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Ethics
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Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– 10 lessons in journalism ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions

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

Lynn Walsh
Assistant Director
Trusting News Project
Email
@LWalsh
Bio (click to expand) Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has worked in investigative, data and TV journalism for more than 10 years. Currently, she is a freelance journalist and the Assistant Director for the Trusting News project, where she works to help rebuild trust between journalists and the public by working with newsrooms to be more transparent about how they do their jobs.

She is a past national president for the Society of Professional Journalists. During her term, she spoke out against threats to the First Amendment while working to protect and defend journalists and journalism. She also serves the journalism organization as a member of SPJ’s FOI committee and is the current Ethics Chair. Lynn was also selected to represent SPJ on the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) Advisory Committee where she worked to recommend changes to help improve the national FOIA process.

Previously she led the NBC 7 Investigates and NBC 7 Responds teams in San Diego, California for KNSD-TV. Prior to working in California, 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, 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. Lynn travels around the country, teaching journalists and students about the latest innovative storytelling techniques and how to produce ethical content, no matter the medium.

Lynn is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism. She loves the beach, sunsets, exploring the world and attempting new yoga poses. She believes the glass is half-full, the truth is always out there and that hard work, dedication and personality can make any dream come true.


SPJ Ethics
Committee Members


Lauren Bartlett
Email

Fred Brown
Email

David Cohn

Annie Culver

Elizabeth Donald
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Mike Farrell
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Paul Fletcher
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Michael Lear-Olimpi
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Chris Roberts
Email

Alex Veeneman
Email

Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > Cooperating with the Government

Ethics Case Studies
Cooperating with the Government

WHAT: Describe the situation. Assemble all relevant facts, list all the angles. In other words, do the reporting. Put the ethical dilemma in the form of a question. Write it down to be sure it makes sense.

It began on Jan. 18, 2005, and ended two weeks later after the longest prison standoff in recent U.S. history. Two inmates at the Arizona prison complex near Buckeye armed themselves with homemade weapons and took over a prison guard tower. They held two correctional officers hostage, releasing one of them, a male, a week into the standoff and the second, a female, before surrendering two weeks later, on Feb. 1.

The governor’s office telephoned news executives around the state and urged them not to reveal certain basic information. The governor explained that the state feared for the safety of the two prison guards and didn’t want further trouble at the prison. The state would not release the names of the hostages or the names, criminal histories or disciplinary records of their captors until after the siege ended.

As the standoff and blackout continued, authorities said they were worried that publicity would reach the inmates and foil negotiations.

The question: Should your media outlet go along with the state’s request not to release the information?

WHO: The principals (people) who will make the decision and those who will be affected by it. First, decide who is responsible for the decision. The managing editor? News director? Does this go all the way to the top? Then list the major stakeholders, ranging from the subjects of the story to the general public. Remember that not everyone will be affected to the same degree by what you decide to do.

In the Arizona prison standoff, it could be argued that there’s not one “decider,” but rather a collective decision to be made. Each individual broadcast station and newspaper, and the executives charged with deciding at each, would want to know what the others are going to do.

As for the stakeholders, they include those with the most to lose — the guards held in captivity — and the prisoners who took them hostage. Working down the list in terms of their stake in the outcome of your decision are other prisoners at Buckeye, the families of the guards and prisoners, prison officials, other state officials, your media outlet (and its reputation) and then members of the public. Maybe you can think of others. And consider the range — from the guards (who could be killed) to the public (who might just shrug off the story).

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 moral decision is the one that does the greatest good for the greatest number of stakeholders.

In the Arizona case, there are some key principles you need to question: Does our primary obligation to tell the truth outweigh the potential harm of dead guards and renewed prison unrest? How does keeping this information from the public stop this from happening? Should we be cooperating with officials whose shortcomings may have led to this situation? There are other questions to be asked. Ask them.

One newspaper editor warned that a blackout “creates an atmosphere that feeds off of suspicion and rumor” but also said “We trust that the state is taking the safe road...” A radio news director said, “To me the lives of those two guards are more important than getting any story on the air.” Many news executives were not happy with the state’s request, and their reporters were more than upset.

HOW: This is your decision — how do you achieve the outcome you’ve identified as the best? How do you answer the question you raised in the first step? Again, if you write it down, you will have a better idea of whether it makes sense. Also, write down your rationale, and consider making it part of your coverage. Articulating your reasoning will help you answer the questions you’re bound to get.

In Arizona, all of the major news organizations agreed to wait until the standoff ended before publishing many details or any names they might learn from other sources. They held off on interviewing relatives of the inmates they suspected might be the captors. Media were not allowed within half a mile of the prison; the airspace was closed to helicopters. After the standoff, the inmates were charged with kidnapping, aggravated assault, escape and sexual assault, which gives you some idea of what went on during the standoff. The names of the guards weren’t made known until some time after they were released.


Ethics
Ethics Home
SPJ Code of Ethics
News/Articles
Journalism Ethics Book
Case Studies
Committee Position Papers
Ethics Answers
Ethics Hotline
Resources
Ethics Committee

Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– 10 lessons in journalism ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions

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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