Business journalists discuss making tough ethical decisions

By Sydney Maki
Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University

If a news organization sends out a tweet that the Capitol has been attacked, but no one can confirm it — should you report it, too? What if that tweet causes markets to drop?

As business journalists, SABEW attendees must answer questions like this regularly. Glenn Coleman, Joanna Ossinger, Janet Guyon and Brian Moss spoke with attendees at the SABEW 2016 annual conference on Saturday, sharing their experiences. During “Tough Calls: Ethical Decision-Making for Business Journalists,” the panel explored ethical decisions made by business journalists and invited attendees to participate in the discussion.

“We’re in service to our readers,” said Coleman, executive editor of CBS MoneyWatch. “You try to come up with a solution that serves your readers and is honest to them.”

The workshop was an open discussion of several ethical dilemmas, from deciding what to do with off-the-record information to separating business agreements from biases. SABEW members voted electronically on how they would respond to ethically-challenged situations, then took to the microphone to debate with the panelists.

The tweet scenario was inspired by a 2013 incident when the AP’s Twitter account was hacked to falsely report an explosion at the White House that injured President Obama, freelance editor Guyon said. Panelists and attendees were split between either holding off on reporting the attack completely or only reporting that the tweet caused the stock markets to fall 1 percent.

As competition makes breaking news critical, linking other organization’s stories to facts without actually attributing them in the body of the story raises ethical questions.

“When you’re faced with an ethical issue, it seems valuable to me to seek help,” said Moss, an editor of ethics and standards at Reuters. “It’s very valuable.”

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