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Ethics
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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.

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
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Fred Brown
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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 > Controversy over a Concert

Ethics Case Studies
Controversy over a Concert

WHAT: Three former members of the Eagles rock band came to Denver during the 2004 election campaign to raise money for a U.S. Senate candidate, Democrat Ken Salazar. John Temple, editor and publisher of the Rocky Mountain News, advised his reporters not to go to the fundraising concerts. In a memo to the staff, Temple said:

“Since our longstanding policy precludes all newsroom employees from making political donations, none of us will be able to attend these concerts, or any others that occur this political season. The obvious exceptions are reporters, columnists and photographers covering the concerts, both as entertainment events and political stories.”

Some reporters and editors interpreted the directive as implying that their bosses didn’t trust them. Some said the only issue should be whether their work is fair and accurate, not about what they do in their off time. At staff meetings requested by the Denver Newspaper Guild, reporters asked all manner of questions, Temple said: What if my spouse goes, or gives a donation? What if I never cover politics or have a byline in the paper? Why can’t we buy tickets to this concert when we can go to concerts by other artists who may then use the money for political donations?

Temple, writing about the situation in two different columns, said a newspaper’s first obligation is to its readers. It should avoid anything that might compromise — or appear to comprise — its impartiality and integrity.

Question: Is it fair to ask newspaper staffers — or employees at other news media, for that matter — not to attend events that may have a political purpose? Are the rules different for different jobs at the news outlet?

WHO: In this case, the decision was made by the top executive at the Rocky Mountain News. His decision clearly affected his employees, and it was intended to look out for the interests of the newspaper’s readers. In Temple’s eyes, the public had a major stake in this decision. Also affected, but perhaps not so much, were the entertainers, the Democratic (and Republican) parties and candidate Ken Salazar.

WHY: One of a journalist’s biggest challenges is how to put aside personal preferences and prejudices in order to deliver impartial, fair information. Elections raise ethical questions for reporters, and the answer to those ethical questions is usually inflexible: Avoid any display of partisanship, including donating money to candidates, even indirectly. Some media companies discourage employees from participating in partisan politics in any way; some individuals have gone so far as to declare publicly that they do not vote, to avoid even the slightest appearance of bias. That may be going too far, but journalists do give up some of their constitutional rights if they want to practice their profession ethically. Ironically, this is a profession protected by the same First Amendment that grants the right to any citizen to support, by word, deed or cash, the people they’d like to see elected.

HOW: Temple’s decision wasn’t well-received by many in his staff. Reporters are well aware that some newspaper owners and publishers contribute to political campaigns. Editorial pages endorse candidates. Some members of the public, too, argued that Temple was too concerned with appearances. “I suspect that if and when you and your management put as much thought and effort into changing the reality of political bias on your staff as you do worrying about the image which your staff projects, you won’t have to be concerned about either the reality or the image,” one reader wrote.

What do you think are appropriate limits — if any — on a journalist’s political involvement? Does it differ from job to job? What sort of a policy would you set for your staff if you were managing a media outlet — or yourself, if you were a Weblog with a staff of one?

— by Fred Brown, 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
– 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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