A lesson in ethics

Chances are we have all said something we wish would have never come out of our mouths. It happens to all of us. But we shouldn’t let these moments hold us back; we should use them as a learning experience. This happened earlier this month to The Northern Light’s news editor, Stephen Cress. In attempts to make a source feel more at ease before an interview, Cress said he isn’t a journalism major, didn’t care about journalism or journalistic ethics and was only there to report the basics. This statement — though made in jest — should have never been said, but nevertheless was. TNL’s management, however, does feel that although Cress said he didn’t care about ethics, he very much does.

TNL upholds the code of ethics, authored by the Society of Professional Journalists. His statement isn’t a breach of this code. The mistakes were verbal, but not in conduct. In every story that Cress has produced thus far, he has been credible and neutral and has followed the code of ethics. Many of his interviews are conducted within the TNL office, and are all video or audio recorded. TNL takes the code of ethics very seriously. Every employee has received a copy of this code, and we have had many staff discussions about abiding by the code, including during our weekly staff trainings. We don’t take ethical breaches lightly at TNL, and multiple copies of the code are posted on our office walls to remind staff of these standards.

Cress was very honest with everyone at TNL regarding his comments, stating how truly sorry he was for his actions, not shying away from his mistake or trying to make excuses. Cress has clarified his intent to make the individual he interviewed more comfortable. He said he now realizes the harmful nature of his statement and has expressed regret in saying it.

TNL is set up to be a learning lab for students and we realize that people make mistakes. We see this incident as a lesson for staffers and the public to watch what you say, where you say it and how you say it. TNL management has taken steps to guide the staff how to conduct themselves in interviews so we learn and grow from this experience.

We feel it is important to be transparent about this issue, and we would like our readers to know that journalism ethics are very important to The Northern Light. This mistake shouldn’t distract you about the true nature of our journalism, which we aim to do accurately and fairly. We have all said things that we later regret, but actions speak louder than words.



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To view a copy of the SPJ Code of Ethics, visit http://www.spj.org/pdf/spj-code-of-ethics.pdf.