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SPJ leaders respond to MSNBC.com’s investigative report concerning journalists’ political contributions, offers journalism ethics resources
Christine Tatum, President, (303) 881-8702
Beth King, Communications Manager, (317) 927-8000, ext. 211
INDIANAPOLIS – Leaders of The Society of Professional Journalists, one of the nation’s oldest and largest journalism-advocacy organizations, commend MSNBC.com for its recent investigation into the practice of journalists contributing to political campaigns. It is exactly what SPJ's Code of Ethics intends when it encourages journalists to “expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media" and to "abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.”
“Contributing to a political cause clearly damages the credibility of anyone who professes to be a detached reporter of events,” said Andrew Schotz, SPJ’s National Ethics Committee chairman. “It's less of an ethical violation for opinion writers, who can and should tell readers their allegiances. But, it's disturbing to see that so many journalists don't see the problem here. It's also unfortunate that so few media organizations have communicated a clear policy to their employees, if they even have a policy at all.
“Ethical journalists sacrifice rights of activism and affiliation that the public at-large has. The degree to which we excuse ourselves from community involvement remains a personal choice and a workplace policy. But we encourage journalists to think through their commitments before they make them and to err on the side of neutrality.”
Journalists who insist on supporting political causes should publicize their contributions and not work on relevant news stories, said SPJ President Christine Tatum, an assistant features editor and multimedia editor at The Denver Post.
“Disclosure early and often is only fair to the public,” she said.
SPJ embraces ethics as a core mission to advocate the highest level of professional standards for journalists. To further this mission and to help journalists make sound ethical decisions, SPJ provides a host of resources and programs to ensure that ethics remains central to the industry and practice. In addition to encouraging members to adopt the Society’s voluntary Code of Ethics that is translated into nine languages, other ethics resources include:
•Ethics Case Studies: By examining real-world decisions and how journalists handled them, best practices are shared and ethical practice is encouraged, in and out of the newsroom. View the list of case studies.
•Ethics Teaching Tools: To educate journalists about the fine lines between reporting the news and observing ethics during wartime, members of the Society’s Ethics Committee developed a module to help journalists resolve conflicts.
•Ethics Hotline: For journalists and members of the public who are struggling with an ethical dilemma, the Society offers counsel via an Ethics Hotline. Calls are answered by professional journalists who are eager to lend insight and provide direction. To reach the hotline, dial (317) 927-8000, ext. 208.
•Ethics Reading Room: To further encourage everyday ethics, the Society hosts an online reading room with relevant materials and current news from Society members. Check out the growing list of articles.
•Code Words: To engage SPJ members and the general public in discussions concerning journalism ethics, SPJ’s National Ethics Committee launched “Code Words,” a Web log hosted on spj.org. Take part in the latest discussion.
The Society of Professional Journalists is one of the nation’s largest and oldest journalism –advocacy organizations. SPJ is dedicated to encouraging the free practice of journalism and stimulating high standards of ethical behavior. Founded in 1909 as Sigma Delta Chi, and based in Indianapolis, SPJ promotes the free flow of information vital to a well-informed public, works to inspire and educate the next generation of journalists, and protects First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and press. For more information about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.