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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 > Ethics Case Studies > Using this Process to Craft a Policy

Ethics Case Studies
Using this Process to Craft a Policy

WHAT: Think of all the types of situations in which you might need a policy to help you decide, for instance, whether to use an anonymous source, or whether to let a source review what you’re planning to write. List all the angles. Enlist other people in your discussion, including — if you can — people who aren’t journalists. In policy decisions, the question usually comes up front.

Let’s say you want to write a policy for your newspaper or magazine about pre-publication review, or that you as a free-lancer want to have a policy for yourself that’s well thought-out. Here you start with the question: Do we let sources see what we’re planning to write? And if we do, when?

It used to be that a reporter would absolutely NEVER let a source check out a story before it appeared. But there has been growing acceptance of the idea that it’s more important to be accurate than to be independent. Attitudes have changed because of the importance of credibility. And there are some very complicated topics where it is probably a good idea to go back to your source and say something like: “Here’s what I understood you to say about down pillows and bird flu. Do I have it right?” Stories involving figures — budgets, taxes, business reports — are ripe for errors. Sometimes you’re unsure whether a source said “an important thing” or “unimportant thing.”

WHO: This is the sort of decision that should involve a large and representative sample of the people who will have to follow it. Ultimately, the decision may be made by the highest level of management, but it should be an informed and collaborative decision.
Consider, too, the people outside the media organization who will be affected by what policy you decide to follow.

Even if you’re a lone free-lancer, you’d be wise to consult a few others in arriving at your personal policy for pre-publication review. Discuss. Argue. Test your ideas. Pre-publication review may give a source confidence that the reporter cares about getting it right. It could enhance your credibility and reputation. Offering to let them check what you’ve written may get them to open up. On the other side of the argument are tradition, and the worry that sources will want to take control of your story. They’ll try to change what you’ve written, to put themselves in the best light. They, and your colleagues, will think you have no backbone or professional pride.

WHY: These are principles (standards) you will use in deciding what to do. In most cases, it comes down to a balance between telling the truth and minimizing possible harms. Identify these and other moral responsibilities. The best decision is the one that does the greatest good for the greatest number of stakeholders.

You might want to consider what others have done, and what standards they used. Steve Weinberg, former head of Investigative Reporters and Editors, is quoted in one journalism ethics textbook as saying, “I have practiced PPR as a newspaper staff writer, a magazine free-lancer and a book author. Never have I regretted my practice. What I do regret is failing to do it during the first decade of my mindless adherence to tradition.”

Jay Mathews, a veteran education reporter for The Washington Post, shows whole stories to sources, even though it makes his editors uneasy. He wrote about that in The Post’s May 31, 2003, edition.
“I have shown every story I have written to all the sources I could find,” he said. “... They are welcome to argue about the tone, the analysis or anything else that bothers them, but I change only the things that I am convinced are inaccurate.”

The balance here is between being as accurate as possible in truth-telling, and maintaining your independence as a journalist.

HOW: How do you achieve the outcome you’ve identified as the best? This is definitely a situation where you want to write it down, and consider sharing it with your readers and audience.

Here’s one possible policy for pre-publication review:
1. Make it clear to your source that only you or your editor can change what you’ve written.
2. The review is for accuracy only. Just the facts, not context, tone or organization.
3. Don’t change direct quotes. You should have them on tape. But it’s OK to negotiate if the source says his first quote was wrong.
4. The best time to double-check is during the interview.
5. It’s best to review specific passages; not the entire story.
6. Remember: YOU DON’T HAVE TO CHANGE ANYTHING! But if it’s wrong, you certainly should.

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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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