Thursday, April 12, 2007

Poynter Online Ethics Tool can help you make sound, defensible decisions

I've just discovered what I think could be one of the most valuable tools to scholastic journalists, courtesy of the Poynter Institute.

One of the biggest criticisms levied against high school publications staffs by those who seek to censor them is that students lack the maturity to make sound judgements with regard to sensitive issues.

We know this, of course, to be completely false, but it never hurts to have documentation to back up your claim. This is where Poynter comes in with its Ethics Tool -- a step-by-step guide to making sound ethical decisions at your publication. (You'll need a free registration to use the tool.)

The justification for this process is simple:

The value of knowing a system for making tough choices is that when a dilemma drops out of the blue, our decision-making is still more efficient and more reliable than trying to think of everything at once and for the first time.

There is a lot of truth in that. The adrenaline rush that can come when confronted with a big decision -- whether to cover a certain story, whether to use a certain person's name in a story, etc. -- can sometimes cloud our better judgement. This tool can help prevent that by walking you through 10 clear, tried-and-true steps that should clarify your throught process.

If we use a sound process to make journalism ethics decisions, we can be sure:
--we have not relied on fickle instinct,
--we have efficiently spent our time "on task,"
--we have thought of everything we should,
--we can still meet the deadline.
Not to mention: we have made a good decision that we can justify, even to people who disagree.

At the end of the 10 steps, the tool produces a document you can share with others involved in the decision-making process to gather input.

I always tell my staff that it's not what you can do in a given situation, but what you should do. The more often you concentrate on the latter -- which is exactly what this tool will help you decide -- the more you will build credibility with your administration and, more importantly, your readers.

I strongly encourage you to use this tool next time you or your staff need to make a tough journalistic decision.

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