Annual reports – campus chapters

Last week, I posted some thoughts about the Region 2 pro chapters as I read their annual reports.

This week, I looked at the campus chapter reports. There was plenty of good stuff. There also was more variation between the largest, most vibrant chapters and the smallest ones trying to get some traction.

To start, just by filling out the annual report, as instructed, chapter leaders accomplished something and showed commitment. Some chapters did not, and I’m still trying to reach a few of them to find out why.

Campus chapters have inherent challenges, particularly as students come and go in a relatively short time. I salute every student chapter that digs in and works (and remembers to have fun, too).

Here are a few observations as I read the reports that came in from eight Region 2 college chapters:

Elon University: “Covering the Vatican” is a nice program idea. For a dinner event on freelance writing, Elon connected with the High Point University chapter and the North Carolina Pro chapter. (This is not on the report or even related, but Elon made an impression at this year’s Region 2 conference because it was very well represented in the Mark of Excellence Awards.)

Georgetown University: How’s this for a successful turnout: Georgetown hosted a job fair cosponsored by five other local journalism chapters (including the D.C. Pro SPJ chapter) – 175 people and 14 recruiters were there. Organizers plan to make this an annual event Georgetown had a nice FOI panel program, on a public-records audit of the Baltimore Police Department, and did outstanding work in hosting this year’s Region 2 conference.

High Point University: Good choice in picking the popular First Amendment Free Food Festival for one of the programs. In the “service” category, the chapter judged entries in the SPJ high school essay contest.

James Madison University: There were several good programs in this report, with variety. Twice, the chapter turned to Skype to virtually bring in an interesting speaker. I love the idea of watching “The Newsroom” and dissecting the ethics of the storyline. Two interesting tidbits in the chapter constitution: Students must be in “good standing” (at least a 2.0 GPA) to be eligible for the chapter. And hazing is explicitly forbidden.

Salisbury University: The chapter made good strides in the “service” category and in fundraising. During a food drive, it collected the most canned goods of any organization on campus. Through a series of fundraising events at local restaurants, the chapter took in $300. It has connected well with the Maryland Pro chapter on a few activities.

University of Maryland: The list of activities kept going and going … and going. What a fantastic year, with numerous professional development and social events. A few other things that stood out: Meetings to discuss important national SPJ issues (a proposed name change, code of ethics update), a journalism-heavy trip to New York City, three blood drives, and an impressive mentor program with sixth- and seventh-graders who are learning journalism.

Virginia Commonwealth University: Another chapter with a good number and range of activities. A resume workshop is worthwhile; Ethics Hold ‘Em and media movie night are fun. One event was a little different: Moderating a gubernatorial mock debate that involved campus political groups.

Western Carolina: The chapter is in just its second semester and still gathering steam. It connected with the North Carolina Pro chapter through Skype, attended the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute and – showing resourcefulness – held two bake sales to help raise money to attend the national convention.

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Annual reports – the pros

Who likes reading SPJ chapter annual reports? Me. There’s always something interesting or enlightening as chapters summarize their year.

Here are some tidbits I noticed as I read the annual reports of Region 2′s pro chapters this week:

- D.C. Pro: I didn’t expect to learn anything new, since I’m on the board. But I was glad to read that two new members, who have been getting more involved in the chapter, have taken on an important role: contacting our existing members as their memberships were about to lapse. There’s a nice symmetry in that. A job fair jointly held by five journalism organizations and Georgetown University was a hit.

- Delaware Pro: For a young, small chapter, it had a pretty good year in programming. It stood out in FOI, with a nice session with the state attorney general, then three separate programs at three college campuses.

- Greater Charlotte Pro: The chapter didn’t just talk about open government – it fought for it by challenging a closed-door government meeting on whether to spend public money on a privately owned NFL stadium. SPJ’s Legal Defense Fund provided $5,000 for court costs.

- Maryland Pro: A model of financial transparency in its report. The chapter uploaded 95(ish) pages showing bank statements, receipts, registrations, deposit slips and more. And I noticed that the chapter adopted a policy of requiring two signatures when it issues checks, a good safeguard.

- North Carolina Pro: Was good on social activities, which help lure people to a growing chapter. I like that “homemade SPJ ornaments” were given out at the holiday party.

- Virginia Pro: Made great connections with local college students through its College Media Day, covering a range of topics (jobs, internships, social media, FOI, column writing, entering contests) and with resume critiques. Did something good for its financial audit: None of the three people who reviewed the records were board members.

 

Miscellaneous: I liked this section in the Delaware and North Carolina pro chapters’ bylaws (yes, I’m reading those, too): “Section 7 — All membership meetings and programs of the (Delaware/North Carolina) Pro Chapter shall be on the record and open to coverage by any or all communications media on an equal basis.”

Virginia Pro had a different, but also good, statement of openness in its bylaws: “Section 5. Guest speakers will be on the record and will be so informed in advance.”

 

All six pro chapters in Region 2 produced good annual reports and recognized areas that they can do better. Keep up the good work.

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Code of ethics, another round

On July 3, the SPJ Ethics Committee released the second draft of its proposed update of the SPJ Code of Ethics.

The committee is scheduled to convene in person on July 12 in Columbus, Ohio. Today (July 9) was the deadline for feedback on the second draft before the next stage begins.

(I commented previously on the first draft.)

 

Here are my thoughts on the latest version – some of it picky:

(Strike-through is for deletions. Notes and additions are in bold and brackets; suggested wording is in quotes. Underlines shows changes.)

 

CODE OF ETHICS
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that justice and good government require an informed public. The journalist’s duty is to provide that information, accurately, fairly and fully. Responsible journalists from all media, including nontraditional providers of news to a broad audience, should strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty["THOROUGHLY AND HONESTLY"]. Responsible journalists think ethically before acting, and make every effort to get the story right the first time. Integrity is the foundation of a journalist’s credibility, and above all, responsible journalists must be accurate. The purpose of this code is to declare the Society’s principles and standards and to encourage their use in the practice of journalism in any and all media.

[THIS IS THE CURRENT VERSION:

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist's credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society's principles and standards of practice.

THERE IS DIFFERENT WORDING IN THE NEW VERSION, BUT NO NEW THOUGHTS OR IMPROVEMENTS]

—–

Seek Truth["AND REPORT IT" - WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SECOND PART? IT'S A NECESSARY PART OF JOURNALISM.]

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

Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Use primary sources to verify information before publishing["PUBLISH" DOESN'T ACKNOWLEDGE BROADCAST REPORTS] when possible.

Gather and update information throughout the life of the news story to avoid error.["UPDATE A NEWS STORY WHENEVER THERE'S NEW INFORMATION."]

Pursue accuracy in reporting over speed of publication[SAME AS ABOVE ON USE OF "PUBLISH"]. Neither speed nor abbreviation formats["ABBREVIATION FORMATS" IS AWKWARD] excuse inaccuracy.["VALUE ACCURACY OVER SPEED WHEN REPORTING."]

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

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

Reserve anonymity for sources who could face danger, retribution or other harm for providing information. ["EXPLAIN WHY ANONYMITY WAS GRANTED AND, WHEN POSSIBLE, A SOURCE'S CONNECTION TO A STORY."] Consider alternatives in reporting before granting anonymity. Anonymity should not be granted merely as license to criticize.[THE FIRST CLAUSE COVERS THESE TWO SENTENCES.] Reveal conditions attached to promises made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

When possible and appropriate, provide access to original documents and other information sources. ["ONLINE, USE LINKS."]

Diligently seek subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to criticism and allegations of wrongdoing.

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious reporting methods except when traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public. ["BE TRANSPARENT IN EXPLAINING THE METHODS USED."]

Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.[GOOD TO SEE THIS LINE RESTORED.]

Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open["OPENLY"] and that ["PUBLIC"]government records are open to inspection.

Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek nontraditional sources whose voices are seldom heard.

Avoid stereotyping["BY RACE, GENDER, AGE, RELIGION, ETHNICITY, GEOGRAPHY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, DISABILITY, PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OR SOCIAL STATUS." I KNOW THIS MAKES IT LONGER, BUT THESE ARE GOOD FOR SPARKING THOUGHT.] Examine your own cultural values and Avoid imposing your own cultural values on others.

Support the open exchange of views in news stories and among news consumers.

Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be clearly labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

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

Never deliberately distort information.[MAYBE DROP THIS? IT'S SO OBVIOUS, IT DOESN'T SEEM NECESSARY]

Label rumors as unconfirmed in the rare occasions it becomes necessary to report one.[AWKWARD SUBJECT-VERB STRUCTURE.]["WHEN RUMORS BECOME A NECESSARY PART OF A REPORT, CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHAT INFORMATION IS CONFIRMED."]

Never alter or distort news images. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

Never plagiarize. Disclose sources of information not independently gathered.

—–

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance, irreverence or invasiveness.["INTRUSION"?]

Consider the potential harm when seeking or using information, interviews and images of people affected by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. Consider cultural differences in your approach and treatment.

Authenticate all photos["IMAGES"], data or other information, including any gathered from social media forums, including those for which. ["BE SKEPTICAL WHEN"]the source is unknown. or where there is uncertainty regarding the authenticity of the images or information.[THE LAST PHRASE IS UNNECESSARY.]

Recognize that legal access to information differs from ethical justification to publish["OR BROADCAST"]. Journalists should balance the importance of information and potential effects on subjects and the public before publication.[NOT NEEDED. THIS IS RESTATING THE CONFLICT BETWEEN "SEEK TRUTH" AND "MINIMIZE HARM."]

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing private information.[NOT NEEDED.]

Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity or following the lead of those who ["WHEN OTHERS"] do.

Consider the implications of ["BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT" (WHICH IS CURRENT WORDING)] identifying juvenile suspects and victims of sex crimes. Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of online publication.["REALIZE THAT ONLINE PUBLICATION CAN BE FAR-REACHING AND PERMANENT."] Provide updated and more complete["UPDATE AND CORRECT"] information when appropriate.

—–

Act Independently

A journalist’s highest and primary obligation is to serve the public. Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.[STILL ONE OF THE BEST LINES.]

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations that may conflict with an impartial approach to information-gathering and may, compromise integrity or damage credibility.[LENGTH OF THIS SENTENCE MUDDIES IT. "THAT MAY CONFLICT" CLAUSE MIGHT BE SEEN AS APPLYING ONLY TO "SERVICE IN COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS." PERHAPS: "Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment. Shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations. Freebies or outside connections might tarnish impartial information-gathering, compromise integrity or damage credibility."]

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; Do not pay for news or access.[THIS WORDING IS AN IMPROVEMENT FROM "AVOID BIDDING FOR NEWS."]

Deny favored treatment to advertisers and donors, or any other special interests. and Resist ["INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL"] pressure to influence coverage in any way, even if such pressures come from inside the media organization.

Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not. Distinguish news from advertising and marketing material. Shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. [THIS IS NOW IN THE CODE TWICE. IT'S UNDER "SEEK TRUTH," TOO, WITH SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT WORDING: Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Clearly label sponsored content.]

—–

Be accountable and transparent ["TRANSPARENT" IS A GOOD ADDITION]
Journalists should take responsibility for their work and explain their decisions to their readers, listeners and audiences [WHAT HAPPENED TO "EACH OTHER"?]. Journalists should:

Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly. Corrections and clarifications should be explained carefully and thoroughly ["CLEARLY"] and displayed with the same prominence ["AS PROMINENTLY"] as the original item ["REPORT"]. ["CORRECTIONS SHOULD BE APPENDED TO THE ORIGINAL REPORT ONLINE, INCLUDING IN ARCHIVES."]

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

Disclose sources of funding and relationships that might influence, or appear to influence, reporting involving both journalists and their sources[COVERAGE."]

Expose unethical conduct in journalistic ["CONDUCT"] by their own news organizations and others.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of public persons. [AWKWARD PHRASE] ["OTHERS."]

 

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So far/still to come – SPJ Code of Ethics review

In response to a discussion at last month’s SPJ national board meeting, some officers, staff members and Ethics Committee members created the following overview of the process for possibly updating the code of ethics.

There are plenty of ways to participate up to (and including) this year’s national convention in Nashville in September. One way that’s not listed, but I believe will happen, is a session to discussion the changes during the conference.

Please look at the first draft of proposed changes to the code, if you haven’t already. This is a mark-through version that’s probably easier to follow than comparing the original to the draft.

—–

 

SPJ Code of Ethics Revision Process
Version 2.0 (May 6, 2014)

Process Overview
This memo outlines the process for revising the SPJ Code of Ethics, which was last updated in 1996. Ultimately, only the SPJ delegates have the authority make changes to the code. Any delegate can propose changes at the national convention, but typically changes have been made through a process that solicits suggestions from members, non-members and leaders in journalism ethics. This revision process mirrors previous revisions, but adds more opportunities for input based on the technology available today. The Ethics Committee has been tasked with gathering input, crafting a revised code (likely several drafts), bounce it off other groups, such as the SPJ Board, and offer it to the delegates at EIJ14 Sept. 4-7 for their consideration. The delegates may adopt it, adopt it with modifications, reject it, or ask for more information and further consideration at EIJ15.

Phase 1: Initial Draft (August 2013-April 2014)
The first phase focused on gathering input from inside and outside SPJ and crafting an initial draft:
•    Big-picture discussion: After hearing from journalists inside and outside of SPJ regarding the need for a code update, then-incoming-President David Cuillier scheduled a town hall meeting at the EIJ13 convention in Anaheim in August 2014. The gathering was led by Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith and various views were expressed.
•    Task assigned: Following the open discussion, Cuillier directed the Ethics Committee to solicit feedback and craft an update that delegates could consider at EIJ14 in Nashville.
•    Working group formed: Smith created a working group consisting of the 10-member committee, as well as eight ethics experts from outside the committee, including Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute, social media pro Monica Guzman, and others (Chris Roberts, Carole Feldman, Tom Kent, Jan Leach, Stephen Ward, Lynn Walsh). The group also solicited feedback from the members and the public via e-mail, social media and  other SPJ communication tools. In addition, a digital subcommittee was formed to provide input on new ethical challenges resulting from emerging technology.
•    Four-section assignment: In late January, the ethics group was divided into four groups, each responsible for taking first crack at each section in the code: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, and Be Accountable. The public comments and the digital subcommittee report were shared with the groups before they crafted their respective sections. When the groups were done, they gave their drafts to one of the other groups for editing.
•    The work groups were as follows (*denotes core ethics committee member):
•    Seek Truth — *Irwin Gratz, *Mike Farrell, Monica Guzman, Jan Leach
•    Minimize Harm — *Kevin Smith, *Andrew Seaman, Chris Roberts, Carole Feldman
•    Act Independently — *Paul Fletcher, *Lauren Bartlett, Lynn Walsh, Stephen Ward
•    Be Accountable — *Fred Brown, *Hagit Limor, Kelly McBride
•    First draft compilation: Smith then compiled all the drafts into one version and distributed it in late March for discussion at SPJ spring regional conferences. It was posted on the SPJ website (http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/ethics/2014/03/27/ethics-code-revisions-our-first-draft/) and more than 600 suggestions were gathered via the blog, an online form at TinyURL.com/EthicsCodeFeedback, conferences, and email sent directly to Smith.

Phase 2: Public Outreach and Revision (May-July 2014)
The next phase is to gather as much feedback as possible from members, non-member journalists, the public, ethics scholars and other constituencies, and work through two more drafts. Starting in May, a steering group of Smith, Walsh and Andrew Seaman, aided by SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel, will coordinate outreach and communications efforts. Also, the new SPJ communications strategist will likely be assigned to assist with outreach. They include:

•    Website update: A new webpage just for the code revision will be created, rather than relying on the blog format. Information about the revision process will be posted as it progresses, including various efforts to collect input, and a time line for what is ahead in the process. Also, bios and headshots for the working group will be added to the website, as well as news coverage about the ethics code revision. The target launch date for the site is May 19.
•    Comment aggregation: Seaman is setting up an online comment aggregation tool so that the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of comments can be aggregated and assimilated in some relative order. The comments will be available online for anyone to see and should help the committee make sense of the prevailing thoughts.
•    Online solicitations: With the conclusion of the final SPJ Spring Conference, the committee will send an email to all SPJ members and other interested parties outlining the rest of the drafting process. Within that email, there will be a link for people to submit comments, suggestions and questions.
•    Tumblr page: Lynn Walsh created a Tumblr page (http://www.tumblr.com/blog/spjethics) that could also be used to curate comments and spark discussion.
•    Twitter chats: In an effort to bring in people outside SPJ, the committee is planning to organize Twitter chats with well-known groups. Those included so far are MuckRack (Tuesday, May 13) and #WJchat.
•    Newsroom outreach: Walsh will reach out to newsrooms. People can forward copies of the draft to their colleagues for feedback, or they can hold small focus group within their own newsrooms to submit the recommendations.
•    Other publicity: In addition to the previous ways of communicating about the Code, the steering committee is looking at other possibilities proposed by Michael Koretzky, including:
•    Interested board members and other SPJ leaders personally contacting industry thought leaders to make suggestions.
•    SPJ polling every journalism ethics professor in the country.
•    SPJ leaders asking to present at other organizations’ conventions.
•    Consider spending a few hundred dollars on PPC and leveraging SEO on the page, maybe installing Yoast on all Ethics-related material.
•    Asking candidates for SPJ office to comment on the Code revamp.
•    Membership emails linking directly to curated, interactive pages.
•    Second draft: The revision work group will continue revising the draft, based on the feedback gathered. Comments must be received by June 30, and then a second draft will be finished by the committee in July, along with an explanation of why certain types comments were included and others were not. Realistically, we will have hundreds, if not thousands of comments, so every suggestion cannot be incorporated, but a general discussion of thinking in the revision with comment themes will be provided. The second draft will be posted online and distributed through the communication channels described above.

Phase 3: Final Revisions (July-September 2014)
The final phase will involve polishing the third draft and bouncing it off select audiences before presentation to the delegates for a September vote.
•    Third draft: The working group will meet in person in July to hash out the final points of contention and produce a polished third draft. The meeting will be streamed live and viewers may post comments as it happens.
•    Sounding boards: Ideally, a panel discussion with ombudsmen and standards editors will be set up to discuss the third draft and to gather outside viewpoints. Also, in August the SPJ Board will discuss the draft in a conference call and consider making its advisory recommendation to the delegates on whether to approve the draft.
•    Membership vote: A question will be put on the membership ballot this fall so members can vote on their level of support or non-support for the revisions. This vote will be advisory to the delegates, and non-binding
•    Delegate discussion: At EIJ14 in Nashville in September, the delegates will have the opportunity to approve the final draft, not approve it, approve it with amended changes, consider other versions, or postpone consideration for further review and discussion. The board and president will take direction from the delegates if further discussion or action is necessary.
•    Code promotion: If the code updates are approved, SPJ’s communications strategist will develop a plan for distributing and promoting the revised Code to all of the appropriate stakeholders including but not limited to SPJ members, non-members, journalism schools, other journalism organizations and the media.

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A past voice on new ethics code draft

As SPJ considers a possible update of its code of ethics, many people are weighing in with feedback. I posted my thoughts here.

Steve Buttry, a strong advocate for an update to the code, has posted extensive comments, particularly about the need to incorporate principles of transparency.

Several other people posted feedback on the Ethics Committee’s blog, after the post about the first draft of the update.

During my time on the SPJ Ethics Committee, I respected (and still do) the thoughts of Peter Sussman, so I wanted to know what he thought about what has been proposed so far.

Peter is familiar not only with the current code, but with issues that arose over many years of interpretation and implementation in varied circumstances. Here is his response to my request for his reactions:

* On the issue of transparency, I do not believe it should be a separate meta-principle. The four current principles make for a wonderful, adaptable and very usable balancing act – seeking truth and reporting it vs. minimizing harm and acting independently vs. being accountable. I do believe transparency is worthy of inclusion, but it seems to fit best in the accountability section. We owe it – as part of our duty to be accountable to the public, to the consumers of our news reports and to sources and subjects – to be transparent. That means we should reveal our techniques and alliances, the conditions we agreed to in granting anonymity, the motives of sources, etc. Those and other forms of transparency are how we maintain accountability.

* On “confirm the accuracy”: That’s often impossible, but the key point – and I’d love to see this made explicit in the code somewhere – is journalists have an obligation to give the readers/viewers/listeners as much information as possible with which to decide for themselves how much credibility they choose to give to any reports. Often that’s the best we can do: Not pretend that we can “confirm” something is true – or even to “test its accuracy” ourselves – but to give enough information on all relevant factors and influences, all the context possible to evaluate a report’s credibility by the consumer’s own values.* Fairness (especially on breaking news, but on other issues as well): Again, weighing and reporting on context and source background, motivation and reliability is essential, and achieving for-the-record and artificial, even fictional, “balance” often leads to unfair distortion. Climate change is a good example. The faux balance issue can be addressed easily by weighing credibility factors.

* Buttry’s best point is on unnamed sources, but I’d add the same point I’ve made repeatedly above. The more anonymous and important and accusatory the report, the more it demands every possible bit of information by which one can judge the source’s reliability and motives. Revealing conditions of the interview and exact nature of the assurances given to the source are essential. (You don’t even have to get into Judith Miller here; she was so far overboard that she consciously LIED about her source’s position, fabricating information in order to deflect attention from the source’s motives.)

* “Avoid publishing critical opinions by those seeking confidentiality” seems too broad and ill-defined to me. The bottom line again – am I repeating myself endlessly? – is that the consumer must have the information necessary to assess the accuracy of the charges to his or her satisfaction, and publication will depend in part on both how important the information is and how well-sourced and explained.

* I agree with Buttry on the ridiculous sentence about “information taken from other news sources.” Readers of the New York Times would never know about most of Snowden’s revelations if they had to independently confirm information reported by the Guardian, Der Spiegel and the Washington Post. The same condition is attached to this point: The information must be properly attributed to its source, as specifically and meaningfully as possible. For example, “The internet says … ” is NOT specifically and meaningfully attributed.

* Undercover information-gathering: I agree with Buttry that the omission of explaining such methods as part of the story is just plain weird. Why?

* I agree with Buttry on another point: Why would you cut “even when it is unpopular to do so”?

* I like the digital subcommittee’s emphasis on making an effort to expose oneself to voices you might not otherwise hear. In fact, I’d add, “voices on staff and otherwise” to emphasize that a diverse news staff is one important ingredient of providing more accurate and fair reportage.

* I agree with the committee’s cuts on specific forms of stereotyping. There are many other ways of inappropriate stereotyping that aren’t included in the original list, which is bound to be perpetually in flux anyhow.

* I agree with Buttry on the importance of retaining the “support the open exchange of views” section, with the addition of a qualifier that could read something like “without distorting the accuracy of the reporting” – which eliminates the possibility that climate deniers, for instance, would expect to have all their views reported with equal weight. Open exchange of views is to be encouraged, but not at the cost of misrepresentation.

* I agree that “give voice to the voiceless” is vitally important and am baffled by its omission.

* I also agree with Buttry on the prohibition on misrepresenting fact or context in commentary. I understand that commentary often involves providing spin, and we don’t want to stifle debate, but that’s not the same as actively misrepresenting facts or context.

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A critique: first draft of SPJ Code of Ethics update

One of the major projects on SPJ’s agenda this year is a review – and possible update – of the SPJ Code of Ethics.

The code of ethics was last updated in 1996.

About four years ago, when I was chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee, Kevin Smith – SPJ’s president at the time – asked the committee to review the code of ethics. However, the committee soon realized that it wasn’t the right time.

SPJ was about to publish a new edition of a journalism textbook. Fred Brown, the committee’s vice chair, who edited the book, said the publisher would not want us to change the code of ethics, a prominent part of the book, right after the textbook came out. So, we waited.

The idea for a review returned last year. The Ethics Committee has moved ahead.

On March 27, Smith, who is now chairman of the Ethics Committee, posted a first draft of possible changes to the code, as suggested by the committee. (A version that tracks the changes was added more recently.)

The plan is to get wide feedback on the first draft, then have the committee return with a second draft for the national board and convention delegates to consider at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville in September.

The board and the delegates also could look at the proposed changes and decide that the code of ethics should remain as it is.

 

Below are some of my thoughts on the committee’s first draft.

 

Here is the current preamble:

Preamble
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of “rules” but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable. [We added the second paragraph during my time on the committee to counter attempts to use the code of ethics as a set of rules, especially as part of litigation.]

 

Here is what the committee proposed:

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that justice and good government require an informed public. The journalist’s duty is to provide that information, accurately, fairly and fully. Responsible journalists from all media, including nontraditional providers of news to a broad audience, should strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Responsible journalists think ethically before acting, and make every effort to get the story right the first time.  Integrity is the foundation of a journalist’s credibility, and above all, responsible journalists must be accurate. The purpose of this code is to declare the Society’s principles and standards and to encourage their use in the practice of journalism in any and all media. [There is different language here, but it expresses pretty much the same thing. The paragraph about the voluntary nature of the code doesn't show up on the committee's draft, but I'm told that will remain.]

 

 

Here is the current “Seek Truth and Report It” section:
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

— Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
— Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
— Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
— Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
— Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
— Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
— Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
— Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story
— Never plagiarize.
— Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
— Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
— Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
— Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
— Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
— Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
— Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
— Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

 

Here is what the committee proposed:

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

Aggressively gather and update information as a story unfolds and work to avoid error. Deliberate distortion and reporting unconfirmed rumors are never permissible. [The "deliberate distortion" reference, from the current draft, is good. But I disagree with a declaration that it's "impermissible" to report unconfirmed rumors. Naturally, confirmed information is more credible than unconfirmed reports, but that's for a news organization to decide - as long as the context ("this has not been confirmed") is given.]

Remember that neither speed nor brevity excuses inaccuracy or mitigates the damage of error. [Is "brevity" the right word here? ("concise and exact use of words in writing or speech") This seems to be a reminder to get it right, no matter the pressure. Perhaps: "Getting it right should always trump reporting it first."]

Journalists, not sources, are responsible for the accuracy of stories. Verify information from sources before publishing. Information taken from other news sources should be independently verified [and credited?]. ["Taken" might not be the right word; it connotes lifting information and using it. Perhaps: "Information from any source, including another news organization, should be independently verified before including it in your own report. Give credit to other news sources as you would attribute any information you collect."]

Work to put every story in context. In promoting, previewing or reporting a story live, take care not to misrepresent or oversimplify it. [This appears to be a rewrite of a line in the current code: "Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context." I think this line still works fine, despite the claim I heard that it's an example of language from olden days. The new version doesn't capture the concern as fully - i.e., what about an exaggerated headline over a newspaper story?]

Clearly identify sources; the public is entitled to as much information as possible on source’s identity, reliability and possible motives.  Seek alternative sources before granting anonymity. Reveal conditions attached to any promises made in exchange for information. Keep promises. [should be "sources' " (plural) - not "source's" (singular) - or make it "a source's..." The "Reveal conditions" phrase is probably better than the existing "Clarify conditions" phrase, in that it points toward disclosure, not just mutual agreement.]

Seek sources whose views are seldom used. Official and unofficial sources can be equally valid. [The current reference is: "Give voice to the voiceless." That's stronger and better captures what we're trying to say. It's too simple to say "whose views are seldom used," which sounds like everyone should get a chance, regardless of whether they deserve it. That's probably not the intention.]

Diligently seek subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to criticism and to allegations of wrongdoing.

Avoid publishing critical opinions by those seeking confidentiality. [What this says and what it probably means to say are two different things. This falls under the "clearly identify sources" clause above. The addendum could be: "Anonymity should be reserved for sources who could face danger, retribution or other legitimate hardships for sharing information they know. Anonymity should not be granted freely as merely a license to criticize."]

Never alter or distort news images. Clearly label illustrations.

Avoid re-enactments or staged news events. [I don't understand why "misleading" was removed from this clause, as it's written in the current code ("Avoid misleading re-enactments..."). Why prohibit a re-enactment that's clearly presented as one?]

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

Never plagiarize. Always attribute information not independently gathered. [I like this addition. Plagiarism is clearly wrong, but I think there's no consensus of what it is, so urging attribution is worthwhile.]

Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience.

Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be clearly labeled.

Avoid stereotyping. Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those on others. [By cutting the examples of stereotyping in the current clause - "by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status" - it tightens the line considerably. But those examples might prompt people to consider the types of stereotyping they might have done, unwittingly.]

Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection. Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

 

This is the current “Minimize Harm” section:

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

— Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
— Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
— Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
— Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
— Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
— Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
— Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
— Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

 

This is the committee’s draft:

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort.  Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance, irreverence or an invasive behavior. [The current draft stops at "arrogance." That isn't the only behavior to avoid, but there are too many to continue listing them. Or at least shorten "an invasive behavior" to "invasiveness" for parallel construction.]

Be sensitive when seeking or using information, interviews and images of people affected by tragedy or grief. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

Recognize the harm in using photos or information, including any photos and data from social media forums, for which the source is unknown, or where there is uncertainty regarding the authenticity of the images or information. [This is a good addition for today's times and practices. It could use some tweaking, though.]

Recognize that legal access to information differs from ethical justification to publish. Journalists should balance the importance of information and potential effects on subjects and the public before publication. [This also is a good addition, but it should be limited to the first sentence. The second sentence doesn't add anything.]

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. ["Public figures" is a little better than the current reference to "public officials."]

Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity. Avoid following the lead of others who violate this tenet. [The third sentence was added to the current version, but isn't needed. The first two sentences are clear on their own.]

Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects, criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges, and victims of sex crimes. Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed. [This line in the current version sticks to juvenile suspects and victims of sex crimes. I don't think the "criminal suspects" reference belongs here - it's a different issue. Publishing a name at all vs. when to publish a name. However, I think it's reasonable to have a separate reference to using care when publishing a suspect's name before there are formal charges.]

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of online publication. Provide updated and more complete information when appropriate. [This is an excellent addition.]

 

This is the current “Act Independently” section:

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

Journalists should:

—Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
— Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
— Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
— Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
— Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
— Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
— Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

 

This is the committee’s draft:

A journalist’s highest and primary obligation is to the public’s right to know. Journalists should:

 Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts. [These are two different lines in the current version. They are correctly grouped on one line here.]

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations that may conflict with an impartial approach to information-gathering. ["...that may conflict..." replaces "if they compromise journalistic integrity" in the current version. Either is fine, although the new draft is a little more specific, which is good.]

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for news or access. [This is one of the best changes in the new draft. "Do not pay for news or access" is much stronger and clearer than "Avoid bidding for news," which made "bidding" (as in, competition) the problem rather than payment.]

Deny favored treatment to advertisers and donors, or any other special interests, and resist pressure to influence coverage. [This appears to be an acknowledgment that modern nonprofit news organizations might be getting outside money, but I don't know if the reference is clear. "Donors" might conjure a political campaign.]

Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not. Distinguish news from advertising and marketing material. Shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. [I hate the word "content," which, in my opinion, minimizes what news is. That's a personal peeve. Also, this lists three categories - news, advertising, marketing material - but cautions about blurred lines "between the two."]

Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

 

This is the current “Be Accountable” section:

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:

— Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
— Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
— Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
— Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
— Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

 

This is the committee’s draft:

Journalists should be open in their actions and accept responsibility for them. Journalists should:

Clarify and explain news coverage and encourage a civil dialogue with the public over journalistic practices. ["Civil" was a good addition here, but I prefer "journalistic conduct," which I think refers to individual cases, over "journalistic practices," which makes me think about the profession and its traditions. A small change, either way.]

Admit mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently wherever they appeared, including in archived material. [Excellent. This is another strong, important addition - correcting archived material. It could be expanded to include current material, not just archived material. For example: A story was posted on a news website in the morning, then corrected in the evening.]

Expose unethical conduct in journalism.

Disclose sources of funding and relationships that might influence, or appear to influence, reporting.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

[Why cut: "Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media"?]

 

 

Finally: I’d like to see one of my biggest pet peeves addressed – anonymous comments posted after stories.

Perhaps: “Consider the dangers of mean, unfair and potentially libelous feedback posted anonymously online after news stories.”

 

 

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At Georgetown, authors and officers

A Nov. 11 SPJ event at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C., served two purposes.

First, the audience of about 40 people got to hear from and talk to Pulitzer Prize winners Matt Apuzzo and Adam Goldman about their new book, “Enemies Within: Inside the NYPD’s Secret Spying Unit and Bin Laden’s Final Plot Against America.” It is based on their reporting for The Associated Press.

An audience members asked the authors about their approach to talking to sources. Apuzzo’s advice: “Talk casually.” Get to know a source, as if you’re dating. You can’t ask for the “big scoop” when you barely know each other.

Apuzzo, a member of the faculty at Georgetown, said government officials consider it “messy and inconvenient” when information gets out – but that’s not a reporter’s concern. “Governing is easier with secrecy,” he said.

Goldman listed some prominent recent leaks of so-called sensitive information, through WikiLeaks and Edward Snowden, and noted: “The sky hasn’t fallen yet.”

Trying to navigate through national security documents can be “like wandering in a dark room with a flashlight,” Apuzzo said. Some days, the flashlight doesn’t work.

Getting that story exactly right on the first try is unlikely because not all of the details and context will be clear, Goldman said.

Apuzzo and Goldman were part of an AP team that won the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for investigative reporting. The team also included Chris Hawley and Eileen Sullivan.

Asked about working closely with a colleague, Goldman explained why he meshed with Apuzzo: “I like him. He’s not a jerk. I could depend on him.”

The book discussion event also gave the new officers of the Georgetown University SPJ chapter a chance to get to know each other, a few days after they had been elected.

Vice President Mikayla Bouchard and Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis are new to the Master of Professional Studies in Journalism program at Georgetown. President Capricia Alston was active in SPJ last year.

Welcome, all, to SPJ leadership.

From left: chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis; chapter President Capricia Alston; Adam Goldman; Matt Apuzzo; and chapter Vice President Mikayla Bouchard.

From left: chapter Secretary/Treasurer Nayana Davis; chapter President Capricia Alston; Adam Goldman; Matt Apuzzo; and chapter Vice President Mikayla Bouchard.

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SPJ immersion

That’s the best way I can think of to describe the Ted Scripps Leadership Institute – SPJ immersion.

You learn a lot about a lot, from what SPJ is and does to the psychology of leadership.

I’ll leave it at that, so as not to give away the curriculum from this coming weekend’s leadership session in Richmond, Va. I will be there as Region 2 director, sharing my SPJ experiences and wisdom.

Under the new “traveling” format for the Scripps Institute (coming to a region near you), the Richmond session will be heavy on Region 2 participants:

Christina Jackson from the Western Carolina University chapter

Keith Cannon from Greater Charlotte Pro

Jonathan Michels from North Carolina Pro

Melissa Burke from Delaware Pro

Amy Cherry from Delaware Pro

David Cabrera from the Salisbury University chapter

Minal Bopaiah from Washington, D.C., Pro

April Bethea from Greater Charlotte Pro

David Burns from Maryland Pro

Brett Hall from the University of Maryland chapter

Emily Schweich from the University of Maryland chapter

 

I am excited to spend some time with this Region 2 crew, several of whom I have met in person and electronically.

See you in Virginia.

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Celebrating ‘Tinker v. Des Moines School District’

If you’re a First Amendment fan (a given) and you’re in the Washington, D.C., area, you’ll want to be at the U.S. Supreme Court on Nov. 6 at 6 p.m.

That’s when the Tinker Tour rolls through the District.

Mary Beth Tinker was 13 years old in 1965 when she and some other young students in Des Moines, Iowa, wore armbands to school as a silent statement about the Vietnam War. Administrators tried to force the students to remove the armbands, which led to a challenge in the court system. Ultimately, in 1969, the Supreme Court ruled that the armbands were free speech; the students won.

This fall, Tinker and attorney Mike Hiestand – who won SPJ’s First Amendment Award in 2012 – have been criss-crossing the country to talk about free speech and a free press.

The tour is supported by the Student Press Law Center.

The Nov. 6 event will be part of the United States Supreme Court Historical Society’s Leon Silverman Lecture Series.

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A fever over the Code

Here is SPJ review topic number 2 this year: the venerable code of ethics. (The first topic, in the previous post, was whether SPJ should update its name).

There have been several versions of the code. The first one dates to 1926, when Sigma Delta Chi (as SPJ was known at the time) “borrowed” a code from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code in 1973. It was updated in 1984, 1987 and 1996.

About four years ago, then-SPJ President Kevin Smith asked the Ethics Commitee, which I chaired, to review the Code of Ethics and consider whether it should be updated again.

That effort was put on hold, though. SPJ was in the midst of publishing a new edition of a book of journalism ethics case studies. Since the book contained the SPJ Code of Ethics, the sentiment among committee members was that this was not the right time to change the code.

Now, in 2013, there is renewed interest in reviewing and possibly updating the code.

Some say parts of the code are dated and, in particular, it doesn’t address new technology, such as social media.

I, however, see the code as a set of structural principles that don’t change because of new methods of collecting and distributing information. The underpinnings of ethical journalism remain the same.

Nonetheless, SPJ is soliciting opinions about the current code and whether and how it should be changed, a little or a lot.

Please share your thoughts by taking this survey.

Then, look at this page on Google Docs to see what others have said.

As of this writing, 92 people had answered.

On the question of whether the code should be updated, 35 said “yes” (38 percent) and 24 said “no” (26 percent). The remaining 33 people (36 percent)  said “not sure – but it’s good to review.”

SPJ will continue the discussion at the chapter and regional level this year and next year. If the consensus is that changes are needed, there will be a draft for delegates to consider at next year’s convention in September in Nashville.

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