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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
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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
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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.



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Home > Ethics > Reading Room > The call before the call

SPJ Reading Room

The call before the call
What journalists should know before recording phone interviews

By Kelly Yamanouchi
Denver Post


In 2005, a Miami Herald columnist was fired for recording a phone interview without first gaining proper consent. The incident prompted Kelly Yamanouchi, a business reporter for The Denver Post to ask, “What should journalists consider before recording phone interviews — particularly if those interviews involve sources in states with laws that require the consent of all parties?”

Yamanouchi did some homework, and here’s what she found.


Most states require only one-party consent to recording. However, 12 states and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico require the consent of two or more parties. Those states are: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, Montana, New Hampshire, Pennsylvania and Washington.

For a more thorough explanation of recording law in every state, see the online guides compiled by the Radio-Television News Directors Association and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press.

Kelly Yamanouchi is an SPJ member and a business reporter at the Denver Post. She has also worked as a business reporter in Honolulu, Chicago, San Francisco and Los Angeles.
It’s not enough to know a state’s statute. It’s also important for journalists to take great care when securing permission to record. Should journalists seek permission from a party before even turning on a recorder? Should journalists make sure to record people’s consent to being recorded? It appears the answer to both questions is, “Yes.”

Washington state, for example, specifies that consent is obtained when one party announces to all other parties in “any reasonably effective manner” that the communication is about to be recorded or transmitted. That announcement must be part of the recording, according to that state’s law.

And what if a reporter calls, or is called by, a source in a different state with different laws? Is the reporter subject to both states’ laws? Many media lawyers say the most prudent course of action is for journalists to presume they are accountable to the laws of other states. And that means they should not record such interstate calls without obtaining consent — and that they should record that consent to be safe.
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