EDITORIAL: Ethics at the Enterprise focused on gaining, keeping trust

With tumult these days over what’s believable in the news and what’s not, now seems a good time for us to again state our principles. We believe you, the reader, should have no doubt about the ethics that undergird our work in reporting the news of Malheur County.

Citizens are right to be questioning about media ethics. For one, the definition of “media” encompasses almost anyone that puts words down on paper or online or in a broadcast. For another, too many holding themselves out as journalists are instead professional shouters, paid or promoted to hype points of view dressed as facts.

At the Malheur Enterprise, ethics are part of our DNA. We want to be right and do right. Journalists, though, too often assume that consumers of our work know that. Journalists aren’t very good about publicly declaring those ethics, holding them out as measures by which our work can be tested. We speak here only for ourselves, the professionals at the Enterprise who come to work every day to provide you first, fair and accurate news coverage.

We are determined to be accurate. That means getting the facts right. That means spelling names correctly. That means accurately recounting meetings, events, and other matters we observe or report on.

In 1922, Oregon journalists adopted the Oregon Code of Ethics for Journalism that is a bit quaint but remains forceful in its declarations.

Truth was the first ethic defined, as it must always be: “The sincere journalist will be honest alike in his purposes and in his writings. To the best of his capacity to ascertain truth, he will always be truthful…It is naturally not possible that all writing be without error, but it can always be without deliberate error.”

And truth means more than getting a particular fact correct. The 1922 code gets it just right: “We will interpret accuracy not merely as the absence of actual misstatement, but as the presence of whatever is necessary to prevent the reader from making a false deduction.”

Simply put, that means at the Enterprise we won’t string together facts that, while individually true, leave a distorted or even false impression about what happened, who was involved and why.

Another ethic for us is to treat people humanely and fairly. We listen to people respectfully and attentively, whether they are sharing news, asking a question, or posing criticism. Under the U.S. Constitution, we have great freedom to publish. With that freedom comes responsibility, especially to safeguard the reputations of men and women and not subject them to malice, prejudice or unjust public scrutiny.

Because of privilege under the Constitution, we see it as our duty first and forever to serve the public good, to make our communities better, to drive for the improvement of the people who call Malheur County home. We can only do so if we remain fiercely independent. We do not endorse or support any particular political party or movement. We yield no control to anyone outside our doors – not to powerful government figures, not to influential community leaders, and not to advertisers who might believe buying space also buys influence. We serve only one force – the public good.

Finally, our ethics demand of us to be accountable to the community. That means if we err, we fix it. That means if we must publish what may be judged a controversial report, we explain our reasoning for doing so. That means if we are questioned about our conduct, we answer promptly and honestly.

These ethical standards aren’t meant to allow the journalists and other employees at the Enterprise to go home at night and sleep well. These are intended so the community can faithfully trust what we report. – LZ