Archive for the ‘News’ Category


Recent Attacks Against Journalists Are Attacks Against American Freedoms

In the last several weeks journalists have been pinned against a wall, arrested, assaulted, told to get “back in your cages,” and threatened with gun violence by a sitting state governor.

The key word left out of the sentence above: American.

Those incidents happened to American journalists. American journalists working and doing their jobs in the United States, a country that has a freedom designated for the press.

If you’ve read the headlines or followed the stories on social media, you may have seen the threat of gun violence called a joke, or the event that resulted in an assault charge for a newly elected Congressman, called inappropriate unless the reporter deserved it.

These incidents are not funny and should not be dismissed. The words being spoken are also not funny and they should not be treated as jokes.

These incidents are an attack against the freedoms America was founded on and should be taken seriously.

Most importantly they need to stop. 

In the United States, the First Amendment protects a free press. This includes protecting an individual’s right to ask questions of elected officials without the threat of violence. Journalists should not be arrested or physically harmed for simply trying to do their jobs. Journalists are the eyes and ears of the public. When they are prevented from doing their jobs, the public loses and American freedom is threatened.

The United States, whether data and reality always supports it or not, is often used as an example of a free society by others around the world. This includes evaluating what a free press looks like.

Around the world, we are seeing journalists killed or physically threatened while doing their jobs. These incidents also need to be stopped and should be taken seriously. It is also why it is even more important to push back and stop the incidents happening here.

What we allow to happen on U.S. soil could set the tone for what others experience and do elsewhere, outside our borders.

These recent incidents, that include physical violence, anti-press rhetoric, and legal action are steps away from freedom. They are incidents that should not be happening in a country that was founded on protecting freedom of the press. These incidents threaten American democracy.

Right now, there is undeniable tension between journalists, news organizations, and the public. Polls continue to show the American public’s trust in media is at an all-time low.

While there are examples of reporting and journalists that may have helped contribute to that, we, as Americans, both journalists, and non-journalists, need to work together to stop this threat against our freedom.

Do we want to live in a country where people are not free to ask politicians questions? A country where the information the public receives only comes from those in power? A country where you are not free to publish information people may disagree with?

I know that is not the America I want to live in. It is also not the America people have fought hard, in some cases sacrificing their lives, to protect.

In the name of freedom, let’s stand together.

SPJ and Journalism Organizations Respond To Election of Donald Trump

Last week, after the election, the Society of Professional Journalists and other journalism organizations released statements reinforcing their commitment to protecting the First Amendment and fighting for the public’s right to know.

Since the election SPJ has seen an increase in donations. Some, when donating, have specifically cited the election outcome.

I want you to know that SPJ is ready to defend the rights guaranteed under the First Amendment and push for government transparency.

We hope that you will continue to join us in this fight. If you have ideas or thoughts or want to help in any way, please do not hesitate to get in touch with me. Also, if you need help donating or renewing your membership, we would gladly help with that as well.

Here is a list of statements made by journalism organizations:

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh.

The World is Watching This Election Day, Report Ethically and Responsibly

"I Voted"

It’s almost here, Election Day 2016.

It seems like journalists and news organizations have been covering this race for years. That’s probably because some have. The length, combined with the twists and turns throughout, have made this is a long and tiresome race to cover as a journalist.

Maybe, like me, you have found yourself getting very cynical about the whole process. Maybe you have found yourself becoming less and less interested in the local issues on your ballot.

Well, let’s all snap out of it.

Last week, while speaking to a group of Society of Professional Journalists members at San Diego State University, I was reminded that covering an election, an event at the core of our democracy, is special. The students, covering their first U.S. Presidential election, were excited, eagerly sharing with me their plans for election night, November 8.

After my conversation with them I was a little annoyed with myself for not feeling the same way. I was also reminded how important our, journalists, coverage of this and every election is for the public, our future and our democracy.

So, yes, some of us have been following candidates across the country, working countless hours, for more than a year. Yes, some of us have been treated poorly and disrespectfully while just trying to do our jobs. And yes, we all have been told the “media” is biased and is rigging the election.

But, despite all of this, our work, our information, our actions, are helping the public make informed decisions about the future of our country. For that we should all be proud.

So, this is a reminder, to stand tall and continue to serve this country like journalists know best: ethically, responsibly, accurately and fairly.

The world is truly watching, let’s show them what professional journalists can do. And if you have not heard it yet: Thank you.

For tips on how to cover the election responsibly, click here and also review the SPJ Code of Ethics.

Lynn Walsh is the National President for the Society of Professional Journalists. In her day job she leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego, California. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for public information. Connect with her on Twitter, @LWalsh. 

Requesting Public Information Should Not Result in Felony Charges

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Fannin-Focus publisher Mark Thomason spoke at the SPJ National Convention in New Orleans on Sept. 20. Outgoing national SPJ president Paul Fletcher (left). Photo by Curt Yeomans, SPJ Georgia board member

Mark Thomason, publisher of the Fannin Focus newspaper in Blue Ridge, Georgia was arrested June 24 and charged with three felonies, including one for making a false statement on his open records request.

No journalist or member of the public should ever have to put up with what Thomason has when exercising his or her right to public information.

On the day of his arrest Thomason said he had no idea why he was arrested.

“For two days I sat in a jail cell without a pillow or blanket,” he said.

After his release on a $10,000 bond, Thomason said he faced unusual bond restrictions and was required to provide numerous on-the-spot urine samples for law enforcement in his hometown.

When the Georgia chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists first heard of Thomason’s arrest, they began sharing their outrage with the public.  The chapter also filed a formal complaint to the Judicial Qualifications Commission against the judge, Brenda Weaver, Chief Superior Court Judge of the Appalachian Judicial Circuit, who had Thomason and his attorney arrested.

At it’s annual convention last month in New Orleans, SPJ’s members commended Thomason’s “relentless pursuit of the public’s right to know” in a freedom of information battle involving the actions of chief superior court judge.

Click here or watch below (jump to the 11 minute, 47 second mark of the video) to hear Thomason’s comments to SPJ members and journalists at the convention.

The SPJ membership also called for Judge Weaver to resign and thanked the SPJ Georgia chapter members for their hard work and due diligence bringing this issue into the public conversation.

What Thomason did, standing up for his right to public information, is something, I hope, no other individual, journalist or news organization has to experience. But, if you do find yourself in a similar situation, I want to know.

SPJ was founded to fight for these very issues. Whether that is your right to government access or recording video on a public sidewalk. We are here for you. Or maybe you find yourself being forced to tell a story or write something in a way that you feel is journalistically unethical. Please tell us, so we can help.

So, please contact me and let us know what we can do to help. We are here to help protect journalism and the public’s right to know.

Lynn Walsh is the current National President for SPJ. In her “day job” she manages and leads the NBC 7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Follow her on Twitter, @LWalsh, or contact her via email: Lynn.K.Walsh@gmail.com.

Memorial Funds for WDBJ’s Alison Parker and Adam Ward

As we work through the tragedy that faced Alison Parker and Adam Ward earlier this week, many have asked about making donations in their honor. Here is a list of some funds that have been set up. Though SPJ is not directly these involved with these, we want to share the information. If you have questions, please go directly to the fund organizers. They’ll be able to assist you.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President


RTDNA, NAB and NATAS — Alison and Adam Memorial Fund

The Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA) has joined forces with two partner broadcast organizations to launch a memorial fund to support the families of the victims in Wednesday’s shooting of a Virginia news crew. RTDNA, along with the National Association of Broadcasters (NAB) and the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences (NATAS) will contribute to and accept donations from broadcasters for the fund on behalf of Alison Parker and Adam Ward. Donations will be accepted through Nov. 1, and $40,000 has already been pledged.

Parker and Ward were shot to death by a former co-worker Wednesday morning while they were doing a live remote broadcast on WDBJ-TV, Roanoke, a CBS affiliate owned by Schurz Communications. Contributions will be distributed to family members of Parker and Ward. An additional contribution will go to Vicki Gardner, Executive Director, Smith Mountain Lake Regional Chamber of Commerce, who was being interviewed during the shooting. Gardner suffered gunshot wounds and is currently hospitalized.

Any remaining funds will be directed to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based organization dedicated to press freedom and protecting the rights of reporters to work without fear of reprisal.

Donations may be sent to:

NAB Alison and Adam Memorial Fund
NAB
1771 N Street NW
Washington, DC 20036

NAB is also developing an easy online method of contributing to the fund. It will be available on NAB’s website in the very near future.


Patrick Henry Community College and the PHCC Foundation — Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship

Patrick Henry Community College and the PHCC Foundation have established a scholarship in memory of PHCC alumna and 2015 Distinguished Alumni award winner Alison Bailey Parker. She was a 2009 graduate of PHCC with an associate of arts and sciences degree through the Piedmont Governor’s School for Math, Science and Technology.

The Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship will be awarded on an annual basis to a PHCC student who enters the Media Design and Production program.

Donations for the Alison Bailey Parker Memorial Scholarship can be made online or by cash or check to:

Patrick Henry Community College Foundation
645 Patriot Ave.
Martinsville, VA 24112

For additional information, call (276) 656-0250.


James Madison University – Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund

James Madison University, where Parker graduated in 2012 with a bachelor’s degree in media arts and design, has also set up a fund in her name.

The university established the Alison B. Parker Memorial Fund in the School of Media Arts & Design in her honor.


Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association Adam Ward Memorial Scholarship

The Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association announced that a scholarship has been established in memory of Adam Ward, a 2007 graduate of Salem High School who was loved and treasured by the Salem community, his peers at WDBJ, his family and friends.

This endowment, which was established at the request of Adam’s family, will honor his memory by benefiting a graduate of Salem High School, who is headed to Virginia Tech to pursue a career in journalism or photojournalism.

Adam began as a sports department intern at WDBJ and later served as a reporter, videographer and production assistant. Adam is the youngest child of Mary and Buddy Ward. His recently retired father was a lifelong educator at Glenvar and Salem where he served as a coach, teacher and guidance counselor for thousands of students.

The Salem Educational Foundation and Alumni Association was founded in 1983 by the late Dr. Richard Fisher. It has an endowment of $3.2 million and this June handed out 98 scholarships to Salem High School graduates valued at $132,000.


Virginia Tech – Adam Ward memorial contributions

Those who wish to make memorial contributions to Virginia Tech in Adam Ward’s memory may make checks out to the Virginia Tech Foundation, Inc., and be sure to write “In memory of Adam Ward” in the memo section. Checks should be mailed to:

Office of Gift Accounting (0336)
University Gateway Center
Virgina Tech
902 Prices Fork Road
Blacksburg, VA 24061

Those who wish to give online should be sure to use the “enter your own” designation option to write “In memory of Adam Ward.”

 

*Image from WDBJ

Interim RD12 selected, Gen J approved as a community

On Monday, the SPJ Board conducted a Skype conference call meeting to appoint a Region 12 director to serve in the interim until national elections in September. The current director Tony Hernandez left Region 12 in December of last year to take a position in Region 10. Per the SPJ bylaws, he could remain RD for up to six months following his move. Replacements are made via a board vote.

Amanda Womac

Amanda Womac

The position will be filled by Amanda Womac, who is a member of the East Tennessee Professional Chapter and most recently served as the Region 12 treasurer. Four people showed interest in the position, which goes to show we have amazing people in SPJ willing and capable of taking leadership roles. We are excited at all of the candidates’ interest in serving SPJ, and are eager to have them get more involved!

The position will be filled permanently through the online election process during EIJ15. Any member of SPJ who is located in Region 12 can still run for the position. If interested, please contact staff member Tara Puckey via email for more details.

In the spirit of transparency, we would normally post roll call votes in the minutes, but we have been asked to share that information now. Here are the votes from Monday’s Skype meeting regarding the Region 12 position:

Roll call vote for Amanda Womac (13 yes, 1 no, 2 abstain):

Dana Neuts: Abstain

Fletcher: Yes

David Cuillier: Yes

Lynn Walsh: Yes

Bill McCloskey: Yes

Alex Tarquinio: Yes

Jordan Gass-Pooré: Yes

Andy Schotz: No

Michael Koretzky: Yes

Joe Radske: Yes

Rob McLean: Yes

Eddye Gallagher: Yes

Tom Johnson: Yes

Pia Hallenberg: Yes

Matt Hall: Yes

Tony Hernandez: Abstain

Board members not listed above were not available to participate in the call.

Also during the meeting, the board voted unanimously to approve the Generation J Community, which is transitioning from a committee to a community structure. Although it may seem like semantics, the differences between a community and committee are vast.

A committee is a small group of people that serves at the pleasure of the president. A committee manages projects and may provide resources for others. By its nature, a committee is usually made up of about 10-15 people, and it focuses on work at the president’s direction.

A community, on the other hand, is a large group of people interested in a particular topic. They are self-governing and the community grows organically based on the needs and desires of its members. If you have an interest in issues facing young journalists or journalists in career transition, consider joining the Generation J Community. SPJ also has communities for members interested in freelance, international, digital and student journalism.

Please let me know if you have any questions. I’m happy to help!

Thank you,

Dana E. Neuts
SPJ President

 

NLGJA: Reporting on Transgender Issues

Tomorrow night ABC’s Diane Sawyer will interview Olympic gold medalist Bruce Jenner. Many media outlets are speculating that Jenner will discuss being transgender. To help the media understand how to fairly and accurately report on transgender issues, the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) has issued a statement including guidelines and a link to their style guide and resources. I am sharing that information below, but before I do, I want to share my own thoughts on the subject.

An estimated 2 to 5 percent of Americans are transgender. I think it is because of this small number that so few people understand what it means to be transgender or what issues they face including discrimination, ridicule and bullying. In TV and movies, transgender men and women are often unfairly portrayed, drawing undue attention to their differences rather than treating them like human beings. Fortunately, these attitudes are starting to change, but not quickly enough.

I don’t know what news Jenner will share tomorrow evening, nor do I feel it is any of my business, but it is news and millions of Americans will be talking about it. I encourage everyone – especially those who report the story – to be compassionate and to remember that Jenner is a human being with feelings and a family. Jenner is dealing with something most of us can’t begin to imagine.

Thank you,

Dana Neuts
SPJ President

 

nlgja_25

 

 

From the NLGJA:

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association (NLGJA) is made up of working journalists and media professionals. We are not an advocacy group. Our mission is to ensure fair and accurate coverage of issues that affect the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) communities.

This week, ABC News will air an interview With Olympic gold medalist and reality TV star Bruce Jenner. It is widely believed that Jenner will talk about being transgender. For many transgender people this will be a historic moment. Many newsrooms have questions about how to cover people who are or may be transgender. NLGJA is here to help you ensure your coverage is not only fair, but accurate.

Here are a few tips, as well as some information from our stylebook on how to handle things such as pronouns and terminology. There’s even more on our website, NLGJA.org.

  1. Since Jenner has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to Bruce Jenner by name rather than using pronouns.
    Example: “Olympic Champion Bruce Jenner is set to sit down with ABC’s Diane Sawyer amid reports that Jenner is transgender.”
  2. Transgender people should be referred to by the name and gender with which they identify. Some transgender people choose to take hormones or have medical procedures, but that’s not what determines the right name and pronoun to use. It is stating one’s gender identity that is what should guide word use. If and when Jenner expresses a different gender pronoun or name, that’s the one to use.
  3. One of the things that makes this story unique is the amount of attention and speculation prior to Jenner speaking publicly about gender. While it may be impossible to write about Jenner without addressing the current rumors, in general best practice is to allow individuals to address their gender or sexuality when they are ready.

Many news organizations are covering this story well. We’ve included an example of fair and accurate coverage below.

Words matter when telling a story. Research has shown that LGBT teens and young adults have one of the highest rates of all suicide attempts. Depression and drug use among LGBT people have both been shown to increase significantly after new laws that discriminate are passed. Bullying of LGBT youth has been shown to be a contributing factor in many suicides, even if not all of the attacks have been specifically aimed at someone based on sexual orientation or gender bias. Transgender people are twice as likely to be unemployed — and four times as likely if they’re a trans woman of color. Lesbians and gays outnumber trans people six to one, yet transgender people are 50 percent more likely to be murdered.

NLGJA is happy to be a professional resource for you. We offer a stylebook on common word choice and tipsheets on issues that affect our communities. You can find both at nlgja.org/resources. NLGJA also has professional development available through our Newsroom Outreach Program. The project was designed to help newsrooms better understand the complexities of covering our diverse communities, while remaining unbiased. Please feel free to contact us if we can be of assistance. We have members in local, national and international newsrooms who are experienced covering these types of issues.

Thank you for your time and attention.

Sincerely,

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association

 

Why did SPJ take so long to speak out on Indiana’s RFRA legislation?

Last Thursday, while traveling to the region 5 SPJ conference in Louisville, I was contacted by SPJ member and secretary-treasurer candidate Jason Parsley about the legislation passed that day by Indiana Governor Mike Pence, essentially making it legal for Indiana businesses to discriminate against others based on their religious beliefs. Opponents of the law – myself included – interpreted the legislation as being anti-LGBTQ, and a public uproar ensued. Mr. Parsley asked me how this impacted SPJ, and he voiced his concerns as a candidate who might be attending future board meetings in the state. I indicated I was traveling and wanted to research the issue before answering him. I did, however, tell him I was personally appalled by the state’s actions.

After conferring with colleagues, several board members and SPJ’s legal counsel, I made the decision last Friday not to issue a statement for several reasons. I was responsible for that decision, and am not excusing it, but would like to explain my thinking. In no particular order

1) This is a freedom of religion issue, not directly related to journalism.Of those I consulted (approx. 8), only one was in favor of SPJ making a statement.

2) Other organizations, including several representing SPJ by virtue of our location (the local chamber of commerce of which SPJ is a member and the mayor of Indianapolis) spoke vehemently against the legislation, leading many of us to believe immediate action would be taken. In fact, the mayor of Indianapolis has mandated that discrimination not be allowed by law in the city. As it turns out, the issue has been discussed, addressed and morphed daily. In fact, by the time I post this, a resolution may have been found.

3) I did not feel that a stance of this magnitude was mine alone to make. With legislation not taking effect until July 1, and an April 18 national board meeting planned, I put it on the agenda for the April meeting, feeling that would give the board adequate time to discuss this issue in person.

4) As the organization’s elected leader, it is my responsibility to look at how this impacts the entire organization, now and in the future. I must be prudent, cautious and representative of our members. Until yesterday, not including those I reached out to, I had only heard from five of our 7,500 members, including Mr. Parsley. Normally, on big issues, the outpouring of concern is much more significant. That doesn’t mean the issue wasn’t important to others, but I only heard from a few.

That said, I serve the board and our membership. After hearing from many members of our board yesterday and today, as well as Mr. Parsley and his local chapter, I changed my stance. SDX president Robert Leger and I made a joint statement today. In the interim, my actions have been attacked. I could take it personally, and sometimes I do, but I respect the passion and concern that Mr. Parsley and other members have. I understand why they feel I moved too slowly, but I did what I felt was appropriate at the time. My intent was not to dismiss their concerns, and if I gave that impression, I apologize. With new input and new information, I made a different decision.

On a personal level, as a Hoosier born and bred, this legislation is very upsetting, and I am disappointed in my home state’s leaders for allowing it to get this far. Discrimination of any kind is wrong and should not be accepted under any circumstances. Quite frankly, it makes me glad I live in Washington now, a state where all are accepted regardless of how they are categorized. I have friends who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and questioning, and I feel for the uphill battle they fight every day. This sort of short-sighted legislation makes it even worse, and I am sad that our culture and our government are not more evolved. We are all people, and we all have rights, and we need to fight for them every day. Sometimes that means stepping outside our scope or mission to stand up for what we believe in.

Thank you to Mr. Parsley, the Florida SPJ chapter, the national board and all those who have commented or expressed concern, regardless of your position or our differences. I am proud that we are working together and learning from each other to make SPJ – and our world – a better place.

 

Paul Fletcher: Execution process shouldn’t be secret

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher speaks out on "execution secrecy" in Virginia.

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher

SPJ president-elect Paul Fletcher has been following the Virginia legislature as it debates the merits of making the execution process more secretive in that state. Senate Bill 1393 was passed by the Senate, and is now being considered by the House of Delegates. Fletcher offers this editorial, originally posted on Virginia Lawyers Weekly where he is the publisher and editor-in-chief:

The Virginia House of Delegates will have the chance to cure a mistake by the Senate: The House can and should reject a bill that would shroud the Virginia execution process in secrecy and darkness.

Senate Bill 1393, filed by Sen. Richard L. Saslaw, D-Fairfax, allows the state Department of Corrections to contract with any “external entity” to compound the drugs used for execution by lethal injection.

But a provision of this bill exempts the contracting process, the identity of any providers and the drug components used for execution from the Freedom of Information Act.

Saslaw told the Senate Courts of Justice Committee last week that the bill was prompted by difficulty getting the lethal drugs from overseas manufacturers. Virginia and other states that execute by lethal injection have faced shortages of the compounds needed to complete the process.

And manufacturers, which have been the targets of protests and pressure from anti-death penalty groups, apparently want the black-out. A Department of Corrections spokeswoman told The Washington Post that the measure would give drug manufacturers “security” from “harassment, threats or danger.”

Seems like there are less extreme ways to protect companies from protests than turning out the lights on the whole process.

If there is any solace to be taken, Saslaw’s original bill was worse – the whole process would have been secret. A condemned person, or his or her family, could not find out the details about the state-imposed death.  But an amendment took out wording that would have exempted from FOIA all information relating to the execution process, including details of the buildings used during an execution and all records about the equipment used.

SB 1393 squeaked through Senate Courts by a 7-6 vote and passed the full Senate 23-14. After crossover day Feb. 11, it is in the hands of the House.

This isn’t the first attempt to take lethal injection execution out of public view: A similar measure was introduced in the Ohio legislature, and worked its way to passage in December, despite protests about the secrecy of the process. The new law now is being challenged in federal court in that state.

Although he is a Catholic opposed to the death penalty, Gov. Terry McAuliffe is backing SB 1393. Support has been bipartisan.

Richmond lawyer Craig Merritt testified at the Senate Courts meeting on behalf of the Virginia Press Association, and he has it right: “What this is doing, is placing it on very separate footing from pretty much anything else the Commonwealth or its subdivisions procure.”

Merritt added, “It puts a blanket over how we get this, what we spend for it, who is providing it. That is a serious concern when it comes to transparency.”

The state has no more grave or solemn duty than ending the life of someone for crimes so heinous that they warrant the death penalty. The execution process should not be fogged by secrecy.

We urge members of the House of the Delegates to reject this bill.

 

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.


220px-Brian_Williams_2011_Shankbone
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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