Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category


Highlights, week of Sept. 15

With EIJ two weeks behind us now, things are slowing down a little bit, but the momentum that started at the convention is still going strong. Committees, communities and volunteers are hard at work, locally and nationally. Here are this week’s highlights:

Launch of International Journalism Community: Under the leadership of Carlos Restrepo of the St. Louis Pro chapter, the International Journalism Community was launched. To date, more than 30 journalists have expressed an interest in joining the community. Want to get involved? Email Carlos directly.

Volunteer of the Month: Last week, the Membership Committee named its volunteer of the month – Victor Hernandez of CNN, for overseeing Excellence in Journalism news at EIJ14. Guiding a team of 14 student interns, Hernandez selflessly shared his expertise. Thank you, Victor!

Journalism Education Committee: Butler Cain, assistant professor of West Texas A&M, and the Journalism Education committee are getting the year off to a good start, wrapping up the editing of a book on the state of high school journalism. I anticipate lots of great work coming out of that committee this year, so stay tuned!

Diversity Committee: Lead by chair April Bethea, the Diversity Committee has gotten off to an enthusiastic start. Read April’s blog post about the committee’s goals for the year.

Ethics Committee:  Committee chair Andrew Seaman and SPJ communications strategist Jennifer  Royer are working on a plan to publish, publicize and share the revised Code of Ethics. Late last week the final version went to the printers. Posters and bookmarks will be available soon.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ issued a statement applauding the city of Tupelo, Mississippi for complying with open records laws. Though the laws have been in place since 1983, Tupelo is the first municipality in Mississippi to comply. Thanks to SPJ member and reporter Robbie Ward, staff writer for The Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal, for prodding the city to archive text messages and make them available to the public.

Journalism Advocacy: SPJ signed onto a letter by the American Association of Law Libraries to the Administrative Office of the U.S. Court urging them to restore electronic access to court records that were recently removed from PACER and a letter from the Reporters Committee to the DOJ for a dialogue following the media’s treatment in Ferguson.

Volunteer Outreach: Since EIJ14, I’ve been making calls to volunteers including new board members, committee chairs and community leaders to learn about their goals for the year and to thank them for their service. In addition, I have asked for a volunteer to help me support SPJ’s communities, including freelance, digital and international journalism. If you have an interest in working with me, please email me.

Board Training: Chapter coordinator Tara Puckey held the first of two sessions of board training via Skype to tell us more about our roles and responsibilities.

I’m traveling this weekend to meet with the Fort Worth Pro SPJ chapter for its annual “welcome the president” event. I will update you on this week’s highlights when I get back. Until then, thanks for your support of SPJ and journalism, and let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

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Highlights, week of Sept. 7

Last Friday I shared the week’s highlights with the national SPJ board. Tom Johnson, one of our new regional directors, asked if he could share it with his region. If his members were interested in this info., I thought maybe other members might be too. Here are a few of the things SPJ was working on last week:

Diversity:  A hot topic generating lots of interest. I spoke to Diversity chair April Bethea yesterday. Her committee’s top two projects are providing management training for journalists with a diverse background and finding a university, educator or other group willing to maintain the Rainbow Diversity Sourcebook. There are other projects and discussions in the very early stages in the works, but they will likely extend beyond the scope of this committee. This will include adding volunteers from other journo orgs like NAJA, AAJA, NABJ, NLGJA, etc. to join our committees.

International Journalism: This committee is coming back! We’ve got an enthusiastic volunteer, Carlos Restrepo, from the St. Louis Chapter leading the charge. He’s already got some project ideas in mind and we have about 10 volunteers so far. I don’t yet know if this will be a committee or a community, but we don’t need to decide that now.

- Awards:  Based on our discussion at this Sunday’s board meeting, Lynn Walsh and Sue Kopen Katcef will work on researching how other journo orgs handle awards, identifying and explaining how our awards are done, etc. They’ll provide information to be discussed by Exec. in January. Exec. will prepare recommendations to submit to the full board at its April meeting.

Chapter Support:  Alex Tarquinio and Tony Hernandez are interested in pursuing two separate but related projects to help us strengthen our chapters. As they flesh out their plans, I’ll ask them to provide periodic updates to the board.

Ethics Committee: Andrew Seaman has been working with communications strategist Jennifer Royer on a plan to implement the revised Code of Ethics approved by the delegates last week. Paul and Lynn are both on the Ethics Committee, so they’ll provide us with periodic updates.

Welcome Calls:  I plan to call each of our new board members to welcome them to the board, answer questions, find out where their interests lie, etc. I’ve talked with Rob so far, and hope to make the remainder of the calls next week. If you haven’t heard from me yet, you will.

Job Bank:  At last Thursday’s board meeting (Sept. 4), the board directed us/staff to research the Boxwood job bank arrangement and to propose changes that will better serve our members. Lynn Walsh has volunteered to take this on.

FOI: Past president and FOI chair Dave Cuillier is already getting started, forming his committee and making plans to keep advocacy on the front burner. Go, Dave!

Journalism Education Committee:  Chair Butler Cain and his committee are over the moon excited about their book on high school journalism, a project headed by our very own Becky Tallent. WTG! In addition, Butler is getting the committee organized and they are discussing their plans for the year ahead. They had a lively meeting last Friday, and Butler followed up today.

Nominations:  Per the bylaws, I need to name a nominations chair/committee by early January (Jan. 4?). I will let you know when that’s been achieved. I have made an “ask,” based on recommendations, but I haven’t gotten a response yet (because I just asked this person about 30 minutes ago).

Blogging:  I have posted a couple of blogs this week, and have at least more to go. I hope to blog 2-3 times per week. If there are topics you’d like to see addressed, I welcome your suggestions.

We have a lot of work to do this year, but I am excited that we got some much done last week. I’ll try to keep you updated, but please reach out if you think I’m missing something. Click here to send me an email. You can also follow me on Twitter for regular updates on what SPJ and I are working on.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President

P.S. – I “owe” you a blog post on EIJ experiences from other SPJ members. It’s coming soon!

 

 

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Cowboy Boots, Convos and the Code of Ethics

SPJ votes

SPJ delegates vote during the closing business session at EIJ14. Photo by Jeff Cutler.

I’m just returning home from a whirlwind trip to Nashville for the 2014 Excellence in Journalism conference, held in partnership with RTDNA. With more than 900 attendees in town to participate, there was a lot of fun to be had – but much serious business to be conducted as well.

From the CNN-sponsored kickoff at Wildhorse Saloon where we showed off our cowboy boots through the Sunday morning board meetings of SPJ and RTDNA, EIJ14 was action packed. In addition to programs, business meetings, super sessions and socials, SPJ highlights include:

–        The passage of a revised Code of Ethics, the first update since 1996, was one of the weekend’s biggest accomplishments. Passionately and sometimes heatedly discussed during an ethics town hall session and the closing business session, Ethics Committee members, interested SPJ members and chapter delegates worked together to hammer out details, making additional revisions, line edits and suggestions to ultimately come up with a document satisfactory to the majority of delegates. The new Code is a collaborative effort of those volunteers and the hundreds of folks who commented on the Code over the course of the last year.

The Code will never satisfy everyone, nor will it address every ethical issue we might be faced with. Rather it is a collective body of work that SPJ can be proud of. To keep the Code relevant and to provide guidance to those using or teaching the Code, the Ethics Committee will work on providing notes, position papers, links and other supplemental materials available online. Under the leadership of new committee chairman Andrew Seaman, the committee is already working on collecting and preparing those materials. This aggregation will be an ongoing process, and the committee will seek suggestions and input from SPJ’s 7,500+ members and anyone else who’d like to offer feedback. Click here to share your input with the committee.

–        Approval of an endowed “Forever Fund” to support SPJ’s advocacy efforts. Nicknamed by immediate past president Dave Cuillier the ‘Legal Offense Fund,’ this fund will initially be funded via the Legal Defense Fund. As our new FOI chair, Cuillier will lead the charge for SPJ advocacy and fundraising and creating an endowed fund. For more information on how this fund will work and how the money will be used, contact Dave Cuillier.

–        Hosting of a leadership summit with a dozen or so journalism groups including ACES, UNITY, NAHJ, NABJ, ONA, to name a few. Leaders of these organizations met at EIJ to discuss common challenges and synergies and how they can best utilize the strengths of individual member organizations as well as the group collectively. It was an inspiring meeting with a lot of positive discussion and suggestions for moving forward to better support journalists and journalism.

–        The proposal to change the name Society of Professional Journalists to Society for Professional Journalism was ultimately rejected by the delegates. Though the name change didn’t pass, it stimulated a good conversation about the future of SPJ and how we can remain relevant. A Futures Task Force was formed earlier this year by past president John Ensslin, and the task force submitted recommendations to the Executive Committee in June and to the full board last week. Some of the suggestions are already being implemented, and others are being fleshed out for viability, planning and implementation. Stay tuned for more on that!

–        Programs, super sessions and awards, oh my! You can’t talk about EIJ without talking about the great programming, including sessions featuring Michele Norris, SPJ’s newest fellow, Kara Swisher, lessons from Ferguson, narrative storytelling, freelance foul-ups, pushing for parity and more. In addition, EIJ14 held a number of awards ceremonies and honored individual journalists, media organizations, chapters and SPJ leaders. For highlights, visit the EIJ News site.

In the weeks and months ahead, I’ll write more about these topics. In the meantime, visit SPJ.org to stay up-to-day on Society news, watch your inbox for the weekly edition of Leads, and follow SPJ on social media (see SPJ.org’s home page for links). You can also contact me anytime with questions, concerns and ideas. My inbox is always open. Let me know how I can help.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ President, 2014-2015

 

(Thanks to Jeff Cutler for letting me use this photo taken during the closing business session on Sept. 6, 2014.)

 

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On AP’s “illegal immigration” style change

I’m glad The Associated Press continues to examine the best way to describe being in this country in violation of U.S. law.

The AP is right to note that the English language evolves, and that our everyday usage contributes to that evolution. I hope journalists and others continue this conversation about immigration and people who come here legally or illegally until we arrive at terminology most of us can agree on.

Some might argue that the new style recommendation is less precise than ‘illegal alien’ or ‘illegal immigrant,’ but it’s important to note that a significant portion of the country’s population regards those terms as offensive. It wasn’t that long ago that keepers of journalism style fought dropping ‘Negro’ as a term for black or African-American people, yet news organizations adopted the newer style.

As journalists we have to take into account what people call themselves while also taking care to be precise and accurate. Sometimes those two things are in conflict and require an honest discussion to resolve that clash.

On Sept. 27, 2011, SPJ adopted a resolution at its annual convention in New Orleans urging “journalists and style guide editors to stop the use of illegal alien and encourage continuous discussion and re-evaluation of the use of illegal immigrant in news stories.”

Less than a year ago, The AP Stylebook — used by many news organizations as a guide to uniformity of language — adopted “illegal immigrant” as a term of choice over “illegal alien.” AP was careful to note that “illegal immigrant” wasn’t the only acceptable description, but the term is what observers latched onto.

Based on AP Senior VP and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll’s statement about this week’s decision, the wire service has taken the “continuous discussion and re-evaluation” suggestion to heart.

The discussions on this topic have been wide-ranging and include many people from many walks of life. (Earlier, they led us to reject descriptions such as “undocumented,” despite ardent support from some quarters, because it is not precise. A person may have plenty of documents, just not the ones required for legal residence.)

Those discussions continued even after AP affirmed “illegal immigrant” as the best use, for two reasons.

A number of people felt that “illegal immigrant” was the best choice at the time. They also believed the always-evolving English language might soon yield a different choice and we should stay in the conversation.

Also, we had in other areas been ridding the Stylebook of labels. The new section on mental health issues argues for using credibly sourced diagnoses instead of labels. Saying someone was “diagnosed with schizophrenia” instead of schizophrenic, for example.

And that discussion about labeling people, instead of behavior, led us back to “illegal immigrant” again.

We concluded that to be consistent, we needed to change our guidance.

Carroll goes on to note that “We believe more evolution is likely down the road.”

Yes, the conversations should continue, but I think the AP has arrived at a commendable middle ground.

Here is the new AP style entry in its entirety:

illegal immigration Entering or residing in a country in violation of civil or criminal law. Except in direct quotes essential to the story, use illegal only to refer to an action, not a person: illegal immigration, but not illegal immigrant. Acceptable variations include living in or entering a country illegally or without legal permission.

Except in direct quotations, do not use the terms illegal alien, an illegal, illegals or undocumented.

Do not describe people as violating immigration laws without attribution.

Specify wherever possible how someone entered the country illegally and from where. Crossed the border? Overstayed a visa? What nationality?

People who were brought into the country as children should not be described as having immigrated illegally. For people granted a temporary right to remain in the U.S. under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, use temporary resident status, with details on the program lower in the story.

As we all know, words can hurt as well as inspire or soothe.

 

 

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With Bryan College censorship, balancing seeking truth with minimizing harm

Events moved faster than I could write my first Freedom of the Prez post.

I’d planned to let you know SPJ is aware that the president of a small, Christian college in Tennessee ordered a student journalist not to publish a story about a former professor whom the FBI arrested over the summer in a child-sex sting.

The student editor, Alex Green, published the story on his own and distributed it on the Bryan College campus, which was courageous in my eyes. I learned about it from Jim Romenesko’s blog.

I asked Vice President of Campus Chapter Affairs Neil Ralston and President-elect Dave Cuillier to do some fact-gathering so I could decide what SPJ’s official position would be.

Meanwhile, Bryan College President Dr. Stephen Livesay issued an apology Wednesday afternoon, which you can read here.

I’m glad to see Dr. Livesay acknowledge that his action to stop the story’s publication “may have been a mistake.”

I also appreciate his openness about the administration’s thinking in stopping the story’s publication, though I disagree with it.

In a sense, this incident provides a case study in applying SPJ’s Code of Ethics, because the Code was intended to help journalists balance competing ideals as they make decisions in their reporting.

The competing ideals here:

Seek truth and report it vs minimize harm.

Alex Green, editor of the Bryan College student newspaper, the Triangle, sought out the truth behind the abrupt resignation of a respected scholar and teacher.

In his explanation about why he chose to publish his story despite Dr. Livesay’s directive, Green said he’d presumed that the professor jumped to a better job. But when the explanation he got from the school indicated the teacher left to “pursue other opportunities,” Green began trying to learn the real reason.

Green’s discovery of the professor’s arrest records in a neighboring state as well as the FBI’s press release led to the story he published and distributed on Monday.

Dr. Livesay’s apology and explanation on Wednesday shows a deep concern for the human impact of such a story (minimize harm), not just on the alleged perpetrator but on the campus community.

I admire his sensitivity and commitment to the principles under which his school operates, but I don’t agree with his news judgment.

In this case, seek truth and report it outweighs minimize harm.

 

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SPJ committees wrap up productive year

One of the true strengths of SPJ – something that sets us apart from other media organizations – is the depth and talent of our volunteer support.

This year, like many others, that talent has moved the Society forward on a number of fronts that are key to our core missions of ethics, diversity, freedom of information and training.

For proof, you need not look any further than our website, where the work of these volunteers is now on display or soon will be. Let’s start with our latest innovation.

Recently, I asked the folks who will be chairing our committees next year to become Tumblrs for SPJ.

No this isn’t a carnival act, but rather a tool that will help keep our members current with the latest news of what’s happening within our profession.

The SPJ Tumblr is a news aggregation platform that will serve as a virtual reading room for stories that both relevant and timely. I urge you to check it out, bookmark the site and stop back frequently for the latest news.

Another innovation this year comes courtesy of our Freedom of Information Committee.

With help from webmaster Billy O’Keefe, they have assembled a great set of resources for any one dealing with FOI access issues. One is geared to student journalists, and the other to professionals.

Both sites provide a wealth of information ranging from how to write an FOI letter to how to deal with a denial and where to find local Sunshine advocates in your area.

Another new Web feature this year is a series of white papers drafted by members of our ethics committee. You can find them here.

This was a great effort at elaborating on some of the topics that are contained within our Code of Ethics. There are position papers on hot topics such as plagiarism and political involvement. Watch for more in the weeks ahead.

Our Communications Committee helped assemble a site that I believe will help raise SPJ’s profile when controversies on ethics, diversity or records access erupt.

Our experts page is a way to enable journalists who are covering stories involving such controversies to find someone within SPJ who can be tapped for a comment. I’ve already fielded some requests from reporters as a result of this page.

Here are two coming attractions to watch for in the weeks ahead:

Jennifer Peebles has crafted a very engaging interactive timeline that will allow people to immerse themselves in SPJ’s rich history. We are putting the finishing touches on this program, but watch for it soon on the SPJ history page located here.

Also watch for the SPJ Freelancing Guide, which our Freelance Committee has been working on for almost a year. The guide will available as an e-book.

So do you see what I mean about volunteers being the core strength of SPJ? What other journalism organization can claim to have covered this much ground and generated so much useful information in such a short time?

Happy reading.

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Filter and vet this quote? Fuggitaboudit!

Here’s a bad journalism habit that needs to end now.

A July 15 New York Times story described a practice said to be prevalent among reporters covering the U.S. presidential election.

The story by Jeremy W. Peters detailed how many media organizations have allowed top campaign officials to vet and alter quotes as the price of being granted on-the-record access.

If true, this practice should stop before this election cycle goes any further. It’s shameful that reporters – who presumably are among the best and brightest in their newsrooms to have drawn this assignment – could be so gutless as to go along with these pre-conditions to an interview.

Their editors – who clearly know about the practice – ought to be ashamed to have allowed this abdication of editorial control to have occurred on their watch.

Quit it. Stop. Now.

Earlier this year, I covered a political rally in East Rutherford, N.J., where David Axelrod, Obama’s chief political adviser, came to deliver an endorsement for a Democratic congressman who was an early Obama supporter.

Axelrod gave his speech, and afterward I was part of a group of reporters who were able to ask him a few questions.

None of his handlers made any attempt to impose conditions on the interview. Had there been a request to review quotes, I would have informed them that we were operating under New Jersey rules. The response would have been something to the effect of “Fugghitaboudit.”

Bear in mind, I’m not saying that reporters shouldn’t double check quotes with a sources for the sake of accuracy. I do that all the time, as I’m sure most reporters do. We want to get quotes rights.

But the practice described in the Times story goes beyond making sure a quote is accurate.

It’s more about access and control and allowing a political campaign to massage the quotes that appear in a story.

But what could a campaign official possibly have to say to make it worth a reporter’s while to allow a source to manipulate a story?

The Times story reminded me of a book that had a big influence on me when I was thinking about becoming a journalist.

This year marks the 40th anniversary of a series of stories that Rolling Stone magazine writer Timothy Crouse wrote about the press corps that was covering the 1972 campaign between President Richard Nixon and Democratic challenger George McGovern.

His stories became the book “The Boys on the Bus,” which described some of the perils so-called pack journalism.

But whatever their shortcomings, the boys on the bus never let a Nixon or McGovern staffer dictate how quotes would appear in a story.

The Times story also reminded me of a painful lesson I learned shortly after starting my journalism career.

I was writing a story on the controversy over the proposed closure of several Catholic elementary schools in northern New Jersey.

One of the people I quoted was an outspoken mother of a student who was outraged at how the local archdiocese had handled the situation.

Shortly before the story was set to run, the mother called me back, asking me to read her the part of the story where I had quoted her.

Being an inexperienced reporter, I did so. She then pleaded with me to allow her to change her quotes in order to tone down or eliminate her criticism.

She was not disputing the accuracy of what I had written. But after talking to her local pastor, she had gotten cold feet about criticizing church officials.

I reluctantly agreed even though it rendered that part of my story fairly useless after she had backpedaled away from all her previous statements.

When my editor found out what I had done, he was furious. But it was too late. The story ran with the watered-down quotes, and I learned a painful lesson, never again repeated, about letting people manipulate my story by ceding editorial control.

If the story had happened today, I would have kept the original quote but allowed the woman to later disavow her criticism.

The Times deserved credit for raising this issue. One of the Times editors is quoted as saying that journalists should push back harder against this practice.

I couldn’t agree more. By all means, let’s push back.

Kudos also to The Associated Press, the National Journal and several other media organizations that have come out since the story ran and affirmed they will not allow their reporters to engage in this practice.

The public expects us to provide them with an accurate and unvarnished account of what happens on the campaign trail. These stories are too important to allow a source to crawl into the story in this way.

I would urge any reporter asked to do so to refer back to New Jersey rules of journalism: Fugghitaboudit.

 

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Graduating from stereotypes: A marriage proposal

Leave it to me to learn the hard way about the importance of shedding cultural stereotypes.

I nearly made an embarrassing mistake earlier this month while covering the graduation ceremony of Bergen Community College.

The commencement exercises took place inside a large area that once had been used for professional hockey and basketball.

With over 2,100 graduates to chose from, it was not hard to find one interesting student on whom to focus .

The valedictorian, an aspiring art therapist, had a great story to tell when she pointed out that her graduation came exactly 10 years to the day that her mom left Ecuador to find a life of better opportunity for her two young children in northern New Jersey.

The student gave a very heartfelt, emotional speech, and I hustled into the audience to interview her mom.

So I was feeling pretty good when I returned to the floor of the arena where a publicist for the college pointed out another story: One graduate had proposed marriage to another while picking up their diplomas.

A volunteer helped me locate the couple in a sea of blue caps and gowns, and I did a quick interview.

The student was named Jess, who wore a nice red tie, told me in a husky voice about getting down on one knee. That was the signal for a group of friends to unfurl a banner that read “Will you marry me?”

The other student, named Melissa, said yes.

That was pretty nervy in front of all these people, I suggested.

“You have no idea,” Jess replied.

So I wrote the story feeling pretty good about how it turned out. But then several hours later, my editor called.

The photographer — a much better observer then me — noticed that Jess, who I identified as a guy, was a woman. Jess was short for Jessica, not Jesse.

Fortunately we fixed it before publication. But afterward, it made me realize the extent to which my cultural blinders were in place.

Granted the interview was brief, and they were both wearing gowns. But in an era where marriage equality is a hot-button topic, I should know better than to assume that “couple”  and “marriage proposal” means a man and a woman.

It drove home the point to me how important it is to consider one’s own cultural assumptions and be more observant.

Next time I’ll know better. Plus, I owe the photographer a beer.

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Ethics questions are a way of life

Note: A version of this column also appears in the March/April issue of Quill magazine.

A journalist friend who also is commissioner in a fantasy baseball league to which I belong recently sent an email to all the team owners who also are journalists.

Does playing in a league that features modest fees and prize money constitute a form of sports betting? he inquired. And if so, does that constitute an ethical violation?

After all, he noted, there have been cases where sports columnists have been disciplined and even fired following disclosures that they had placed some rather large bets with gambling bookies.

Ultimately, we decided to go ahead with our league this spring because none of us are sports reporters, the money is nominal and winning requires a lot more strategy and skill than a simple bet.

But I bring up this matter not just because it raised an interesting question but I loved the mere fact that we were having that conversation.

It also illustrates a belief that I’ve long held when it came to journalism ethics.

I’ve never thought of ethics as a high-brow concept or something that we ponder during the occasional panel or classroom discussion. It’s not a code of conduct written in stone or parsed in a textbook.

To me, it’s more like a daily meditation and a way of looking at the world. It’s part of the fabric of everyday life as a reporter, not just on big stories where there are tough decisions and close judgement calls.

I think of it more as a practice that requires some thoughtful behavior on matters as large as a front page story or as small a cup of coffee that we insist on paying for or whether we can place can place a small bet on a sporting event.

Ethical decision making is also something that grows more difficult the harder we work at our craft.

When I’ve talked to student journalists on this topic, I explain that one way they can avoid an ethical dilemma is to not work very hard and not dig very deep.

But then I quickly add that they’ll be lousy journalists if they don’t dig deeper into news stories and willingly put themselves into situations where ethical questions grow more frequent and complex.

That’s also one reason why I like the SPJ Code of Ethics, particularly in the way we apply it not as an immutable set of rules but rather a tool to help working journalists work though those problems.

The latest  issue of Quill is the one we devote each year to stories on journalism ethics. It comes out at a time of year when many of our chapters will be holding ethics events ranging from panel discussions to the popular ethics poker games.

But our preoccupation with this topic is year round and day-by-day.

Small wonder then that journalism ethics is the one area where SPJ is viewed as the industry leader and where our code is seen as the gold standard.

We do a lot of great and important work each year in other areas such as freedom of information, diversity, professional training and defending the public’s right to know.

But our ethics code — as one longtime SPJ member once told me — is our franchise. It’s the area where people both inside and outside our profession turn to us first.

Just within this past year we’ve had a would-be presidential candidate and a school board in New Jersey try to use our code to their own purpose.

In both instances, we’ve had to remind people that one of the strengths of our code and the reason for its durability  is because it is a voluntary set of guidelines that call for balancing competing interests in order to do what is right.

But the fact that they held up our code as something of value is a testament to its strength and utility.

I also love the fact that we’re never done with this work. Last year, SPJ and SDX published the fourth edition of our book “Journalism Ethics – a Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media.”

And this year, our Ethics Committee has undertaken an ambitious project of issuing a series of white papers that elaborate on such topics as political activity and checkbook journalism.

I’d urge you go out and buy the book and read those white papers on our website and thumb through the stories in Quill.

I think you’ll find as I do that not a working day goes by when these guideposts are not useful tools in negotiating and resolving ethical questions, be they large or small.

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The state of SPJ – remarks to the Greater Charlotte chapter

While the SPJ Executive Committee visited with members of our Greater Charlotte chapter in North Carolina on Jan. 27, I gave a talk on the State of the Society.

Below is a copy of my remarks (although not an exact transcript.) Or watch the video, uploaded by the Charlotte chapter:

I’d like to take a moment here to share a few thoughts on the state of SPJ — on where we are and where we’re going.

First off, tonight we’ve reached another milestone in SPJ’s long and storied history. We’re celebrating the 100th anniversary of Quill, our signature magazine.

What started as a fraternity newsletter in January 1912 has evolved into an outstanding magazine that helps our members stay current with what going on in journalism and within the Society.

And think about it. How many magazines in America have survived a century or more? Well, there’s Scientific American at 167 years old and Harper’s at 162. But there aren’t a lot more, and as I like to tell our editor, Scott, we’re older than Time.

The pages of Quill tell the history of journalism in America, and later this year, we’re going tap into some of the magazine’s images to tell our history as well. SPJ member Jennifer Peebles is building an interactive timeline of significant events in SPJ history. So, watch for that.

Looking ahead in that history, I’m hoping we can increase our online version of Quill so it’s something members can turn to every day instead of six times a year.

SPJ has a long history of advocating for journalists and the public’s right to know, and this year that has certainly been true. We protested the arrests of several journalists who were wrongfully detained or arrested while covering various “Occupy” demonstrations across the county.

We’ve committed $1,000 from our Legal Defense Fund for a freelance photojournalist who was arrested while covering an Occupy Wall Street demonstration.

We’ll continue to fight these good fights and to stand with journalists who are in that often lonely place of taking fire for simply doing their jobs.

Another thing SPJ is known for is its ethics code, which some folks have called the gold standard for our industry.

Last year, we reached an important goal with the publication of the 4th edition of a textbook of ethics case studies. This year, we’re taking that a step further by writing a series of white papers on various ethics topics.

I’d urge you to take a look at these essays. They are posted on our website, spj.org. They show that for us, journalism ethics is not just a textbook on a shelf, but an on-going set of values that are useful when doing our jobs every day.

SPJ is also about to do something we’ve never done before: be a landlord.

Thanks to some hard work by our Executive Director, Joe Skeel, we are on the verge of signing a lease with a global recruitment firm that wants to rent the underutilized second floor of our headquarters in Indianapolis.

This will require us to invest some funds into renovating that part of the building, but in the long run, it will create a new stream of revenue.

Now you would be right to ask: What does this have to do with journalism? Nothing really. But at time when other journalism organizations are struggling just to stay afloat, we’re doing something that will help stabilize SPJ’s finances and ensure our future.

And finally, I have some good news about SPJ’s membership.

For the first time since 2008, we are starting the year with more members than we had the year before. Not a lot — just about 200 to 300 more — but it has been that way consistently for more than two months.

Part of that increase may be due to an increase in the number of entries were seeing for our annual Mark of Excellence college journalism awards.  But I think some of the credit also goes to our membership committee, which has been reaching out to lapsed members and talking them into sticking with SPJ.

I hope you’ll help us continue to build on this small trend. I’m asking that every chapter, student and pro, do one membership-building event in the month of March.

We’re calling it our own March Membership Month. You’ll be hearing more about it in the next few weeks, and when you do, please do what you can to ensure that our Society continues to grow in the year ahead.

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