Your digital brand — journalism ethics

acts of journalism

Committing acts of journalism—  What’s that?

The Web and digital technology have made it possible for anyone to commit an act of journalism.

Today, more people than ever are participating in journalism. People are breaking news on Twitter, covering their communities on Facebook, livestreaming, distributing news via email and writing in-depth blogs on issues of civic and community significance. Some of these people are what we’d consider “traditional” journalists working on new platforms, but many are not. — Josh Stearns, when working at The Free Press. Read the Free Press Report on defining press freedom in the digital age.

That’s why as an independent journalist it’s important that you hard-wire certain attributes into your brand from the beginning.

Among others, these include:

These attributes will become increasingly important if news outlets evolve into a platform for our talent as some of us are predicting.

Under FTC rules, you must disclose your material relationship with any product or service you write about, photograph or create multimedia about. So do that. And understand that when someone offers you money to say nice things about them, they are asking you to be a marketer, not a journalist. This is what prompted me to write this piece “The byline that can’t be bought.” We have to address the realities that it can be difficult to make a living as an independent journalist. But as a digital communicator I can be paid to conduct research, write web copy, run a social media campaign, take photographs, create multimedia or any number of creative actions.

Journalism vs. marketing
As a digital journalist, however, I cannot take money to to write something nice about you under my byline. That’s called marketing. Since I know there are all kinds of grays at the intersection of marketing and journalism as these fields evolve, I’ve contacted some expert friends journalist of mine who have long experience exploring these issues.

Bill Mitchell, co-founder,, and faculty  for The
Poynter Institute, offered these thoughts on the hypothetical of a freelancer offered paid travel expenses to cover a conference. Let’s add that the freelance journalist has a personal branded blog at an established news outlet, think a publication like Forbes etc., and the outlet recently refused to publish a blog post with a disclosure that conference organizers were sponsoring travel to the events discussed.

Mitchell says:
“I believe that reimbursement by the conference organizers does compromise your independence to a certain degree, but not fatally so as long as your disclosure is full. At the risk of approaching such questions pedantically, I tend to approach them with these questions:
— What’s my journalistic purpose?
— Which of my guiding principles are in tension here?
— What are at least three options I might consider  (the technique
long taught at Poynter as a way of busting out of binary thinking)?

— What’s my journalistic purpose?
— Which of my guiding principles are in tension here?
— What are at least three options I might consider?

“Spreading the word about ideas emerging around/ from the conference
seems to me like a worthy journalistic purpose. That leaves me with a basic tension between the principle of telling as much of the truth of the story as possible and the principle of acting independently,” Mitchell says.

Bill says I or any independent journalist would have three  options: accept the offer, reject the offer, accept the offer with specific conditions. He says the third offer is the best choice and outlined the conditions. 

Conditions for accepting travel compensation to a conference:
— Be clear with the conference organizers that you tried something like this recently and your branded blog at a news outlet ended up not publishing your article.
— Be clear with the conference organizers that their reimbursement of your expenses buys them your best effort to provide an independent assessment of issues raised at the conference and/or the conference itself. You have no way of knowing at this point whether the organizers will find your conclusions helpful to their purposes, and you’ll do your best to put that consideration out of your mind.
— Be clear with the conference organizers that they’ll see what you’ve written only once it’s published.
— Be clear with any potential publisher that your article must include a clear disclosure that your expenses were paid by conference organizers.
— Pitch this article (to your editors if possible) before you respond to the conference organizers and share the editors response — whatever it is: yea, nay or no response — with the conference organizers.

Restoring trust in news
Google is getting active in restoring Trust in News with its Trust Project. City University of New York professor Jeff Jarvis has added his thoughts in this post Trust in News. He suggests that journalists adopt a code of ethics — take a look at what the Online News Association has developed as well as the SPJ. Post it on your Website,  About me page or wherever you think of as your online home.

Take a look at Jarvis’ disclosure statement. Here’s my ethics statement.

Working Journalists is looking at putting together a panel to discuss ethics issues in terms of travel, entertainment, food and other beats.

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Sally Duros believes good writing is a superpower. You can connect with Sally on , and on Twitter.