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Ethics Committee

Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
The SPJ Code of Ethics at 110
Quill question: When does sponsored content require disclosure?
10 lessons in journalism ethics

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

Elizabeth Donald
Email

Mike Farrell
Email

Paul Fletcher
Email

Michael Lear-Olimpi
Email

Chris Roberts
Email

Andy Schotz
Email

Alex Veeneman
Email

Home > Ethics > Ethics Answers > Frequently Asked Questions

Ethics Answers
Frequently Asked Questions

Why doesn’t SPJ enforce its Code of Ethics?
When was the code adopted?


Why doesn’t SPJ enforce its Code of Ethics?

The Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics is voluntary. We do not have a mechanism for investigating complaints or enforcing discipline on SPJ members, much less other journalists. But our code does provide a framework to evaluate ethical behavior, and we encourage fellow journalists and the public to hold news reports and commentary up to ethical scrutiny. Ultimately, that is the most effective antidote to questionable reporting, not quasi-judicial proceedings. The reasons for this emphasis are rooted in the special nature of journalism and the need to preserve freedom of expression and an independent press.

The Society's leadership has debated the question of enforcement off and on for decades. The majority has felt that establishing a quasi-judicial system, such as those found in some other professions, would inevitably lead to actions by governments, courts or their proxies that would restrict the rights to free speech and free press guaranteed by the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

Preserving those rights is a fundamental mission of SPJ — every bit as important to its members as sound ethics — and we don't want the pursuit of the one to have a negative effect on the other. American citizens’ constitutional rights to free speech and a free press are vulnerable, and they are placed in jeopardy whenever we allow them to be confused with or limited by the professional responsibility to act ethically. Instead, we encourage the exposure of unethical journalism as a means for rooting it out; more speech is the most effective counter measure.

In addition, as a practical matter, professional enforcement of standards for news reporting would require a body of more detailed provisions and case law that are far beyond our resources to provide, even if it were desirable.

Nor could any set of rules, however detailed, possibly apply to all the nuances and ambiguities of legitimate expression. Rather, we are committed to encouraging the profession and the public to evaluate all reporting and reportage in ethical terms, not to apply "rules." We believe our code provides the guidelines to make that possible.

We realize — and have embodied in our code — that all journalism ethics is a balancing act between often conflicting responsibilities. One of our guiding principles, whose importance we all recognize, is "Seek truth and report it." Another is "Minimize harm." Obviously, if one reports all truths without flinching, we will inevitably do great harm, and if one minimizes harm as much as possible, one will not be reporting essential truths. The key is in the balancing act — and in recognizing the importance of each core value. That's not easy to enforce.

Similar conflict exists between our other two basic principles, "Act independently" and "Be accountable."

So the Society has long felt that the best enforcement is in publicizing, explaining and applying those principles and weighing alternatives, as individuals, as journalists and as an organization, in the form of comment and opinion, without issuing definitive, quasi-legal judgments that might be put to improper use. Our hope is that the public and other journalism professionals will have in our code the tools necessary to evaluate journalism behavior and hold journalists ethically accountable for their actions. Indeed, the code specifically calls on journalists to "clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct," to "encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media" and to expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media."

SPJ’s Code of Ethics has proved to be an important reference for professionals, students and citizens. It is widely consulted and applied in newsrooms and classrooms as the definitive statement of our profession’s highest values and a helpful way to think about the specific and unique journalism quandaries we confront daily.

The Society has taken measures to encourage broader use of the code. We have disseminated the text widely and organized countless programs to assess ethical issues, and we have entered into a partnership with Bloomberg to teach ethics to professionals. We have established Ethics in Journalism Week as a means of placing a spotlight on our ethical responsibilities and reaching out to the communities we serve with information on what citizens have a right to expect from journalists. We also regularly make ourselves available to the news media to comment about demonstrably good and notably bad ethical practices and the complex evaluation of responsibilities that ethical behavior demands.

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When was the code adopted?

The present version of the code was adopted during Excellence in Journalism 2014, following months of study and debate among the Society's members. Sigma Delta Chi's first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which also was revised in 1984, 1987 and 1996.

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For more information about SPJ’s Code of Ethics, write to ethics@spj.org.


Ethics Answers
FAQ
Ethics Hotline


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
The SPJ Code of Ethics at 110
Quill question: When does sponsored content require disclosure?
10 lessons in journalism ethics

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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