Communication and Journalism's Wyatt Helps Build Tool to Shape Online Journalism Ethics

Wendy Wyatt, chair of the Department of Communication and Journalism, helped develop a tool that allows journalists to customize and publish a digital ethics code. Wyatt and four other collaborators designed Build Your Own Ethics Code to address the growing need of online journalists and media companies to have ethical codes spelled out and to adhere to. The tool, intended to be flexible and fit each individual’s circumstances, was launched on Sept. 24 by the Online News Association.

Dr. Wendy Wyatt

Dr. Wendy Wyatt

“They end up with an actual (ethical) code they’ve constructed that they can use to guide their work, and, very importantly, share it with their audiences so their audience knows where they’re coming from,” Wyatt said.

Wyatt and the developing group worked under the belief that any journalist using the tool would agree to the universal journalistic guidelines of telling the truth; giving people the right of reply when they’re accused of misdoings; quickly correcting errors; and avoiding conflicts of interest that could distort their journalism. Beyond that, journalists can more specifically review and select statements from a menu addressing more than 40 ethical issues, including user-generated content, verification, data journalism, social networks, suicide, graphic visuals, hostage situations, privacy, gender and ethnicity, and hate speech. By the end, users can have a personalized code of ethics to guide their work and share with their audience.

“It’s an outline to work from, and it also gets you thinking about different issues and how you’re going to address them,” Wyatt said.