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Ethics
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Ethics Committee

Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– Quill question: When does sponsored content require disclosure?
– 10 lessons in journalism ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency

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
Email

Mike Farrell
Email

Paul Fletcher
Email

Michael Lear-Olimpi
Email

Chris Roberts
Email

Alex Veeneman
Email

Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > The Times and Jayson Blair

Ethics Case Studies
The Times and Jayson Blair

WHAT: Jayson Blair advanced quickly during his tenure at The New York Times, where he was hired as a full-time staff writer after his internship there and others at The Boston Globe and The Washington Post. Even accusations of inaccuracy and a series of corrections to his reports on Washington, D.C.-area sniper attacks did not stop Blair from moving on to national coverage of the war in Iraq. But when suspicions arose over his reports on military families, an internal review found that he was fabricating material and communicating with editors from his Brooklyn apartment — or within the Times building — rather than from outside New York.

Some Times staffers, opposed to what they viewed as favoritism by Executive Editor Howell Raines, blamed a star system that allowed Blair to advance unusually fast in an extremely competitive, mostly veteran environment. Blair's former boss, Jonathan Landman, said race played a large part in the African American writer's ascendancy.

The findings of a 25-member committee headed by Allan Siegal, an assistant managing editor, led to the appointment of a public editor and stricter editorial policies. But staffing changes and higher standards could not change what happened: The Times‘s reputation was deeply tarnished. Raines and Managing Editor Gerald Boyd resigned in a cloud of mismanagement. Journalism, in general, suffered perhaps the biggest blow to its credibility in U.S. history.

Question: How does the Times investigate problems and correct policies that allowed the Blair scandal to happen?

WHO: The consequences of Blair's actions are so broad that it is important to have representatives from all staff levels, as well as journalists outside the Times staff, weigh in on corrective steps. Leading this group should be one or several highly ethical consensus-builders who can solicit and synthesize ideas from throughout the profession.

In the case of the Times, stakeholders range from the humble retiree who simply reads his paper in the morning to the power-wielding diplomat who relies on foreign-policy reports to inform her decisions. Journalists, too, lose ground when a colleague lowers the public's value of their work. As a group, biggest stakeholders are citizens of democracies, which depend on journalists to grow trust in readers with accurate reporting.

WHY: The Blair case raises questions about hiring, management and overall editorial policy.

First, there is the issue of relative inexperience in a super-high-stakes newsroom. Is it fair to senior staffers to allow a fresh-out-of-college writer to step into the ranks? More importantly, is it fair to expect such an inexperienced writer, however talented, to produce reporting as sharp as that of a decorated correspondent? While a pure meritocracy allows an individual of any experience level to fill any role, talent in the absence of experience could lead to diminished professionalism: Blair's ability to impress editors with his writing may have led to him feeling that facts are less important than prose.

Second, there is the question of who is responsible for letting Blair go so far. Is it the editor who hired him straight from the University of Maryland? How bout successive editors, who, despite their mediocre evaluations, did not object loudly enough to Blair's promotions? Could the executive and managing editors, with their big-picture roles and busy days, truly be responsible for one staffer’s malfeasance?

Third, there must be a better way. Is it enough to know what went wrong and tighten the reigns on practices such as anonymous sources? Or does the Times need an auditor, someone it pays for a scolding? Why should an outsider be allowed to make recommendations on better internal practices? Then again, how could an insider, in earshot of the mess itself, lead the committee to fix things?

HOW: The Times decided that to remedy the nasty ramifications of the Blair scandal, it would commission an insider, along with others in and outside the Times newsroom, to investigate problems and suggest changes. The insider, Siegal, decided the Times should hire an outsider (who would be former Life magazine editor Daniel Okrent) to suggest further improvements. And Times editorial policy changed to reflect a much more cautious, conservative atmosphere concerning staff promotions and, especially, verification of reporting. A notable example of the latter aspect regards anonymous sources. In terms of staffing, the Times went so far as to require written evaluations for any candidates transferring between posts.

A particularly difficult aspect of the fallout, although one welcome by staffers who felt marginalized, was the dual resignation of Raines and Boyd. That development, at least in the view of Publisher Arthur Sulzberger, was for the greater good of the Times. Symbolically, their departures made it possible for observers to view the Times as a reformed institution.

— By Adrian Uribarri, SPJ Ethics Committee


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
– Quill question: When does sponsored content require disclosure?
– 10 lessons in journalism ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency

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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