Wikinews:Code of Ethics

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Wikinews hasn't yet adopted or developed a particular Code of Ethics, but several exist already, and there is even (at least) one being developed for adoption by Bloggers. For the time being, Wikinews writers may want to refer to these documents.

Wikinews Journalists' Code of Ethics

THIS IS ONLY A DRAFT. Please edit it as much as you would like.

"Ipsa Scientia Potestas Est" -Francis Bacon Meditationes Sacræ. De Hæresibus. (1597)(transl: 'knowledge is itself power')


As journalists and reporters we have the power of the interpretation and delivery of truth. We have duties to both our readers and our sources.

To our readers we have the duty to be:

  • Independent
  • Neutral
  • Truthful
  • Accountable

To our sources and subjects we have the duty to:

  • Minimise harm
  • Not misrepresent
  • Get all sides of a story
  • Respect copyrights
  • Respect anonymity

Ethical responsibility to our readers

To our readers we have the duty to be:

Independent

Wikinews is not owned by a corporate entity. It is a project that is under the banner of the Wikimedia Foundation, a non-profit organization. As such, we shall strive not to turn stories about the Foundation into a press release and any stories that do not portray the Foundation in a good light shall also be reported, no matter how negative it is.

As a project of the Foundation, some special consideration has to be given to reporting on other projects of the WMF, or the WMF itself. Wikinews:WMF Reports is intended to cover this.

Neutral

All Wikimedia Foundation projects must conform to the policy of Neutral point of view. Wikinews is no exception. Our responsibility to our readers is to provide news that contains no bias. This includes removing and re-editing stories that have been determined to advocate a particular point of view to the exclusion of others.

Truthful

Wikinews wants to be truthful. We want to bring the real information. We work hard to do that. We make sure what is being reported is truthful. We remove and re-edit stories that contain unverified sources and thus may be untruthful.

Accountable

In relation to being truthful, Wikinews wants to be accountable also. We make sure that what we are reporting to the public can be accounted for. We make sure sources are conforming to NPOV. We take blame for stories that contain untruthful information.

Ethical responsiblity to sources and subjects

Minimise harm

It is essential that all risks of being inflammatory, misleading, or inconsiderate to subjects and sources be minimised. This is especially relevant to those engaging in original reporting. To minimise possible harm, we encourage our writers to do the following:

  • Ensure facts are correct by getting verification from multiple sources.
  • Try to contact the subject of the article whenever possible.
  • Not publish an article based solely on speculation, hunches or wild guesses.
  • Before publishing, make a mental list of all parties involved in the article and think about how each will feel about the article.

Avoid misrepresentation

Do not publish any sort of interview story without ensuring that the interviewee is absolutely happy with the article's final text. Even if this means giving up the interview. Wikinews will only lose out if it offends interviewees — remember to respect that they have taken the time to talk to us!

Cover all sides of a story

Ensure sources and quotes from all relevant sides of an argument are included in articles to avoid being biased. Ideally, all opinions expressed in an article should be direct quotes. Wikinews has no official opinion on anything; however, sources often do.

Respect anonymity

Any source that requests to remain anonymous is fully entitled to this. You are not obliged to bring up the possibility of anonymity, but you are obliged to honor requests for it. It is important not to apply undue pressure to the source if they do not wish to be named. At the same time, anonymous sources can make stories less credible, so it is important to make some effort to persuade reluctant sources to volunteer to go on the record. Explaining to a source why you would prefer them to go on the record is a gentle and often effective way of persuading them to do so. In any case, the decision rests with the source. Where you suspect that a source who wishes to remain anonymous may not be entirely truthful, consider explaining that anonymity is maintained in all cases where bona fide truthful evidence is supplied.

Case studies

Case Study 1: unverified interview

In May 2005, an excited Wikinewsie, saw what appeared to be a perfect chance to make a major scoop. There was widespread speculation at the time in the general media about the identity of a man who had turned up in England, but had refused to talk. This man had been dubbed by the press as the Piano Man because he was an excellent pianist.

Some weeks after the arrival of the man in England, an American Wikipedian contacted the Wikinewsie saying that he was quite sure that he knew who the man was: a British actor. On this single source, the Wikinewsie proceeded to publish an entire article about the speculative claims, backed up only by the one source. The source eventually turned out to be quite wrong, and there was considerable upset about the false claims. Although the author did make it clear at the top of the article that the article only had one unverified source, he did make the following significant mistakes:

  • He did not attempt to contact the actor.
  • He allowed a reference to a business partner in the final text of the article without making any attempt to contact the said business partner.
  • He relied on a single source.
  • He failed to consider the consequences if the article turned out to be incorrect.
  • He failed to discuss the article extensively with other wikinewsies - missing the opportunity to have it properly proof read and warned that it was unverified.

The author subsequently apologised – but by that time many readers had been misled, the subject of the article had been unfairly treated and misrepresented, the credibility of Wikinews had been damaged – and indeed the author's own credibility had been damaged.

See also