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Ethics Committee

Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
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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
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.

Monica Guzman, co-vice chair
Bio (click to expand) Monica is a Sunday columnist for The Seattle Times and a weekly columnist for GeekWire, covering issues in digital life. She was a juror for the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes, serves on the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute and contributed the closing chapter, “Community As an End,” to the 2013 Poynter book “The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.” From 2007 to 2010, Monica launched and ran the innovative Big Blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and, complementing news and culture coverage with weekly reader meetups. From 2010 to 2012 she developed user communities for Seattle startups like Intersect, Trover and Glympse before kicking off her Times column.

A member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, Monica emcees the popular quarterly community speaker series Ignite Seattle and is assisting the American Press Institute with a newsroom innovation project. Monica served on the ethics code revision task force and is an active member of the Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ. She is currently serving as chapter president.

Fred Brown, co-vice chair
2862 S. Oakland Ct.
Aurora, Colo., 80014
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
Bio (click to expand) picture Lauren Bartlett is currently a Director at Large for the Society of Professional Journalists, chairs the national Communications Committee and is a member of the Ethics Committee and the Finance Committee.
Lauren was a three-time president of SPJ’s Greater Los Angeles chapter. Lauren works in media relations at Southern California Edison and previously worked in media relations at UCLA, her alma mater.

Before joining UCLA in 2000, Lauren was a reporter in Los Angeles for 12 years, the last 10 of which were at the Los Angeles Daily Journal, the country’s largest daily legal affairs newspaper.

Lauren’s professional career began when she was a junior in high school and wrote a weekly column for the Contra Costa Sun. In her senior year of high school she reported for the Contra Costa Times. While attending UCLA she interned at the Los Angeles Times, the Los Angeles Herald-Examiner and Copley News Service.

Upon graduation Lauren worked at the Los Angeles bureau of The Associated Press and City News Service, a regional wire service, before joining the Daily Journal.

Lauren was honored in 2011 with a President’s Award for distinguished service to the Society. In 2001, she was honored with the Howard S. Dubin Outstanding Pro Member Award for her contributions to the SPJ Greater Los Angeles chapter and Region 11. She has been a member of the SPJ/LA Board of Directors since 1996.

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
Bio (click to expand) picture Elizabeth Donald has been a reporter with the News-Democrat for over a decade. She is a mobile reporter covering Madison County, with an emphasis on city government, education and the environment. She is the News-Democrat's liaison to the Latino Roundtable of Southwestern Illinois, author of several fiction novels and writes CultureGeek, the News-Democrat's pop-culture blog.

A graduate of the University of Tennessee, Donald is a frequent guest lecturer at local universities on the practical applications of journalism ethics and the changing nature of newspapers in the 21st century. She has won multiple awards and currently serves as vice president of the St. Louis Society of Professional Journalists.

Mike Farrell
Bio (click to expand) picture Mike Farrell serves as director of the Scripps Howard First Amendment Center at the University of Kentucky and as an associate professor in the School of Journalism and Telecommunications. He began teaching as an adjunct in 1980 at Northern Kentucky University, continued as a graduate teaching assistant at UK in 1996, and has been a full-time faculty member there since 2000. He won the college teaching award in 2006.

He teaches reporting, media ethics, media law, journalism history, editing, media law, covering religion news and column writing.

He was a reporter, city editor and managing editor during a 20-year career at The Kentucky Post.

A native of Northern Kentucky, he earned his undergraduate degree at Moody Bible Institute, Chicago. He earned his master's and doctoral degrees at UK, where he focused on media law. He is a member of the Bluegrass Chapter and co-adviser of the UK student chapter of SPJ.

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Virginia Lawyers Media
Bio (click to expand) Paul Fletcher has been publisher and editor-in-chief at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in Richmond, Virginia, since 1989. He joined the newspaper the previous year as news editor, after practicing law in Southwest Virginia for three years.

A graduate of the Washington & Lee University law school, he earned his undergraduate degree at the College of William & Mary and an M.A. in English from Emory University.

Fletcher has been a member of SPJ since 1992 and serves on the SPJ Ethics Committee. He is the immediate past president of the Virginia Pro chapter.

He has won a number of state and national journalism awards, including honors for editorial, feature and column writing.

Irwin Gratz
Bio (click to expand) picture Irwin Gratz has been in radio news for nearly 30 years. He worked as a reporter, anchor and News Director for the number-one rated commercial station in Portland, Maine before going to work for public radio in 1992 as local anchor of “Morning Edition.”

A native of New York City, Irwin holds a Masters Degree in journalism from New York University. He has taught a college course on media ethics and has been a guest lecturer on journalism ethics and broadcast news writing.

Irwin has been a member of the Society of Professional Journalists since 1983 and has held positions as a state chapter president, a member of its national board and was the Society’s national President in 2004 and 2005.

Irwin lives outside of Portland, Maine with his wife and young son.

Hagit Limor
Investigative Reporter
Bio (click to expand) picture Hagit Limor’s experience with SPJ includes stints as National President; National President-Elect; National Secretary-Treasurer; National Membership Committee; National Finance Committee Chair; current National Legal Defense Fund Committee chair; National Chair of Executive Director Search Committee; Board Member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation; and Greater Cincinnati Pro Chapter President, membership chairman and current chapter treasurer.

Outside of SPJ, she serves in dual roles as a professor at the University of Cincinnati's Electronic Media Department and as WXIX-TV's Emmy and national award-winning investigative reporter. Her abilities as a writer and reporter have garnered Hagit more than 100 national, state and local awards, including ten Emmy awards, a National Headliner Award, three national Sigma Delta Chi Awards and as a national finalist with the Investigative Reporters and Editors Association. Hagit received bachelor's and master's degrees in journalism from the Medill School of Journalism, Northwestern University.

Chris Roberts

Lynn Walsh
Bio (click to expand) picture Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been working in investigative journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. Currently she leads the KNSD investigative team at the NBC TV station in San Diego, California, where she is the Investigative Executive Producer.

Most recently, she was working as data producer and investigative reporter for the E.W. Scripps National Desk producing stories for the 30+ Scripps news organizations across the country. Before moving to the national desk, she worked as the Investigative Producer at WPTV, NewsChannel 5, the Scripps owned TV station in West Palm Beach, Florida. She has won state and local awards as well as multiple Emmy’s for her stories. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information.

Her passion lies in telling multimedia stories that deliver hard hitting facts across multiple platforms. She describes herself as a "data-viz nerd" who is obsessed with new online tools to share information on the web and mobile applications.

She is a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association blog and serves as Secretary-Treasurer for SPJ and is a member of SPJ’s FOI, Generation J and Ethics committees.

Lynn is always interested in new projects surrounding FOI, public information access, mobile reporting tools, social media and interactive journalism. She is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > Publishing Drunk Drivers’ Photos

Ethics Case Studies
Publishing Drunk Drivers’ Photos

WHAT: As the publisher/editor of a 5,700-circulation, chain-owned weekly newspaper in Anderson County, Ky., Don White often received phone calls from local residents begging him to keep their names off the court records page of the paper. After learning from an anti-drunken driving coalition that the battle against drunk driving had “hit a brick wall,” White decided to heed the group’s call for more innovative sanctions against drunk drivers.

When readers of The Anderson News picked up the Dec. 31, 1997, issue of the newspaper, stripped across the top of the front page was a New Year’s greeting and a warning. “HAVE A HAPPY NEW YEAR,” the banner read. “But please don’t drink and drive and risk having your picture published.” Readers were referred to the editorial page where White explained that starting in January 1998 the newspaper would publish photographs of all persons convicted of drunken driving in Anderson County.

“Most violators of the law dislike having their name in the local paper. We hope the certainty that their picture will also be published will keep more drunks off our highways,” White wrote. He also published state and national drunk driving statistics and stories about seven people killed by drunk drivers.

In February 1998, White published 1-column by 3-inch-deep photos of two persons convicted of DUI during January. Both had been arrested before White announced his policy. In March, 12 mug shots appeared, followed by 20 in April and 11 in May. In May, White also revised his policy. Instead of publishing all DUI (driving under the influence) convictions in the county, he limited the photos to residents of Anderson County or surrounding counties where the News circulates. He also began publishing the photos weekly rather than monthly.

After a person charged with DUI was convicted or pleaded guilty, the county jailer (who is elected in Kentucky) supplied the information and the photo taken at the time of the arrest to the newspaper. Under each photo the newspaper printed the person’s name, age, place of residence, date and time arrested, charge, blood alcohol level and date convicted. The paper published the photos regardless of the age of the offender and made no distinction between first offenders and those who had been arrested before for DUI. The only cases in which photos were not published were those where the DUI suspect was injured, taken to the hospital for treatment and, although charged, never processed at the jail and never photographed. Only once did White give any person special treatment. When the chairman of the county Democratic Party was convicted of drunk driving for the second time in five years, White published his mug shot and a story on Page 1 rather than on the district court page where the photos usually ran. Before someone’s photo was published, the person’s name usually had already appeared in the paper twice—after the arrest and after the arraignment.

Question: Is this an appropriate policy for a newspaper?

WHO: Circulation of The Anderson News apparently was unaffected by the policy. It’s unclear whether publishing the photos directly affected DUI arrests or accident rates in the county. In 2003, Anderson was the only one of Kentucky’s 120 counties to record no traffic deaths. However, for the years 1999 through 2003 the percentage of collisions involving alcohol is Anderson County was 4.7 percent, slightly higher than the state average of 4.4 percent for that time period. No one knows how many prominent local citizens did not drink and drive because of the policy. Some evidence is anecdotal. White knew of one group of teens who chose not to drive after drinking for fear their pictures would be in the paper.

Police told White one teenager tried to commit suicide after his DUI arrest because he feared his picture would be published. Some whose pictures appeared said the publication hurt their families, particularly their children. The management of the chain that owns The Anderson News did not interfere in White’s decision to publish the photos. The policy applied only to drunken driving convictions and not to any other misdemeanor or felony offenses. Apparently, no other newspaper followed White’s lead and adopted a similar policy.

WHY: Newspapers have an obligation to seek the truth and report it. But in what form should that truth be reported? Is a listing of DUI arrests and convictions sufficient to inform the community or does publishing photographs of those who are convicted or plead guilty further the goal of truth-telling?

This case raises important questions about fairness and the role of a newspaper in a small community. Does fairness mean treating every individual convicted of drunken driving the same regardless of whether the person is an adult or a juvenile, or whether the person is a first or repeat offender? Is it fair to single out only those convicted of drunk driving while not routinely publishing photos of persons convicted of felony offenses such as rape or robbery? Is the newspaper imposing an additional punishment on drunk drivers that other convicted criminals in the community do not face? Is it the newspaper’s job to determine the community will benefit more from publication of the photo of someone arrested for a misdemeanor DUI offense than the photo of a convicted child abuser or sex offender?

Undoubtedly, reducing drunken driving is a noble goal for the newspaper, but should the newspaper purposely embarrass individuals in an attempt to achieve that goal? No one disagrees with the need to keep drunk drivers off the road. The disagreement is over whether publishing the photos will, in fact, achieve the newspaper’s goal. Will the policy keep alcoholics off of the road? Will prominent people who would lose face in their community if their photos were published be more likely to refrain from drinking and driving? What about the impact on the families of those whose pictures appear in the paper?

HOW: One can argue that The Anderson News’ DUI photo policy was designed to minimize harm to the community by reducing the number of drunk drivers on the county’s highways. On the other hand, the policy did not minimize harm to those convicted. Particularly harmed by the policy were the families of those arrested and convicted of DUI who usually had nothing to do with the offense but were embarrassed and humiliated by their family member’s public exposure. One father, who managed a local restaurant frequented by teens, said his children’s friends didn’t say anything after his name appeared in the paper reporting his arrest on a DUI charge. However, after he pleaded guilty and his picture was published, his teenaged sons “got rode over pretty hard” by their friends who recognized their father’s picture. The man, who had a blood alcohol reading of .16 (twice the legal limit in Kentucky) when he was arrested, said, “I deserved everything I got (from the legal system). Thank goodness no one got hurt.” But he didn’t think the photos were fair or reduced the number of drunk drivers on county roads.

This case also raised questions about the relationship between a newspaper and public officials. Without the cooperation of an elected county jailer, The Anderson News would not have been able to publish the photos. The SPJ Code of Ethics admonishes journalists to act independently, but the policy and practice of The Anderson News would have been impossible without the cooperation of an elected official. The News was also dependent on the jailer for the accuracy of the photo identifications.

Author’s note: In May 2006, White retired as publisher and editor of The Anderson News. His replacement is General Manager Ben Carlson. In a column in August 2006, Carlson announced he would no longer publish the photos. He wrote that publishing mug shots of those convicted “adds a level of punishment, or at least embarrassment, beyond what is imposed by a judge.” In an interview, Carlson told the Lexington Herald-Leader, “I really don’t think that the role of a community newspaper is to punish or embarrass anybody. It’s to report the news and provide information.” Carlson told the Herald-Leader he had no negative response from county residents when he announced the change. The state director for Mothers Against Drunk Driving said she was disappointed by the decision to change the policy. In 2008, only 15 alcohol-related accidents — none of them resulting in fatalities — occurred in Anderson County. That was the lowest number in the 11 years since White first published the photos, but it came two years after the policy was dropped. In eight of the 11 years, Anderson County had no fatal accidents involving alcohol and only three alcohol-related highway deaths occurred during that time. In 2007, as in 2003 and 2001, no one died on the county’s highways.

— by Elizabeth K. Hansen, Eastern Kentucky University

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