Unit 2 Lesson 06: Ethics codes are good for some, but not for all

Wouldn’t it be easy if there were a manual for life?

Ethics codes are probably as close as we’re going to get to having one.

They provide a professional way to solve moral and ethical dilemmas for problems that may not have a clear answer. Even though morals and ethics change from person to person, they are documents that try to unite us in the way we think about what’s right and what’s wrong.

What a wonderful thing, right?

The American Medical Aassociation’s Code of Ethics has been around for decades and the American Psychological Associations’s Ethics Code is highly regarded by many. This is just to list a few.

As a journalist working in the industry for a little more than five years, I struggle to see how an ethics code can be relied upon in my industry.

Sure, we have the Society of Professional Journalist’s code and specifically in Canada, we have the Canadian Association of Journalists who have a less formal document known as their Ethics Guildelines but the real problem is not determining where to look when in an ethical dilemma, but more so, who is considered a “journalist” these days.

With the internet, anyone can be published (and use a variety of platforms to do so). So how do we define who should be abiding by these codes?




Courtesy: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journalist


Screenshot from: Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary


If we use the definition from Meriam-Webster, as pictured above, “a writer who aims at a mass audience” is everyone who posts anything on the internet. That includes Facebook posts, tweets and LinkedIn messages. But realistically, are people thinking about any ethical codes before pressing publish? I don’t think so.

I think formal ethics codes work well in certain industries but not others.




American Psychological Association. (2010, June 1). Ethical principles of psychologists and code of conduct: Including 2010 amendments. Retrieved from http://www.apa.org/ethics/code/ (Links to an external site.)

American Medical Association. (2000). Code of medical ethics. Retrieved from http://www.ama-assn.org/ama/pub/physician-resources/medical-ethics/code-medical-ethics.page (Links to an external site.)

Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary (2016). Definition for “journalist.” Retrieved from: http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/journalist

Society for Professional Journalists (2014).  SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved from: http://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp

The Canadian Association of Journalists (2011). Ethics guidelines. Retrieved from: http://www.caj.ca/ethics-guidelines/


  1. Daren Kenneth Kullman February 26, 2016 at 9:10 PM #

    PSY 533 Blog Reply

    It was extremely interesting reading your perspective as a journalist. I can honestly say that during my years on the “other side” I got along well with any of the true journalists in the profession. I can remember that a particular cameraman/ journalist was late to cover a stabbing scene one night and all he had was video of the outside of the bar, like every other station. This particular professional had respected my desire of not wanting a victim family filmed the week before and as such I thanked him. I then said he might want to stop by a particular street corner ASAP, where a suspect might possibly be in custody. I chuckled in the morning as I arrived home to watch the morning news and the station he worked for was broadcasting an exclusive with” breaking news” video of the capture of the suspect. We had many journalists who worked with us but unfortunately, many who were not what I would call journalists. They seemed to be self-appointed and had no ethical boundaries.
    In reading your blog you said, “the real problem is not determining where to look when in an ethical dilemma, but more so, who is considered a “journalist” these days.” What a prophetic statement. On the internet there are more sources, opinions and fact-less statements made each day. So much so that my daughter has a class in internet information where they teach thehigh schoolers to fact check sources prior to repeating things they read. The ethical behavior of journalists played out in Syracuse over the past several days when the discovery of the body of missing child was put out over the internet in less than reputable ways. The result was the mother found out her missing child’s body was found by reading it on a news site, while she was home alone. The open source also speculated she was suspect, when nothing was further from the truth. The condemnation from the community, law enforcement as well as reputable news sources was overwhelming. (LocalSYR staff, 2016)
    Your writing brings out the problem that is true with any profession from law enforcement to journalism. The need for self-regulation with regards to ethical decisions and work. If someone decides to disregard the concept of self-monitoring, there is little that can be done to stop the action before it occurs. As leaders, we can monitor employees for such unethical behavior, and more importantly be more proactive in the hiring process, looking for signs of unethical decision making. As you state, a document is useless, unless the person believes in the ethical decision making process.
    LocalSYR staff. (2016, February 24). Cheif: Media notified family about body. WSYR News. Syracuse, NY. Retrieved from http://www.localsyr.com/news/chief-media-notified-family-about-body

  2. David Aquinas Mallen February 25, 2016 at 3:40 PM #

    Hello Amanda,
    I think the broader question you raise is a good one regarding what defines a certain person to fall within a professional association and when are they thereby subject to following its ethical standards. For some professions such as doctors, lawyers, those in the social sciences, education, and others then it can clearly be applied to those who have obtained a license and formal entry into the field as well as possibly the graduate students who hold advanced standing toward their degree or certification and should be expected to know how to act according to ethical codes. Students in higher education pursuing their undergraduate or graduate degrees will also fall under codes of academic integrity which are outlined and presented before every class in the syllabus. This is clear-cut because students are defined as those in credit-bearing courses or programs.

    But what about the other fields you speak about? The SPJ states in its Preamble (https://www.spj.org/pdf/ethicscode.pdf) that the document is intended for those “who further those ends by seeking by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues”. I would not consider myself nor others who merely post on social media a journalist just because I make a comment on a cat video. Journalists are those who report the news, clarify events, and provide perspective for those who may have less direct access to it.

    Another field that may fall in the gray area is the film industry. Professionals do have the Professional Filmmakers Code of Conduct http://www.film.ca.gov/CommunityFilmInfo_FilmmakersCode.htm) but to what threshold would people actually be considered “filmmakers”? Surely those who produce, direct, edit, and so on would fall under that but what about gaffers (lighting technicians), boom operators (for sound), production assistants, etc.? The PFCoC outlines the best practices that will not harm relationships with neighborhoods and break any local ordinances, but who falls under the umbrella of responsibility?

    There may never be as concretely an answer for some fields as there are for others, but what I would offer is that if somebody is knowingly pursuing a profession, whether full or part-time or as a livelihood or for a hobby, they are at a level where they should know what is right and what is questionable. Like many of the codes we have read about, ignorance of the code is not a defense against it. People don’t get to the point of being a doctor, lawyer, journalist, film-maker, psychologist, and others without first going through the learning process of how to do the job effectively. And once they get to a point where their work can be meaningful at the professional level, they should have enough of a mastery of the field (whether academically learned or through informal trial and error) to know how to carry themselves in a manner representative of their professional society’s ethical standards.

    David Mallen

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