’s one way: Tell readers about your standards and values. If you have an ethics policy, post it online. Do you have a code of conduct for employees, or a set of guiding journalistic principles? A policy to prevent the intrusion of advertising influence in editorial content? A disclosure statement about your publication’s corporate parentage? Let’s see it. (And for gosh sake, don’t let the lawyers muck it up.)
A handful of publications online — but only a handful — have laid their principles on the line. Among the best:
• The San Antonio Express-News in April adopted a praiseworthy ethics code, written in plain language, that covers such topics as conflicts of interest, plagiarism, freebies, anonymous sources, documentary photojournalism and (more controversially) political activism and membership on community boards. All employees are required to sign off on the code, which is posted on the paper’s Web site at www.expressnews.com.