As working journalists, the barrage of name calling, fake news accusations and the fight between propaganda news versus professional newsgathering is leading to tighter inspection of our work and higher expectations for reporting the truth and good journalism.
To provide continued awareness and to bring journalism ethics to the forefront, the week of April 23 – 28 is designated as the Society of Professional Journalists’ Ethics Week. It is the 15th year SPJ has held this week-long docket of ethics conversations, information and programming.
Ethics Week isn’t the only time ethics are talked about. SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman said through the SPJ Ethics Hotline people are able to send emails and make calls regarding questions they have about journalism ethics. There is also committee members available to speak individually on ethics and are available to travel nationally, he said.
Seaman said he believes it hurts the whole [journalism] profession and causes unnecessary harm when journalists act unethically. Working ethically is about being a good person and treating someone the way you would want to be treated in a situation if the roles were reversed, he said.
Originally written in 1973, the SPJ Code of Ethics was designed as a guide that “encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.”
Michael Koretzky, SPJ’s longest serving national board member and Region 3 director, said the Code of Ethics is only important to journalists who are already ethical because SPJ’s Code of Ethics is not enforced; you don’t go to jail or get penalized for not following the code, it’s just a guideline.
Furthermore, he said a good validation for the codes is that SPJ is close to a century old and is the largest journalism organization in the country.
Journalists can use the Code of Ethics to explain to readers and others why their story is told the way it is, said Koretzky.
Producing ethical work helps maintain your compassion for others while reporting and keeps you from crossing the line between irresponsible and responsible reporting, said Jessica Imbimbo, multi-platform producer at WLTX News 19 in Columbia, South Carolina.
She said she believes a person will not be successful in the journalism industry and will lose credibility if they do not work within an ethical standard when making decisions about what the readers should know and not know.
The recognition of these journalistic standards are also noted in academia. The SPJ Code of Ethics is taught and discussed in journalism and communication classes to help students interested in journalism understand the importance of truthful, but harmless, reporting.
Imbimbo said she feels strongly that students need know and understand what it means to be ethical and how to apply it to everyday life as a journalist.
One book available to students and professionals about journalism ethics is said by SPJ to be “closely organized around the SPJ Code of Ethics — the news industry’s widely accepted ‘gold standard’ of journalism principles.” The book is Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media, written by Fred Brown, professor in communication ethics at the University of Denver and a principal in the media training and consulting firm Hartman & Brown, LLP. His book has been updated and now includes chapters such as “Seek Truth and Report It,” “Minimize Harm,” “Act Independently,” and “Be Accountable.” It provides real-life case studies to demonstrate how journalism students and professionals can identify and reason through ethical
- Code Words Blog,
- an SPJ Code of Ethics webinar (Free but have to register) on Wednesday, April 25
- and a Twitter chat live session, “Inside the Newsroom” with Seaman at noon on Thursday April 26. Ethics Week can be followed on social media by using #PressforEthics, which allows people to have conversations about ethics, ethical dilemmas they have faced and meeting other journalists.
Sarah Jones is a junior at Francis Marion University, Florence, South Carolina, majoring in mass communication and minoring in psychology. She is a member of the FMU Student Media Association and is a staff writer for The Patriot, FMU’s student newspaper. Her hometown is Lugoff, South Carolina. She hopes to pursue a career in public relations. firstname.lastname@example.org.