SPJ Ethics Committee opposes letting sports team cover itself
For immediate release
Kevin Smith, SPJ President, 304-367-4864, firstname.lastname@example.org
Andy Schotz, SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman, LawnGyland@aol.com
INDIANAPOLIS – The Society of Professional Journalists' Ethics Committee is dismayed that some New Jersey newspapers let a sports team cover itself.
The Asbury Park Press and other Gannett papers in New Jersey handed over some of their coverage of the New Jersey Devils — whose NHL season just ended — to a Devils employee, according to a story by The New York Times.
In the Times' story, Hollis Towns, the executive editor of The Asbury Park Press, is quoted saying the arrangement is fine because it serves readers and the newspaper disclosed it. He added, "I think journalists get hung up on certain lines of what's ethical more than the readers."
The SPJ Ethics Committee disagrees. "The public expects journalists to be ethical — including fair and impartial — and holds us accountable when we fail," Ethics Committee Chairman Andy Schotz said. "We hear constantly from people upset about eroding standards by news organizations."
Economically squeezed journalists might seek more efficient ways to cover news, but ceding journalistic duties to newsmakers and giving space to what could be seen as glorified press releases is a poor choice. It cheapens journalism.
The SPJ Code of Ethics encourages journalists to:
• "Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting."
• "Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two."
• "Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived."
• "Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility."
• "Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage."
An Internet search shows that the Asbury Park Press ran Devils stories by Eric Marin, a Devils employee, with the label "Special to the Asbury Park Press" or "Special to the Press" or "correspondent." Other Gannett newspapers used the same "Special" designation, which is commonly used for work by freelancers or stringers.
When the Times' story exposed the newspaper's hidden relationship with the team, the papers added a tag line: "Eric Marin works for the New Jersey Devils and writes for newjerseydevils.com."
Towns did not respond to phone calls and e-mails from the SPJ Ethics Committee asking about the arrangement.
Disclosure is important, but doesn't solve the powerful conflict of interest — actual and perceived — of having figures or organizations in the news cover themselves.
"As the Fourth Estate, the press shouldn't abdicate its responsibilities to those with a vested interest in the news," Schotz said.
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.