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Home > Publications > Quill > SPJ always working to improve ethics


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Monday, April 2, 2007
SPJ always working to improve ethics

By Christine Tatum, SPJ president

Let’s just say I wasn’t too pleased to find out that the recently elected president of my homeowners association in Denver is a lawyer who works for a firm that represents the developer of my neighborhood.

How did I learn this? From a neighbor who posted the information on the community’s Intranet. More neighbors, including my husband and me, posted comments. The responsible thing, the ethical thing, we stated, would have been for the association’s president to disclose his professional relationship while running for office. Voters could have made a more informed decision, and the president might have avoided much of the suspicion likely to follow him for the rest of his term.

Simple, right?

Uh-huh.

The president’s supporters piped up. Their comments went something like this: “But he’s such a nice guy! And so smart! He would never do anything not in our best interest. How dare you suggest otherwise. How dare you even bring this up.”

Ethics. Their importance is too easily discounted in many arenas, including newsrooms. Like some of my neighbors, journalists don’t always ask tough questions of their colleagues, or themselves (“We’re nice! We’re smart! We mean well. And we would never …”) And they fail to see the need for disclosure because, like the president of my homeowners association, they aren’t malicious or trying to hide anything.

Good thing the Society of Professional Journalists is around, calling attention to the need for difficult questions and even more difficult conversations.

If there’s something we spend a lot of time discussing around SPJ, it’s professional ethics. The Society’s code of ethics is the gold standard of our industry. It is the foundation on which numerous other journalism ethics codes have been built. It has served as a guide for thousands of journalists worldwide. And it has served the public, which has benefited from information gathered and presented with professional integrity.

SPJ does more to promote journalism ethics than just about any other journalism-advocacy organization, but many of the Society’s leaders will tell you it’s still not enough.

The good news? We’re pushing ourselves even harder to make a difference.

Here are just a few examples of how, and how you can help:

* The management of our national ethics committee remains in good hands. Andy Schotz, a reporter for The (Hagerstown, Md.) Herald-Mail recently agreed to lead the committee. He’s passionate about journalism ethics. I particularly appreciate his energy and creativity, which will help SPJ develop dynamic ways to engage journalists. Read more about Andy and the committee on page 31 and consider contacting him at aschotz@spj.org.

* We’re going to discuss news ethics in a more timely fashion and invite you to join the conversation. Look for our new blog, “Code Words,” at www.spj.org/spjblogs.asp.

* We’re working to have SPJ’s ethics code translated into more languages. Could you or someone you know translate the code into a foreign language? If so, please contact Andy.

* SPJ members nationwide will observe Ethics Week April 22-28. Please take time to participate in an event near you.

* SPJ leaders are revising the Society’s ethics textbook, “Doing Ethics in Journalism.” We could use your help with identifying case studies that should be included — particularly if they involve new media. Contact Andy Schotz with your suggestions.

* The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and SPJ have initiated the Campaign for Ethical Journalism and received a $25,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to develop a strategic plan to guide the project. We want to restore public confidence in the news media by reminding news consumers that the vast majority of journalists are hard-working and trustworthy professionals.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics will play a central role in this campaign, of course. You’ll hear more about this initiative in coming months as we launch a speakers bureau to reach out to an array of civic organizations. Drop me a line at ctatum@spj.org to learn how you can be part of this important work.

Don’t forget: Simply by being a member of SPJ, you’re making a difference. Your support of this great organization makes a bold statement: Journalism ethics matter.


Christine Tatum is an assistant business editor for The Denver Post. Before moving to Colorado in 2003, she worked for The Chicago Tribune as a media hybrid, covering technology for the newspaper, producing the tech section of chicagotribune.com and appearing weekly to discuss technology news on CLTV, a local station owned by the Tribune Co. Her career stops also include Tribune Media Services, The Daily Herald of Arlington Heights, Ill., and The News & Record of Greensboro, N.C. Tatum is a North Carolina native and a graduate of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Contact her at ctatum@spj.org.

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