Opinion

Significance of ethical journalism to newsrooms and their audiences

By Paul Jimbo

In an era of rampant disinformation and uncertainty for both journalists and their audiences, ethical journalism plays a critical role in helping journalists create effective newsroom structures and storytelling processes.

It can address some of the most pressing challenges newsrooms face as they struggle to establish trust with citizens.

It is important to understand the role of journalism ethics in creating newsroom governance structures, strengthening storytelling and building trust.

The word “audit” gives the impression of an external, detached evaluation but it is important to note that this term doesn’t do the process any justice.

There should be an open conversation among any newsroom management and staff that examine how well their work and processes align with their organization’s mission and core values.

The audit should cover newsroom functions, editorial outputs and internal accountability. An editorial audit should expose hidden processes or tendencies that encourage any newsroom management to re-evaluate its editorial practices.

For example in South Sudan, the audit might help expose the ratio of female to male journalists and why many female journalists quit the profession.

It could further expose the amount of contents produced on certain thematic areas eg nutrition, health, politics and also which contents are produced by female journalists.

Such findings could stand in contrast to the organization’s progressive and inclusive mission.

In addition to facilitating self-examination, the audit should help the newsroom leadership to examine its governance structure and policies. Human resources changes including preparing contracts and creating job security for staff can help create the needed space to nurture ethical and high-quality journalism.

“When journalists have a sense of security, they have more independence and can do better journalism,” Ejeilat say Ethical Journalism Network’s (EJN) director of campaigns and communications, Tom Law and executive editor Lina Ejeilat.

The willingness of newsroom leadership to participate in this self-interrogation is key to the audit’s success, according to Law.

The ethical audit built upon an existing conversation with newsroom leadership, which should demonstrate their strong commitment to acting on the results and making the necessary editorial and structural changes.

Both Law and Ejeilat stressed the value of engaging audiences in conversations about journalism ethics. Establishing trust with audiences is among the most prevalent challenges in today’s media landscape; by sharing efforts to improve their ethical practices, newsrooms can strengthen confidence in their journalistic work.

“We have to go above and beyond to prove to our audience why we should be trusted,” said Law. “To show we are distinguished from all the mess that’s going on online because of our values, not just in our editorial policy, but in every part of our structure and governance.”

To do this, newsroom managers and journalists need to make a consistent effort to engage their audience.

Ejeilat acknowledges that this may not appeal to all audiences, but it is crucial to building a core, loyal following.

She shared an example of a recent investigative story published by newsrooms about the deportation of Sudanese refugees from Jordan.

Although the audience was small, it clearly demonstrated a close relationship between 7iber and a committed audience.

For Ejeilat, this type of engagement with audiences requires a fundamental shift in thinking about how journalists do their work. “Journalists are programmed to report without sharing too much about what they’re doing,” she says.

But there is value in encouraging them to document and share their processes with their audience.

In addition to creating trust, it engages audiences directly in the storytelling process. Law shared the example of David Fahrenthold, a Washington Post journalist who documented and shared his information gathering process

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