Online News Association launches free Build Your Own Ethics Code at 2015 conference

By on September 24, 2015

LOS ANGELESThe Online News Association today launched a fully crowd-sourced tool that allows journalists to easily customize and publish a digital ethics code.

The Build Your Own Ethics Code platform, supported by a $40K grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, addresses the intense interest and concern in the digital journalism community around the growing ethical issues unique to social media, technology and the viral nature and speed of breaking news.

Using the tool, journalists can review and easily 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. They then can tailor a code and export it for publication and internal use.

The user-friendly tool, the product of two years of discussion and global crowdsourcing, is still in beta, and we invite all users to contribute feedback on both editorial and technical aspects. The project was guided by ONA’s News Ethics Committee and an editorial team led by Tom Kent, AP’s Standards Editor.

“Our strong belief is that whether or not a journalist or news organization chooses to build a code, using the tool will spark crucial, necessary discussions of the most important ethical issues confronting digital journalists,” said ONA Executive Director Jane McDonnell.

This is the first feature in a digital toolkit supported by the EEJF grant, designed to lighten journalists’ workloads, engender thoughtful conversations on vital issues and help them generate revenue. The second — a simple WordPress plug-in of a live schedule modeled after one that powers ONA’s complex conference schedule — will debut later in the fall.

ONA’s digital team — Digital Director Trevor Knoblich, Digital Manager and lead developer Jeremiah Patterson, and developer consultant Adam Nekola — designed the site. More than 20 journalists and news ethics experts contributed to the project. The editors are:

  • Tom Kent, Standards Editor, Associated Press
  • Alan Abbey, Director of Media and Adjunct Professor of Journalism, Shalom Hartman Institute at the National University, Israel
  • Steve Buttry, Director of Student Media, Louisiana State University
  • Kathleen Culver, Assistant Professor and Associate Director of the Center for Journalism Ethics, University of Wisconsin-Madison
  • Wendy Wyatt, Chair of the Communication and Journalism School, University of St. Thomas

The ethics tool was launched on the opening day of the 2015 Online News Association Conference, which will end Saturday, Sept. 26.

About ONA
The Online News Association is the world’s largest association of online journalists. ONA’s mission is to inspire innovation and excellence among journalists to better serve the public. The membership includes news writers, producers, designers, editors, bloggers, technologists, photographers, academics, students and others who produce and distribute news for digital delivery systems. ONA also hosts the annual Online News Association annual conference and administers the Online Journalism Awards.

About the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation
Founded by Edith Kinney Gaylord, Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation’s mission is to invest in the future of journalism by building the ethics, skills and opportunities needed to advance principled, probing news and information.

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah Patterson

Jeremiah was ONA's Digital Manager from 2012 to the fall of 2016 and was responsible for ONA's collection of websites, including, conference websites, the membership center, awards platforms and more. Before joining ONA, he served as a web producer and content developer at The Wildlife Society, maintaining the organization’s website, email marketing and other online services. An Ohio native and media enthusiast, Jeremiah grew up with a deep interest in video production and graphic design. He now focuses in user experience and human-centered design.