Society of Professional Journalists
Improving and protecting journalism since 1909


— ADVERTISEMENT —
Advertise with SPJ
6


News and More
Click to Expand Instantly

SPJ News
Events and Deadlines
SPJ Blogs
Quill Online
SPJ on Tumblr
Journalist's Toolbox

Stay in Touch
Twitter Tumblr Facebook Google Plus
RSS Pinterest Pinterest Storify


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
– Social Media’s Place in the Society’s Ethics Code
– Unveiling a New Code
– Ethics Code Revision: Our Third Draft

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.

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 > SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers > Political Involvement

SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers
Political Involvement

The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself.

But it’s a bit more nuanced than that. These are the most pertinent parts of the SPJ Code of Ethics:

— Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived
— Remain free of associations that may compromise integrity or damage credibility

While those are the most directly relevant provisions, the following also apply, but in different ways:

— Disclose unavoidable conflicts
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection

Objectivity in today’s superheated political environment may be impossible, but impartiality should still be a reporter’s goal. Even those who are paid to have opinions — columnists, editorial writers, talk show hosts, bloggers (OK, maybe not always paid) — should at least be aware of all relevant points of view.

Skeptics of journalistic objectivity are quick to point out that some publishers and owners of news media outlets may not follow the rules they lay down for their employees. A few get more deeply involved, and they may contribute to candidates. Is this ethical? It’s at best a double standard, and a questionable practice. But at the very minimum there should be public disclosure — in their own media — when media magnates get politically involved in this way.

Reporters covering politics are at the other end of this spectrum of what may be tolerated. For them, almost no political activity is OK. Some reporters interpret this as meaning it’s off-limits even to register to vote as a Democrat or Republican or third-party member. Some take it to extremes and even decline to vote in a general election. Those are extreme positions, and unnecessarily prim. The proof of a reporter’s impartiality should be in the performance.

Families and close relationships create another set of ethical dilemmas. If a reporter’s spouse, family member or other relative — or even a close friend — runs for office, the reporter should not be covering the campaign. The same is true if a spouse or relative is working in a campaign. Issues campaigns — public referendums, bonding for public works projects, tax questions, etc. — are less likely to be considered partisan than candidate elections. But even here, a reporter covering a campaign shouldn’t take sides.

For political reporters, yard signs, bumper stickers and even campaign buttons should be considered off-limits. For a broader range of journalists — whether they’re covering politics or not — political activism should be avoided. The editor/publisher of a Denver newspaper once told his employees not to attend a concert whose proceeds were being donated by the band to a candidate for the U.S. Senate. That applied to all employees, from newsroom to mailroom.

Many employers’ codes of ethics are much more specific than SPJ’s code about their employees’ involvement in politics. The SPJ code is merely advisory, but a journalist can be fired for violating an employer’s ethical rules. NPR’s code, for instance, says quite bluntly that “NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies” concerning issues that NPR covers — which is pretty much everything.

Newspapers, in particular, have a longstanding practice of endorsing candidates in competitive political races. Although some readers think these endorsements signal a bias in the publication’s news coverage, SPJ encourages editorial pages to promote thoughtful debate on candidates and politics; letting readers know through endorsements which candidates share the newspaper’s vision is part of that discussion. Part of an editorial page’s responsibility, though, to take every appropriate opportunity to explain the firewall between news and opinion.

Reporters are not columnists or editorial writers. SPJ’s recommendation is that reporters not take a position on an issue, or in a candidate race, that they are covering. They may do so privately, but they definitely should not do so in a public or visible way.

Ironically, journalism is a profession protected by the same First Amendment that grants to all citizens the right to run for office or to support, by word, deed or cash, the people they would like to see elected. But journalists who want to be perceived as impartial must avoid any display of partisanship.


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.

Copyright © 1996-2014 Society of Professional Journalists. All Rights Reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center
3909 N. Meridian St.
Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789

Contact SPJ Headquarters
Employment Opportunities
Advertise with SPJ