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SPJ updates Code of Ethics


September 6, 2014
Kevin Smith, Ethics Committee Chair, 304.367.4864 (EDT), smith.10002@osu.edu
David Cuillier, SPJ President, 520.248.6242 (PDT), spjdave@yahoo.com
Jennifer Royer, SPJ Communications Strategist, 317.361.4134 (EDT), jroyer@spj.org

SPJ updates Code of Ethics

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Society of Professional Journalists approved a new Code of Ethics today. The vote was cast by delegates during the Closing Business Meeting of the Excellence in Journalism 2014 annual convention.

The newly-adopted code, which has undergone multiple revisions by the SPJ Code of Ethics Committee in the past year, is just one of the many ways SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior.

“This was a long and arduous process that took a lot of thought and deliberation,” said Kevin Smith, chairman of the Code of Ethics Committee. “I’d like to give credit to the committee and everyone who took an active role in providing their suggestions and comments. I’m very proud of the people who worked on this new code and proud of SPJ for accepting it.”

The code was last revised in 1996 and while it is still relevant, the new code includes some significant changes regarding transparency, and tenets of the new code are applicable to all forms of journalism and the people who work within them, professional or amateur alike.

“This code advances the society’s mission and dedication to holding journalists to the highest ethical standards,” Smith continued. “It is a code that will be supported for years to come and is a great resource to help journalists make strong ethical decisions.”

An 18-member committee began the task of revising the code in August 2013. Throughout the year, drafts have been made public, with opportunities for SPJ members and others to provide their input. The committee pooled more than 300 comments from an online survey and personal correspondences and factored those into the revised code.

“As journalism has continued to evolve it is important that the most widely recognized code in journalism reflects today’s environment,” said SPJ President David Cuillier.

Significant changes include:

 All people, all media reference: The code isn’t filled with specific references to social or digital media or specific forms of emerging media such as entrepreneurial, point-of-view and citizen journalism. Instead, it is made clear that the code is applicable to all forms of journalism and the people who work within them.

 Transparency: The idea of transparency makes a debut in this code. Although this code does not abdicate the principle of being independent of conflicts that may compromise integrity or damage credibility, it does note more strongly that when these conflicts can’t be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions. It acknowledges the importance of corrections, engaging the public in discourse over journalism issues and it tells journalists they should uphold the highest ethical standards in all engagements with the public.

 Other changes of note:

• Journalism replaces journalists. Again, giving nod to the idea that journalism is an endeavor that transcends that of the professional workers and encompasses many people and many forms, the idea of speaking to the act of journalism over the actors.

• The code inserts language that tells journalists that a legal right to publish is not the same as a moral obligation to do so. It attempts to separate the legal v. ethical arguments that arise often in ethical debates.

• The code encourages the verification of information from all sources. This was inserted to address the growing trend to repeat information without independent verification, even when that initial source is another news outlet.

• The code has always encouraged journalists to resist outside pressures to alter or direct news coverage. This code includes the need to resist internal pressures as well, which speaks to corporation boards and executives trying to exert pressure from the highest levels.

• It speaks to the components of speed or medium over accuracy, and notes that the neither of those two reasons excuses the lack of the effort in getting the information correct.

• It is important to gather information throughout the life of the story and to update and correct it, a growing concern due to online storytelling and social media use.

• It spells out more precisely the reasons for granting anonymity.

• It talks of providing access to resources used in the story and says all advocacy journalism and commentary should be labeled such to properly alert the reader.

• The code brings a more hardline approach to checkbook journalism. Before, it merely said “Avoid bidding for news.” Now it says “... do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.”

“The revised code better articulates the ethical concerns of today’s journalism and does so with a firm foundation for our unwavering principles of truth, fairness, compassion, independence, accountability, and now, transparency,” Smith said.

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 was revised in 1984, 1987 and 1996. The SPJ Code of Ethics has been translated into 16 languages and is hanging in newsrooms all over the world. It has provided the structure of many more codes across the globe.

The code is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of “rules” but as a resource for ethical decision-making.

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 on SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.


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