As journalists, we seek truth and report it. That simple phrase is the overarching principle of the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics. Like many truths, it might take just a minute to remember, but an entire lifetime to master.
Last month I announced LebTown’s Countywide Campaign, an ambitious effort to reach 1,000 active members by the time our fifth birthday rolls around in April. This editorial follows up my previous one about LebTown’s core value, optimize for trust.
Read More: Introducing the Countywide Campaign
In that editorial, I wrote that LebTown exists to provide a common set of facts for our community. We take that job very seriously and the Society of Professional Journalists’ code of ethics provides the manual for how we do it. Members of our newsroom team sign a pledge to uphold the SPJ code of ethics with each and every story they write for LebTown.
In addition to the charge to “seek truth and report it,” the SPJ code of ethics also calls for journalists to minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent. I’ve tried to embed these values in our day-to-day journalism, as well as in LebTown itself.
Here are some ways that LebTown embodies the SPJ code of ethics throughout our work.
Although we want to avoid the view from nowhere, we also aim to avoid the trend towards polarization seen in much of the media landscape. Too many journalists resort to a myopic interpretation of objectivity, which hinders their ability to actually explain what’s going on, but many more abandoned that principle completely in favor of advocacy and partisanship.
The SPJ code of ethics calls for us to, “Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.”
Stories like ours earlier today looking into the mystery leaker of an intra-party feud are possible first and foremost because of the trust LebTown has earned with our readers and sources. But they’re also ones that require us to have our own agency; that is, our own sense of what the newsroom represents. For me, it comes back to the goal of providing a common set of facts. Not just relaying what public figures say is happening, but actually doing our own reporting until we understand it well enough to explain it to our readers.
In upcoming editorials, I’ll share more about two related LebTown values: Make the extra call and Seek common ground.
The SPJ code of ethics also urges us to avoid stereotyping and interrogate our biases. As an example, I ask our newsroom to avoid “fangy” phrasing. Like a dog baring its teeth, fangy phrasing is any word choice that can prompt or confuse a reader into viewing the article as having an agenda of some kind. One example of how we avoid polarizing language is our food safety inspections – many outlets will put the most disgusting violations in the headline, but LebTown avoids that practice and lets the violations speak for themselves.
This can also apply to how we illustrate or promote a story. Many outlets have damaged audience trust by sharing a Facebook post that used exaggerated language compared to the actual article in hopes of boosting engagement, or used a salacious headline to drum up the most sensational aspects of a story. I urge our newsroom to be mindful of their specific word choice and framing so as to avoid unintentionally prompting a reader into viewing the article as having an inherent bias.
These are just a few ways that LebTown tries to adhere to the SPJ code of ethics throughout our entire body of work.
If you’ve learned something in this editorial, or it otherwise struck a chord with you, please consider joining LebTown as a member and being a part of our further conversations, both online and off, in the coming months.
Members are the heart and soul of LebTown, and in addition to the deep satisfaction of being champions for local news, they get special benefits like the ability to comment on articles, purchase exclusive merchandise, and receive members-only email newsletters.
For a quick and simple one-time contribution, head here. (Please note that one-time contributions are not eligible for member benefits.)
Next month, I will continue this editorial series by talking about another of LebTown’s values: Make the extra call. With feedback, suggestions, or ideas, you can reach me using the contact form at the bottom of this article or by shooting an email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Questions about this story? Suggestions for a future LebTown article? Reach our newsroom using this contact form and we’ll do our best to get back to you.
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