News workers—writers, editors, videographers, bloggers, photographers, designers—regularly confront questions of potential harms and conflicting values in the course of their work, and the field of journalism ethics concerns itself with standards of behavior and the quality of justifications used to defend controversial journalistic decisions. While journalism ethics, as with the philosophy of ethics in general, is less concerned with pronouncements of the “rightness” or “wrongness” of certain acts, it relies on longstanding notions of the public-service mission of journalism. However, informing the public and serving a “watchdog” function regularly require journalists to negotiate questions of privacy, autonomy, community engagement, and the potentially damaging consequences of providing information that individuals and governments would rather withhold.
As news organizations continue to search for successful business models to support journalistic work, ethics questions over conflicts of interest and content transparency (e.g., native advertising) have gained prominence. Media technology platforms that have served to democratize and decentralize the dissemination of news have underscored the debate about who, or what type of content, should be subjected to journalism ethics standards. Media ethics scholars, most of whom are from Western democracies, also are struggling to articulate the features of a “global” journalism ethics framework that emphasizes broad internationalist ideals yet accommodates cultural pluralism. This is particularly challenging given that the very idea of “press freedom” remains an alien one in many countries of the world, and the notion is explicitly included in the constitutions of only a few of the world’s democratic societies. The global trend toward recognizing and promoting press freedom is clear, but it is occurring at different rates in different countries. Other work in the field explores the factors on the individual, organizational, and societal levels that help or hinder journalists seeking to ensure that their work is defined by widely accepted virtues and ethical principles.