By Paul Schreiber

If your readers or listeners don’t believe you, you’ve lost them. You’ll have a hard time getting them back.

Your credibility, and that of your publication or station, depends not only on how you do your job as a journalist, but also on how readers and listeners perceive your performance. You can think of yourself as a straight arrow and still fall into any of the traps that await journalists who are unaware, sloppy or ethically-challenged.

Listed below are links to Codes of Ethics that professional journalists live by. You will find guidelines from the Society of Professional Journalists, Gannett Newspapers, The New York Times and the Radio-Television News Directors Association. You also will find The New York Times Learning Network’s discussion of campus journalism ethics and the balance between freedom and responsibility. And there is a valuable guide called “Ethics on Campus: Journalism & College Newspapers” by former Hofstra University student Francis A. Rizzo III.

Here is a short list of ethical standards that should guide student journalists as they go about the important work of covering their campus community. Please see the links below for a fuller discussion.

  • Be accurate. Gather information carefully and double-check it before publication. Have two or more sources for each story.
  • Be fair and impartial. Don’t jump to conclusions that are not supported by your information. Give those you are writing about the opportunity to respond. Be aware that what you publish can have serious consequences for them.
  • Never assume. Never guess.
  • Be balanced. Avoid favoritism. Always look for the other side to a story. Do not take sides. Do not take information out of context. Do not stereotype.
  • Do not make up, exaggerate or embroider information to make a story better.
  • Avoid conflicts of interest, including covering organizations that you support or to which you belong. Do not cover political, social or student-government activities in which you are involved. Do not write about relatives or friends. Avoid any outside activity that can be perceived as compromising the credibility or integrity of the journalist or publication.
  • Accept no gifts. Some publications allow journalists to accept items that have minimal value, but do so knowing that the giver is attempting to influence you and that others will have their own interpretations. If a freebie is not available to everyone, don’t accept it. Gifts that are sent should be returned with an explanation of the paper’s or station’s policy. Free tickets may be accepted only for the purpose of covering an event.
  • Do not lift the material of others. Plagiarism is a very serious offense that can result in termination. Attribute information, including that gotten from the Internet and from material published previously or elsewhere.
  • Do not alter photographs. Do not crop them in a manner that is not representative of the situation being photographed.
  • Question authority. Do not accept information as truth simply because it comes from someone with a title or a uniform.
  • Take responsibility as the eyes and ears of the reader or viewer and ask the questions that need to be asked.
  • Avoid anonymous sources, except in unusual circumstances and then only with the approval of the editor.
  • Correct errors promptly.Ethics links:Ethics on Campus: Journalism & College Newspapers

    Gannett Newspapers Principles of Ethical Conduct

    New York Times Learning Network – Campus Journalism Ethics

    New York Times Learning Network – Balancing Freedom and Responsibility

    Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

    New York Times – Ethical Journalism – Code of Conduct

    Radio-Television News Directors Association Code of Ethics

    Paul Schreiber, a former Newsday reporter, editor and business columnist, is the undergraduate director of the School of Journalism at Stony Brook University.  He previously taught Feature Writing at Stony Brook for 13 years and was director of its Journalism Minor. The Press Club of Long Island named him “Outstanding Long Island Journalist” in 2002. This is excerpted from his forthcoming book. Used with permission.