Personal Ethics Guidelines

[The following is a revised and final version of Draft 1 of my personal ethics guidelines.]

He that holds fast the golden mean,
And lives contently between
The little and the great,
Feels not the wants that pinch the poor,
Nor plagues that haunt the rich man’s door.
— William Cowper, English Poet, 1731-1800

The values that I’ve developed anchor deeply in who my parents are, where they come from, the environment they surrounded me in growing up, and my own experiences. These factors combined, I deeply value the following which influence my own personal ethics guidelines: independence, intentionality, compassion, family, and hard work.

My values and background from which these developed are entrenched in Aristotle’s philosophy of the Golden Mean. It is the state in which you avoid either extremes of excess and deficiency, though not necessarily settling in the exact middle. Aristotle’s teachings ensure that one’s mean is dependent upon the individual. His doctrine does not work for my value of passion and hard work, but within my own sense of how this plays out in my life, I’ve found the mean.

It may be worth noting that I identify closely with the Golden Mean in part due to knowing extremes which Aristotle makes clear in his philosophy. After all, how can you truly know the middle path without having experienced the other paths? From what I know today, knowing the middle - or at least my middle - takes a lot of work and comes by way of process, which is another differentiation of the Golden Mean in comparison with other ethics theories.

I have found in news organizations like the New York Times and Reuters, that their written handbook of standards or codes of ethics, exemplify their efforts to report the truth. It’s a process, and we as an audience know this because when they find themselves on either extreme, they make it known to their readers that they aim to get back to their mean.

Below are my personal guiding principles that apply both in life and in what I understand of journalism so far:

  1. Take considerations from all sides, but remain independent in my decision-making. This is another way to say that standing in the corner and observe is a valued trait in journalism. I often do this naturally in new situations in order to figure out where I fit in a larger group dynamic. Typically, I don't stay in the corner and know that this first guideline, though obvious, is also my anticipated biggest challenge. Remaining independent is difficult for me. I will build relationships and ask good questions in order to listen. But don't get too close to the story or subjects. Therefore, I will avoid including any personal relationships as sources or subjects, as well as ensuring that there is no personal or financial gain to be had in my stories.

  2. Tirelessly seek the truth in a situation, with myself, and in others. This connects to my belief in hard work. Without it, it is hard to stand behind answers that I believe are true for myself and others. This applies to covering complex topics that I might not understand or should acknowledge my own bias. In-depth research plays a big role in being able to synthesize complex dynamics and biases. For example, covering a story that integrates race, class, gender, or religion is going to take a lot of hard work in order to seek the truth in the story and in the subjects I'd interview. The responsibility to portray a minority or tense cultural topic without furthering society's stereotypes or minimizing harm is a big responsibility that I do not want to get wrong. 

  3. Intentionality with every decision, in order to fuel larger goals. This is a guiding light for me in how I've achieved more than I set out to accomplish in my past and I aim to apply this approach in finding story angles, interviewing subjects, and the research behind my writing. Without having and portraying intention professionally, I believe it's also hard for others to believe in you. Intentionality will also help me find the greater truth. In my experience, being deliberate about something that might be wrong or someone doesn't agree with - I can discover more quickly their perspective. This dialogue then becomes part of the process toward truth. 

  4. Seek community and relationships which play an integral role in the story. I aim to treat people like my family in the way that there is trust, honesty, and comfort. If a source chooses not to be identified, they will remain anonymous. There is transparency in goals and intentions. This is a huge challenge in order to both build relationships and gain trust while also remaining independent. However, in my short experience, there is no shortage of opinions on journalists which becomes a wall of separation from writer and subject. To overcome this division, I will  hold building relationships in high regard.

  5. Give respect. This is a necessary first step, last step, and every step in the journalistic process. Part of giving respect is acknowledging that the task or the goal is not all about me or the story. It's about having self-awareness for others and in the situation. Minimizing harm is part of this, so there will likely be situations where I will not give respect and cause harm.

My work in social media for a school within a larger university heavily applies to these goals. I see these guidelines applying mostly behind the scenes and not being apparent on a public channel. Because my goals are engagement and ultimately selling a product, independence and truth can become stretched definitions.  However, as much as I can aim to build a community both professionally and on social media I will also aim to uphold these guidelines by way of process of seeking the truth in this medium.

Emily Turner1 Comment