As part of a new agreement between the two organizations, CMG Freelance members are now able to access the National NewsMedia Council’s pre-publication support and ethics advice.
CMG Freelance, a branch of the Canadian Media Guild (CWA Canada Local 30213), has arranged for the NNC to offer consulting and support via phone or email to freelance journalists who need ethical advice on sensitive stories.
The council was established in 2015 as a voluntary, self-regulatory ethics body for English-language news media in Canada. It was established to promote ethical practices within the media and handle complaints against its member publications.
With the ongoing layoffs and downsizing of media outlets, the council saw a need to reach out to the growing number of independent journalists in the industry.
“This is new territory. A lot of organizations are in an institutional mindset where you have a newsroom and staff all in one place. But the future is going to look a bit different,” said Brent Jolly, the council’s community manager and director of communications. “We see where the labour market is going and we think it would be valuable for individual members to have this kind of support.”
John Fraser, executive chair of the council, said he saw a need to promote ethics as journalism moves out of the traditional newsroom setting.
“A lot of people are willing to call themselves journalists but are not willing to adhere to journalistic standards,” he said.
Fraser said offering support to help freelancers meet high standards in their journalism fits with the NNC’s overall purpose.
“Our mandate is to handle complaints from the public and ensure standards and ethics are upheld within the industry. And freelancers are playing a stronger and stronger role in media today,” he said.
The NNC considers complaints that concern accuracy, fairness of coverage and attribution, among other things. Most of the English-language daily and community papers in Canada belong to the NNC. All member publications agree to abide by the decisions the Council makes with regards to complaints from the public.
In addition to adjudicating complaints, said Fraser, the council also aims to prevent complaints from arising in the first place.
“There are lots of thorny issues that a freelance journalist might encounter during the course of their work – when taking something from social media, for example, or when attempting to verify facts,” said Fraser.
Stories about controversial issues as well as journalism dealing with sensitive subjects such as victims of crime, child welfare or suicide might benefit from the guidance of the NNC.
“There are these divisive issues that people might run into trouble with or need guidance on,” said Fraser.
While freelancers generally go to their commissioning editor with questions about ethics, the NNC is available to consult on questions from freelancers who are concerned about the advice or directives they’re getting from the publication they’re writing for. In addition, the council will offer advice to freelancers who self-publish on a website or blog and will address issues related to news-gathering and journalistic standards if a member of the public lodges a complaint against them.
Fraser also said the plan is still a work in progress and that the services they offer may evolve as they learn more about the needs of their members.
“Part of our mandate is to listen to our members because they’re the ones who know best what they need,” he said.
The NNC is hoping this new initiative will help freelancers work without the fear of being abandoned if something goes wrong. The council wants to act as an ally to freelancers and saw an opportunity to partner with the freelance branch of the CMG.
“Being part of the freelance guild is a signal that these freelancers are professionals,” said Brent Jolly. “They’re investing in the industry and working with an established organization that is invested in supporting high quality journalism.”
The NNC is also looking into offering sessions or workshops for CMG Freelance members. Stay tuned for more information on those initiatives over the coming months.
The CMG Freelance website contains more information about the many other benefits of membership.