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Ethics
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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.

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 > Using the SPJ Code

SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers
Using the SPJ Code

The Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists is an open document. The more it’s distributed — and used — the better. The code is not intended to be arcane or cryptic. It is not like a secret handshake intended for use only by the members of some mystic order. If it were, we would put something at the bottom similar to what is run in television ads for zippy cars: “Professional Driver. Closed Course. Do Not Attempt.”

There is nothing in the code that prevents non-journalists from accessing it and using it. It’s readily available online. Members of the public are free to refer to the code when they want to call attention to what they perceive to be a news medium’s questionable ethics.

But this should be made clear: The code is entirely voluntary. It is not a legal document; it has no enforcement provisions or penalties for violations, and SPJ strongly discourages anyone from attempting to use it that way. The code’s only check on ethical misdeeds is expressed in the final of its four main principles: “Be Accountable.” There, journalists are told that they should “expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.” We believe a free exchange of ideas — not any sort of sanction — is the best way of getting at the truth, at who is right and who is wrong.

The SPJ code is the “gold standard” of aspirational codes of ethics, and it has been used by many news outlets as the basis for more formal and detailed codes. Employers’ codes of ethics are much more specific, and there are penalties for violating them. Reporters have been fired for plagiarizing, for accepting gifts or for other ethical breaches. An employer can do that; an association of volunteers cannot. Many news media make their codes available to all, and they encourage the public to hold them accountable for the standards expressed in those codes. SPJ applauds that embrace of transparency.

At the end of the SPJ Code of Ethics, after the actual working principles, is this important explanatory caution: “The code is intended not as a set of ‘rules’ but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable.”

The SPJ Code of Ethics, in other words, is available for anyone to see and to refer to. But when it’s quoted, it should be properly attributed — and, we would hope, not taken out of context or misinterpreted. Such questionable uses of the code inevitably will be questioned — that’s the nature of free expression, and an extension of the principle of accountability.

Thousands of responsible, ethical journalists follow the SPJ Code of Ethics and adhere to it. The most important thing to remember is that it’s a set of principles that is open to interpretation and discussion, not a statute or a constitution or a set of regulations. There is nothing about it that can be or should be considered a legal or binding requirement.


This statement expresses the views of the SPJ Ethics Committee. It was written for the committee by its vice chairman, Fred Brown, who covered state and national politics and government for nearly 40 years for The Denver Post.

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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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