Ethics code examples
    Examples on this page come from:
      • ACM - Association for Computing Machinery
      • The Poynter Institute for Media Studies
      • American Association of Newspaper Editors - Ethics code examples from dozens of the best news organizations in the United States. Most, however, do not cover the special attributes of digital communication.
      • American Association of Magazine Editors

The ACM Code of Ethics

        Composed of 22 imperatives formulated as statements of responsibility (Codes of Ethics Online Project, 1998), the ACM Code of Ethics is aimed at those who work in the computer industry, yet it has many facets that can be useful for the mass media organization. The Association for Computing Machinery, founded in 1947, was the world's first educational and scientific computing society. Today it has more than 80,000 members - computing professionals and students - world-wide.
        The ACM code is written in outline and expanded form and is intended "to serve as a basis for decision-making in the conduct of professional work" (Codes, 1998). Following is the code outline:

1. General Moral Imperatives
      As an ACM member, I will...

2. More specific responsibilities
     As an ACM computing professional, I will ... 3. Organizational leadership imperatives
    As an ACM member and an organizational leader, I will ... 4. Compliance with the code
      As an ACM member, I will ...

The Media Model from the Poynter Institute

        Poynter's Journalism Values & Ethics in New Media Conference, held in the spring of 1997, produced the following ethics code (Poynter, 1997), also found at

Online Content Reliability Guidelines
        Content providers and online editors would use the following protocol when establishing a standard for reliability of information online:

No Discussion Needed

  • If online materials have passed through a vetting process at a print or broadcast outlet where editing to an accepted standard of reliability can be assumed.
  • If verbatim texts speeches or documents are posted online from properly cited original sources the online editors believe to be reliable.
  • If original material generated by online staff reflects the same standard of care used by sponsoring print or broadcast outlets, or is edited to those same standards by online staff.
  • Discussion Recommended
  • If materials posted online are gathered by a print or broadcast outlet that edits to a reliable standard but were not previously published or broadcast because of space or time constraints.
  • If archival materials or original documents have been shortened or otherwise altered to fit the online format.
Discussion Required
  • If outside information is brought online for context or newsworthiness but the material has not gone through an editing process equal to other materials on the site or equal to the standards of the print or broadcast outlet overseeing the site.
  • If databases are posted that can become outdated and thus misleading.

        Sites embracing this reliability protocol would be encouraged to post the following:

Online Reliability Statement

        This site strives to provide accurate, reliable information to its users. We pledge to:
  • Ensure information on our Web site has been edited to a standard equal to our print or broadcast standards.
  • Notify our online users if newsworthy materials are posted from outside our site and may not have been edited or reviewed to meet our standards for reliability.
  • Update all our databases for timeliness, accuracy and relevance.
  • Warn users when they are leaving our site that they may be entering a site that has not embraced the content reliability protocol.
The Ethical Use of Database Information

        New media products make it possible for news organizations to be the agents of easy access to public records, legally available private records and other information. These data should be gathered and distributed responsibly to help ensure an open society and help citizens lead fully informed lives. New technology refocuses traditional concerns over thoroughness, fairness, accuracy, privacy, and minimizing harm.
        It is our policy that we will make data available in a responsible way consistent with our organization's mission and journalistic values. Specifically, we should:

  • Have a compelling civic or journalistic reason for publishing the database.
  • Be sensitive to individuals' privacy rights when compiling and making databases available.
  • Particularize data only when public right to know outweighs individual privacy concerns.
  • Have a mechanism and a commitment for keeping the data updated and accurate.
  • When it cannot be revised as necessary and when there is a potential for harm caused by old data, remove the database in a timely manner.
  • Ensure data we are thinking of making available are evaluated as thoroughly as possible prior to publication, using traditional high standards of accuracy, reliability, validity and credibility.
  • Reveal the authorship/ownership, scope, validity, and limitations of the data we make available to the public.
  • Remind the public that other agencies, including the revenue-producing divisions of our own organization, may use the data for commercial purposes.
  • Refrain from using proprietary information to favor one client or audience segment over another, or for personal profit.
  • Ensure that there is a mechanism of feedback for the public and other organizations to regularly reevaluate these policies, recognizing the rapid pace of change in the new media environment.
  • Before linking a highly sensitive or controversial database to a story, consider posting an intermediate page explaining why we have chosen to make that link.
Linking Guidelines

        Hypertext links are fundamental to Web publishing and can provide opportunities for enhancing stories, providing readers with context, perspective, necessary information and diversity of views. Linking can also expose our readers to types of content they might want to avoid. To maintain our site's credibility, links should be clear, responsible and reflect journalistic values. To accomplish that, we adopt the following guidelines.

  • Links should be clearly identified as editorial or commercial, meaning links that the site has received money to include.
  • The relevance and value of all editorial links should be evident from context or explicit annotation.
  • All sites referred to in text, either by URL or site name, will be reviewed for taste, relevance, currency and accuracy.
  • We will respect the privacy of individuals by weighing the public interest value of disclosing sensitive information. In some instances we may choose not to link to information that is highly invasive of an individual's privacy.
  • Before linking to a potentially offensive site, editors should explore alternatives, including increased storytelling, listing URLs in text, and posting intermediate pages providing a synopsis of the offensive materials. If necessary, editors should take steps to warn users of the content to which they may be exposed.
Editorial Control of Offensive or Harmful Content

        We will strive to give our online users more choices and greater freedom of interaction while at the same time maintaining our integrity and editorial control. Our challenge is to maximize information and participation while minimizing offensive or harmful content. In order to strike this balance, online news organizations should formulate standards regarding permissible language and behavior for our interactive areas. These standards should be made known to users and should be applied consistently and fairly. When the protocol applies: When content, outside links and postings by users challenge the news organization's core values.

                                          No discussion is needed when ...

  • A user has clearly violated posted rules. A user has posted unverified information that poses a risk of imminent harm.
 Discussion is required when ...
  • Legal issues (libel, privacy, copyright, etc.) are raised.
  • The content contains vulgarity or use of harmful racial, ethnic, cultural, religious, sexist or homophobic stereotypes.
  • The content contains potentially offensive photos or graphics or a user has posted information that is factually incorrect or misleading and that may cause harm.
  • The content contains lists of URLs or links to potentially objectionable material.
 Who should participate in the discussion:

        A diversity of voices and cultures (reporters, editors, etc.) from within the organization with non-binding input from our online users, led by a supervising editor or editors, from both print and online when possible. If no one in-house is qualified to address issues relating to a particular ethnic, cultural or religious group, advice should be solicited from other sources.

Journalistic Integrity and Commercial Pressures

        The proliferation of electronic online media and the inherent commercial pressures obligate news organizations to reassert journalistic standards. We understand that the technology of the New Media is evolving at a rapid pace and that, as a result of this, new advertising models, including tracking technologies, are being drawn and will continue to evolve. Therefore, we recommend that editorial content and reader privacy should be protected from intrusion in the following ways.

Advertising Challenges

        The audience will be able to clearly distinguish between editorial content and advertising, including advertorials and other advertising models as they emerge in this new medium. Advertising will not dictate news content or presentation, nor will new technologies blur the traditional distinctions between independent and paid content.
        Repackaging of editorial content will not compromise the integrity of the news product. All source material, including material from advertising supplements, will be fully identified; any editing or technological enhancements that change the nature of the original product will be noted so as not to deceive the audience.
        Relationships with partners will not compromise the basic mission or integrity of the news organization. Partnerships, such as and including site partners, content providers or sponsors, will be identified if they have any significant bearing on content. News organizations that enter such partnerships will be diligent in the protection of their primary contribution, which is independent reportage.

Information Collection

        Current and future tracking technologies (such as "cookies") will be used responsibly so as not to intrude upon or in any way violate the privacy of the reader. If user information, such as that collected from online demographic surveys, is to be used by third-parties for direct-mail or phone solicitations, readers will be notified in advance so as not to deceive.

Mann's Update on New Media Ethics Concerns

        The business of providing information in the new media is constantly changing, thus the Poynter Institute asked Fred Mann, one of the Values & Ethics in the New Media conference leaders, to write an update in 1998, a year after the group's initial meeting. He sampled the opinion of conference participants and established two key points: 1) The protocols were useful; many conference participants were actively utilizing them. 2) It's time for more protocols.

Mann's take on the issues at that point:

Privacy. The Web is loaded with sites that have made a business out of compiling publicly available information about private citizens. Newspapers have traditionally been a major compiler of such information. Should news-related Web sites get into this lucrative game? Should journalists be discouraged from using these sorts of reporting tools? Other Web services such as allow anyone to see every posting any named individual has made to Internet Usenet groups. A politically questionable statement perhaps made in jest to online discussion partners can be found and used. Methods for tracking individual usage patterns and interests (including "cookies") are in vogue. Should news sites be up front with users and announce how we are tracking their movements and why?

Electronic Commerce. No area of Web life deserves more attention from the ethics and values crowd than does the confusing editorial/advertising relationship. On the Net it is hard to tell where one stops and another begins. Transactional business may end up being many a Web site's saving grace economically. And you can make a strong case that it is a public service to give users a chance to buy a book online right next to the book review, or purchase an airline ticket right next to the travel story. But what happens if users find out that your Web site is making revenue on every book sold and every flight taken? Does credibility - the ultimate key to Web survival and Web revenue - diminish?

Immediacy. What should news sites be doing about corrections? Is it enough just to repost a corrected version of the story? What about the original that ends up - uncorrected - in the archives? Should online sites have a "corrections" column the way print papers do? (It is certainly not a common practice today.) What should new protocols say about verifying information? And what is the impact of a person like Matt Drudge, who says an 80 percent accuracy rate "suffices"? What happens to the mainstream media's ethical principles when anybody can - and does - publish, thereby scooping others who to check the facts?

Photo Manipulation. Should news Web sites use the icon proposed by New York Times photographer Fred Ritchin, which indicates when a photo has been digitally altered? Opponents argue that the icon doesn't indicate the degree to which the image has been changed. Therefore, users can become suspicious of images that are accurate depictions of real life but that have been cleaned up for technical reasons.

Plagiarism. The Internet is designed to allow you to download anything you want. Is it sharing or is it plagiarism? It depends on how you use it. And what about framing? When TotalNews frames the content of the New York Times Web site or Philadelphia Online and sells banner advertising around the content, is that just using the capabilities of the Web, or is it stealing someone else's product?

Posting Supplementary Material. On the Web, you can post endless amounts of background information and source data to compliment a news article or investigative series. You can give users access to documents so that they can draw their own conclusions. But raw data doesn't tell its own story. In fact, it can be quite misleading. Besides, nobody can post everything, which means that sites have to be selective in the documentation they present. So what's the ethical way to do this? Post everything? Post nothing? Train readers to understand what's what?

Community Publishing. It's the hottest thing on the Web today - building community (and traffic) through self-publishing software. With little or no oversight, Little League managers and elementary school cooks and local symphony directors can post intensely local information on your Web site and keep it fresh and meaningful to your audience. But who takes responsibility when something goes up that is wrong? Should any outside content be posted without review from Web editors? (Mann, 1998)

More from Poynter

In addition to the model above, the Poynter Institute for Media Studies offers a gold mine of information regarding media ethics, including the following Web links:
*Guiding Principles for the Journalist -

*Doing Ethics: Ask Good Questions to Make Good Decisions -

*Protocol for Ethical Decision-Making in Computer-Assisted Journalism -

The ASNE Web Site Links to Codes
        The American Association of Newspaper Editors has compiled an invaluable and growing list of general newspaper ethics codes.

        To access the codes of more than 30 daily newspapers and five national groups, consult its Web page:

The American Society of Magazine Editors Guidelines

        The same American Society of Magazine Editors principles that mandate distinct treatment of editorial content, advertisements, and special advertising sections ("advertorials") in print publications also apply to electronic editorial products bearing the names of print magazines or offering themselves as electronic magazines.

        The dynamic technology of electronic pages and hypertext links create high potential for reader confusion. Permitting such confusion betrays reader trust and undermines the credibility not only of the offending online publication or editorial product, but also of the publisher itself. Therefore, it is the responsibility of each online publication to make clear to its users which online content is editorial and which is advertising and to prevent any juxtaposition that gives the impression that editorial material was created for - or influenced by - advertisers.

        ASME is hereby calling on editors, publishers, and advertisers to follow this set of standards:

1. The home page of a publication's Web site (or other electronic venue) shall identify the publication by displaying its name and logo prominently in order to make clear who controls the content of the site.

2. On all online pages, there shall be a clear distinction made-through words, design, placement, or any other effective method-between editorial and advertising content.

3. In the case of special advertising sections ("advertorials"), or in any other case where there is significant danger that advertising, including "advertorials," will be mistaken for true, independently produced editorial content, the advertising in question shall carry the words "Special Advertising Section" or "Advertisement from (company name)" prominently at the top of each page or each body of material within a page, in type at least equal in size and weight to the publication's normal editorial body type face. The word "advertorial" should not be used.

4. Publications shall display their logos in conjunction with the logo of another company only in custom publishing arrangements where the publication solely controls the site's content and in no way endorses the advertiser's products or services.

5. Links that appear within the editorial portion of a site shall be under the sole control of the editors. No publication may sell outright--or make a condition of any advertising sale, either explicitly or by implication-a link from its editorial content to any other site.

6. Neither links nor other references to special advertising sections, or "advertorials," shall appear in the table of contents, directory of contents, or in any listing of editorial content of an online publication. However, a reference to a special advertising section or "advertorial" may be placed outside editorial areas and displayed in a design different from the publication's editorial design.

7. Editors shall not create content for special advertising sections or other advertisements.

8. Publications shall require that search engines and other applications presented under the publication's brand and made accessible through the publications' Web sites perform their operations free of influence from advertising or other commercial considerations. Alterations that give greater prominence to an advertiser's site or link would constitute a betrayal of reader trust and are therefore prohibited.


*The Summary of the Online Ethics 2000 Survey: Online news managers say small staff sizes and the Internet medium's demand for speed and scoops erode traditional ethical standards.

*The Survey: The Internet is a runaway train, and journalism professionals with a healthy concern for the value of its cargo of information and the people to whom it is being delivered must tug the emergency-stop cord hard enough and long enough to allow ethical thinking and planning onboard.

*Ethics Discussion Points: Valid points for discussion inspired by the work of Richard Mason and an Impact Computer Science steering committee comprised of 25 professors of management, sociology, computer science, philosophy, psychology, mathematics and religion from 25 of the finest institutions of higher education in the United States.

If you have a story you would like to share, a point you think should be made or a criticism or suggestions that should be voiced regarding the status of online news ethics or the Online Ethics 2000 survey, please e-mail Janna Quitney Anderson,
Your responses are appreciated. Thank you.

This page was updated June 11, 2000, by Janna Quitney Anderson. For more information, contact