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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
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 > A Congressman’s Past

Ethics Case Studies
A Congressman’s Past

WHAT: You’ve learned that a Democratic member of the U.S. Congress, up for re-election to his fourth term, had been accused by an ex-girlfriend of a sexual assault some 28 years previously. But criminal charges never were filed, and neither the congressman, David Wu, nor his accuser wanted to discuss the case now, only weeks before the 2004 election.

The (Portland) Oregonian spent months trying to discover the truth about this persistent rumor. On Oct. 12, 2004, it published an article more than 3,000 words long explaining what if found out. On that same day, Congressman Wu held a news conference to say he did something regrettable in his youth, but he didn’t think it was relevant now. Other media picked up the story, of course, and his Republican opponent used it in her campaign.

Here’s a summary: Wu and his ex-girlfriend were science majors at Stanford University. She broke up with him in the spring of 1976. That summer, Wu was questioned by Stanford campus police after his ex-girlfriend said he tried to force her to have sex with him. Wu told police it was consensual. He was not arrested. The woman declined criminal prosecution and didn’t file a formal disciplinary complaint.

Wu refused to be interviewed or to answer written questions about the incident when The Oregonian asked him about it 28 years later. Wu’s ex-girlfriend also declined to comment, either in person or through a representative. Stanford officials wouldn’t discuss it either, citing university policy and student confidentiality laws.

So how did The Oregonian get its story? Here are some quotes from its article:
“Reporters contacted scores of former Stanford students, current and retired university officials and professors, law associates, and former campaign staffers and friends of Wu to determine what occurred. ...
“The account that follows is based on recollections of the Stanford patrol commander, the woman's counselor, two professors who supervised dormitories at the time and several classmates who were on campus that year.”

Question: Should The Oregonian publish this story?

WHO: The decision-makers are newsroom managers and executives at The Oregonian. If they decide to do a story, the other competing news outlets in Portland face the decision of how to follow the story.

The stakeholder with the most to lose if the story appears clearly is Congressman David Wu. His accuser, who remained unnamed and uninterested in having the story pursued, also has a stake. The public has a stake in this story, especially those who live in Congressman Wu’s district and will be deciding whether to re-elect him. His opponents in the election have a stake. Stanford University and its reputation could take a hit. Some readers might think your newspaper has a biased agenda, because it endorsed Wu’s Republican opponent, Goli Ameri. There may be others. Think of as many as you can, and consider their varying degrees of involvement — harm or benefit — from the publishing of this story.

WHY: Clearly, there is a truth here that has gone unreported for a generation. And a journalist’s primary obligation is to tell the truth. But how important a truth is it? Consider the possible consequences of your reporting. The congressman could lose his seat. His long-ago accuser might be badgered by other media organizations. Should you be concerned about that? Are you trying to salvage your reputation after an alternative weekly own a Pulitzer the previous year for a sex abuse story involving a former Oregon governor? Examine competing principles and decide what’s the best outcome.

HOW: Do you pursue the story and publish it? The Oregonian did, just three weeks before the election. It also made its decision-making part of the story. And Michael Arrieta-Walden, the newspaper’s public editor, wrote a very long follow-up column on Oct. 17, explaining the decision point-by-point. More than 350 readers called or wrote to criticize the story; several canceled their subscriptions.


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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