No matter what your journalistic niche or fancy, everyone agrees that there is a lot going on in the world right now. Freelance journalists are feeling a whole spectrum of emotions about covering it all.

The topic of ethics in journalism is also buzzing. Journalists are reporting on anything and everything — making it harder and harder to navigate the blurred lines of ethics and balancing creative tendencies with the responsibility to be ethical in writing.

Don't stress! media update's Alrika Möller is drawing you a map through the ethical maze of freelance journalism.

The hope is that every freelance journalist strives to be ethical in their writing. It can be tricky to cover all the bases, and not everyone is aware of the many bases they need to cover in the name of ethics.

Here are a few things to keep in mind:


Some people find this one a little tricky. So, let me simplify …

If you didn't write it, don't say that you did. If you use someone else as a source, you have to give credit. That is the basics of plagiarism and how to avoid it.

There are many ways to navigate this issue — from linking to articles you used to the traditional method of citing at the very end of your piece.

Depending on the formality of your piece, the method of citing sources and giving credit can differ.

Some informal publications are not too bothered by the how; they just care that you do it. Some publications, however, have a set style guide that specifies the acceptable methods.

If you are doing formal or academic writing, the good old-fashioned Harvard methods are the favourite.

Correct information

Contrary to what some might think, most people are quite trusting, and they tend to believe the things they read. This is especially true if it was written by a journalist who claimed what they wrote to be fact.

This trust is why the accuracy of information always comes up during discussions about ethics.

If you want to be on the right side of correctness, a good rule of thumb is to fact-check yourself.

If you find a fact or statistic that you wish to reference in your writing, check:
  • the credibility of your source
  • how long ago it was published
  • if the information is up-to-date, and
  • if other publications are reporting the same thing.

Once you confirm that your facts are correct and up-to-date, you can add them to your writing. Just remember to add where you found those facts.

This is not just to avoid plagiarism but also to allow your readers the chance to do some fact-checking themselves.

Be aware of your biases

This one can be especially tricky! We all have our biases.

If you stand on one side of an issue, you will see more and more content that supports your point of view. This will happen when you do research for your writing as well.

That is why freelance journalists have a responsibility to check their biases. How do you do that?

During the research section of your writing process, the ethical thing to do is to always check what the other side is reporting as well. This practice stands regardless of whether it is a political, environmental or social issue.

Do a quick Google search to find the other point of view or perspective you might be missing.

It can mean the difference between writing a propaganda piece or an informational piece that provides all the facts, as all good journalists should.

As a freelance journalist, you might find yourself in a position where a client asks you to write with a specific bias. You have the responsibility to disclose that fact in your writing, as well as ask them to state the request in writing.


A big part of working in the freelance industry is working with clients and building client relationships. Every client you write for wants to feel like they are your only client.

This does not just mean that you have to deliver the same quality of work to all your clients but that you have to treat each client with respect.

When a client provides you with any sensitive personal or company information to be used within your piece, ethics dictates that you do not use the information anywhere else.

This is the case for all kinds of information provided by a client, from big business deals to a person's real hair colour. If you don't have the client's permission to use it for other writing projects, you can only use that information for the project the client hired you for.

To be perfectly clear, you cannot even write about it in a personal blog. Keep it out of your dear diary stories as well — just to be on the safe side.

The word ethics can scare some freelance journalists. But don't be intimidated; just remember that it is always better to be safe than sorry.

Which tip on ethical freelance journalism did you find the most helpful? Let us know in the comments section below.

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If we gave you new enthusiasm for ethical journalism, you might want to take a look at how to Sleuth your way to the truth: the art of fact-checking.
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