Ethics and Journalism

Alma Fausto, a crime reporter for the Orange County Register, talks about the silent decision making that goes behind every article.

By: Jessica Bustos

ORANGE COUNTY - “One of the big things that I feel like, especially right now with the current events, with politics, [is] that historically journalists shouldn't and haven't been stating their personal opinions, on social media or just in the public, whether or not you cover politics,” said Alma Fausto in a phone interview Monday.

Today, it seems like the country is particularly critical of the news media, especially with technology growing rapidly and activating new ethical challenges.

Q: What are some of the issues, the ethical dilemmas and challenges being faced by journalists today?

Fausto: I think it's kind of hard right now for reporters who have strong opinions about politics.

A lot of them are actually making their opinions known, whether it's politicians of their choices or how they stand on certain issues which historically we haven't done and know what journalists shouldn't do, at least in my opinion.

It’s one of those things, do you do that traditional thing of just keeping your political opinions to yourself, but also does that dilute you, [and] make you out of touch with the general public.

Q: How does social media contribute to fake news and what ethical dilemmas does this pose to real journalism?

Fausto: People are not always who they say they are online.

They can say anything really and if enough people either share it or create their own theories, a lot of the time people just think it's true. Those are just rumors that spread without any sort of accountability.

If I were to print something completely false, I could get sued. I could get fired. There are consequences for me not doing my job.

If I'm trying to get information using social media, I try to find agencies, public agencies that I know are not fake like a police department or a city source or nonprofit organization.

When it comes to people, that's when you have to be a little more tedious. If you're trying to get information from somebody on social media, it's probably best not to do that for anything that's really serious.

You're not going to quote somebody on Twitter and you're in a serious investigation about some wrongdoing or corruption.

Q: Does The Orange County Register have an ethics policy?

Fausto: We do actually, we have social media policy, diversity policies and an ethics policy.

I don't look at it every day, but that's things we kind of know.

A lot of media outlets have them to be a guide of how we do things and I would assume a lot of them are pretty much the same things. We don't have one hard and fast rule, we do everything on a case by case basis.

Q: How do you practice ethical journalism?

Fausto: There's things that are just kind of making common sense decisions.

For me, I cover crime. So maybe a police department will release a lot of information, which doesn't usually happen, [but] there's been times where they'll release certain information and I've actually chosen to [withhold] the name of a victim or withhold a particular address because of the potential of danger or invasion of someone's privacy.

So we could publish because we got it from a reputable source, but we've made the decision not to, because of safety reasons. I think just kind of doing what's right.

Q: What are some of the basic ethical rules that all journalists are expected to adhere to?

Fausto: I think a rule of thumb is, you have to actually just think, can I publish something? Yes. Should I publish something is another question. It’s what is going to be the result or what do I gain from doing this.

Obviously there's things that you shouldn't do, but it's also the matter of how you get information. I'm not going to do anything that's illegal or try to lie about who I am to try to get information, especially because they can discredit you later on as a reporter.

Maybe it's not illegal, but it might not help your credibility. It's always gonna come down to your methods and how credible you are and how trustworthy you end up being.

Fausto said that she understands that she can’t change people’s thoughts on the news media, however, she also acknowledges that without it, no one would ever know what is going on in the world around them.

“I don't know if it's much of a consolation, but there's a lot of people out there who get paid very little and who work very hard to try to do the job well,” she said.

(content has been edited for length)