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Being Ethical in your Writing

Updated on February 13, 2014


The American Heritage Dictionary defines ETHICS as : A system of moral principles or values. The study of the general nature of morals and of the specific moral choices to be made by the individual in his relationship with others. AND; The rules or standards governing the conduct of the members of a profession. And being ETHICAL: In accordance with the accepted principles of right and wrong that govern the conduct of a profession.

When a writer chooses to ignore the ethical conduct of themselves or others in the pursuit of their professional careers, it not only destroys the credibility of that individual, but it also puts a blot on the general publics mind on how that profession is seen. When you abandon the moral, or ethical code of any one profession or individual, that state of being is always associated with that person or profession.

I know that is quite a mouthful, but what it boils down to is how you think yourself, and the profession that you chose to make your living with, is seen by the general public. Ask any ex-marine, or ex-journalist, or even an ex-truck driver, and they could possibly tell you what ethics is really about.

A marine (any armed forces really) who has been dis-honorably discharged for disobeying an order that could prove fatal to someone else. News feeds from many countries, not just our own have highlighted such incidents. Obeying a direct order to kill someone is not a defense against the charge of murder. That soldier is required to use their own judgement in following a higher ranking officers order. According to the Uniform Code of Military Justice (UCMJ), these articles require the obedience of LAWFUL orders. An order which is unlawful doesn't have to be obeyed. Obeying such an order can result in criminal prosecution of the one who obeys it. Military courts have long held that military members are accountable for their actions even while following orders -- if the order is illegal. From 1799 and the War with France, to the Vietnam Conflict (war), military courts have sentenced non commissioned officers and officers alike to prison and worse for doing such. If you'd like, you can look up United States vs. Keenan to see what I mean. Keenan, the accused was found guilty of murder for killing an elderly Vietnamese man. Why? Because he was 'following orders' of a superior officer. Judgement and Ethics played a valuable part in his trial.

I'm honored to call myself a journalist. I spent two years in a private college getting my AA degree in Journalism and another two receiving my BA in Journalism and Graphic Arts in a state university. The field is full of reporters who have done some very unethical and unsavory things. And I believe the reason is because of the fierce competition in the career. When I started out trying to 'bust into' the industry, a person almost had to know someone who could open a door for you, or be introduced to the right person hiring for a position. I can't tell you how many times I'd been turned away for not having enough experience, or enough background to do the job. Background is the key in this: Always do your homework. The most widely known no-no in journalsim is plagiarism. One of the first things I learned in the field is to always do your own reporting and background information. Basically research your material. You can use quotes, even pictures, but always attribute those to the ones who actually did them. Some of the most highly publicized stories of plagiarism: Stephen Ambrose, a respected journalist was accused of plagiarism in 2002 after writing The Wild Blue: The Men and Boys Who Flew the B-24's over Germany. It was speculated to have been plagiarized from a 1995 book called Wings of Morning: The Last American Bomber Shot Down over Germany in WWII by Thomas Childers. Even the President of the United States, Barack Obama has been accused. During his presidential campaign in 2008 his speech was said to have mirrored one given by Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick in 2006.

Or a truck driver (you can include myself in this) who has been involved in a non fatal accident after 20 years and now is believed to be untrustworthy behind the wheel. From Journalism to truck driver is a pretty far leap I know, but I did it. I've been in both fields, and in each their is fierce competition. Studious and careful driving is the key to a long career behind the wheel. But, as in anything, stuff happens. Because you had an accident, should your license be taken away? No, of course not, yet it happens. I was the one who had been hurt during this accident, yet because of it I was branded unfit to drive by that company. Four years later, although through with surgical repairs to my back and many hours of rehabilitation, and doctors visits, I'm still not working. Am I unfit? I don't think so. But being branded something you're not doesn't just go away. It takes time and effort on not only my part, but on the public at large.

The moral and ethical things we choose in life follow us everywhere we go, forever. If, in the pursuit of a dream, you step over those lines of moral and ethical conduct, what have you accomplished? Nothing but ruin to your credibility, and the credibility of the profession you are associated with. Are all Marines bad if they disobey an order that could ultimately lead to someones death. No, I don't believe so. But the marine who disobeyed that order is always branded as a traitor, or coward, or something equally offensive. Are all journalists who use quotes from someone else's work plagiarists? No, as long as they give credit of those quotes to the ones who actually said them. Is every trucker who has been in an accident unfit to drive again? No, of course not.

What is right, and what is wrong is what it's all about. Would you consider writing an article, or story, verbatim, from another published work, your own, right? Would you consider robbing a 7-Eleven right? Or how about stealing something from the next door neighbor, just because their house wasn't locked the way it should be? What's wrong with telling those neighbors of yours they forgot to lock the house and you went and did it. No one got hurt, and you weren't being selfish. You were looking after there interests. (That happened to me, believe it or not; neighbors saw my door open and they closed and locked it, after they realized I wasn't home.)

Those same principals of right and wrong are put to the test every day with your writing. Make the effort to do every article or story, or hub, your own. HUB PAGES themselves recognize the value of that, and they reward you for it.

In writing, ethical conduct is one of the most important principals a writer can practice. Not only will it help YOUR reputation, but it will help the professional itself. Don't be branded something you aren't.

Happy reading. And writing.


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