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What ethical issues do journalists face, and why is it important to be aware of them?

Many professionals face ethical issues in conducting their work, and journalists are no exception. These are individuals who gather facts and information and convey them in the form of news to readers and viewers of magazines, newspapers, radio and television broadcasts, as well as websites on the internet. For journalists, there are specialized jobs within each of these mediums. They might perform multiple roles, or they may only focus on one duty. Either way, ethics must be at the forefront of everything they do. 

Here is a look at what a journalist’s work entails and the importance of ethics in the profession.

What is the role of a journalist?

“Journalist” is somewhat of an umbrella term. In the field of journalism, various individuals collectively fulfill the mission of finding, collecting and disseminating information to create awareness among the masses about different issues. 

Reporters: Reporters compile information and communicate it orally or in writing through news pieces, articles, columns or documentaries. Reporters can work for news agencies as staff members or as independent contractors, penning articles for their employer. News stories of all kinds are covered by general reporters, although other journalists focus on certain topics, such as sports, politics, or agriculture.

Sub-editors: Sub-editors take the stories that reporters have written and transform them into a format that fits the unique requirements of their specific newspaper, magazine, or website. Sub-editors typically don't conduct research. Instead, they focus on how to best convey the story to the audience. 

Editors: Editors often have the final say on what appears in publications such as newspapers, magazines, and news bulletins. They are in charge of all the writers and journalists on their team. They might also be supported by assistants and deputies.

Feature Writers: Longer articles that often provide context for the news are written by feature writers for newspapers and magazines. In smaller organizations, reporters will often produce their own feature stories. The term "features editor" often refers to the individual in charge of features. 

Photojournalists: Photojournalists cover newsworthy incidents and often offer both the images and a story or caption, or they might cover happenings alongside a reporter and take pictures to support the written article.

Specialist Writers: To provide personal commentary, columns or reviews of items such as books, movies, works of art, or performances, professional writers may be hired. They are often chosen based on their writing skills or subject-specific knowledge. 

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How can one become a competent journalist?

To become a competent journalist, it is important to possess a specific skill set that will allow you to advance in your career. Here is a look at the traits needed for success in the field of journalism.

An aspiring journalist must have a love for writing and language

Without a strong passion for spoken and written language, it is impossible to be a genuinely outstanding journalist. A journalist must be able to use words artfully and grasp their meaning and flow. It is not simply the facts you mention that make a news article good or bad; it's also how you present that information.

In countries without a long history of written language, journalists can play a significant role in the development of their language. Journalists have a duty to use language properly as they may be influencing the future of their language.

If you cherish language, you will strive to protect it. You will not misuse grammar, you'll double-check any spellings you're unsure about, and you'll make the most of any chance to expand your vocabulary. You will have to respect your pen and language as these are the two most important tools that enable you to spread your message.

The news narrative, which is the foundational element of journalism, calls for a straightforward writing style. It can be more difficult to write concisely than it is to be wordy, and this often poses a significant challenge for inexperienced journalists. Once you have mastered the fundamental structure of a news article, however, you may stray from it and begin to create your unique style.

Journalists must have an interest in life

You must have curiosity about the outside world if you want to become a journalist. You should have a broad range of interests and a strong desire to learn new things and impart them to your readers or listeners. It will be helpful if you already possess a wide variety of information that you can draw upon and are eager to acquire new knowledge.

A focused, well-organized mind

Facts are often accepted by the public without question when they are presented by journalists. Therefore, it is important to strive for accuracy to maintain your readers’ trust. 

A journalist needs mental alertness and creativity to succeed. This does not mean that you should invent stories. However, visualizing the story can help you recall information and create a more immersive and engaging presentation. 

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A curious mindset

People will share information with you for a variety of reasons, and some of them may be self-serving. You must be able to spot instances where people are being untruthful. Even if it is unintentional, reporting misleading information will confuse your audience. You must learn to check facts and spot erroneous information when it is presented to you.

Do not let the situation go unresolved if you have any reason to believe that you are being intentionally misled or supplied erroneous information. Journalists must confirm the accuracy of the information they present before publishing it.


Journalists need the capacity to seek out a story and pursue it relentlessly. They often have to make difficult inquiries and run the danger of offending those who are unwilling to cooperate. They need to know when to continue pressing a lead and when it is best to move on.


You must be able to get along with a wide range of people in journalism. You cannot pick and choose which candidates to interview in the same manner that you select your friends. You must be cordial with everyone, including those you find objectionable. 

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Every profession values this trait, but journalism values reliability more than most given the time-sensitive nature of many news stories. People who are waiting to be interviewed, editors who are waiting to publish stories, and readers, listeners and viewers all rely on journalists to deliver their work as expected.

What are some of the ethical issues faced by journalists?

As the field of journalism entails informing people about good and bad news alike, journalists can often find themselves involved in sticky situations where their ethical and moral values are strongly tested. Therefore, it is important to be prepared for these incidents beforehand by knowing what to do when faced with an ethical dilemma. 

Personal bias

It is against the ethics of journalism to let personal bias influence the news that is being reported. It can be very challenging to remain unbiased in a situation where one has strong personal opinions related to a certain news story. However, journalists need to remain as transparent as they can while reporting so that people do not form an opinion based on the journalists’ beliefs.

Protection of sources

One issue that is commonly faced by journalists is protecting their sources, especially when they are involved in disclosing news related to corruption in any field. It is a journalist’s ethical and moral duty to keep the identity of those who give them tips and information about certain incidents and request anonymity safe. 

For the sake of maintaining their integrity and access, ethical reporters will make painstaking efforts to safeguard sources. Some journalists have even chosen to risk going to jail rather than cite a source, such as a governmental whistleblower or business leak. As a journalist, the promise of anonymity may occasionally need to be weighed against other factors, such as the article’s newsworthiness and truthfulness, or even questions about the source’s motives and reliability. 

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Protection of victims 

Another important tenet of journalism is the protection of victims. The identities of certain victims should never be revealed, particularly if those involved are minors who could have been subjected to sexual abuse. There are often gray areas to navigate when it comes to identifying victims, such as when the accuser is a well-known person or the abuse is only a byproduct of a more significant narrative, such as the rescue of an abduction victim. Nevertheless, a victim's right to privacy is paramount. 

Ethics related to photo journalism

Photo journalism can be very tricky because, in certain circumstances, it can be challenging to determine whether it is appropriate to publish a picture. This is especially important when the photos involve minors or dead bodies. 

In addition, it is critical for journalists to refrain from using any visual or aural tricks that can deceive viewers or provide an inaccurate impression of a subject. Journalists should never pay sources or subjects or offer financial incentives in return for their insights or participation. In addition, they should never accept money, gifts, or favors from anybody who could try to influence their reporting. 

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Maintaining the privacy of people involved vs. moral duty

Journalists sometimes have to decide between disclosing important details and protecting them. This might occur when questioning informants who, after being assured of privacy, open up to the interviewer about their criminal activity. 

Conflicts of interest

Being unbiased is one of the major cornerstones of journalistic ethics. Stories in the news should be covered properly, objectively and without any hidden conflicts of interest that can skew reporting. However, what should a journalist do if they must report news related to someone they know? Regardless of whether it is good news or bad news, being the first one to break the news can lead to many issues when the journalist and the people involved in the news know one another. If you decide to become a journalist, you will have to keep all of these scenarios in mind. 

Why is it important to know about these ethical issues?

As a journalist or an aspiring journalist, it is extremely important to understand these ethical issues because it is very likely that you will face them at some point in your career. It is always best to be prepared to deal with these issues beforehand. Knowing about these ethical issues is also important for aspiring journalists because it can help them decide whether they want to pursue journalism professionally and if they have what it takes to be a competent journalist. 

Journalists have a huge responsibility on their shoulders to collect and deliver accurate news that is transparent and not influenced by their own opinions and biases. They need to be headstrong and have a clear vision of what kind of journalist they aspire to be.

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How can you become a journalist?

To become a professional journalist, it is necessary to have at least a bachelor's degree in journalism. However, if you wish to grow in your career as a journalist, it is important to obtain a master’s degree in journalism as it can open doors to countless opportunities. 

The SBU digital journalism master's degree is a great option for anyone who wants to earn a master’s degree from the comfort of their home without sacrificing their personal and professional life. This online course by St. Bonaventure University Online is uniquely designed and provides students with 100% flexibility to choose their study hours and timetable. 

Why is journalism a good career option?

You'll never run out of possibilities for growing your career as a journalist, especially if you are open to moving for work or traveling. Numerous positions in the sector, from writing, reporting, editing, photography, and videography to social media management and marketing responsibilities, offer opportunities for growth and personal development. Additionally, if you decide to pursue managerial or executive positions in the future, there is always a possibility for growth.

You may share knowledge via journalism to help others make better choices about the things that matter to them. You may promote better policies or inform others about problems that demand the attention of policymakers and corporate executives. 

In addition to personal growth and the opportunity to make a difference, journalism offers a unique and exciting work environment. As a journalist, you will often find yourself at the forefront of events, witnessing history as it unfolds. Whether you’re covering breaking news, political events, cultural festivals, or scientific discoveries, you will have a front-row seat to some of the most important and captivating stories of our time.

Furthermore, journalism provides a platform for creativity and self-expression. You have the freedom to explore various storytelling techniques, experiment with different writing styles, and incorporate multimedia elements to enhance your work. This creative aspect of journalism allows you to engage readers or viewers on a deeper level and captivate their attention.

Being a journalist might not be as glamorous or thrilling as you expect and it is not without its share of challenges, but it is very rewarding when you interact with different people and make a difference in the lives of others. You'll get to know plenty of different people and discover their perspectives on many topics while keeping society informed about the pressing issues of our time. 

Journalism is a good career option due to its potential for growth, the ability to make a difference, the excitement of the work environment, and the opportunities for creativity and self-expression. If you have a passion for storytelling, a commitment to truth and integrity, and a desire to contribute to the betterment of society, journalism can provide a fulfilling and rewarding career path.