A Proposal for a Code of Ethics for Collaborative Journalism in the Digital Age: The Open Park Code

Florence Gallez

Florence Gallez

As American professional journalism with its established rules and values transitions to the little-regulated, ever-evolving world of digital news, few of its practitioners, contributors and consumers are giving thought to the moral and intellectual implications that this transition entails.

While technologists and innovators have embraced this passage into a hybrid model of skilled and citizen-generated news production, even spearheading its new practices at times, this transition is taking place in a moral and regulatory void: without a strong legislative foundation for cyberspace and revised ethical rules for the journalism profession online, media professionals and independent news producers lack guidance and tools to respond appropriately to new ethical issues not covered by current laws and ethical codes. Some of the key questions facing the profession are: should online journalism and all new forms of news media production be regulated, and if so, to what extent and by whom? What constitutes ethical collaboration? How does current regulation operate? Should or could it be extended to the digital domain?

In this thesis I argue that professional and amateur news publishing on the Internet and other digital formats have created new social issues, ethical dilemmas and unanticipated situations for journalists, which are specific to digital media and unaddressed by current laws, standards, and codes of ethics.

Following an analysis of these issues and the deficiencies of current ethics codes, using a real-life case study and comments from working journalists on their new professional needs, I then propose my vision for online news media production, arguing for an open-source, participatory model supported by a solid, individual ethical foundation and a revised relationship with sources. The thesis culminates with my proposed code of ethics for collaborative journalism in the digital age, the Open Park Code of Ethics and the Global Media Ethics Forum. Initially conceived as a news-reporting and educational tool for the Open Park project of The MIT Center for Future Civic Media, the OP Code reflects the principles and guidelines of my open-source model and is readily usable and adaptable to the needs of varied news media communities and individual producers.