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Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
– Ethics of covering suicides
– Social Media’s Place in the Society’s Ethics Code
– Unveiling a New Code

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

Kevin Z. Smith
Deputy Director
Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) Kevin Z. Smith has been a member of the SPJ ethics committee for 20 years. He is a contributing author to two of SPJ's Doing Ethics in Journalism case study books. He is the co-author of SPJ's 1993 Ethics Manual, a guide for developing better ethical discussions and practices in newsrooms. He served as chairman of the ethics committee from 1995-97 when the Code was revised by the committee. He is serving his fifth year as committee chairman. He is a former president of SPJ (09-10) and a former member of the national and executive boards (06-11). He has been a member of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation since 2007. He has been a regular speaker, panelist and lecturer on journalism ethics and delivered talks around the United States and abroad since 1990.

Smith currently serves as a journalism lecturer at the University of Dayton (Ohio). He worked in community newspapers in West Virginia for 15 years before becoming a college professor. He has taught at West Virginia University, Miami Univeristy (Ohio), Fairmont State University (W.Va.) and James Madison University (Va.). In 2009 he was named a Distinguished Mountaineer by the governor of West Virginia, the highest honor bestow upon a citizen of the state. The award came largely from his work with SPJ and journalism ethics.


Fred Brown, vice chair
2862 S. Oakland Ct.
Aurora, Colo., 80014
303/829-4647
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
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.


Elizabeth Donald
E-mail
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
E-mail
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.


Paul Fletcher
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Virginia Lawyers Media
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) Paul Fletcher has been publisher and editor-in-chief at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in Richmond, Va., 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.

Paul has been a member of SPJ for 20 years and currently serves as president of the Virginia Pro chapter, having won reelection to a second term in June 2012.

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

He has been serving as interim publisher of Michigan Lawyers Weekly, based in suburban Detroit, since August 2012.


Irwin Gratz
207/874-6570
E-mail
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
WCPO-TV
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Hagit Limor’s other 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. Hagit also chaired the Online Voting Committee, which led to the vote to go from delegate to One Member, One Vote.

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.


Jim Pumarlo
Director of communications, Minnesota Chamber of Commerce
E-mail
Bio (click to expand) picture Jim Pumarlo spent 27 years working at small daily newspapers in International Falls and Red Wing, Minn. He served as editor of the Red Wing Republican Eagle for 21 years. He resigned in December 2003 and currently is director of communications at the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce, the state’s largest business advocacy organization. He can be contacted at www.pumarlo.com.

He released a book in January 2005, “Bad News and Good Judgment: A Guide to Reporting on Sensitive Issues in a Small-Town Newspaper,” which was published by Marion Street Press in Chicago. His second book, Votes and Quotes: A Guide to Outstanding Election Campaign Coverage,” was released in May 2007.

He remains active in the newspaper industry through his consulting and speaking. He is involved in the Minnesota Newspaper Association as a member of its Journalism Education and Legislative committees. He is past president of the Minnesota Newspaper Foundation Board of Directors. He also is past chairman of the Premack Board which oversees the Frank Premack Public Affairs Journalism Award competition, one of Minnesota’s most coveted and celebrated journalism honors in public affairs reporting. He serves on the hearing panel for the Minnesota News Council, which promotes fair, vigorous and trusted journalism by engaging the news media and the public in examining standards of fairness.


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.


Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > A Self-Serving Leak

Ethics Case Studies
A Self-Serving Leak

WHAT: San Francisco Chronicle reporters Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams were widely praised for their stories about sports figures involved with steroids. They turned their investigation into a very successful book, Game of Shadows. And they won the admiration of fellow journalists because they were willing to go to prison to protect the source who had leaked testimony to them from the grand jury investigating the BALCO sports-and-steroids.

Their source, however, was not quite so noble. Attorney Troy Ellerman was using them. He leaked the information, then tried to get a major case against his clients dismissed on the grounds that grand jury information had been leaked.

Ellerman, former commissioner of the Colorado-based Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association, represented two major figures in the BALCO investigation. He had sworn under oath that he was not the source of the leaks that were reported in the Chronicle beginning in late 2004.

But he kept quiet for two years after a federal judge ordered the two reporters jailed for refusing to identify their source for the leaked information. They never did go to jail, because that condition was part of the plea deal that Ellerman agreed to when he finally admitted that he was the source — that he had allowed the two reporters to see transcripts of the grand-jury testimony of San Francisco Giants slugger Barry Bonds and other high-profile figures in the case.

It was February 2007 when Ellerman finally admitted his role as the leaker, but Williams and Fainaru-Wada still declined to discuss the case.

Question: Should the two reporters have continued to protect this key source even after he admitted to lying? Should they have promised confidentiality in the first place?

WHO: The decision-makers in this case, the moral agents, are Mark Fainaru-Wada and Lance Williams, the two reporters and authors.

The editors who supervised them also have a moral role in this case, and in the decisions that were made. That makes them and their newspaper, the San Francisco Chronicle, major stakeholders.

Of course, Barry Bonds and the other star athletes who were implicated have a high investment in the consequences of this case. Troy Ellerman’s stake is especially high. Others who could be considered stakeholders include Major League Baseball; the U.S. Attorney’s office in San Francisco, which for a time was thought to be the source of the leaks; the rodeo cowboys’ association, which fired Ellerman as commissioner after this came to light, and which already had been facing complaints about the way it was run; Ellerman’s other clients; and Chronicle readers.

WHY: The overriding principle here is a reporter’s obligation to keep a promise — and a promise of confidentiality to a source has the legal effect of a contract, the U.S. Supreme Court has said.

On the other hand, a journalist’s first obligation is to tell the truth, and concealing a source requires concealing part of the truth. Here, as in the Judith Miller case, where the former New York Times reporter was protecting a source who was manipulating her by giving her questionable information, the reporters knew the identity of someone who was breaking the law. They could have identified someone whose identity is a major news story. But they will not. Tim Rutten of the Los Angeles Times had this to say:

“To assert any form of journalistic privilege in a situation like that is something far worse than moral obtuseness. Conspiring with somebody you know is actively perverting the administration of justice to your mutual advantage is a betrayal of the public whose protection is the only basis on which journalistic privilege of any sort has a right to assert itself.”

Others, though, continued to see the two reporters as First Amendment role models. After the federal court dropped its subpoena intended to force the reporters to reveal their source, Peter Scheer, executive director of the California First Amendment Coalition, told the Associated Press it was one of the best possible outcomes for journalism.

“Ultimately, the reporters did not have to go to jail and they did not have to compromise on ethics,” Scheer said, “and that’s a good thing. All the press can promise, and it’s not a lot, is that we’re not going to give you up.”

HOW: Different journalists will have different answers to the question of if it’s ever permissible to break a promise to a source. Most would say it’s never all right. The public may be intensely curious to find out the name of the leaker, but let other reporters go to work on that.

Others, though, would say (in hindsight) that the problem is being too free with unconditional promises of anonymity. In fact, more and more mainstream media outlets are adopting strict rules about confidential sources; more and more are trying to discourage it. And some are saying also that reporters should warn sources that, depending on the situation, there may come a time when it’s necessary to reconsider the promise, or to renegotiate it.

One of those times may be when it becomes apparent that a source has lied, or has cynically attempted to manipulate a reporter. It’s a lesson in why a compact of confidentiality should not be entered into casually. Promising to protect a source should be a last resort, not a way to break the conversational ice.

— by Fred Brown, SPJ Ethics Committee

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