Ethics Statement

I've been living in Washington, DC for a year so far, and I've been surprisingly horrified at the amount of corruption that permeates the journalist culture here (which considering how cynical I was starting in this business is saying something). This will stand, then, as my promise to readers and myself.

First, I became a journalist to discover and tell the truth as closely as I can. My Platonic model in this regard is Robert Caro's The Power Broker, which tells a massive, looming story, one which heavily shaped the cultural and physical reality of New York City, and which was nearly completely missed by journalists at the time. I did not become a journalist to make lots of money, or to become famous and important, or to hobnob with important, rich, or famous people.

As far as how to report the news, I'm partial to these guidelines. Especially:

There is no such thing as objectivity.
  • There is such thing as fairness.
  • But everyone sees everything through their own filter. Acknowledge that, let it liberate you. Let it regulate you.
  • We are not guided by political identification, by ideology or dogma. But every decision we make, from what to cover to how to cover it, is made through our own subjective judgments.
  • We are guided by an ability to be transparent and independent, to clearly assess what’s going on in our community and have the courage to plainly state the truth.

Be the expert.
  • Write with authority. You earn the right to write with authority by reporting and working hard.
  • No “he said, she said.”
  • The day we write a headline that says: “Proposal has pros, cons” is the day we start dying.
  • There is no such thing as 50/50 balance. There is a truth and we work our damndest to get there.
  • Sometimes two viewpoints don’t deserve 50/50 treatment.
  • Most of the time there aren’t two sides to something, anyways. There are 17. Who’s not being represented? If they’re not speaking up, how can you represent them?
  • We don’t just “put things out there.” We’re not “only asking the question.”
  • We don’t ask questions with our stories. We answer them.
  • We don’t write question headlines, unless they’re so damn good that we can’t resist:
  • We don’t do this: “Did City Official Take Bribe?”
  • Or, to cite a recent example: “Did Wikileaks Hack Servers?”
  • We’d maybe do this: “How Did a City Official Ended Up With Millions in Donations?”
  • We’re not someone’s goddamn transcription service.
  • They can relay their own news. In a world where leaders are able to communicate directly with their constituents very easily, we have to a.) make sense of what they say and b) find out the things they don’t want to say. It’s the only way to effectively use our limited resources.
Tell the truth.
  • This means not being mealy mouthed and not being bias-bullied.
  • Stand up to bias bullies. Tell them why you did something. Let them challenge you on it.
  • If someone calls you biased, don’t be scared. Don’t dismiss it either. Reflect on it and answer with conviction.
  • Don’t go quote-hunting for something you know to be true and can say yourself. Don’t hide your opinion in the last quote of a story.
  • Take a stand when you know something to be true or wrong.

OATHS:

At the moment, none of my close friends or family work in areas on which I might be reporting. My mother is a public health nurse, my father is a light construction worker, and my sister is a geologist. I have no investments of any kind whatsoever. I don't even have a savings account. But should I work on any story in any area in which I have a financial or other interest, I swear to disclose that relationship and how it did or did not inform my work.

I swear to always tell the truth in my professional work to the best of my ability.

I swear to do my utmost to hold the elite to account.

I swear to do my utmost to avoid being captured by the elite. Should I ever stumble into real success, this will weigh heavily on my mind.

I swear to never take bribes, or accept gifts from subjects of my reporting, or write a puff piece for money. This means that if I write something positive about something it will reflect my genuine judgement about its quality.

I swear to try to understand the power of journalism, and to constantly question myself, to avoid abusing that power.

And finally, should I violate any of these promises, I swear to admit wrongdoing, apologize and make it right.

2 comments:

  1. Damn, I was hoping for the rich and famous part, Ryan.
    : ) B

    ReplyDelete
  2. Hey, i read your article on the Flint Water Crisis at theWeek and perused some others. Blaming it on austerity and the governor being a cheap skate? I then read another theWeek article by Shikha Dalmia as well as other places which confirmed the situation of events...seems you have violated your oath by leaving out a lot of key details. Such as Flint's decision to use the KWA to get water from Huron which was not going to come online for a few years such that Detroit Water then terminated Flints contract forcing them to go to the river. Which would have been fine to use had they used the proper additives but for some reason was omitted. And the issue of the lead came from residences/building pipes...the river water corroded the protective barrier exposing the lead. Your article seems a little dishonest and more in line with clickbait tabloid journalism. Just my opinion.

    P.S. Would like to know when the massive deficits are actually going to do what was promised. Seems like you and Krugman always are making excuses.

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