A small committee of WBUR employees and external partners was formed in early 2020, as directed by CEO Margaret Low, in an attempt to develop the beginnings of a station ethics guide.
Led by Sam Fleming, Dan Mauzy, and Bob Steele, with ongoing participation from a committee composed of Tiziana Dearing, Ciku Theuri, Roberto Scalese, Tiffany Campbell, Kathleen McNerney, and Maria Garcia, the group engaged in countless examinations involving varied and often powerful points of view. Issues such as journalists’ roles in events, the evolving relationship between editorial and other departments, the challenges and opportunities of social media, and how we navigate our public roles and private lives.
The committee approached the guidelines from the vantage point of WBUR journalists and journalism — while acknowledging the importance of the ethical guidelines and standards that need to be understood and embraced by everyone who works or is associated with WBUR.
The committee used the NPR Ethics Handbook as a structural model and source text, adopted with a WBUR voice. They also addressed ethics issues from a 2021 perspective, recognizing that much has changed in the public media and journalism field since the NPR Handbook was first written a decade ago.
This document begins with a brief preamble followed by the five Guiding Ethical Principles. This format reflects the NPR Handbook but the committee decided to tighten and focus the content with just the five principles compared to the ten in the NPR Handbook. They did not ignore those other five principles, rather choosing to weave their emphasis into the five highlighted. As the document is practiced at WBUR, the committee would like to add short case studies to help our journalists model a sound decision-making process as ethics issues arise.
It’s been a long process to shape this draft into a form that is lean and a framework – guidelines that would provide a great tool and resource for WBUR at this evolving time in our industry. As Bob puts it so eloquently: “This document should be aspirational while also emphasizing strong principles and meaningful guidelines. It should emphasize sound decision-making process that encourages collaboration, creative thinking and a commitment to excellence.”
The WBUR Ethics Committee is charged with keeping this document alive and relevant. The Committee will convene with the executive editor for news to consider and deliberate updates, review comments and questions from inside and outside the organization, and identify case studies. Based on those deliberations, the executive editor for news will propose additions or amendments for review by the chief content officer and chief executive officer, and, if adopted, will communicate updates to our journalists. The inaugural members of the Ethics Committee will stand for the first year. Future committee members will serve for overlapping two-year terms, to ensure new voices and perspectives are included while also maintaining a continuity of acquired expertise. The exact composition of the Ethics Committee may vary at times, but should have no fewer than three and no more than six members. The Committee will convene at least quarterly, but may need to meet more frequently as needed.