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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