The 7 Canons of Journalism Extra Credit

Claudia Hall

Billy Reeder – Mass Communications – MWF 11:00


What do you think of when you hear the word “journalism”? Before majoring in it, I thought of writing about things you’re passionate about. I thought it would come easily. I didn’t realize there were so many rules! Journalism isn’t like creative writing; though you can write about things you’re passionate about, it’s never easy. There are drafts, questionable phrases, and wondering if what you’re saying is too far. I’ve had a lot of struggles with it this semester!

Journalism isn’t that complicated though, when you really think about it. There are seven rules that every journalist should follow. Even though most journalists put them to the side, it’s easy to critique your piece by comparing it to these seven things. They are called the 7 Canons of Journalism. What is a canon? I’ll be honest, before I learned about the 7 Canons, I didn’t know what a canon actually was (besides the kinds in past wars). describes a canon as “a general law, rule, principle, or criterion by which something is judged.” In order to be a good journalist, you must follow these seven things.

The first canon is Responsibility. Responsibility is “the right of a newspaper to attract and hold readers is restricted by nothing but consideration of public welfare. The use a newspaper makes of the share of public attention it gains serves to determine its sense of responsibility, which it shares with every members of its staff. A journalist who uses his or her power for any selfish or otherwise unworthy purposes is faithless to a high trust.” (

You must consider the public’s welfare. It’s very unethical for a journalist to use his power of words in selfishness or contempt. You cannot bad mouth a politician or any other human, for that matter, just out of spite. If you ask me, that sounds very junior high-like. Journalism is supposed to be professional and informative, not petty and rude. Something to think about before writing: Is this going to help the public in any way? With this power come great responsibility. Though our country has freedom of speech, it doesn’t mean you, who will be heard by thousands or more, should say it.

The second canon is Freedom of Press. This is similar to freedom of speech, which is our First Amendment. The only difference is that it applies to press and not the everyday citizen. Freedom of Press allows journalists to state their opinion. I am primarily an opinion writer for the Arka Tech, so I don’t know where I’d be without this canon! I love giving advice or stating my opinion, if it’ll be respected or heard. You can say anything you want with this canon, but you need to make sure that it is accurate information.

The third canon is Independence. Independence is defined as “1) Promotion of any private interest contrary to the general welfare, for whatever reason, is not compatible with honest journalism. So-called news communications from private sources should not be published without public notice of their source or else substantiation of their claims to value as news, both in form and substance 2) Partisanship, in editorial comment, which knowingly departs from the truth, does violence to the best spirit of American journalism; in the news columns it is subversive of a fundamental principle of the profession.” (

If you are going to put information from a private source in your article, you must tell them and you must have a release. It is also very important not to use slander while writing about the source as well.

The fourth canon is Sincerity, Truthfulness, Accuracy. This is straight forward! Be sincere, truthful, and accurate in your writing. Sincerity means freedom from deceit and hypocrisy. Truth means in ordinance with fact or reality. Accuracy is the condition or quality of being true, correct, or exact. There’s a reason these three are in one canon! They are essentially the same. Speak and act truly. Do not lie, cheat, or steal from any sources. It’s good to remember that there is such thing as “karma” in journalism. If you aren’t truthful, others will not tell the truth about you. If your work isn’t accurate, anyone you mentor will learn to be inaccurate as well.

The fifth canon is Impartiality. According to, impartiality is “a principle of justice holding that decisions should be based on objective criteria, rather than on the basis of bias, prejudice, or preferring the benefit to one person over another for improper reasons.”

This goes along with Responsibility. You should not be biased over the topic you’re covering. You cannot write something out of spite. But this also goes another way. If you spend eight weeks in Iraq with a group of soldiers, it is very hard to be impartial. Journalism is a constant struggle of impartiality. I know I specifically relate to this because I have so many opinions and thoughts running through my head at all times. It is important to cover all angles of a story so that it is fair to all of its subjects.

Which brings me to the next canon… The sixth canon is Fair Play. Fair Play is “just and honorable treatment, action, or conduct” (www.dictionary .com). You must be fair in every story. You can’t leave out a huge detail that would change the story, just so you can spin it towards your side. This goes hand-in-hand with Impartiality. You also cannot leave out a detail to protect someone. Journalism is about honor and truth, and that would go against it. Though this is one of the canons, you’d be surprised how many journalists turn their heads to this important rule (or maybe you, Mr. Reeder, would not. You know a lot about this stuff!)

The last Canon of Journalism is Decency. According to, decency is “1. The state or quality of being decent. 2. Conformity to the recognized standard of propriety, good taste, modesty, etc.”

It is important to be compassionate and modest in your writing, in some sense. There is no need for curse words, blatant gossip, or sass. Your article is not a diary and you can save that for your personal life. You must think of the subject’s welfare. If they are interviewing for a job, applying for a loan, etc., that will inevitably come up. Though the person may not have acted justly, it is not your responsibility to get back at them by slander.

Every canon goes hand-in-hand and none is more important than the other. To put it simply, the 7 Canons of Journalism are to Journalists as the 10 Commandments are to Christians.


About chall29

Photographer from Northwest Arkansas pursuing degrees in Print Journalism and Speech Communication at Arkansas Tech University.
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