Ethics in freelancing is a contentious topic many people commonly disagree on. We should get this out there before we begin. Ethics are entirely personal. Whats acceptable to one person will not be acceptable to others. Remember, we all come from a range of different backgrounds, and we have to respect that.
Obviously, we know that some things are completely and entirely ethically wrong. Most of us wouldnt write promotional material for a meeting of the local Ku Klux Klan, for example. But outside of this is a grey area.
Lets take a look at ethics in freelancing and why they remain important:
What are Ethics?
Ethics arent as simple as not writing for certain organisations. Other ethical quandaries happen when freelancers happen to be affiliated to a certain product theyre promoting or getting paid for publishing specific content. Whilst this happens all the time, it becomes unethical when the freelancer hides their connections.
These ethics can mislead people because they believe theyre getting an honest opinion when in reality the freelancer is a salesperson in disguise.
Obviously, were going to tell you to always remain within the ethical bounds of your profession. But were going to discuss why.
Loss of Reputation
If you get caught hiding a connection to a product youre promotions, youre going to lose your reputation as a trustworthy individual. Dont underestimate how quick news can travel. It only takes a few days for a freelancer on a prominent publication to have their name and website plastered over hundreds of Internet forums.
Someone who becomes known as untrustworthy will find it difficult to get anyone new to trust them. This can impact on their ability to find other writing gigs.
Breaking ethical boundaries has just as much of an effect on yourself as it does on other people. If youre actively deceiving people and influencing people in the wrong way, could you look at yourself in the mirror?
This is very much a philosophical and a spiritual point that only you can answer. For most freelancers, they know the difference between right and wrong.
Where the Buck Stops
So weve learned that getting labeled as an unethical freelancer can impact both your personal and professional life. Whos supposed to be enforcing these supposed ethical standards, though?
The truth is theres nobody other than you. The vast majority of freelancers wont have an editor constantly looking over their shoulders to check if something untoward is going on. You have to police yourself. The buck stops with you. This is something you have to take responsibility for.
Dont rely on an editor to pull you up on something. Most editors assume youre already an ethical human being when the company hired you in the first place.
Where Should You Go for Ethical Standards?
Ethical standards can come from practically anywhere. As a general rule of thumb, it requires education. The closest set of ethical standards you should stick to are those that come from journalism. Remember, a lot of journalists are freelancers as well and must abide by a set of specific ethical standards if theyre going to keep getting work with newspapers and magazines.
Study the ethical standards from the Society of Professional Journalists. It doesnt have to mean going to school. Read through them and take away the basic principles relevant to your industry.
Weve seen how important ethical standards are to freelancers. The vast majority of ethical standards are basic common sense. As long as youre not purposely trying to gain the system or deceive someone, the chances are youre already an ethical freelancer.
As you go back to work, whenever you get tempted remember theres no replacing a sullied reputation as a freelance professional.