Friday, July 15, 2005

LA Times Ethics Guidelines

Now here's something you wouldn't have seen in a newspaper's ethics guidelines a few years ago.

The LA Times is out with its newest ethics guidelines (PDF), and one of the sections is "Other Media." It has some good advice:

The growing use of electronic media by The Times creates challenges that may, on occasion, require staff members to apply the principles embodied in these guidelines in new ways. To cite one possible example: journalists should understand that a person who consents to a tape-recorded interview may not want the recording made available on our website.
It goes on to talk about video as well. This sort of thing needs to be thought about a lot more and in a lot more news organizations' ethics guidelines (and probably in a lot more college journalism ethics courses as well).

I'm sure others will pick over and apart the latest document, especially in the context of the latest tempests over unidentified (style note: they have names; they are not "unnamed") sources, so I won't do any detailed commentary. But two quick observations:
  • On page one, the policy states that "A fair-minded reader of Times news coverage should not be able to discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that coverage ..." I would pose one question: Why? It's a devil's advocate question; I happen to support that old-fashioned take on things. But in a world where "transparency" is among the buzzwords, the Times (and others considering such policies) might consider the arguments of those who say knowing the reporter's or editor's biases (i.e. personal opinions) is actually more valuable; these policies then could provide a clearer, more complete explanation of why the news organization is taking the position it is.
  • One 0f the best statements in the document is this short sentence: Readers and staff members who bring mistakes to our attention deserve our gratitude. Can we get that tacked in 120-point type on every newsroom wall?

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