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Home > Publications > SPJ Leads > Ethical note to self: Don't buy followers

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SPJ Leads | 2/7/2018
Ethical note to self: Don't buy followers

By Anna Gutierrez, SPJ Communications Department

"For media companies, an investment in supporting parents will reap dividends both in storytelling diversity and workplace culture. As millennials in media start having kids, news organizations need to proactively consider what benefits they need to implement in order to attract, or keep, brilliant journalists." -- Natalie Pattillo, in her story about the news business being especially hard on moms


The Journalist Protection Act was introduced this week by Rep. Eric Swalwell, D-Calif. The act makes it a federal crime to intentionally cause bodily injury to a journalist while reporting or in a manner designed to intimidate him or her from newsgathering for a media organization. SPJ President Rebecca Baker says: "This legislation, if passed, will go a long way in protecting journalists who find themselves becoming targets because of the current climate. The rhetoric being spewed by some people in positions of power is dangerous to those covering the news -- from small towns to large cities throughout our country and the world. It has to stop."

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services threatened to ban a reporter from participating in the federal agency's telephone news conference after he refused to delete three sentences from a published story that apparently rankled CMS Administrator Seema Verma.

Indiana's New Voices bill to protect student journalists' rights failed in the House this week after it fell short of the 51 votes needed for passage to the Senate. Last year, a similar bill passed in the House 88 to 4, but it was never called to the Senate floor for a vote. The bill would have guaranteed press freedom for students in grades seven through 12. New Voices legislation is currently pending in six other states and has been passed in 13 states.


Richard Roeper, Chicago Sun-Times film critic, was suspended late last week after the New York Times reported he bought fake Twitter followers -- about 50,000 followers on at least six separate occasions between July 2014 and July 2016. He spent about $650 of his personal money.

Many have questioned the ethics of the situation. SPJ Ethics Chairman Andrew Seaman said: "Purchasing social media followers is sad, but I don't think it's a clear ethical violation. General dishonesty and misrepresentation is a cause for concern, however. I think anything like this is justification for a news organization to ask: What else is this person misrepresenting?"

After the Sun-Times completed its investigation, it decided Roeper will resume writing movie and TV reviews and entertainment stories, but not general interest news columns. The Sun-Times is also implementing a policy that journalists should not pay to acquire followers on social media.

Follow-up from last week: After Columbia Journalism Review ran its article about the cover story deal Texas Monthly Editor-in-Chief Tim Taliaferro made with Bumble, the magazine announced it's hiring an ombudsman.


Loyola Law School Los Angeles at Loyola Marymount University is accepting applications for its 13th annual Journalist Law School fellowship -- a four-day crash course on the law. This year, areas of focus include legal issues related to immigration, presidential power, the Russia investigation and the #MeToo movement.  Deadline to apply is Friday. Questions? Contact Brian Costello, associate director of communications, at  brian.costello@lls.edu or 213-736-1444.

The Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center and the Columbia School of Journalism will host the 2018 Age Boom Academy, an intensive 2 1/2-day (May 31 to June 2) workshop that teaches how to effectively translate science into accessible reporting on complex issues. The academy is accepting applications for this year's fellows; 20 will be selected. Apply by 5 p.m. EST March 2.

The Society of Environmental Journalists is looking to hire a new executive director. The society is an educational nonprofit with about 1,300 members and a (2017) budget of approximately $1 million for core operations. Its mission is to advance public understanding of environmental issues by strengthening the quality, reach and viability of journalism. SEJ's priority work includes annual conferences, membership development, specialized publications, diversity initiatives, Freedom of Information WatchDog, SEJ Awards and grants for reporting projects. Candidate reviews begin April 1, but the position is open until filled. Get more information about the job and apply here.


This new podcast, WriteLane, from Pulitzer-winning newspaper reporter Lane DeGregory is a must-listen for journos. The podcast offers tips on where to find great story ideas, writing craft, being a better interviewer and more. Listeners can submit questions by emailing  writelane@tampabay.com.


SPJ is participating in #SunshineWeek March 11-17 to help promote the importance of open government. You can participate by writing a column or guest blog for Sunshine Week that promotes the dialogue of government transparency or creating an editorial cartoon that supports Freedom of Information. Send those submissions to Communications Coordinator Anna Gutierrez for the chance to be featured.


The International Women's Media Foundation and TrollBusters are  collecting data that will help the journalism community better understand the impact of harassment of journalists. They are asking for your help. Please  take this survey, which will assist the organizations in better understanding the scope and impact of the problem. All responses will be anonymous. Staff and freelance journalists working and living in the United States are invited to participate.

Know a journalist whose work exemplifies the ideals of the SPJ Code of Ethics? How about one making important contributions around open government? The deadline to nominate these outstanding journalists for the Ethics in Journalism Award or the Sunshine Award is March 19. Self-nominations are permitted for both honors. Questions? Contact Program Coordinator Christine Cordial.

Join SPJ at JournCamp March 9 in New York City. This day-long workshop will give you practical, skills-based professional development to help you become a better journalist.

The deadline to submit for the Sigma Delta Chi Awards, recognizing the best in professional journalism, and the New America Awards, honoring public service journalism that explores and exposes an issue of importance to immigrant or ethnic communities in the U.S., is Feb. 19. That's just two weeks away! Entries for both contests must have been published or broadcast during the 2017 calendar year. Email Program Coordinator Christine Cordial with questions.

SPJ Leads
– SDX Foundation changes its name
– Sign up for a Regional Conference near you
– Sign up for SPJ's Regional Conferences

Press Notes
– Breast Cancer Awareness: Learning From Jackie Collins' Death
– Blog: CPJ joins call to oppose draft surveillance law in France
– Baboon raid temporarily forced Zimbabwe radio station off air

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