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Ethics
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Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
Words Matter: Alt Right Alternatives
TV Execs, Journos Fail Viewers With Off-the-record Meeting
Journalists Should Tread Lightly When Projecting Election Results

Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.

Ethics Committee chair

Andrew Seaman
Email
@andrewmseaman
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a medical journalist for Reuters Health in New York. Before coming to Reuters Health, he was a Kaiser Media Fellow at Reuters’s Washington, D.C. bureau, where he covered the implementation of the Affordable Care Act.

In 2011, Andrew graduated from Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism, where he studied investigative journalism as a Stabile Fellow and was named “Student of the Year.” Andrew also graduated with his B.A. from Wilkes University in 2011.

He’s won numerous awards throughout his short career, including being named a 2010 Tom Bigler Scholar for ethical standards in journalism, the 2009 Robert D.G. Lewis First Amendment Award, the 2009 and the Arthur H. Barlow National Student Journalist of the Year Award.


Fred Brown, vice chair
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Fred Brown is a former national president of SPJ (1997-98) and is very active on its ethics committee. He writes a column on ethics for Quill magazine and served on the committee that wrote the Society’s 1996 code of ethics.

Brown officially retired from The Denver Post in early 2002, but continues to write a Sunday editorial page column for the newspaper. He also does analysis for Denver’s NBC television station, teaches communication ethics at the University of Denver, and is a principal in Hartman & Brown, LLP, a media training and consulting firm. He has won several awards for writing and community service, including a Sigma Delta Chi Award for editorial writing in 1988. He is an Honor Alumnus of Colorado State University, a member of the Denver Press Club Hall of Fame, and serves on the boards of directors of Colorado Public Radio, the Colorado Freedom of Information Council and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.




SPJ Ethics
Committee Members


Lauren Bartlett
E-mail

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
E-mail

Mike Farrell
E-mail

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
E-mail

Hagit Limor
E-mail

Dana Neuts
E-mail


Chris Roberts

Alex Veeneman
E-mail

Home > Ethics > SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers > Accountability

SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers
Accountability

The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself.

Credibility is at the heart of journalism. The audience must believe the information it is receiving is accurate, the editorial judgments based on principles of fairness and balance. Sometimes, when faced with ethical choices for which there is no “right” answer, journalists can only follow a process that takes into account the interests of various “stakeholders,” balances the public right to know against the privacy rights of individuals, the confidentiality needs of business and government, and reaches a considered judgment that the journalist believes is defensible. Or, one might say, a judgment they are willing to be held accountable for.

Journalism organizations generally recognize this principle of accountability by admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, as called for in SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Most also publish criticism of their news efforts contained in letters to the editor. They will sometimes incorporate in their stories information about the ethical dilemmas faced and how the journalism organization resolved them.

A few go further, appointing an “ombudsman” or “reader representative” or "public editor" to investigate complaints about their journalism and publishing the results of that investigation. In Washington State, a “news council,” made up of citizens and journalists, hears public complaints and that state’s media are urged cover the council’s hearings and findings (a similar news council in Minnesota disbanded after 41 years). Organizations in Hawaii and New England don’t deal as directly with complaints against individual media, but advocate for, and hold public forums on best journalistic practices. In some instances, the law becomes involved in holding news media accountable, as when journalism organizations are formally accused of libel, for instance.

But there are times and circumstances when journalists are freed from the accountability required of ordinary citizens. Perhaps best known is the result of a 1964 libel case, New York Times Co. v. Sullivan that increased the burden of proof for public officials who wish to win a claim of libel against a journalism organization. But that case, rooted in the First Amendment principle that “Congress” make no law abridging freedom of the press, doesn’t mean journalists aren’t accountable to others and, especially, their audience, the public. SPJ also believes journalists should hold each other accountable, though the organization stops short of saying they should do this in a formal way. Certainly writing about, or commenting on ethical lapses of other journalism organizations can both educate the public and bolster the credibility of those news organizations who are making better ethical choices.

I once talked with editors of a daily newspaper about their sense that the public’s belief in the credibility of journalism was flagging. I suggested that might change if news organizations were more willing to reveal the steps they take to prepare a particular news story: How many people were called, how many interviews yielded little information, how many times one source had to be called before he or she could be tracked down for a crucial interview, how many people were involved in parsing individual words, or making judgments about a headline, or a photo. One editor was concerned. He said if they did that more often, their readers might expect that level of work to go into all stories. Which, of course, is exactly the point. After we’ve followed the other ethical guidelines in our code, seeking truth and reporting it, minimizing harm, and remaining independent, our willingness to be accountable is what cements our credibility in people’s minds. Or ought to.


This statement expresses the views of the SPJ Ethics Committee. It was written on behalf of the Committee by Irwin Gratz, producer/host of "Morning Edition" at Maine Public Broadcast Network. A longtime member of the SPJ Ethics Committee, he was the 2004-05 SPJ national president.

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Ethics
Ethics Home
SPJ Code of Ethics
News/Articles
Case Studies
Committee Position Papers
Ethics Answers
Ethics Hotline
Resources
Ethics Committee

Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
Words Matter: Alt Right Alternatives
TV Execs, Journos Fail Viewers With Off-the-record Meeting
Journalists Should Tread Lightly When Projecting Election Results

Ethics Committee
This committee's purpose is to encourage the use of the Society's Code of Ethics, which promotes the highest professional standards for journalists of all disciplines. Public concerns are often answered by this committee. It also acts as a spotter for reporting trends in the nation, accumulating case studies of jobs well done under trying circumstances.
 

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