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Ethics Committee

Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions
– Sinclair’s mandates threaten independent, local journalism

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
Email
@andrewmseaman
Bio (click to expand) Andrew is a news editor at LinkedIn. Before joining LinkedIn, he worked for seven years as a senior medical journalist at Reuters Health. Prior to that, 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.


Lynn Walsh, vice chair
Project Manager
Trusting News Project
E-mail
@LWalsh
Bio (click to expand) 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.


SPJ Ethics
Committee Members


Lauren Bartlett
E-mail

David Cohn

Elizabeth Donald
E-mail

Mike Farrell
E-mail

Carole Feldman

Paul Fletcher
E-mail

Fred Brown
E-mail

Hagit Limor
E-mail

Dana Neuts
E-mail


Chris Roberts

Alex Veeneman
E-mail

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
– Journalism’s complicated relationship with transparency
– Sinclair’s ‘teachable moment’ raises even more questions
– Sinclair’s mandates threaten independent, local journalism

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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