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SPJ president urges ethical behavior in newsrooms

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SPJ President David Carlson (352) 846-0171 or carlson@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS Journalism ethics does not come in a memo from the executive suite, Society of Professional Journalists President David Carlson said in remarks last week to journalists gathered for SPJs annual conference. It has to come from each one of us.

In corporate America, we are far too inclined to do nothing about policy except wait for an edict from on high, Carlson said. Its top-down mentality.

If the editors dont send out a memo, its not our job, he said. If the company lawyers take two years to vet an ethics policy, then well just have to wait to be ethical.

Thats not acceptable. By the time an edict comes down, its far too late.

Carlson was installed Oct. 18 as the 89th president of SPJ at a banquet in Las Vegas. He also is the Cox/Palm Beach Post professor of new media journalism at the University of Florida.

I challenge you to take journalism ethics into your own hands, Carlson told SPJs National Journalism Conference. I challenge each of us to live by the SPJ Code of Ethics. I challenge each of us to become a force for ethical journalism in our own newsrooms.

SPJs ethics code, available in seven languages, is the most widely quoted document of its kind in the world, Carlson said. Its origins date to 1926, and it was last revised in 1996.

Weve allowed our ethics to erode, Carlson said. My challenge to all journalists is to make it stop.

Ethical behavior is not something that comes from the top, he said. It cant. Ethics has to come from each one of us. So bring it on.

Next time you start to write many instead write how many. Next time a piece of copy crosses your desk that says Smith didnt return phone calls, ask just how many calls were made. Next time you see a headline or hear a promo thats just a little juicier than the story, make it right.

These things are not just inaccurate. They are unethical, Carlson said. Changing this behavior is the only way we can begin to rebuild trust with the public, he said.

The cartoonist Walt Kelly, author of a wonderful old strip called `Pogo, penned the following words for the first Earth Day celebration in 1970, Carlson said: We have met the enemy, and he is us.

I am afraid that is an all too apt description of media in the early 21st Century.

We are the enemies of journalism every time we look the other way and let another half truth, another sensational headline, another ethical lapse sneak through the door, Carlson said.

The Society of Professional Journalists works to improve and protect journalism. The organization is the nations largest and most broad-based journalism organization, dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. 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.


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