The Temple University Department of Journalism has become one of the few programs in the nation to create its own code of ethics for student journalists.
While many programs throughout the country refer their students to codes used by professionals, Andrew Mendelson, associate professor and department chair, said the journalism faculty felt they should create a code that is focused on the student journalist experience and reflects today’s media environment.
“We didn’t want our students to be overwhelmed or confused by a professional ethics code,” said Assistant Professor Lori Tharps, who helped write the code with Professor Emeritus Thomas Eveslage. “We wanted to create a unique product using everyday language that addresses the types of ethical decisions and dilemmas the students might face during their time here at Temple.”
As such, the code of ethics is presented as a series of do’s and don’ts:
- Do tell the truth
- Don’t fabricate
- Do hear from many voices
- Don’t plagiarize
- Do be independent
- Don’t misrepresent
- Do be accountable for your work
- Don’t behave badly
- Do ask questions
- Don’t suffer in silence
The code was distributed to students at the start of the semester in many undergraduate and graduate classes.
Mendelson said strong journalistic ethics are even more important in the age of digital media, which brings with it many ways to mistakenly cross over ethical boundaries.
“There are so many new opportunities for doing things that impact your credibility, like sending out a tweet that you didn’t verify,” he said.
An ethical education
Ethics has long been a fundamental element of Temple’s journalism program. The topic is integrated into every class within the department. An entire unit in the “Journalism in Society” class is devoted to ethics and students in “Introduction to Writing and Reporting” examine case studies. “Ethical Issues in Journalism” allows students to devote a whole semester to the topic.
“In our program, our students are working as real journalists, reporting out in the ‘trenches’ of Philadelphia,” said Tharps. “They have to be aware of the importance of ‘right and wrong’ when it comes to both dealing with people and making choices about what to cover in their work. A student journalist is still a journalist and they need to have a clear ethics code to follow.”
Eveslage said a solid ethical foundation will help the Temple School of Media and Communication’s journalism students break into the job market.
“The public gets mixed messages from the performances they receive from so many variations of ‘journalism’ today,” he said. “The result has been a more skeptical, if not cynical, public. When the public is inclined to doubt or mistrust what ‘journalists’ are providing, it’s more important than ever that prospective journalists value highly the ethical precepts of their profession.”
Ethical questions are nuanced and, in many cases, can be hard to understand, but the Temple code offers a basic guideline for the students’ journalistic endeavors.
“The ethics booklet offers streamlined guidelines they can carry with them literally and figuratively,” Mendelson said.