Harold Jackson talks ethics: “You’re almost always on the job”

Harold Jackson, the Inquirer editorial page editor, led a session on ethics — “the most important” session, he said.

“You’re almost always on the job,” Jackson told them, explaining that journalists have to be careful about the relationships that they have. The friends they make, groups they join, activities they participate in — all can influence or be seen as influencing their work and worldview, he said, so journalists have to be careful how they are seen by others.

Jackson gave the example of a journalist being offered free tickets to a Rihanna concert. If the journalist accepted, Jackson said, how could coverage of Rihanna or others be seen as fair?

Jackson said media ethics are particularly important to maintain in an environment where journalists and news organizations have been coming under attack for the way they do their jobs. With people accusing journalists of bias and partisanship, he said, journalists need to maintain the highest standards and make clear how high those standards are.

Perception is important, Jackson said, because even a story that is fair and accurate can be misread if someone can accuse the reporter of bias.

As an opinion writer, Jackson still has to adhere to a strict code of ethics, he said, but one that does involve giving opinions while other types of journalism do not.

“Even if it’s opinion, we still want people to have faith in us,” he said. People need to trust the conclusions of the writer as being based on research, evidence, and argument, not relationships or personal gain.

Jackson also underscored the importance of proper attribution and avoiding plagiarism, protecting anonymous sources, and being honest about personal views and potential biases.

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