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SPJ Ethics Committee denounces checkbook journalism with news coverage of Trump’s trial


Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins, SPJ National President, ashanti.blaize@gmail.com
Chris Roberts, SPJ Professional Standards and Ethics Committee Vice Chair, croberts@ua.edu
Kim Tsuyuki, SPJ Communications Specialist, ktsuyuki@hq.spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – As Americans follow the criminal trial of former President Donald J. Trump, The Society of Professional Journalists wants the public to recognize that journalistic practices mentioned during opening statements, and by the first witness, are unethical under the SPJ Code of Ethics.

In today’s opening statement, defense attorney Todd Blanche said The National Enquirer’s practices of paying sources for news and “catch-and-kill” are standard journalistic practice.

Any news organization that pays for information – and especially buys information to keep it from the public – is not following the SPJ Code of Ethics “Act Independently” section.

“It is clearly unethical,” said SPJ National President Ashanti Blaize-Hopkins. “Paying for exclusive access to interviews – such as paying for home movies of a missing child or using a company jet to bring a dad and his kidnapped child back from South America, both real-life examples – is bad enough.”

The trial’s first witness, former National Enquirer publisher David Pecker, acknowledged the tabloid practice of “checkbook journalism” – paying sources for information. SPJ notes that this is an unacceptable practice for many reasons, “Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.”

The SPJ Code of Ethics is not, under the First Amendment, legally enforceable, but it provides guidelines that describe the minimum ethical behaviors and aspirations of journalism. The SPJ Ethics Committee has written multiple times against such practices.

SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to informing citizens; works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists; and fights to protect First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. Support excellent journalism and fight for your right to know. Become a member, give to the Legal Defense Fund or give to the SPJ Foundation.


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