First round of crowdsourcing adds depth to DIY ethics code project

By on July 16, 2014

Crowdsourcing for the ONA Build Your Own Ethics Code project has been underway since May. Our thanks to the dozens of journalists and educators who’ve offered us really thoughtful comments. (A few people, by the way, thought that by “crowdsourcing” we were asking for money! No, we’re just looking for your equally valuable comments and critiques at

To recap briefly, the project is designed to help individual journalists, news startups and even larger organizations create ethics codes that reflect their view of journalism. Think of it as an ethics code construction kit, highly flexible except for some very fundamental principles that we believe all journalists need to accept.

To get the widest and richest range of comments, we’ve solicited them not only on the site but through panels at several key domestic and international conferences. So far, the 20 volunteers on the project team have seen comments from the United States, Canada, India, Norway, Australia, Ethiopia, Nepal and more.

Most of the feedback has focused on the fundamental principles. Our first principle is “tell the truth .”A couple of commenters challenged that point on the basis that the truth is different for everyone. As a result, we changed a few of the references to truth to the need for “accuracy” and “honesty.” But we believe there are still some objective truths in the world (is the death toll 40 or 50?) and that’s a value that needs to be recognized.

Elsewhere in the fundamentals, we changed the term “readers” in some references to “audience” to better reflect the multi-platform nature of the modern news business. Commentators also pointed out that we’d somehow forgotten the principle of seeking comment from news subjects if we carry criticism of them; crowdsourcing there saved us from a major omission.

On the basis of your feedback, we’ll also be adding a warning in the “Accuracy” section about the dangers of extrapolating from the comments or experiences of a few people in a group to the group as a whole.

Some commentators got a bit into the philosophical weeds, asking us to define whether we’re talking about standards or, on the other hand, ethics. We’ll grant that in the world of philosophy there’s a distinction, but we don’t think most journalists see a practical difference, so we’ve let the concepts merge for our purposes.

The official crowdsourcing period will continue until the ONA conference in Chicago, Sept. 25-27, when we’ll report to the community on our work. We’ll turn then toward moving the project from our present Google Docs container to a more attractive and functional web interface. Our goal is to make it truly interactive, so that users can physically build their own ethics codes right on the site, copy them to their own platforms and share them with others.

And, of course, since change is constant, we’ll continue to update the project with new ethical issues and perspectives.

By Thomas Kent, Deputy Managing Editor/Standards Editor, The Associated Press; ONA News Ethics Committee (@tjrkent).