A journalist’s perspective on handling ethical issues

Also posted to WVU Investigative Journalism’s WordPress.

A journalist’s career consists of making difficult, ethical choices. Some take a hazardous route, resulting in “fake news,” lawsuits, and other negative outcomes. Others follow what they believe in, doing their best to prevent unethical situations.

Emily Daniels, the City Editor for The Journal in Martinsburg, WVa., recalled a personal ethical dilemma that she was faced with at the start of her career.

“Shortly after becoming a reporter at The Journal in Martinsburg, I received a tip about our county library director, how she had allegedly been fired from past jobs, had changed her name, etc,” Daniels said. “As I’m close to being able to confirm all of my information, one of my editors wanted to run the story immediately without being able to completely and solidly confirm everything. I felt like it was a total lawsuit in the making.”

“At first, I was furious. I told my editor there was no way we could run the story without being able to confirm everything. It was pretty obvious that my information was more than likely correct, but I would have felt absolutely awful if we got it wrong, as we had a lot of information that could possibly ruin this woman’s career.”

“So, basically, I sort of blew up and told my editor I wasn’t going to write the story, and if they wanted to run it, they would have to have someone else do all the digging I already had and write it themselves because I wouldn’t have my name attached to it whatsoever,” Daniels said. “After calming down, I had a sit down with the editor who wanted to run it and the head editor of the paper. In the end, I was able to hold off and ultimately got pulled off the assignment, but I felt good about the decision I had made.”

Later, Daniels was promoted to one of the two City Editor positions.

“If I could have done anything differently, I would have been more respectful to my editor,” Daniels said. “I got defensive, felt like he wasn’t listening so I raised my voice, and could have conducted myself in a more civilized manner. I did apologize to him, but it still doesn’t entirely excuse my behavior.”

For young reporters and journalists, the Society of Professional Journalists has four principles to follow as the foundation of ethical journalism, which can be found here.

“I would just tell young journalists to stick to their guns and stand up for what they believe in,” Daniels said. Although the example I’m giving you isn’t life or death by any means, I felt passionate about what I was saying and what I was doing, and I know that I’m the one who has to go to bed each night with the decisions I have made.”

National Public Radio also has an ethics handbook for journalists to use, with links to resources found throughout it.

“Every story is the most important story you will ever write, and I try to keep that in the back of my head, and try to look at things from all different perspectives,” Daniels added. “It can be tough sometimes, but don’t compromise your integrity and don’t rush into something for the wrong reasons.”

“Timing is crucial to the journalism world, but accountability and credibility are vital as well.”

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