Common ground: A social newsgathering ethics code from ONA

By on April 1, 2016

Today, we’re introducing the ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, a set of best practices that cover everything from verification to rights issues to the health and safety of sources — and of journalists themselves.

We’re launching the code with support from a number of news organizations, including the BBC, CNN, AFP, Storyful and reported.ly. You can see the complete list of supporters at the end of the code.

We’re constantly reminded of the need for best practices such as these. The recent bombings in Brussels, Ankara, Lahore and Yemen, among others, provided yet another stark and tragic reminder of how information and imagery spread, in a matter of moments, from the scene of an unexpected news event to screens around the world.

Moments like these challenge us, as journalists, to tell a fast-moving story in a way that’s informative, detailed and accurate. These days, a big part of that job involves wading through a roiling sea of digital content and making sense out of what we surface.

Because of the growing importance of this type of newsgathering, key social news leaders from all corners of the industry came together into an ONA working group, which has spent the past three years examining the ethics and standards issues that arise when journalists work with content found on social platforms.

Early on, the group focused on identifying the key ethical challenges of social newsgathering, and since then, it has continued to push the issue with talks at ONA’s annual conference and other venues.

Now, the working group’s efforts have culminated in ONA’s most direct effort yet to encourage the news industry to work together on an ethical approach to social reporting.

We’re also inviting others to join in this important effort. If you’d like to add your news organization to the list of supporters, or if you simply want more information about the process, feel free to contact us at socialnewsgathering@journalists.org.


Eric Carvin and Fergus Bell are the founders of the ONA social newsgathering working group. Carvin is AP’s social media editor, an ONA board member and chair of the ONA News Ethics Committee. Bell, a veteran multimedia and social journalist, is the founder of news and media consultancy Dig Deeper.

Eric Carvin

Eric Carvin

Eric, who directs social strategy at AP, has served on the ONA board since the start of 2014 and is recognized as a leading industry thinker on social journalism and on the ethics of digital news. Eric oversees AP’s use of social media to uncover breaking news, gather user-generated content, connect with readers and share powerful content. He also guides AP’s 2,000-plus journalists as they use social in the pursuit of news.