It’s been disturbing to see opinion creeping into news stories about Donald Trump. True, the president-elect excels at making false statements, but there are rules about how to call him or anyone else out on this. It should be done in accordance with standard practices of journalistic integrity and fairness.

Otherwise, the president-elect is shaping not just the story, but the media as well.

Here’s how the Society for Professional Journalists Code of Ethics puts it:

“The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility.”

Print out this document. Pin it on your wall. Use quotes from it as a filler graphic element — online or in the newspaper. Add the cut line, linking to the full document, saying: “This is the code of ethics this news organization follows. If you have any questions, call us.” Debate it. Discuss it. Make it a living document. Let your audience understand that these are your principles. This is the code you follow.

Remember these particular bullet points from it, in the section that starts with ‘journalists should”:

  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting.
  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

That means no matter what you think of an elected official, adjectives that degrade the subject should not be in a news story unless they come in an on-the-record quote.

The creeping of editorial opinions into news pieces dilutes credibility. Let the facts speak for themselves. You can report it all and adhere to ethical standards.


This post is part of a series of ways journalism can rebuild public trust. Click here to read the full list.

Do you have a comment or idea on this topic? Send me a tweet @susys and/or @PublicNarrative