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April 24-29, 2023

Home > Ethics > SPJ Ethics Week > What is journalism ethics and why is it important?

Ethical journalism looks like this

Ethical journalism makes a difference in peoples’ lives. It uncovers the truth. It explains complex issues in a way that anyone can understand. It helps people make decisions about their lives, their values, their beliefs.

It is truthful and minimizes harm. It is free of conflicts of interest. It is accurate, clear, fair, thorough and transparent.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information.

These traits of ethical journalism are so important, that SPJ and the SPJ Foundation recognize the best of the best journalism written, broadcast and produced each year. Recipients of a Sigma Delta Chi Award or Mark of Excellence Award are perfect examples of journalism that exposes the truth, adheres to the SPJ Code of Ethics and changes lives.

Not sure what ethical journalism looks like? Browse a gallery of stories that won the 2021 Pulitzer Prize, and visit SPJ's own 2020 Sigma Delta Chi Award Honorees gallery, where you can read, listen to and watch all of 2020's winning entries.

The following is just a sampling of the Sigma Delta Chi Award-winning journalism produced in 2020, the most recent contest results available. If it won an SDX Award, you know it is a great example of ethical journalism. Journalism from 2021 is being judged now and winners will be announced soon.

“Please, I Can’t Breathe”

The Minneapolis Star Tribune won the SDX Award for Deadline Reporting (newspaper, daily circulation of 100,001+) for its coverage of the killing of George Floyd.

How the Tennessean staff covered the deadly March 2020 tornadoes

The Nashville Tennessean won the SDX Award for Deadline Reporting (newspaper, daily circulation of 1-100,000) for its synopsis of its unique, sensitive and engaging coverage to serve the community after deadly tornadoes swept through Middle Tennessee.

George Floyd and the Forces of Change

CBS News won the SDX Award for Television Breaking News Coverage (network/syndication service/program service) for its coverage of the killing of George Floyd and the protests that followed.

Hurricane Zeta Coverage

WDSU-TV in New Orleans won the SDX Award for Television Breaking News Coverage (all market sizes) for its coverage of Hurricane Zeta.

Maricella’s Last Breath

Rory Linnane of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, won the SDX Award for Continuous Coverage, Newspaper Non-Deadline Reporting (Daily circulation 1-100,000) about a 16-year-old who died alone behind bars. Her stories examined how children get trapped in the justice system and how the cycle can be stopped.

Economic Inequities

Shawn Donnan of Bloomberg Businessweek won the SDX Award for Newspaper Non-Deadline Reporting (Non-daily publication) for his series about how two houses in Cleveland tell a story of America’s unequal financial recovery and how the pandemic is reinforcing racial inequality.

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