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Home > Publications > Quill > Andrew Seaman: Ethics’ Fresh Face


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Monday, December 21, 2015
Andrew Seaman: Ethics’ Fresh Face

Member Profile

By Maggie LaMar

At the 2015 Excellence in Journalism conference in September, SPJ Ethics Committee chairman Andrew Seaman wasn’t in one place for long.

Between leading training sessions and attending committee meetings, he was still able to find time to socialize with other journalists throughout the conference.

It’s easy to see Seaman is passionate about journalism and SPJ.

“Journalism is the most wonderful thing a person can do, at least for me,” said Seaman, a 2011 graduate of Columbia University’s Graduate School of Journalism who now works for Reuters Health as the senior journalist covering health care and health care policy. “Being a journalist is being a lifelong learner.”

In his view, there’s so much to love about being a journalist. It’s the “a-ha moments” he experiences daily that have kept him interested in the profession. Covering health care for Reuters gives him the opportunity to dig deep into topics of science and medicine and then pass along important information and findings to his readers.

Seaman first got involved with SPJ while interning for a newspaper in college. He received an email inviting him to join SPJ, and a co-worker, who was also a member, encouraged him to try it. SPJ offered Seaman benefits that were helpful to a young journalist, such as a leadership institute, training and discounts.

Once a member, he didn’t waste any time getting involved. He started out on the national board of directors as the elected student representative. He was interested in learning more about journalism ethics, so he sat in on ethics committee meetings at the national conference.

Hundreds of questions come through the Society’s Ethics Hotline each year. We often get questions that sound familiar. Here are a few of the Ethics Hotline’s “greatest hits.”

Q: When do I have to attribute information in a story?

A: If a person needs to question whether they should attribute information to someone or someplace, it’s best to err on the side of caution and attribute. Attribution is crucial in all media types.

Q. Am I allowed to cover a story about something or someone I’m affiliated with outside of my professional life?

A. In general, journalists shouldn’t write about topics in which they have a vested interest. Instead, let someone else in the newsroom cover the story. Or, if a journalist is on the fence, they should explain their involvement in a note or somewhere in the story.

Q. When can I grant anonymity to a source?

A. Anonymity should be reserved for extraordinary circumstances. In general, it’s used too much in news stories. Journalists should ask sources who request anonymity about who or where else can provide the information on the record. When anonymity is granted, the terms should be spelled out about what is expected of each party.

Ethics was a great fit. He remembers his ethics classes being the most engaging because “everyone has a different view and interpretation of what’s right and wrong,” he said.

In 2014, Seaman became the committee’s chairman. The Code of Ethics was revised and adopted at the 2014 national conference, the same weekend Seaman transitioned into his new role. Since then, he has worked with his committee to add supporting documents to the code online. The interactive Code provides journalists an in-depth explanation of the tenets.

“He is passionate about journalism ethics and has a good command of SPJ's Code of Ethics and how its use can improve journalism,” Immediate Past President Dana Neuts said. “As our chair, he went above and beyond the call of duty to help share the revised Code with student and professional journalists. His insight was invaluable to me as SPJ president last year.”

SPJ National President Paul Fletcher chose Seaman to be the ethics chairman for another year. Seaman plans to use this time to help expand the Code of Ethics. He wants people to refer to the Code more, not just for yes or no answers but for guidance to help them make decisions.

His plans to spread the Code to journalists include translating it into more languages. It has already been translated into nine, with more on the way. Seaman also hopes to start a video series to answer the most common ethics questions he receives. All of his plans have one goal in mind: increase journalists’ comprehension of the Code.

No matter what way you look at it, journalism ethics is extremely important to the profession. As Seaman says: “More ethical journalists means more trust in journalism.”

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