Weekly Writing Tips: On Writing Ethically

The Weekly Writing Tips are a collection of best practices for writing and reporting at Global Voices. August's tips are brought to you by Janine Mendes-Franco, regional editor for the Caribbean.

For the 4th and final installment of the August Weekly Writing Tips, I’d like to focus on writing ethically. There have been instances with the GV Caribbean team – and I’m sure other regions have had similar experiences – in which people have taken offence at posts that we have published. For me, these occasions have been ones of reflection, where I re-examine choices that were made and determine whether the post in question could have been more responsible, measured or balanced. Through these experiences, I’ve devised some tips for writing ethically…

1. Value the trust that readers place in us.

By doing this, we acknowledge that we have a relationship with everyone who reads our posts. That trust should not be taken lightly; we must continue to earn it with every new post we publish. We should aim to be so reliable that our readers have no reason to doubt the faith they place in us. This is not to say that our content can’t be debated – the whole point of GV is to foster discussion – but no one should be able to say that we have presented only one side of a story. In this vein, we should be careful to quote from only reliable sources of citizen media – voices we ourselves have come to trust. We should also be clear about any possible conflicts of interest. The bottom line is that we must have respect for our readers by writing stories of quality.

2. Acknowledge that words have power.

Free speech does not absolve us from responsible writing. Each word we write has consequences – sometimes on people’s reputations and livelihoods.

3. Follow a code of ethics.

GV has one here. I am sure we all have a personal set of beliefs that have steered us toward writing for GV in the first place. We feel a kinship with what GV stands for and we try to live up to those standards every day. Keep that in mind when writing stories. Re-read your work and if the post is unfairly accusatory, leans heavily towards one point of view or can be libelous, reconsider how things are phrased, seek out additional perspectives or get the advice of the editorial team.

4. Be as honest as you can.

This means paying attention to accuracy. We must conduct our due diligence – do our research, check facts, verify and credit sources – even do on the ground reporting when we can. We should be authentic to the realities of the world we live in, but explain them in a way that people will relate to; this will give our posts breadth and depth. It also goes without saying: never plagiarise and always ensure that we have permission to use images if they are not CC.

5. Admit shortcomings.

We’re human; we’ll miss the mark from time to time. Our writing, though not deliberate, may sometimes inaccurate or unfair, in which case we need to step up and make amends. There have been two occasions (thankfully a small number!) on which, with the help of the senior editors, GV Caribbean has been able to do that, either by offering a more balanced perspective or by explaining why wording was changed. A critical part of this process is the support of the core team. I remember a lot of online furore happening a few years ago over a post written by one of our volunteers. A lot of undeserved vitriol was directed at the author personally – but throughout the ordeal, ALL the editors stood firmly on her side. It required that we publish a detailed update about the situation, but we stood our ground while acknowledging opposing opinions.

Hope these tips have been useful; it was fun writing them!

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