The ‘Build Your Own’ ethics project is an important new initiative of the Online News Association.

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In the days before a badly written book about a guy named Grey became a global bestseller, I would often refer to the “shades of grey” in journalistic ethics.

While one can’t go there these days without evoking smirks about the sexually explicit 50 Shades of Grey, the fact remains that many aspects of journalistic ethics are not a black and white matter.

And certainly the most intriguing and challenging ethical dilemmas of journalism often involve those many shades of grey.

My job, indeed that of all journalists, would be so much easier if journalistic standards and ethics were always a clear-cut matter of “Thou shalt do this, Thou shalt not do that.”

It is rarely that simple.

The reality of the complexity of journalism ethics in our ever-evolving digital era is the guiding principle of an important new ethics initiative presented last week at the annual Online News Association conference held in Los Angeles and attended by more than 2,000 journalists from across North America.

The “Build Your Own Ethics Code” project, led by veteran journalist Thomas Kent, standards editor of The Associated Press, involved more than 20 journalists working together for more than two years and soliciting input from many more journalists throughout North America.

To read the rest of this column, please go to the Toronto Star’s website, where it was originally published.

H.G. Watson was J-Source's managing editor from 2015 to 2018. She is a journalist based in Toronto. You can learn more about her at