Privacy and reporting on personal lives

Interesting guidelines, phrased as suggestions and best practices rather than rules, from a project designed to help bloggers and independent journalists — and professional organizations too — develop their own codes of ethics.

Celebrities know a loss of privacy is a cost of fame. Politicians and other public servants know their power brings public scrutiny, and they carry that awareness into many of the decisions they make. That doesn’t mean, however, that either group doesn’t complain at times about what they consider overzealous coverage of their personal lives. When journalists consider disclosing elements of a person’s private life, they should be mindful of any distress it might cause. They should be humble toward their power to disclose it. However, the high public stake in the lives of public figures tends to result in more aggressive reporting of these people’s personal lives. […] Ordinary, “private” citizens are another story. When journalists consider reporting on the personal life of someone who does not already live in the public eye, a careful consideration of both the news value of the disclosures and the potential harm those disclosures might cause can serve as a guide. […] Journalists might not publish the name of a suspect until he or she is charged with a crime, for example (laws sometimes determine what can be said, but sometimes the journalist is free to make that decision). Reporters might take extra care around the personal lives of children and teenagers, who are still in the care of their parents and who act with less independence and consciousness than adults. —ONA EthicsONA Ethics