It’s popular today for people to say there are no ethics in the news business. This is usually, but not always, proclaimed by those who do not like what an article has to say or by those who see media as biased.
Ethics in the news business are a bugger because they are a complex set of rules we create and follow to be impartial, fair, responsible and accountable to the communities we serve, and to limit harm to the same. Some of it is pretty easy stuff. Don’t flip photos. Don’t use Photo Shop to show a Town Councillor at an event the clearly did not attend. Don’t make up quotations. Don’t use parts of quotations to make people say something they didn’t. Record interviews. Easy stuff.
Sometimes a paper’s code of ethics involves ethical policy decisions, including withholding information in a story. Sometimes we will leave off a last name to protect an interview subject from harm. Sometimes we leave off other details to protect the community from harm.
We recently did just that in our story about Morinville RCMP Constable Justin St. Onge’s trip around town in the middle of the night checking car doors. In our story, we told readers the percentages of cars that were locked and the variations in percentages between neighbourhoods. We did not specifically identify where those numbers were generated. And we won’t give those locations because it was not a crucial piece of information in the story. The crucial information was lots of people do not lock their vehicles, and those people should probably lock their vehicles.
We have the constable’s eight-page document outlining exactly which neighbourhoods and streets had the highest percentage of open doors. It is baffling how we cannot seem to wrap our heads around the simple concept that locking your car and removing valuables is a good thing to do if you want to keep your stuff. As St. Onge said in our interview – “There are criminals that live here, and there are criminals that are happy to come here.”
There is nothing particularly wrong with publishing which Morinville neighbourhood St. Onge found 80 per cent of property owners didn’t lock their cars, but it accomplishes nothing except tell criminals and would-be criminals that Neighbourhood A is an easy target for a quick rip and run.
Snow is melting. Summer is coming. Police are trying to be proactive by dropping the hint in a less-than-subtle way that you ought to lock your vehicle doors when you aren’t around. There is not much we can say beyond that. Lock your doors. Criminals aren’t big on ethics. They do not have to follow any of the rules police and reporters do.