Sunday, October 31

RTNDA Code of Ethics

My attempt with this blog entry is to engage in a discussion about journalism ethics. I want my students and those reading to take a hard look at what's wrong with the situation and how young people getting into broadcasting are easily caught up in the excitement of a story and will let the thrill cloud their minds to what is right and what is wrong.

I'm posting a link here to the RTNDA Code of Ethics as a resource and reference to my posting about the hidden camera/microphone tactics used by WKBN-TV and for the way one of our capstone students was manipulated and drawn into the matter. I ask the question, can the "producer" defend the tactics 100%? Was there any other way to get this story and be forthright, fair and credible?

Journalists have an obligation to the truth and to fairness. I believe the way the station went after the alleged "Republicans Refuse Democrat Tickets" violated the obligation to truth and fairness. Again to frame this discussion better you need to review Ian Durham's weblog entry about the events by clicking on to his capstone blog.

From the RTNDA Code of Ethics at


Professional electronic journalists should pursue truth aggressively and present the news accurately, in context, and as completely as possible.
Professional electronic journalists should:

  • Continuously seek the truth.
  • Resist distortions that obscure the importance of events.
  • Clearly disclose the origin of information and label all material provided by outsiders.

Professional electronic journalists should not:

  • Report anything known to be false.
  • Manipulate images or sounds in any way that is misleading.
  • Plagiarize.
  • Present images or sounds that are reenacted without informing the public.


Professional electronic journalists should present the news fairly and impartially, placing primary value on significance and relevance.

Professional electronic journalists should:

  • Treat all subjects of news coverage with respect and dignity, showing particular compassion to victims of crime or tragedy.
  • Exercise special care when children are involved in a story and give children greater privacy protection than adults.
  • Seek to understand the diversity of their community and inform the public without bias or stereotype.
  • Present a diversity of expressions, opinions, and ideas in context.
  • Present analytical reporting based on professional perspective, not personal bias.


Megan Marshall said...

Mr. Weaver - What could happen if a reporter or in this case, an intern, refuses to do the story? Would it be illegal to fire someone for refusing to do something they don't believe in?

Laura K. said...

I can see how what the station did differs from what most stations would call "investigative reporting" but where exactly is that line drawn? I don't agree with using the hidden cameras as a matter of the "news" but I can see the value in verifying a tip by having Ian try to get a ticket. And it's not like he lied about his party affiliation anyway. How does this situation compare with the situation in the movie "All the President's Men" and the "unknown" person who helped with tips and leads for the reporter? The identity of that person is still unknown, correct? And Watergate was a huge story of national interest.

Brad Weaver, BC Instructor said...

In response to Megan Marshall's comments: I would hope an intern or a reporter would not suffer any retaliation for standing up for ethics-- but from my experience with competitive newsrooms it would not surprise if I heard a case of an intern or reporter getting in trouble with management. I recall reading about a Channel 7 reporter in Chicago (the ABC O & 0) refusing to cover a spot story about some high school violence because he had a problem with it ethically. I do remember he was suspended. I don't recall every reading any follow up to that case.

Brad Weaver, BC Instructor said...
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Brad Weaver, BC Instructor said...
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Brad Weaver, BC Instructor said...

Responding to Laura's Post:
In Watergate, the source presented tips that he reporters used to dig deeper and revealing a genuine story with massive consequences. The source became so reliable that the paper trusted him enough to lay its reputation on the line. The source was indeed an insider that moved this MAJOR story forward and became so reliable that they were confident to offer attribution to the source.

In the WKBN case, this was one person's accusation-- and I doubt they had much to loose- I understand it was a local business person who offered a tip. I do not think this person would have anything to lose by backing the claim up by going on the record.

But protectig sources is one thing-- this wasn't about sources. This was about following up on a tip. Using hidden cameras and mics to vett out a tip is clearly going overboard. And I would argue that Ian could have gone in without the hidden mic to do the same thing to root out the integrity of the tip. Clearly the station decided there was no story if it never aired this little sting operation.