As public relations professionals, it’s easy to think that your intentions are separate from those of a journalist. Maybe some people mistake public relations and marketing or think PR is a method for selling something. This is why practicing good ethics is imperative to being successful in the world of public relations.
Ethical issues in the past, in the public relations field, often stem from the idea that public relations staff twist or manipulate a situation for a positive outcome or as a method of damage control. To avoid these situations, I often refer to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. SPJ provides a detailed list of four key aspects of practicing ethical journalism, and as a public relations student working in a related field, I feel it is an appropriate source of inspiration. It has even been adapted by bloggers to create a Blogger Code of Ethics.
The two steps I follow most closely include the ideas of acting independently and being transparent. Acting independently means disclosing possible conflicts and distinguishing news from advertising. Identifying the difference between news and advertising is a skill that takes practice. It is important not to over-sell or use fluff language in press releases and when you are distributing information to journalists or clients.
“Be Accountable and Transparent: Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.” SPJ Code of Ethics.
Transparency is necessary not only in writing but also in the workplace. It’s important not to be afraid to deliver bad news, which could be often in the public relations field. Molding stories or coving up facts will only hurt your reputation in the long term.
For example, look to celebrity scandals, which appear to have been on the rise with social media, apologies that take responsibility and frame mistakes as learning experiences are much more appreciated than those that displace blame onto others or discredit the claims altogether. Take, for example, Kevin Spacey’s apology which was met with vast amounts of backlash.
Social media has definitely muddied the waters of public relations as it has become an important feature in maintaining a personal image and disseminating information. The same code of ethics must also be applied to posting online. I would also recommend the Code of Ethics for Bloggers, Social Media and Content Creators because it covers material not considered in the SPJ Code of Ethics. This code includes giving credit where credit is due, admitting and correcting mistakes as soon as possible and giving the opposition the opportunity to respond.
Additionally, journalists and publicists should take time to rethink their writing and consider the perspectives of others. In my personal ethics code, I value being accountable for my work and make a point to be thorough in creating balanced and fair work. Fact checking is an essential part of maintaining a good ethics code because as we enter the working world as professionals that write and distribute news about people or products, it is creating a sense of trust with readers is crucial.