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SPJ Ethics Week

April 23-27, 2018

Home > Ethics > SPJ Ethics Week > Ethics Blogs and Position Papers

Ethics Blogs and Position Papers

A Day of Giving for Ethics Week!

We need ethical journalism now more than ever. That is why the Society of Professional Journalists and the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation support programming that encourages truthful, compassionate, independent, transparent journalism.

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Broadway’s Latest Star: SPJ’s Code of Ethics

After endorsing an ethical code for almost a century, SPJ’s Code of Ethics finally gets its time in the spotlight.

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Streamed Crime: A Challenge for News and Social Media Companies

Social media ignited Sunday afternoon when news broke that a man in Cleveland streamed a video of himself on Facebook allegedly shooting an elderly person. The crime is part of an ongoing challenge for news organizations and social media companies.

The challenge is different for each of the entities, however.

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When Past Meets Present

The internet filled with outrage on Sunday after a man was dragged from a United Airlines flight departing Chicago for Louisville, Kentucky. Some of that ire turned on Tuesday toward journalists who decided to learn more about the man.

The Courier-Journal in Louisville published an in-depth story about the past of Dr. David Dao, who was dragged and bloodied during Sunday’s incident. The story detailed Dao’s past including substantial legal troubles. Meanwhile, a reporter for the District of Columbia’s ABC affiliate known as WJLA published a post on Twitter showing documents she said detailed Dao’s “troubled past.”

People responded to The Courier-Journal’s story and the WJLA Twitter post with swift condemnation.

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Can journalists engage in political activity?

The SPJ Ethics Committee gets a significant number of questions about whether journalists should engage in political activity. The simplest answer is “No.” Don’t do it. Don’t get involved. Don’t contribute money, don’t work in a campaign, don’t lobby, and especially, don’t run for office yourself.

But it’s a bit more nuanced than that.

This statement expresses the views of the SPJ Ethics Committee. It was written for the committee by its vice chairman, Fred Brown, who covered state and national politics and government for nearly 40 years for The Denver Post.

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Accountability can be shown in many ways

Journalism organizations generally recognize this principle of accountability by admitting mistakes and correcting them promptly, as called for in SPJ’s Code of Ethics. Most also publish criticism of their news efforts contained in letters to the editor. They will sometimes incorporate in their stories information about the ethical dilemmas faced and how the journalism organization resolved them.

A few go further, appointing an “ombudsman” or “reader representative” or "public editor" to investigate complaints about their journalism and publishing the results of that investigation.

This statement expresses the views of the SPJ Ethics Committee. It was written on behalf of the Committee by Irwin Gratz, producer/host of "Morning Edition" at Maine Public Broadcast Network. A longtime member of the SPJ Ethics Committee, he was the 2004-05 SPJ national president.

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Anonymous sources a necessary evil in journalism

Many of the most important stories in United States history relied on information provided by people who needed their identities shielded from the public. At the same time, anonymity provides the subjects of those same stories a powerful tool to discredit the information.

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Journalism lessons from Flynn’s downfall

The resignation of Michael Flynn in February shows the United States benefits most when journalists rededicate themselves to their profession’s timeless standards. Journalists, media critics and the public should allow Flynn’s short and turbulent stint in the Trump administration to serve as a reminder of some basic truths about the press.

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Facebook tackles fake news

The new announcement is a step forward when it comes to digital media literacy and the relationship between Facebook and its users. More work is needed, particularly around its trending topics algorithm, which has been the subject of controversy because of the sources that are cited when it comes to certain subjects. Nevertheless, this change shows Facebook is taking seriously its role as a gatekeeper. The social network is adapting to ensure the public receives the most valuable information possible — no matter the subject.

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Buzzfeed and CNN are not “fake news”

The term “fake news” meant very little before President-elect Donald Trump’s first press conference since winning the White House. Social media users largely misused the term into obscurity by labeling even accurate information as “fake news.”

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How to solve a problem like unpublishing

Unpublishing often gets paired with the issue of online corrections: in an era where a news story can be altered almost as quickly as it can be published, to what extent do we acknowledge the mistakes we make? Some news organizations handle it on a case-by-case basis: fixing mistakes as soon as they come up, and deciding later whether to put an explanatory note on the story depending on the severity of the mistake. A misspelled street name might not require a note stating that a previous version of the story had it wrong, while misattributing a quote might require such a note to avoid confusing the reader.

But unpublishing — actually removing a story from the online archives — is a much bigger deal, and one that seems to have little consensus.

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A new reality — virtual reality

Virtual reality is one of the most exciting advancements in storytelling over the past few years. Like any knew advancement, the technology presents a number of ethical questions that need to be addressed.

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Ignoring a problem doesn’t make it go away

A growing list of organizations say journalists should omit the names and images of gunmen in an effort to prevent future mass shootings.

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Classic ethics still important to today’s freelancers

When it comes to ethical journalism, it is important to follow your own moral compass and do what you believe is right. In addition, strong business ethics and knowledge of the SPJ Code of Ethics can help you determine what’s right for your story and your business.

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Drone Details

Using drones to report the news has its advantages, but those advantages come with the added burden of some ethical issues specific to the unmanned aircrafts.

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Are social media ethics codes needed?

SPJ’s Code of Ethics, which itself was revised in 2014, does not mention social media platforms specifically, but the Ethics Committee advises to apply the four principles of the code (Seek truth and report it, Minimize harm, Be accountable and transparent, and Act independently) to all types of journalism, irrespective of platform.

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New tech, new problems

Every few years brings a surprising number of new technologies to newsrooms around the world. News organizations are now investing heavily into virtual reality, automated reporting systems and new partnerships with social media platforms.

While those technologies expand the number of ways journalists can tell stories and reach people, they also increase the number of ethical questions and problems needing to be addressed.

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