Ethics Code Revision: Final Draft

Note: The Society’s delegates, the supreme legislative body of SPJ, will vote on the following draft Saturday, Sept. 6, during the closing business meeting of the Excellence in Journalism conference in Nashville, Tennessee. The revised draft that follows is subject to change, as delegates may alter the language during that meeting.

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that democracy, a just society and good government require an informed public. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.


Seek Truth and Report It

Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before its release. Use original sources whenever possible.

Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

Put information into context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.

Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.

Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

Question sources’ motives before promising anonymity, reserving it for those who may face danger, retribution or other harm. Do not grant anonymity merely as license to criticize. Pursue alternative sources before granting anonymity. Explain why anonymity was granted.

Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious reporting methodsunlesstraditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over government.

Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.

Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing them on others.

Label advocacy and commentary.

Never deliberately distort factsor context, including visual news content. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

Never plagiarize. Always attribute.


Minimize Harm

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

Balance the public’s need for information against any harm or discomfort it may cause. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance, irreverence or undue intrusiveness.

Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

Recognize that legal access to information differs from ethical justification to publish.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing personal information, including that from social media.

Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity or following the lead of those who do.

Consider the implications of identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes, and criminal suspects before they face legalcharges. Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know.

Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication, especially online. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.


Act Independently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment and avoid political and other outside activities that may conflict with an impartial approach to information-gathering, compromise integrity or damage credibility.

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.

Deny favoredtreatment to advertisers,donorsor any other special interests, and resist pressure to influence coverage, even if it comes from inside the media organization.

Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Clearly label sponsored content.


Be Accountable and Transparent

Ethical journalists should take responsibility for their work and explain their decisions to the public.

Journalists should:

Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices and news content.

Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and thoroughly.

Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of public persons.

Adhere to the values in this code in all interaction with the public.

The SPJ Code of Ethics is a living document, a statement of principles supported by additional explanations and position papers (at spj.org) that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather 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.

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  • Pauline Repard

    I generally approve of the final document. There is redundancy in saying give voice to the voiceless and quote sources whose voices are seldom heard.
    Of greater concern is the section on not paying for news. There is no recognition of the tradition of paying for photos and how that does or doesn’t differ from paying a non-jourrnalist for video. By this omission we would seem to forbid it

  • John Hopkins

    In what context is there a tradition of paying for photos? You’re not talking about paying the subject of a photo, are you?


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