Archive for the ‘Ethics’ Category


June Board Call: Reg. 3 Conf. Sessions Discussed

Last Friday members of the SPJ board met via Skype to discuss sessions at the Region 3 SPJ conference scheduled for August in Orlando. Earlier in the week, Region 3 director and national SPJ board member Michael Koretzky asked the board to reconsider SPJ’s previous position on use of the national SPJ logo to promote AirPlay, a session at the conference dedicated to addressing concerns of ethics in gaming journalism. Previously, Koretzky had been asked to remove the national logo from the AirPlay site by SPJ’s executive director because this was not an event the national organization was endorsing.

The issue first came about in April during Ethics Week when we learned that a group of gamers, known as GamerGate, began using the #SPJEthicsWeek hashtag. SPJ leadership, including members of the Ethics Committee, and staff agreed to drop the hashtag and proceed with the week’s events. The week continued without incident, but we agreed to not further engage the gaming community and focus on other priorities instead.

Though national SPJ opted not to get involved, Koretzky felt it was important to address concerns of the gaming community by hosting a session called AirPlay at the summer conference where journalism ethics specifically related to gaming journalism could be addressed. As independent entities, SPJ chapters and regions operate autonomously from the national organization, and are free to put on their own events and programming. While SPJ did not want its national logo used in conjunction with the AirPlay session, it allowed the use of the national logo on the Region 3 conference site.

The purpose of last Friday’s call was to vote on use of the national logo on the AirPlay website. Following an overview of previous events, Koretzky explained his position and members of the board asked questions and held a discussion. At the beginning of the call, we had a quorum – enough board members to vote on the issue. However, during the call, a board member dropped off, leaving us without a quorum so we were only able to take an informal call. During the poll, only one board member endorsed use of the national logo on the AirPlay website. All others, including Koretzky, voted against it. Despite the poll results, the board commended Koretzky for taking a risk and being willing to address a potentially controversial issue.

In addition to discussing the AirPlay session, we discussed a drone journalism session also to be held during the summer conference. The program will mirror similar programs held by other chapters and regions.

After a 50-minute call, the SPJ board adjourned.

 

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SPJ Board Meeting Recap

The SPJ spring board meeting was this past Sat., April 18 in Indianapolis. Each meeting is streamed live, but in case you missed it or don’t want to sit through the 6+ hour recording, here are the highlights:

  • The board approved the Fiscal Year 2016 budget. To executive director Joe Skeel’s credit, SPJ has a sizable surplus. We are operating in the black and expect to continue to do so with sufficient reserves set aside for a rainy day and to spend on worthy projects.
  • The slate of candidates for the next SPJ board cycle was announced. New candidates have until about a week before EIJ15 to announce their candidacy. So far, there are only two contested elections (secretary-treasurer and at-large director). Interested candidates should contact Sonny Albarado, past president of SPJ and this year’s nominations chair, or click here for more info.
  • We are seeking nominations to replace regional director Tony Hernandez (Region 12). He moved out of the region, and we are looking for a replacement, effective June 1. We also thanked Tony for his service to SPJ.
  • SDX President Robert Leger gave an update on the SDX Foundation, including the transition of moving programming responsibilities and funding from SPJ back to SDX.
  • The Ethics Committee, led by Andrew Seaman, is beginning the posting of additional materials to supplement the revised SPJ Code of Ethics that was approved by the delegates at EIJ14. In addition, the Code has been translated into five languages (French, Spanish, German, Chinese and Arabic). Those versions are being proofread and, once approved, they’ll be posted to SPJ.org.
  • The board discussed how to handle the proposed Marriage & Conscience Act now in committee in Louisiana. The board will send a letter to the Louisiana legislature citing its concern about the bill which addresses religious and moral beliefs, unlike other religious freedom legislation being considered in other states. Our hope is that the bill will be defeated. If not, SPJ will have to reconsider hosting its 2016 spring board meeting, and SPJ and its partner RTDNA will have to discuss the implications for EIJ16, both scheduled for New Orleans next year. President-elect Paul Fletcher and secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh will work on the letter to the legislature and share it with the board for input by the end of this month. We will also share it with RTDNA, and they will vote on whether or not they wish to sign the letter as well.
  • The SPJ board gave staff the go-ahead to expand its criteria for the selection of convention cities.
  • I announced two new diversity initiatives: (1) Adding members of other journalism organizations (e.g., AAJA, NAJA, NLGJA, NABJ, NAHJ, etc.) to the Diversity Committee, led by April Bethea, as a pilot project. If this is successful, we hope to expand this to include members of these organizations on other committees to help expand the diversity within our organization. (2) Creating a partnership between the Diversity Committee and Membership Committee to develop diversity-related resources for our members. We’ll first create a list of programming ideas, gathering successful program information from SPJ chapters and regions. We’ll expand to include other resources such as how to identify local chapters of other organizations that we could partner with, and link to other diversity-related resources, such as the NLGJA style guide and the diversity style guide project that is supported by the SDX Foundation.
  • I announced the Membership Committee’s upcoming promotion, #spj4all, a one-day campaign to reiterate our organization’s acceptance of journalists from all backgrounds. The committee, led by Robyn Sekula, will share details soon.
  • Four new chapters were added to SPJ ranks.
  • Secretary-treasurer Lynn Walsh announced SPJ’s new career center, a dramatically improved version of our job bank which includes links to additional resources.
  • At the request of FOI chair and immediate past president Dave Cuillier, the SPJ board approved a $30,000 transfer from our fiscal year end reserves to the Advocacy Fund. The board discussed how money would be spent and what the approval process might be.
  • Regional director Tom Johnson received the board’s endorsement of his “It’s the People’s Data” project.
  • At-large director Bill McCloskey presented a new SPJ Convention Voting Transparency Policy, developed by the By-laws Committee. The policy was approved.
  • Jennifer Royer, communications strategist, and I discussed the proposed guidelines for handling the deaths of prominent journalists and international matters. Each will be handled on a case-by-case basis, and will rely on good judgment.
  • In Becky Tallent’s absence, an update about the release of the Journalism Education Committee’s new book, “Still Captive? History, Law and the Teaching of High School Journalism,” was shared in the board packet and via email.
  • President-elect Paul Fletcher informed the board that 41% of our membership is not affiliated with a chapter, meaning they are not represented by delegates at convention. At my request, Paul has formed a task force to explore the ramifications of this problem and to make recommendations for correcting it.
  • The SPJ board accepted the Executive Committee’s recommendations for 9 of the 10 overall SPJ awards, as outlined in the board packet. Changes will be effective in 2016.
  • The SPJ board discussed the selection of future Wells Key winners. The Executive Committee recommended that the selection group be expanded from the SPJ officers to the full Executive Committee. This recommendation was approved with two amendments – providing the full board with a list of nominees for the current year and the previous nine years (info. to be kept confidential and not shared outside the board), and after the Wells Key is awarded, the Executive Committee will explain to the board why that candidate was selected. These changes will also be effective 2016.
  • We took a photo of the full board for historical purposes and to kick off the #spj4all campaign. #spjlove

The board meeting was packed full of agenda items, and we had good, thoughtful, respectful discussion and debate about these topics and others. In addition, I thanked the board, volunteers and staff for their hard work and continued commitment to SPJ. We’ve accomplished a lot in the seven months I’ve been president, but there is much more to do.

If you have any questions about the meeting, or you’d like to volunteer, I welcome your comments and ideas. You can reach me via email at dneuts@spj.org.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

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A cautionary tale: Brian Williams “misremembers” enemy fire

Updated, Feb. 10, 2015, 7:15 p.m. Pacific time — Brian Williams has been suspended from NBC Nightly News for six months without pay. Lester Holt will fill the anchor desk in Williams’ absence.

Updated, Feb. 6, 2915, 12:45 pm Pacific time — Clarified Andrew Seaman’s title as Ethics Committee Chairman and added italics for emphasis to lines in the SPJ Code.


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This week was a tough week for Brian Williams, anchor of NBC Nightly News, who recanted and apologized for “misremembering” that he’d been on a helicopter that had been shot down by a rocket propelled grenade in Iraq in 2003. Williams was on another helicopter that arrived on the scene 30 to 60 minutes later. Since the admission, Williams has been called out, ridiculed, and become the butt of an endless stream of jokes – making him a real life Forrest Gump. Williams has also been compared to Hillary Clinton who was accused of a similar claim in 2008.

The news anchor’s credibility and that of NBC News has been called into question. How could such a tall tale go on for more than a decade without discovery, and how could it have gotten so out of hand, growing more dramatic with each retelling? Though a difficult time for Williams, it has been even tougher for those who feel betrayed – the military, the public, and the journalism industry. If one of the industry’s most respected journalists could perpetuate such a falsehood, intentionally or otherwise, who can we believe?

Perhaps after so many years, Williams doesn’t know the truth any more. Maybe it was deliberate, but maybe there is an explanation for his actions, as SPJ Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman explains in this blog post. I’m not going to try to guess what really occurred or pass judgment on Williams, though I am personally disappointed in the entire affair. Instead, I’m going to look at this as an extreme example of what happens when we ignore ethical principles as outlined in the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Here are some reminders from the SPJ Code that could have helped Williams and NBC News avoid the situation and to guide them in their damage control:

Journalists should:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work.
  • Verify information before releasing it.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Provide 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.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information.
  • Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
  • Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
  • Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

It will be interesting to see how this plays out in the weeks to come and if Williams and NBC Nightly News can rebound from this huge hit to their credibility. Some say the incident will blow over; others expect career-ending backlash. I can’t predict what will happen to Williams or his employer, but I hope that all journalists and media organizations will take a moment to remind themselves how valuable our credibility is and that acting ethically with each and every story is the only way to preserve it.

The above post represents my opinion only and does not necessarily reflect that of the Society of Professional Journalists. At this time, SPJ has chosen not to make an official statement on behalf of the organization.

~ Dana Neuts, SPJ president

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Highlights thru Dec. 4, 2014

Hello, all. It has only been a few weeks since I posted the last update, but we’ve accomplished so much that it is almost baffling. I am so proud of SPJ staff and volunteers for their hard work and dedication to the cause. Here are some of the projects we’ve been involved in over the last few weeks (you might want to pull up a chair – there is a lot of good stuff here!):

  • Community elections for SPJ Digital & Freelance were launched. Details here.
  • SPJ Georgia attended two separate hearings of Atlanta journalists who were arrested last week during the Ferguson protest. Charges have been dropped in both cases. Reps from SPJ Georgia plan to attend a roundtable discussion tomorrow with Atlanta PD. Thanks to SPJ Georgia for staying on top of this issue and keeping us informed!
  • We sent a letter to the EPA protesting the limitations put on scientists, preventing them from speaking directly with the media:
  • Alex Veeneman was named our first community coordinator to help me manage the workload. Thank you, Alex, for stepping up! Alex is the current leader of SPJ Digital, so he knows first hand the work involved in setting up a community and keeping it going.
  • The Ethics and International Committees are working together to get the Code of Ethics translated into other languages.
  • I had a call with national board members Patti Newberry, Sue Kopen Katcef, Brett Hall and Jordan Gass Poore last week to discuss student internships and the formation of a student-based community. Brett and Jordan agreed to lead the community and Patti & Sue agreed to serve as advisors. I need to get some input from our legal counsel since some of the internship issues we are discussing involve labor laws.
  • I have selected SPJ’s EIJ15 programming committee volunteer – Athima Chansanchai (“Tima”) from the W. Washington Pro chapter. Tima was a diversity fellow this year and has helped with programming for the AAJA national convention several years ago. She will oversee the programming subcommittee that includes Paul Fletcher, Lynn Walsh and Patti Newberry.
  • Amy Tardif of RTDNA scheduled a pre-planning EIJ15 programming conference call for early January to discuss EIJ14 successes, areas for improvement and goals for EIJ15. Scott Leadingham, director of education, is scheduling his first EIJ15 planning call before the holidays.
  • We updated our statement speaking against Ohio legislation HB663, the secret executions bill, which went before the Ohio Senate Tuesday and today. Past president Kevin Smith attended on SPJ’s behalf.
  • SPJ Freelance Chair Michael Fitzgerald and I spoke regarding the Freelance Community to discuss the election process.
  • SPJ hosted a Digital Tools webinar taught by Kim Bui.
  • SPJ has made an agreement to provide services to another journalism organization and has put a call out to hire a part-time communications person to help with that work.
  • SDX did a big fundraising push this week, including a mailing and an email campaign. SPJ members are encouraged to set up monthly donations or make a one-time donation to help fund SDX’s efforts. Donate here.
  • New member benefits are forthcoming. Linda Hall has been working hard to develop new relationships and acquire new benefits for our members. SPJ HQ will announce those new benefits soon, so stay tuned!
  • We are trying to finalize all of the spring conferences. Some dates and locations are still tentative. The info. that is known can be found here.
  • Joe hired a replacement for the part-time membership retention coordinator. We are eager to welcome him aboard!
  • Tara Puckey was promoted to membership strategist to help further SPJ’s long-term mission and to address our changing membership needs. Linda Hall will continue to provide our members with the great service she always has. Congrats to Tara for this well-deserved promotion!
  • FOIA chair Dave Cuillier issued a statement urging the U.S. Senate to pass the FOIA Improvement Act. SPJ tweeted this tonight. Senator Jay Rockefeller has put a hold on the bill.
  • Butler Cain, J Ed committee chair, held a meeting with his committee yesterday to discuss providing resources, guidance and a list of experts to help support high school journalists and educators.
  • Robyn Sekula, membership chair, is accepting nominations for the December Volunteer of the Month (deadline is tomorrow) and finalizing the committee’s strategic plan for the year.
  • Carlos Restrepo and the International Journalism Community are also finalizing their goals for the year and selecting their assignments and projects. We have an enthusiastic bunch here – I am excited to see them move forward!
  • Sarah Bauer, contest advisory group coordinator and co-chair of the Awards & Honors committee, is in the process of matching up SPJ contest swap partners across the country. This is a thankless task, but an important one. Thanks to Sarah for taking the lead!

Thanks to everyone within SPJ and SDX – staff, leaders and volunteers – who have contributed in some way to our success and mission. It truly takes a village, and we’ve got some big goals to tackle this year. I appreciate your enthusiasm and support.

As always, if I left something out, it was unintentional. My head is spinning with all of the activity, but if I omitted something, let me know, and I’ll update this post.

Til next time,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

 

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Highlights thru 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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