AEJMC Code of Ethics Research

Recommended Ethical Research Guidelines for AEJMC Members(1)

Unanimously Approved by the Standing Committee on Research, August 11, 2005


Every aspect of research must be guided by ethical research standards. It is the responsibility of AEJMC members to follow ethical research standards when designing, conducting, analyzing, publishing, and supervising research studies. In the fields of journalism and mass communication, research studies may be conducted on humans or their artifacts. Research methodologies involving humans may include surveys, experiments, participant observation, depth interviews, or focus groups while research studies that focus on artifacts of humans might include methods such as content analysis, textual analysis, or unobtrusive observation.

If Institutional Review Board (IRB) approval is required for human subjects research, it is the responsibility of AEJMC members to follow the guidelines of their university’s IRB. It is important to emphasize, though, that these guidelines should not include the practice of journalism. Because the practice of journalism, due to its First Amendment protection and separate ethics codes, is different from the federal government’s definition of research involving human subjects2, IRB review of news gathering procedures should be inappropriate. It is important to keep in mind that IRB’s are primarily concerned with the treatment of human subjects, but human participants represent only one, albeit important, component of a research study. Once IRB approval is received, it does not absolve AEJMC members from following ethical standards for other aspects of research studies. Ethical standards apply to AEJMC members conducting or supervising research studies as well as journal editors, editorial boards, research chairs, and reviewers.

I. Plagiarism and conflict of interest violate ethical research standards.
AEJMC members must never plagiarize nor take credit for another individual’s work, whether published or not. AEJMC members must accurately and fully document sources for ideas, words, and pictures. Research studies must be designed free of conflict of interest; studies tailored to produce an outcome consistent with the interests of a funding sponsor, institution, or research agenda are in breach of ethical research standards.

II. Knowingly causing harm to research participants is unethical.
In addition to adhering to a university’s IRB requirements that protect human research participants, AEJMC members must treat all research participants with respect, fairness, and integrity, regardless of age, race, ethnicity, socio-economic status, gender, religion, culture, or sexual orientation. Actions that may cause harm include but are not limited to: coercing participation in a research study; disclosing information that the researcher has promised will remain confidential; failing to secure informed consent from participants in experimental studies; failing to debrief participants at the conclusion of an experiment; failing to disclose in advance that participants will be observed or taped; failing to warn participants in advance that they will be queried about sexually explicit or illegal behavior.

III. Data collection, processing, and analysis must be undertaken with integrity.
AEJMC members must make every effort to safeguard the integrity of the research data from collection through analysis. It is unethical to fabricate data. Likewise, concealing data that do not support hypotheses, a research agenda, or a funding sponsor’s goals is unethical.

IV. Research studies must be reported accurately and objectively.
The research report must accurately represent the study’s purpose, procedures, and results. It is unethical to exclude information about research procedures that may influence the validity or interpretation of results. Procedures for selecting participants for a survey, experiment or focus group or media content for a content analysis must be explained fully. Sample size, response rate, question wording, inter-coder reliability, weighting, analyses of sub-samples, and recoding of data must be reported accurately and completely. Finally, slanting the writing of a research study to produce an outcome that is inconsistent with the results or to satisfy an outside sponsor or to make consistent with a research agenda, is unethical. If the author ever discovers an error in the study after the article is submitted, accepted, or published, the author must immediately inform the journal’s editor.

V. Authorship credit must be fair, accurate, and without conflict of interest.
An author is involved in conceiving, designing, conducting, and writing a research study. The first author usually has primary responsibility for most components of a study. Although co-authors contribute to a study, the co-author credit often means less involvement than the first author. In cases where the contribution of co-authors is truly equal, which author gets listed first can be determined alphabetically, randomly, or by some other method acceptable to the authors. When three or more authors contribute to a study, the order of authors’ names should be consistent with the level of involvement for each author, ranging from most to least involved.

Although the results of a Standing Committee on Research survey of AEJMC members suggested the membership is split on the ethics of faculty co-authorship of a student dissertation or thesis, the Standing Committee recognizes the potential for conflict of interest in publications produced from student work.3 Faculty should never pressure graduate students for co-author credit and graduate students should always acknowledge the contributions of faculty advisors to their scholarly publications.

VI. Submit original work for publication.
AEJMC members should only submit manuscripts representing original work and not work that has been published elsewhere or work that is a re-write of previously published articles. It is the responsibility of the author to inform editors when manuscripts are based on dissertations or theses.
Because multiple and simultaneous submission policies vary by disciplines, it is imperative that editors and research chairs publish submission guidelines. Disregarding editorial policies on multiple and simultaneous submissions is unethical.

VII. Ethical research principles should guide the supervision of students and mentoring of junior faculty.
AEJMC members are responsible for ensuring that the students they supervise and junior faculty they mentor follow ethical research standards. Furthermore, AEJMC members must be sensitive to the potential for conflicts of interests and breaches of ethical research standards when advising students and junior faculty on research matters. Faculty should not pressure students to select certain dissertation topics; students and junior faculty should not feel obligated to give undeserved co-author credit to faculty advisors or mentors. Demanding undeserved credit for work done by a student or junior faculty member is unethical.

VIII. Ethical research standards should guide the handling of manuscripts by editors, editorial boards, research chairs, and reviewers.
Manuscripts must be handled with confidentiality and integrity during every phase of the editorial review process. Without exception, authors’ manuscripts must be evaluated objectively on the quality of work, not on personal preferences, hidden agendas, or politics. Additionally, AEJMC members who are editors and reviewers should follow American Psychological Association (APA) guidelines when handling manuscripts: “Editors and reviewers may not use the material from an unpublished manuscript to advance their own or others’ work without the author’s consent.”4

(1)The idea of writing Guidelines for Ethical Research for AEJMC members was conceived in Kansas City during the meeting of the Standing Committee on Research at the 2003 convention. After discussing the results of a 2003 ethical research survey of AEJMC members that found evidence of violations of research ethics, the research committee decided to develop ethical research principles that could be adopted by the organization as a whole. Members of the 2002-2003 Standing Committee on Research included: Linda Steiner (Chair), Alison Alexander, Tsan-Kuo Chang, Jack Dvorak, Michael Real, Mary Alice Shaver, Elizabeth Toth, Sandra Utt, and Paula Poindexter who conducted the ethical research survey and drafted the guidelines. The draft guidelines reflected Standing Committee on Research member concerns, results of the ethical research survey of AEJMC members, ethical standards emphasized in research textbooks, journals, and publications from the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) and the American Psychological Association (APA), and Institutional Review Board (IRB) requirements. The draft ethical research guidelines were first reviewed and discussed with the 2003-2004 research committee during the 2004 convention in Toronto. The 2004-2005 research committee further discussed revisions during the mid-winter meeting in San Antonio. The final version of “Recommended Ethical Research Guidelines for AEJMC Members” was unanimously approved by the 2004-2005 Standing Committee on Research which included the following members: Elizabeth Toth (Chair), Alison Alexander, Julie Andsager, David Domke, Carolyn Kitch, David Mindich, Michael Shapiro, Don Stacks, and Paula Poindexter who spearheaded the initiative to write ethical research guidelines for AEJMC members.

(2)Research means a systematic investigation, including research development, testing and evaluation, designed to develop or contribute to generalizable knowledge. <>

(3)Paula M. Poindexter, “Ethical Issues and Dirty Little Secrets in Journalism and Mass Communication Research.” Results of the AEJMC member survey presented at the Plenary Session on “Ethics in Research and Teaching,” AEJMC Annual Convention, Kansas City, MO, July 31, 2003.

(4)American Psychological Association, “Ethics of Scientific Publication” in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (5th ed.) (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2001) p. 355

American Association for Public Opinion Research, Best Practices for Survey and Public Opinion Research and Survey Practices AAPOR Condemns. Ann Arbor, MI: American Association for Public Opinion Research, May 1997.

American Psychological Association, “Ethical Standards for the Reporting and Publishing of Scientific Information” in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (5th ed.) (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2001) 387-396

American Psychological Association, “Ethics of Scientific Publication” in Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association, (5th ed.) (Washington DC: American Psychological Association, 2001) 348-355.

Babbie, Earl, The Practice of Social Research, (7th ed.) (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company) 448-457.

The Belmont Report <>retrieved 31 July 2004.

Department of Health and Human Services National Institutes of Health Office for Protection from Research Risks, Code of Federal Regulations: Title 45 Public Welfare, Part 46, Protection of Human Subjects. <> retrieved 29 June 2004.

Historical Perspectives on Human Subject Research, UT Training Model, Part I <>retrieved 31 July 2004.

Poindexter, Paula M., “Ethical Issues and Dirty Little Secrets in Journalism and Mass Communication Research.” Results of the AEJMC member survey presented at the Plenary Session on “Ethics in Research and Teaching,” AEJMC Annual Convention, Kansas City, MO, July 31, 2003.

Poindexter, Paula M. and Maxwell E. McCombs, Research in Mass Communication: A Practical Guide (NY: Bedford/St. Martin’s), 364-368.

Schiff, Frederick and Michael Ryan, “Ethical Problems in Advising Theses and Dissertations,” Journalism & Mass Communication Educator 51 (spring 1996): 23-35.

Stempell III, Guido H. and Bruce H. Westley, eds., Research Methods in Mass Communication (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1981) 117-118, 255-257, 387-388.

Wimmer, Roger D. and Joseph R. Dominick, Mass Media Research: An Introduction, (4th ed.) (Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company) 399-411.

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