Blog Post

WSJ’s Robert Thomson On Ethics: The Memo

Robert Thomson, the top journalist at Dow Jones and flagship Wall Street Journal, just sent this memo about ethics to the News Corp (NSDQ: NWS). unit. Given the last three weeks in the Murdoch empire, with scandal unfolding about unethical — and illegal — acts at UK publishing unit News International and investigations underway in the U.S., the statement near the top may never be more true:

“we must remain alert, be constantly conscious of the issue, and hold ourselves to higher standards of probity than other news organizations.”

No one has suggested that journalists at Dow Jones have been anything other than ethical and nothing has emerged so far to contradict that.

But the scandal has already struck very close to home. A week ago this afternoon, Les Hinton, CEO of Dow Jones and publisher of the Journal, resigned because of the UK events. Hinton headed News Intl. when hacking took place at now-defunct News of the World but it was the reverb from giving what turns out to be misleading testimony to Parliament in 2007 and again in 2009 when he was at Dow Jones that led to his resignation after 52 years with Rupert Murdoch.

Dear All,

It is clear to every one of you how much emphasis that we collectively place on ethics at Dow Jones, but, in light of recent events in London, it is worth re-emphasizing those principles. I thank you for having recently completed the Code of Conduct questionnaire, which is an important annual affirmation of personal best practice. But ticking a box is not the same as actual behavior, so we must remain alert, be constantly conscious of the issue, and hold ourselves to higher standards of probity than other news organizations.

To that end, I want to remind you that we have a confidential hotline (866-480-6129) that anyone can call if there is any concern of any kind about journalistic practices at Dow Jones. The Dow Jones Special Committee is able to play a forceful role in this area – you can contact the individual members directly with concerns and any pertinent complaint made to the hotline will be passed to the committee for review.

It is important that all editors take responsibility for reporters in their care and that all reporters take care. Thankfully, we have not outsourced significant chunks of our regional reporting – the more distant a reporter from the core editing, and the core principles, of Dow Jones, the more one must be vigilant about possible breaches of our standards. In her new role, Elyse Tanouye is open to ideas, large and small, from you about how we can safeguard those standards.

In 2009, we created the DJ Code of Conduct Committee to strengthen the Code and ensure that it is a living, breathing entity. In June last year, we established the DJ Risk, Ethics and Compliance Council, which has representatives from across the company to oversee, among other things, matters related to Code compliance. We will also continue to conduct our formal Law & Ethics seminars, which are held in bureaus around the world.

With our principles firmly in place, we have a platform on which we can continue to build Dow Jones journalism around the world. Our digital audience is expanding rapidly in Asia and we are about to embark on a significant expansion in Europe. In the US, expect an announcement soon about a project that will certainly enhance our digital profile. We are already looking beyond forex and far beyond the US with proposed projects at Newswires, which is the engine for much of our expansion into other lands and languages.

By almost any measure, we have the most successful newspaper in the US and, arguably, the world, an exponentially expanding digital presence, and a peerless team of journalists passionate about ethics and hungry for more success. Thanks for all you have done and will do at Dow Jones.