Ethics, schmethics!

Recently, there has been some discussion about ethics in journalism and public relations in light of the devolution of the journalism business model. So I thought I'd start a short discussion on ethics. This is part. Part two will reveal the results of a survey I am taking among journalists and public relations practitioners. Many publications organizations are rethinking what covering news really means. Is it blogging? Custom publications? Does objective reporting really mean anything? Does anyone really want it anymore? And most importantly, what are the ethical standards in this new age?

Ethics create an interesting issue. Many people talk about ethics like they know what the term means. I have some personal stake in this issue. As a student journalist at San Jose State University, and member of Sigma Delta Chi (Society of Professional Journalists) I was part of the nationwide development of the first code of ethics for journalists that we ratified in 1973. That code has been expanded and developed more meat over the years, but it still says the same basic thing: Seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, be accountable.

When I left the profession after a decade to go back to school, I had to give up my membership in the organization (because you can't be a member without working for a publication in an editorial function) but because I was involved in the development of the code, I made it a part of my life. Even after I returned to the work world as a technical editor for Lockheed and then moved on to the world of PR, it meant something to me.

It is what my PR firm, VitalCom, runs by. We don't lie for our clients (which some people call "spin") but we do stand as advocates for them. We work for clients because we see them doing a benefit for society and industry alike. We don't rubber stamp their views but try to give them a point of view outside of their own marketing messages so the speak with credibility. And we hold ourselves accountable for our actions even if it means we have to lose or "fire" a client, which we have done multiple times, and we take a pass on many clients because we just don't believe their story.

This code is also what we establish as a baseline for New Tech Press. If you question that, you're free to comment or ask questions. I would prefer a civil dialog on this issue.

Recently, in researching for this entry, I discovered the code of ethics for the Public Relations Society of America. Never did join this group, but after reading their code, I'm rethinking that position. It reads as such:

"We serve the public interest by acting as responsible advocates for those we represent. We provide a voice in the marketplace of ideas, facts, and viewpoints to aid informed public debate.

"We adhere to the highest standards of accuracy and truth in advancing the interests of those we represent and in communicating with the public.

"We acquire and responsibly use specialized knowledge and experience. We advance the profession through continued professional development, research, and education. We build mutual understanding, credibility, and relationships among a wide array of institutions and audiences.

"We provide objective counsel to those we represent. We are accountable for our actions.

"We are faithful to those we represent, while honoring our obligation to serve the public interest.
"We deal fairly with clients, employers, competitors, peers, vendors, the media, and the general public. We respect all opinions and support the right of free expression."

I was pleased to see that our agency code works very well with the PRSA code. We will be publishing both these codes on our website very soon because I think it's important that we take a public stand on these issues.

Also, coming soon….Chris Edwards looks at journalism from across "the pond."