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Ethics
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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 > SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers > Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims

SPJ Ethics Committee Position Papers
Reporting on Grief, Tragedy and Victims

A city truck collides with a motorcycle, killing the cyclist immediately and tying up traffic for a half hour. The local newspaper’s photographer, by happenstance, is at the scene minutes afterward.

A man holds two individuals hostage. Police surround the house in the standoff for nearly two hours before the man takes his life. A reporter/photographer is at the scene.

What do these incidents have in common? They are being talked about in the community. They have an impact on people. They are sensitive issues that deal with grief and victims. They are the type of stories that should be reported as a living history of communities.

The overriding point, however, is that journalists must be responsible both in how they gather and present the information in words and photos. Stories involving grief and victims go to the heart of one of the tenets of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics: Minimize harm.

Journalists often advance their “right” to seek information and record events, and stories of grief and tragedy are a staple of community news. The SPJ Code underscores the accompanying “responsibility” with common-sense principles:

— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.

— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort.

— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials.

— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

It’s certainly within journalists’ purview — some may even argue obligation — to report news of tragedy and grief. Citizens expect to see these stories, especially if the circumstances have an impact on neighborhoods and community.

Journalists also should heed the SPJ Code of Ethics. Scrutinize the guidelines, and a common theme emerges. Most important, journalists have a responsibility to report these stories in a careful — not careless — fashion. At the foundation, journalists should be aware that these stories often thrust individuals into a “public setting” for the first time, and maybe the only time, in their lives. The individuals also are often full of emotion. They are typically unprepared for interrogation by law enforcement authorities, who are often at the scene, let alone quizzing by journalists who come armed with notebooks, microphones and cameras.

The sensitivity in approaching these stories applies to gathering as well as reporting the information. There’s a delicate balance between being assertive and aggressive. In truth, journalists are likely to get a more complete — and meaningful — story if they approach victims with sensitivity.

Journalists also should recognize that news of grief and tragedy circulates quickly. The news will draw attention no matter the presentation. In other words, media will receive higher marks if they present the stories in responsible fashion without resorting to sensationalism in words or photos.

Don’t misinterpret. The SPJ Code of Ethics does not suggest journalists avoid reporting on grief and victims. Such occurrences are a fact of life. The code, however, does underscore that these stories be pursued in a responsible and professional manner. Adopting that approach will prove long-term dividends for everyone involved.


This statement expresses the views of the SPJ Ethics Committee. It was written for the Committee by Jim Pumarlo, Director of Communications for the Minnesota Chamber of Commerce. He spent 27 years working at small daily newspapers in International Falls and Red Wing, Minn., and is an Ethics Committee member.


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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