Citizen Journalist – do you have a code of ethics?

Long ago and far away…

….there was a group that we called “newspaper journalists.” They were the reporters that concerned citizens counted on for information that was used for learning, personal judgement, and decision making.

According to Wikipedia (don’t laugh, it’s a well vetted source these days) a journalist is “a person who collects, writes, or distributes news or other current information to the public.” And a reporter is “a type of journalist who researches, writes, and reports on information in order to present sources, conduct interviews, engage in research, and make reports.”

Journalists were focused on “the news,” not “my opinion about the news.”

OK. Cool. Old fashioned, but so what? Times were different. Were journalists some kind of saint? Didn’t they lie and screw up?

Well, yes, they did. And here is where we come across another role, the editor.

Among other job responsibilities, editors spent time:

  • Ensuring that the written content was objective.
  • Fact checking.
  • Rejecting writing that appeared to be plagiarized, ghostwritten, or published elsewhere.

If both parties were doing their job, intelligent people could get the information they needed to make informed decisions about the state of the world.

But was this a freelance endeavor without guidance? No.


In 1919, a small group of reporters got together and created the Society of Professional Journalists. That society is still around and, lo and behold, it has a Code of Ethics.

The Code of Ethics is built around four principles:

  • Seek truth and report it.
  • Minimize harm.
  • Act independently.
  • Be accountable and transparent.

And now we have social media and anybody with a computer, tablet or smartphone can become a self-styled journalist and, what’s more, a journalist without an editor. So, unless you want to act like a knucklehead, you might want to consider and adhere to a code of ethics before you write something, forward a post, or even “like” a post.

We have plenty of people willing to lie and with strong opinions about their view of “the news.” Don’t join them.

What we need are people who will take the time to improve the news we use. Have a code of ethics.

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