The Radio-Television News Directors Association is revamping its ethics code. Why? The current code is a wallet-sized creed (a 1980s rewrite of a 1960s code whose ponderousness prompted the revisers to go in the opposite direction). Times have changed, and as some of the examples in our story on page 52 suggest, so have the pressures on broadcast news departments (our favorite is the theme park that wanted the weatherman to report partly cloudy days as "mostly sunny" so attendance would not drop off).
The Internet has altered the way news is gathered and reported. Add the beginningless and endless news cycles, the exponentially increased competition and technologies that turn the planet into a virtual news net powered by e-mails and cell phones and URLs and, well, times have changed.
Rather than their own version of the Hippocratic oath, today's broadcast journalists need a handbook to guide them through a growing minefield of ethical decisions (like when is synergy just another word for sucking up) and a shield to raise against the encroachment of corporate parents increasingly removed from the electron-stained process of broadcast journalism.
Or, as News Director Forrest Carr put it last week: "Many of us are employed by corporations that do not have their roots in journalism. We often report to supervisors who are salesmen or accountants, not journalists, and who, quite frankly, have little or no understanding of journalistic ethics. We need language that speaks directly to these owners and managers."
If this week's RTNDA convention in Minneapolis did nothing more than help find that new voice for the ethics code, it would be worth the price of the plane ticket.