Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

The committee that revised the Society’s Code of Ethics felt the document’s tenets and underlying principles apply to all journalism regardless of how it’s ultimately presented. Still, the committee knew people interested in ethical journalism may benefit from additional guidance from the Society and other people and organizations.
Below are several resources that the Society’s ethics committee compiled to help people with day-to-day decisions. These resources are not formally part of the Code. Also, these lists will grow and change as more resources are found, or as resources become obsolete.

For those people who still have questions, please email the Society’s Ethics Hotline: ethics@spj.org


NOTE: The Society’s Code of Ethics does not forbid uncover journalism. Instead, the Code suggests uncover journalism should be a last resort if traditional reporting methods won’t yield information that is “vital to the public.”

  • Mark Lisheron takes a deep dive in the American Journalism Review into the ethics of undercover reporting while examining an investigation that appeared in Harper’s.
    SOURCE: http://ajrarchive.org/Article.asp?id=4403
  • In a case study for the Society’s Ethics Committee, Robbie Rogers and Sara Stone write about popular television programs that allegedly show people meeting minors for sexual encounters. “Let law enforcement conduct sting operations and the media report on the arrests,” the two conclude.
    SOURCE: http://www.spj.org/ecs8.asp

  • Bob Steele examines the ethical questions surrounding one of the most famous and contentious examples of undercover reporting – ABC News’ investigation into the supermarket Food Lion. His article is reprinted on Poynter, and originally appeared in RTNDA Communicator.
    SOURCE: http://www.poynter.org/uncategorized/2125/abc-and-food-lion-the-ethics-questions/