Credit: By Walt Stoneburner on Flickr. Some rights reserved.

The Online News Association (ONA) today launched the Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, a new set of recommendations and practices for newsrooms working with user-generated content and eyewitness media.

The document has been in the pipeline for three years, said Fergus Bell, journalist and news consultant at Dig Deeper Media. Bell worked on the project alongside Eric Carvin, social media editor at The Associated Press and Mandy Jenkins, head of news at Storyful, among others.

“The code was born out of how fast technology and journalistic practices are changing,” Bell told

“Even three years ago, it was clear that social was going to be a big part of news, and nothing is slowing down.”

Bell and Carvin originally got together with a group of people from different news organisations, such as BBC, Eyewitness Media Hub and The New York Times, to “discuss common standards and experiences around user-generated content”.

The conversation ultimately evolved into the Social Newsgathering Ethics Code, which was finalised in September 2015.

“It started off focusing on verification, but now the code asks people to consider various elements of working with eyewitness media,” said Bell.

“For example, the way news outlets verify content and the transparency around that with their audience; the credit owed to the contributor, which doesn't necessarily mean money – it could just be on-screen credit; or considerations around the safety and well-being of their journalists.”

These are just some of the 10 guiding principles outlined in the document, which also benefits from a group of supporters, aside from its contributors.

Supporters include organisations such as BBC, CNN and the Guardian, outlets the team behind the project reached out to before the launch to “gauge reaction”.

Bell said some of the original concerns about dealing with user-generated content are ongoing, but the aim is for newsrooms to “have this conversation in advance about these things before acting when something happens.”

“We still don’t have a solution to bombarding people with requests on social media to use their material, but people are starting to be more transparent about the status of verification.

“In terms of communicating with sources in dangerous situations, we've noticed a change in language and I’ve seen more news organisations coordinating their efforts to consider people’s safety,” he added.

“We do understand that there may be exceptions to these principles and it's not a commitment for anyone to perform these functions, but to simply consider them in their work,” Bell explained.

“It's not a practical ‘how to’ guide, so we're not telling you how to do something on a certain platform in a certain newsroom – it has to work for everyone.”

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