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Ethics Committee

Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
– Canary in the Coalmine: Trust in Media Hits New Low
– What Should Journalists Learn From Gawker’s Demise?
– Daily Beast’s Apology Falls Far Short of Gold

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
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
Assistant Professor of Electronic Media, University of Cincinnati
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 > When Sources Won’t Talk

Ethics Case Studies
When Sources Won’t Talk

WHAT: It began as a letter to the editor from a former editor. It ended with a record number of online postings and apologies from a fraternity and sorority.

Jamilia Gates, former news editor for The Parthenon, the student newspaper at Marshall University, learned that a campus sorority and fraternity had sponsored a thug- and gangsta-themed party. Gates, who is black, wrote in her letter that the party was an insult to black students and not an appropriate campus activity.

“Pictures from this party were posted all over Facebook. Pictures of representatives from these organizations showed members grabbing their lower limbs, with gum wrappers in their mouth representing gold teeth, baggy clothing, backwards hats and permanent-marker tattoos saying ‘Thug Life,’” she wrote. “The people in those photos were basically displaying light-hearted racism.”

The SPJ Code of Ethics offers guidance on at least three aspects of this dilemma. “Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error.” One source was not sufficient in revealing this information.

“Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.” The newspaper editors knew the Greek community had often complained about The Parthenon’s so-called negative coverage of Greek life.

“Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.”

Question: How could the editors maintain credibility and remain fair to both sides yet find solid sources for a news tip with inflammatory allegations? Such a story could stir racial divisions on campus and risk the charters of both Greek organizations.

WHO: The newspaper’s editors sat on the letter for a couple of days hoping the Greek affairs reporter could get details. Meanwhile, the editors found proof of the party in photos published on Facebook.

Managing editor Brian Dalek said: “As the person usually overseeing the opinion page and letters, the staff and I did want to verify that the party did, in fact, take place before publication. There was a little bit of concern that having a former editor submit the letter would lead to some in the Greek community on campus to see the paper as singling them out, as they had perceived in the past.”

Members of the fraternity and sorority did not respond to the Greek affairs reporter’s repeated requests for interviews.

“The photos were only taken down when we tried to get the Greek chapters’ perspective on the party before we ran the letter,” Dalek said. “After the initial inquiries, the reporter was basically shunned.”

WHY: Knowing that further delays would detract from the event’s news value, the editors made the unusual decision to break a news story in the letters column and published Gates’ letter Oct. 6, 2008.

Dalek said: “We did wait until we actually found several pictures on Facebook that appeared to have the theme of the gangsta/thug party. Sure, it could have been any party at Marshall, but we saw several pictures that actually had the name of the Greek chapters in the background. My only regret is that we did not print these photos or save them for proof that we did see photos before they were taken down.”

HOW: Their strategy worked. Publication of the letter forced members of the fraternity and sorority to respond to The Parthenon reporter — but only off the record. They still didn’t want to acknowledge the party. Over the next two days, the phone messages, online posts and letters from the Greek community flew. Online posts supported both sides — this type of behavior is unacceptable on a college campus versus no harm was intended as it was just a party.

Finally, the student government president urged both organizations to issue written apologies. Still, they refused to go on the record with the reporter who was finally able to pull together a story with reaction to the incident.

“After the publication of [Gates’s] letter, Sigma Alpha Epsilon members submitted a letter that gave an apology on the taste of the party. Just hours before the page was sent to print, however, the chapter’s president informed us that he had never seen the written apology and his signature was actually forged. They pulled the letter, thankfully, but it also gave us some clarification that there were individuals in the fraternity who were likely to be insensitive to different cultures based on the fact that they forged signatures as well. We no longer had second thoughts about the original letter by Jamilia Gates’ take on the story,” Dalek said.

Alpha Chi Omega’s letter stated: “The sisters of Alpha Chi Omega would not and did not set out to hurt anyone’s feelings or be insensitive to anyone’s culture. We greatly regret choosing a theme with even the potential to be offensive ... Please know that we have learned from this experience. We will share this valuable lesson with others in our organization. And we’ll make every effort to ensure that it never happens again.”

Sigma Alpha Epsilon submitted its letter: “Our fraternity prides itself on our creed, ‘The True Gentlemen,’ and our decisions regarding the social event did not life up to the beliefs to which we strive ... We are committed to reaffirming our actions to reflect those of a gentleman in order to better ourselves and our community.”

The editorial board opted to follow up with an editorial Oct. 10: “Hopefully this is the end of this controversy, but something can be taken from the situation. As individuals and as student groups at Marshall, we all need to take into account the impact of our decisions ... With the Internet, mobile videos and photos posted on MySpace and Facebook, anything you do can be a thorn in your side, and not just on a college campus.”

The editors took a gamble in using the opinion page to break a story. However, their savvy use of social networking sites allowed them to independently confirm the party occurred. By the time Gates’ letter was published, the photos had been removed.

The unusual strategy allowed the newspaper to cover an event with important ramifications to the campus. Had editors waited on a news story to cover it, the story would have been lost.

— by Nerissa Young, SPJ Ethics Committee and Parthenon adviser, Marshall University

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Ethics Home
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Code Words: SPJ’s Ethics Committee Blog
– Canary in the Coalmine: Trust in Media Hits New Low
– What Should Journalists Learn From Gawker’s Demise?
– Daily Beast’s Apology Falls Far Short of Gold

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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