Jeff Jarvis on a Journalistic Code of Ethics

JEFF JARVIS, author of Gutenberg the Geek (Amazon Publishing), Public Parts: How Sharing in the Digital Age Improves the Way We Work and Live (Simon & Schuster, 2011) and What Would Google Do? (HarperCollins 2009), blogs about media and news at Buzzmachine.com. He is associate professor and director of the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the City University of New York’s Graduate School of Journalism.

He is consulting editor and a partner at Daylife, a news startup. He consults for media companies and is a public speaker. Until 2005, he was president and creative director of Advance.net, the online arm of Advance Publications. Prior to that, Jarvis was creator and founding editor of Entertainment Weekly; Sunday editor and associate publisher of the New York Daily News; TV critic for TV Guide and People; a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner; assistant city editor and reporter for the Chicago Tribune; reporter for Chicago Today.

  • Transcript

TRANSCRIPT

Quesiton: Do we need a new journalistic code of ethics?

Jeff Jarvis: A code of ethics doesn’t solve anything. It might be a guide, but at the end of the day, individuals have to make their own ethical decisions every time they face a question and a quandary. 

I have had editors who’ve stood by me and defended me when I pissed off somebody in the company, and I’ve also had editors who’ve come after me and said ,“Oh you can’t do that because it’s gonna piss off somebody.” And no code was going to deal with that. 

I think that I’ve learned new ethics in the blog world online. Now it’s not to say that they’re better and it’s not to say that I reject the ethics of journalism that I learned before, I don’t, I teach them.  But I’ve learned an ethic of transparency online. And on my blog now, I tell the stock I own and who I vote for and all kinds of things, things that I wouldn’t have done back in the days when I was a full time reporter, but I think are very important now. 

So I’ve learned an ethic of transparency, I’ve learned a new ethic of the correction.  On blogs if we make a mistake, we don’t erase it, we cross it out, we fess up, we admit it was there and if we don’t do that very quickly, we’re going to lose credibility. 

I’ve learned an ethic of openness and collaboration.  When I’m working on a story, I’m working on an idea, I ask my readers to help me and they are very generous if I just ask.  Those are new ethics that I’ve learned online that I think old media can learn from. 

At the same time, there are ethics of the old world that live forever, that are immutable, fairness, accuracy, balance, not objectivity but I think those are things that we can do a better job of helping to teach from old media from our experience.

Recorded on: April 30, 2008


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