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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
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.

Monica Guzman, co-vice chair
Bio (click to expand) Monica is a Sunday columnist for The Seattle Times and a weekly columnist for GeekWire, covering issues in digital life. She was a juror for the 2014 Pulitzer Prizes, serves on the National Advisory Board for the Poynter Institute and contributed the closing chapter, “Community As an End,” to the 2013 Poynter book “The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century.” From 2007 to 2010, Monica launched and ran the innovative Big Blog at the Seattle Post-Intelligencer and, complementing news and culture coverage with weekly reader meetups. From 2010 to 2012 she developed user communities for Seattle startups like Intersect, Trover and Glympse before kicking off her Times column.

A member of the World Economic Forum’s Global Shapers community, Monica emcees the popular quarterly community speaker series Ignite Seattle and is assisting the American Press Institute with a newsroom innovation project. Monica served on the ethics code revision task force and is an active member of the Western Washington Pro chapter of SPJ. She is currently serving as chapter president.

Fred Brown, co-vice chair
2862 S. Oakland Ct.
Aurora, Colo., 80014
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
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.

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
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
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.

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
Publisher & Editor-in-Chief
Virginia Lawyers Media
Bio (click to expand) Paul Fletcher has been publisher and editor-in-chief at Virginia Lawyers Weekly in Richmond, Virginia, 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.

Fletcher has been a member of SPJ since 1992 and serves on the SPJ Ethics Committee. He is the immediate past president of the Virginia Pro chapter.

He has won a number of state and national journalism awards, including honors for editorial, feature and column writing.

Irwin Gratz
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
Bio (click to expand) picture Hagit Limor’s 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.

Chris Roberts

Lynn Walsh
Bio (click to expand) picture Lynn Walsh is an Emmy award-winning journalist who has been working in investigative journalism at the national level as well as locally in California, Ohio, Texas and Florida. Currently she leads the KNSD investigative team at the NBC TV station in San Diego, California, where she is the Investigative Executive Producer.

Most recently, 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, the Scripps owned TV station 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.

Her passion lies in telling multimedia stories that deliver hard hitting facts across multiple platforms. She describes herself as a "data-viz nerd" who is obsessed with new online tools to share information on the web and mobile applications.

She is a contributor to the Radio Television Digital News Association blog and serves as Secretary-Treasurer for SPJ and is a member of SPJ’s FOI, Generation J and Ethics committees.

Lynn is always interested in new projects surrounding FOI, public information access, mobile reporting tools, social media and interactive journalism. She is a proud Bobcat Alumna and graduated from the Ohio University’s E.W. Scripps School of Journalism.

Home > Ethics > Ethics Case Studies > Aaargh! Pirates! (and the Press)

Ethics Case Studies
Aaargh! Pirates! (and the Press)


Almost one month prior to the release of pop-rock band The Ting Tings’ new album, Sounds From Nowheresville, all 10 songs from the album were leaked online. Once all figures have been tallied, the leak will likely cause The Ting Tings’ record label, Roc Nation, to lose hundreds of thousands of dollars because fans will illegally download the album instead of buy it. Roc Nation scrambled to move the release date up a few weeks to negate the early leak of material.

It is situations like this, though, that have plagued the music industry since Napster first initiated widespread illegal file-sharing in June 1999. The music industry has been limping along ever since, struggling to fight off illegal downloads and sales declines. However, media outlets like Rolling Stone and Billboard, a music industry publication which covers all breaking music news, are not helping the situation. As collections of songs, studio recordings from an upcoming album or merely unreleased demos, are leaked online, these outlets cover the leak with a breaking story or a blog post. But they don’t stop there. Rolling Stone and Billboard often also will include a link within the story to listen to the songs that were leaked. Considering the news value of this inclusion, it makes sense to include the illegal material, supplementing the copy with the music in question.

Question: Yet, from an ethical standpoint, if Billboard and Rolling Stone are essentially pointing readers in the right direction, to the leaked music, are they not aiding in helping the Internet community find the material and consume it?


Because the digital music community is vast, extending across multiple continents, the consequences of any illegal leak are incalculable. In that same way, providing news coverage of the leak is like playing with an immense fire. With these considerations, then, should music media outlets like Billboard and Rolling Stone continue to cover music leaks, consequentially perpetuating the cycle, or should they cease to cover these occurrences entirely, as a way to quell the illegality with silence?

Since the introduction of iTunes and the digital music environment, the industry itself has struggled with an outdated business model. Fighting for the mighty dollar, record labels turn to promotion — often times misleading consumers into thinking the majority of albums or song collections can be expected to sound like the catchy single used to promote the album — and subsequently alienate fans and consumers. As an outcry to this discrepancy, in recent years fans have refused to pay for music because it was either overpriced or not in accordance with their sonic expectations. Even so, disappointment or unfair pricing does not justify stealing music and intellectual property. Although the music industry business model is broken, the means of stealing are not justified. As such, this situation, when considered wholly empirically, is a deontological one: fans should not be downloading music leaks — so the act of stealing is clearly wrong. However, providing media coverage of the leaks’ occurrence in the first place is not so clear-cut.

While there is no policy on media covering a leak, the practice is often to redirect the web traffic centered on the leak instantaneously toward media outlets’ websites instead. Therefore, moments within the leak occurring, Rolling Stone or Billboard has a story filed online about the instance, and if there is a clip of the leaked song or songs included within the copy, search results will include these links near the top and site visits will spike — or at least that is the mentality. Yet this bloodlust-style of driving website traffic does not justify the inclusion of the leaked material, much less covering the news event in the first place. Instead, the free flow of information justifies it, since readers have the right to stay informed if their favorite band, like The Ting Tings, had its album leaked online.

Considering the stakeholders involved in any leak situation, the effects of leaks, which translate to illegally downloaded music and a loss of profit, can largely be attributed to the musicians and record labels involved. Media outlets are also considered, as aforementioned. However, fans also hold some stake in this situation. Ultimately, when a leak occurs, every fan or consumer has the right to choose whether or not to download the new music. Downloading is never forced upon them. Therefore, they have a right to know about whether a leak has occurred because they have the right to choose to benefit from it. They have the right to access all information about the song from Billboard or Rolling Stone, just short of how to actually download the music — and it is in these organizations’ best interest to cover the leak as a newsworthy event, for it would not be proper journalistic practice to ignore something of this magnitude, with so many parties involved.

In this ethical dilemma, one must consider the stakeholders as the foremost priority. The consumers should be considered most highly, since they are essentially driving the industry. Although The Ting Tings’ situation is an unfortunate one, it is not the responsibility of the media outlets to protect their recorded music from being leaked. Moreover, the included clips themselves are not downloadable, merely listenable. Ultimately, these songs have already been leaked; Billboard, Rolling Stone, and similar organizations are empowering readers by providing them the information necessary to make a choice — to illegal download or not to illegally download, that is the question. In this view, the media outlets have a deontological role, as their duty is to provide information and news.


While they may be pointing readers towards the leaked music by including clips with the copy, Billboard and Rolling Stone are not forcing their readers to download it. If anything, these services are providing a best-of-both-worlds solution, allowing the readers to enjoy the leaked music but not place it on their hard drives. This inconvenience — and it is a large inconvenience to visit a website every time fans want to listen to a song — would prevent fans from repeated visits and therefore repeated listens and potentially, in some scenarios like the one of The Ting Tings, promote the music and drive sales. Including a clip of the leaked song in the copy is far from unethical considering the alternatives. The ethics of songs illegal leaking is an absolute, a right or wrong, deontology — but providing media coverage of the leak is a little bit ethically trickier. With the understanding that covering a leak is like covering any other news event, for the sake and free flow of information and the reader’s right to know, including an embedded clip of the leaked song in the copy is purely a means of providing more information. Whether the leak itself is ethical is disregarded at this point; from a teleological standpoint, the ends (coverage) are not justified by the means (illegality). Sorry, Ting Tings, but it is entirely ethical to include the clip in the copy if it is for the betterment of the story and for readers’ awareness.

— by Cory Lamz, University of Denver

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