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SPJ celebrates its 13th annual Ethics Week


April 27, 2015

Andrew Seaman, SPJ Ethics Committee Chair, 570-483-8555, andrew.m.seaman@andrewmseaman.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317-361-4134, jroyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists is celebrating the 13th anniversary of Ethics Week today through May 1 with the theme of “Minimize Harm” – one of the main tenets of SPJ’s Code of Ethics.

This year’s Ethics Week comes a few months after SPJ completed more than a year of work revising its Code of Ethics. It’s a voluntary code, advisory and not enforceable, but for decades, it has been the go-to standard for news organizations.

“The SPJ Code of Ethics is the standard by which thousands of journalists around the world practice journalism,” said Andrew Seaman, chair of SPJ’s Ethics Committee. “With examples such as Rolling Stone retracting its article about a gang rape on the University of Virginia campus and Brian Williams called out for exaggerating his reporting recently, discussion and education about journalism ethics are needed now more than ever.”

Here’s what the Code says about minimizing harm: “Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

• Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
• Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
• Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
• Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
• Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
• Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
• Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication.
• Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.”

Many news media outlets have their own codes of ethics; a lot of them use the SPJ code as the starting point, explains SPJ Ethics Committee Co-Vice Chair Fred Brown in his Ethics Week op-ed.

“Employers’ codes are more detailed, and there’s a price to pay if they aren’t followed. Journalists can lose their jobs for violating the company standards, and some have,” Brown writes. “Those employers’ codes tend to go into great detail about what constitutes a conflict of interest. For many people, in journalism and out, that’s the major part of ethical behavior – avoiding conflicts of interest. But for responsible journalists, ethics goes well beyond that.

“Ethical journalism is rooted in accurate reporting and responsible behavior.”

All week long, SPJ will be posting blogs and other Ethics Week information on its website, www.spj.org, and social media accounts -- @spj_tweets on Twitter and SPJ’s Facebook page. Other ways to participate in Ethics Week include:

• Participating in the American Copy Editors Society (@CopyEditors) Twitter Chat at 4 p.m. Wednesday -- Ethics: Minimizing Harm in Digital Editing #AcesChat with SPJ Ethics Committee Member David Cohn (@DigiDave).
• Participating in SPJ (@SPJ_Tweets) Twitter Chat at 4 p.m. Thursday - Being Ethical in the Aftermath of Brian Williams & Rolling Stone with SPJ Ethics Committee Chair Andrew Seaman (@AndrewMSeaman) and SPJ Ethics Committee Co-Vice Chair Monica Guzman (@MoniGuzman).
• Reading a new blog post each day on Code Words, the SPJ Ethics Committee blog.
• Reading SPJ Ethics Committee Co-Vice Chair Monica Guzman’s article, Fear of Screwing Up, in the Columbia Journalism Review.
• Listening to the Jim Bohannon Show at 10 p.m. Wednesday to hear Paul Fletcher, SPJ President-elect and Brown discuss ethics in journalism.
• Downloading and printing your own Code of Ethics poster and bookmarks.

The revised Code is also being translated into several other languages, and supporting documents will be linked to the Code throughout the week to provide journalists with additional guidance from the Society and other journalism organizations and experts.

Sigma Delta Chi's first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi (which later became SPJ) wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984, 1987, 1996 and 2014.

Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed citizenry; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit spj.org.


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