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Home > SPJ News > SPJ cautions journalists: Report the story, don’t become part of it

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SPJ cautions journalists: Report the story, don’t become part of it


1/22/2010


For immediate release

Contacts:
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864,
ksmith@spj.org
Karen Grabowski, SPJ Communications Coordinator, 317-927-8000 ext. 215,
kgrabowski@spj.org

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Society of Professional Journalists applauds the efforts of all journalists in Haiti who are working tirelessly to report the aftermath of last week’s devastating earthquake and the ensuing aftershocks. However, SPJ cautions journalists to avoid making themselves part of the stories they are reporting. Even in crises, journalists have a responsibility to their audiences to gather news objectively and to report facts.

"I think it's important for journalists to be cognizant of their roles in disaster coverage,” SPJ President Kevin Smith said. “Advocacy, self promotion, offering favors for news and interviews, injecting oneself into the story or creating news events for coverage is not objective reporting, and it ultimately calls into question the ability of a journalist to be independent, which can damage credibility."

Undoubtedly, journalists walk a fine line to balance their professional responsibilities with their humanity when covering disasters. SPJ does not nor would it ever criticize or downplay the humane acts journalists are performing in Haiti. But news organizations must use caution to avoid blurring the lines between being a participant and being an objective observer.

"No one wants to see human suffering, and reporting on these events can certainly take on a personal dimension. But participating in events, even with the intention of dramatizing the humanity of the situation, takes news reporting in a different direction and places journalists in a situation they should not be in, and that is one of forgoing their roles as informants,” Smith said.

The SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to act independently by avoiding bidding for news and by avoiding conflicts of interest. The Code also advises journalists to “disclose unavoidable conflicts” and to “clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.” SPJ upholds these ethical guidelines and is obligated to speak on practices of journalists and the news media. Even in crises, journalists must perform their jobs ethically.

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 about SPJ, please visit www.spj.org.

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