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SPJ presents reporter’s algorithm guide and panel discussion


Haisten Willis, SPJ Freedom of Information Committee Chair, 317-927-8000, haisten.willis@gmail.com
Ashlynn Neumeyer, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-361-4133, aneumeyer@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS — As a part of Sunshine Week, the Society of Professional Journalists is publishing a “Reporter’s Guide to Algorithms,” which highlights examples of reporting on artificial intelligence and tips for how journalists can find similar stories on their beats. The guide was created by the SPJ Freedom of Information Committee.

Journalists have the responsibility to ask questions whenever they find bias within an algorithm. Nothing is more important to democracy than enlightening the public on how the government makes its decisions and why. In the 21st Century, this includes reporting on the ways the government uses artificial intelligence and whether those outcomes are fair, equitable and just.

“SPJ’s Freedom of Information Committee compiles a Sunshine Week project each year, and for the 2021 edition we unanimously agreed that the use of algorithms by governments was a subject that needs more attention and where reporters could benefit from a centralized source of information,” said Haisten Willis, who chairs the committee. “We hope this guide will help journalists who are beginning to cover this important topic as it grows in the national conversation over the next several years.”

In addition to the guide, SPJ will present a panel discussion on the topic at 7 p.m. EDT Thursday. During “Informing the public on the promise and perils of algorithms,” experts will discuss the growing issue of government use of algorithms to make major decisions, such as determining education funding, who gets a COVID-19 vaccine first and even predicting risk of reoffending for people with criminal records.

Planned topics of discussion are how algorithms are constructed, the best ways for reporters to learn about and inform the public of the issue and how journalists and journalism advocacy organizations can push for transparency in algorithms and how some already are.

As algorithms continue to play an ever-larger role in our society, we hope this guide and webinar prove helpful to journalists reporting on the issue.

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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