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Updates to SPJ Code of Ethics online interactive links


Chris Roberts, SPJ Professional Standards and Ethics Committee Vice Chair, croberts@ua.edu
Kim Tsuyuki, SPJ Communications Specialist, ktsuyuki@hq.spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS – As the Society of Professional Journalists celebrates Ethics Week, it is proud to announce updates to online documents that explain and apply the SPJ Code of Ethics.

The Professional Standards and Ethics Committee’s work highlights the Code’s relevance in an ever-changing media landscape, said Chris Roberts, the committee’s vice chairman and leader of the effort.

“The updated links show that the Code matters, regardless of the old or emerging technologies that journalists use to gather and distribute information,” said Roberts, an associate professor in Department of Journalism and Creative Media at the University of Alabama. “Whether you’re using AI or a manual typewriter, the Code still offers insight into journalism’s highest ideals and minimum standards.”

The new links can be seen at https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp, and then clicking on a bullet point in the Code. The links are not part of the actual Code, but they serve as supporting information that will be continuously updated to reflect the Code’s relevance.

The SPJ Code of Ethics established interactive links under former SPJ Ethics Committee Chair Andrew Seaman, after SPJ members voted to revise the Code in 2014.

Roberts started the effort to update links as a class assignment for his graduate students at the University of Alabama. Committee members used the student work as a starting point for updating links to more current and insightful links. Committee chairman Fred Brown, who was on the committee that revised the code in 1996 and 2014, played a large role in updating links.

“The final result keeps a promise that the 2013-14 Code Revision Committee, which Chris and I were members of, made to keep the code itself broad in scope and abiding in principles, with links serving as the mechanism for relevance,” Committee Chair Brown said. “Journalism has changed since 1926, when the then-17-year-old Sigma Delta Chi fraternity adopted its first Code of Ethics. But the flexibility of the links allows us to keep abreast of the complications and constantly changing technology. And Chris Roberts, with his dedication and attention to detail, is the one most responsible for that.”

Among new additions is discussion of artificial intelligence and the uncertain future it has in the industry, as the Professional Standards and Ethics Committee has been faced with multiple questions through the SPJ Ethics Hotline. The updated links discuss how to use AI ethically in the context of the Code, and recent examples of AI use in journalism. Several AI-focused links can be found under the part of the Code that says journalists “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible. “

“SPJ's Code of Ethics is a guiding principle that every journalist and editor should strive to adhere to, and it has been a guiding light throughout my career. With trust in journalism at historic lows, the need for fair, truthful, compassionate, independent and transparent journalism is absolutely critical,” said Danielle McLean, committee member.

"In a time of rampant propaganda, misinformation and misunderstandings, journalism that is dedicated to the principles of the SPJ Code of Ethics is more necessary than ever. Being respectful and fair, accurate and accountable, independent and dogged in pursuing the truth is at the core of what reporters do every day,” said Dylan Smith, committee member and editor and publisher of the Tucson Sentinel.

“Respecting the principles enshrined in the SPJ's Code of Ethics is the key to producing reliable and trustworthy journalism at a time when generative AI has created even more doubts about the authenticity of news content that people consume online,” said Eric Wishart, committee member and Agence France-Presse Standards and Ethics Editor.

“Ethics and standards are vital as technology blurs the line between reality and fiction. The SPJ code is a professional journalist’s North Star. It is also a tool for audiences as they judge what content deserves their valuable attention,” said Mitch Blacher, committee member and investigative reporter at WJLA-TV in Washington D.C.

The SPJ Code of Ethics, available in nine languages, is a statement of abiding principles supported by additional explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, but rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The Code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.

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, 1996 and 2014.

It is considered to be the gold standard of journalism ethics and is taught in classrooms and posted in newsrooms worldwide.

Downloadable Code of Ethics flyers, posters and bookmarks are available on the SPJ website. Free Code of Ethics bookmarks or posters for your class or newsroom are also available by request,

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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