By Beth King
SPJ Communications Manager
As we celebrate the 2008 Ethics in Journalism Week, April 21-27, we are encouraged to Act Independently. To begin, let's look at what the SPJ Code of Ethics says. Journalists who act independently should:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
ETHICS WEEK RESOURCES. As you promote Ethics Week in your respective communities, be sure to check out the myriad of resources that SPJ has developed. Talking points, program suggestions and information about obtaining pocket-sized Ethics Codes are all online. And don't forget the latest edition of Quill. It's chock-full of ethics case studies you can use in your newsroom or classroom.
Now, let's take a look around the country to see what SPJ's professional and student chapters are doing to celebrate responsible reporting. These projects were made possible by Ethics Week grants from the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation.
Ethics and corporate ownership
The term "Act Independently" means different things to journalists. In the case of independent mobile journalists, it means an isolated existence, free of the constraints of corporate media. Join Ithaca College for "Closing the Gates" that will take a unique look at "Act Independently" by holding a forum to discuss the lack of gate-keeping practices at TV, print and Internet media outlets. Anna Uhls from washingtonnpost.com, Steve Osterhaus from News 10 Syracuse and Andrew Tutino from the Ithaca Journal will be on the panel. To conclude the program, an inaugural Ethics Award will be given to a community journalism start-up newspaper that acts independently by emphasizing citizen journalism. The recipient is Karen Frick, editor of Broader View Weekly, a paper completely written by citizen journalists. When: April 21, 7 p.m., Park Hall, Room 220 at Ithaca College. More information: Contact Ryan Parkhurst at (607) 274-3403 or email@example.com.
Ethics and blogging
Increasingly, journalists are being asked to contribute to some kind of blog for their news operations. In some cases, they write about issues completely unrelated to the people and topics they cover. But, many write specifically about the topics and people they cover every day. And, in others, they take on the role of advocate and critic. To many, this presents a very real ethical dilemma. And, taking it one step further, suppose a reporter has a page on a social network like myspace.com where they reveal their personal political and social views...or post pictures (which may or may not be germane to their job). How appropriate is that...especially if they reveal info that could leave their "independence" open to question. The chapter will team up with the National Press Club for the panel discussion. More information: E-mail Sue Kopen Katceff at (301) 405-7526 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Acting independently at USC
For each day of Ethics in Journalism Week, the University of South Carolina's student chapter will post ethical scenarios around the School of Journalism and Mass Communications while asking students to weigh-in. The scenarios will explore various dimensions of journalistic independence, such as accepting freebies, cutting deals with sources and letting sources preview stories. Participants will be guided to a designated Web site where they can post their reactions and responses to the problem of the day. When: April 21-25. For more information on how to put this program to work in your area: Contact Professor Ernie Wiggins at (803) 777-3325 or email@example.com.
Ethics and new media
The media will participate in a panel discussion titled "News Media in Indiana, Pa.: Of Whom, By Whom, Form Whom?" The program will address acting independently with questions from students and citizens from the campus and surrounding community. The chapter's objectives are to illuminate the work of professional journalists in the community, to shed light on the pressures they face on the job and to invite citizen appreciation for and constructive criticism of their performance. When: April 24, 4 -5:30 p.m.; Indiana University of Pennsylvania, Hadley Union Building, Allegheny Room. More information: Contact Dr. David Loomis at (724) 357-2742 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Grey matter and independence
We live in a freebie culture, from free doughnuts to game tickets. Are all gifts to be refused? Is there a grey area? The Central Ohio Pro chapter's Act Independently Ethics Program will give analysis of real life examples and provide ethical insight from both journalists and public relations professionals all while encouraging group discussion. When: April 23, noon at Otterbein College, 33 Collegeview, in the Communication and Art building. Cost: Free with lunch included. More information: Please RSVP to Kevin Kemper by April 21 at email@example.com or (614) 220-5460. Space is limited.
On the sports scene
The Bluegrass Pro chapter will hold a workshop for sports journalists on dealing with ethical issues that arise at different levels of sports reporting. The purpose of the workshop will be to help provide sports journalists tools and tactics to use when confronted with angry coaches, parents and players. The workshop will also be designed to foster a better understanding of one another's views of sports journalism. The workshop will also touch on how sports journalists can deal with freebies they are offered in the form of tickets, food, and transportation to events they cover. When: April 26, 9 a.m. to noon, Eastern Kentucky University. More information: Contact Mike Moore at (859) 885-5381 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Wartime, crisis and ethics
The Minnesota Pro Chapter will partner with the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and Law at the University of Minnesota to produce a program that will examine the role of the news media in covering controversial issues in a time of war and with a looming election. How do the media maintain their independence and their role as watchdog without alienating readers and viewers? Immediately following 9/11, journalists were criticized by some for wearing American flag pins or for putting flag graphics on their TV new broadcasts. When: April 24, 7:30-9:30 p.m.; University of Minnesota, Nolte Hall, Room 140. More information: Contact Sarah Bauer at (612) 341-9357 or email@example.com.
Ethics and ethnic media
The University of Missouri, Columbia will look at how Spanish-language newspapers function in communities. By looking at independent papers and publications that are owned by bigger companies, the chapter will see how these media outlets act as separate entities from their parent companies. More information: Contact Sarah Handelman at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ethics challenge 2008
The Baylor University student chapter will hold two mock journalism scenarios with chapter officers and members playing various roles. The scenarios will represent ethical challenges journalists face while trying to maintain their independence. After the scenarios are presented, Baylor journalism professors and students will discuss how these situations apply to real life. More information: Contact Lindsay Harrison at Lindsay_harrison@baylor.edu.
Ethics in the Youtube age
The Greater Los Angeles Pro chapter will address how reporters can ethically use the Internet in their research and reporting. The issues that will be discussed include how reporters can authenticate Internet sources; when it is appropriate to interview subjects via e-mail or over the Internet; and when it is ethical for broadcast outlets to use program material that appears on YouTube or competitors' Web sites. When: April 23, 7:30 p.m., The Crocker Room at the Omni Hotel, 251 S. Olive St., Los Angeles. Cost: Free for members or $5 for nonmembers. More information: Contact Alice Walton at email@example.com, check out the chapter's Web site or call the hotline at (323) 259-3350. Please note: reservations for this event are required.
Josh Wolf and ethics
Freelance videographer and blogger Josh Wolf will make a stop at the University of Mississippi April 28 to discuss his role in acting independently when he chose to withhold the name of a source in 2006. He'll be in Farley Hall, Room 125 at noon to discuss his life as a jailed journalist. At 4 p.m., Wolf will join Dr. Mark Dolan, assistant professor of journalism and Dr. Jeanni Atkins, associate professor of journalism in Overby Center for Public Forum: Journalism in the real world: The fight for First Amendment rights. More information on these events: Contact Dr. Kathleen Wickham at (662) 915-5501 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ethics and the chosen word
The Western Washington Pro chapter will present a host of Ethics Week activities and a panel discussion called "The Words We Choose," which will look at the terms journalists adopt in reporting the news, and how such language choices are affected by close association with official sources. The program also will examine the impact of the message. Does the use of mil-speak (IED for bomb) accurately reflect the reality? Do we get too close to official sources or give them more credibility than they would otherwise have by adopting their jargon? The goal is to make student and professional journalists and editors more aware of how language impacts the objectivity and independence of our reporting. When: April 26, 2:30 to 4 p.m.; Seattle University. More information: Contact Manny Frishberg at (206) 248-8515 or email@example.com.