What’s your idea?

The author and long time public radio broadcaster Garrison Keillor has a saying which accompanies the end of his Writer’s Almanac programs on Minnesota Public Radio: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

We live in an age where journalism is evolving every second, and as it evolves, so does how we think about it – whether it comes to our own crafts, how we can support our newsroom and industry colleagues, or how we can improve our relationship with the public.

We enter this profession because we want to ensure our audiences are at their best. Along the way, we need to be at our best. The best way to do that is by working together, and embracing a collaborative spirit to help make the industry we love even stronger.

At its root is education – something that I am hoping to expand on as my SPJ colleagues gather in Southern California for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, an opportunity to reflect and to look ahead as to what we can do to help enhance journalism.

But this education, I find, has more meaning when we work together. So I want to hear from you. What do you want to see from this blog in the next year? What would help you make a difference to your audience?

Another thing I wondered is what you want to see – would you like more reporting or guest essays? Is there a topic that isn’t touched on very much that you feel would help you?

I’d love to know what you think. You can tweet me @alex_veeneman or email me through my web site.

We can strengthen journalism, but we can’t do it alone. We must do it together and echo Keillor’s philosophy, because when we’re at our best, the people who matter most – your audience, will be too.

I look forward to hearing your feedback.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


An ethical education

President Trump will not change his behavior towards the media. It is down to us to educate the public about the importance of journalism. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr)

“I don’t know what to make of the news. But I promise we will cover it with fairness and without fear. We work for America.”

That is how Scott Simon, the longtime NPR correspondent and host of Weekend Edition Saturday, put it on Twitter at the end of a day where the relationship between the media and President Donald Trump was a lead story, coming off of a press conference that had been considered to be combative.

The press conference took place days after the attacks in Charlottesville, Virginia, amidst criticism of conflicting statements on the attacks from The White House.

Hours before that press conference, Trump had retweeted a tweet depicting a CNN journalist being run over by a train. The tweet has since been deleted.

Criticism of the media by Trump is not new, as he has utilized Twitter to criticize the media on multiple occasions. Indeed, as CNN’s Brian Stelter wrote in last night’s Reliable Sources newsletter, Trump was reported to be furious about media coverage of events Monday evening.

It has been clear for sometime that Trump’s behavior towards the media will not change, as my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman wrote last month (for the record, I also serve on the Committee). As a result, the focus within the industry must shift towards educating the American people on the importance of journalism and its role in civic life, instead of responding to Trump’s criticism.

This education is necessary, but it is also quintessential in an age where Americans increasingly get their news online and on social media. New data from the Pew Research Center shows that roughly 9 out of 10 Americans get their news online, and social media is at the core of online news consumption.

Changes on attitudes towards the media will not change overnight, and it will take some time as well as many conversations, both internally and externally, to have an impact on the relationship with journalists and their audiences as the digital age.

Yet, SPJ’s Code of Ethics provides some ideas on how journalists can start this education with their audiences now. That said, here are some tips on how to best go about it.

  • Be honest with your audience. Whether it is uncertainty about a piece of information, or making a correction, tell them about it and explain why you did what you did.
  • It’s better to be right than first. Twitter and the web is seen as a race to be the first person with the story, but it isn’t. Take the time to get everything right before you hit publish.
  • Tell them about it. When you’re making a correction or decide to delay running with a story, have a conversation with your audience as to why this is so. An honest journalist is a credible journalist.
  • Cite early and often. Cite any reports from any organizations as you report a story. Corroborate any reports.
  • Verify everything. It’s so nice it’s worth saying twice! As the Code says, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy, so take the time to ensure everything is correct in your story. Remember – it is better to be right than first.

We are truth seekers – and in the digital age, the truth is more important than ever. We owe it to ourselves to remember the importance of ethics, to talk about ethics and to not be afraid to do the most important tasks of all as journalists – informing, educating and engaging our audience.

As Simon said, we work for America – and it is for them, and no one else, that we get up each day, sit down, and do what journalists set out to do – seek truth and report it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


What’s your story?

Take time to develop your craft, for when a journalist is at their best, their audience is too. (Photo: Pixabay)

It’s Tuesday, the 8th, at just after 10 in the morning. At my desk, I prepare to make some phone calls to Britain for research for a story I’m working on. As I began that period of reading and conversations which spanned the next couple of hours, what I thought was a concrete story idea ended up having the beginning of Charles Dickens’ novel, A Tale of Two Cities, written all over it.

What was “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times,” became “It was the best of ideas, it was the worst of ideas.”

Yet, this wasn’t the only story that I had struggled with. I had been generally struggling to find the best story possible, in an age where content is king, and the desire to be first outranks the desire to be right and authentic.

We enter this industry not for the fame or the fortune, but with the goal that the stories that we tell will inform, educate and engage. We are fascinated by the role that journalism can have in our society, through the words that accompany it, irrespective of platform. We desire contribute in the hope that the work we do can be for the common good.

The drive and instinctive skills of a storyteller are things that never leave you. They are replicated in that idea you have for that piece you want to publish or that segment you want to broadcast. The world has its stories, and you want to tell them. As Dhruti Shah, the BBC journalist (who is a journalist that inspires me), put it over on the International Community blog: “You just never know when a story is going to unfold in front of you.”

There is potential in this age of the internet and social media for this storytelling to make a difference, but with that potential comes the other side – the increased competition not just for the story, but also the ability to tell stories that can have an impact.

Those feelings are summed up in the nagging questions at the back of your mind: “Are the stories I’m telling the best ones that I can tell? Is my work truly my best?”

Earlier this year, I wrote a column for SPJ’s Quill magazine on how the internet can help journalists get perspective on their careers, whether you’re an up and coming reporter or a professional trying to figure out your next steps. The same rule applies for storytelling, and the internet provides potential for you to gain that quintessential insight.

Here are some tips on how to best seek that advice to be the best storyteller you can be.

  • Engage with journalists who inspire you. You may work at different organizations or focus on different platforms, but the goals you have as journalists when all is said and done remain the same.
  • Ask for a conversation. If an email address or other contact details are listed, use those to arrange a conversation. If you’re on Twitter, send a simple tweet asking if they could follow you so you could direct message them about a conversation? Then, take it offline.
  • Tap into your own network. Whether its a friend or colleague, have a cup of coffee and a chat. Insights from within your own newsroom or outlet can even help get your creative juices flowing.
  • There is no such thing as a stupid question. Sometimes the simplest questions can be the most helpful.
  • Stay in touch. Don’t be afraid to ask questions in the future, and as a reminder – there is no such thing as a stupid question.

You may feel uneasy at first, but the time you take will without question be worthwhile in helping you be a better journalist and storyteller.

After all, when you are at your best, your audience will be at their best, too.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


The Twin Cities’ spirit

Garrison Keillor’s quote, “Be well, do good work and keep in touch,” provides a lesson for journalists. (Photo: Trishhhh/Flickr)

It’s a somewhat overcast afternoon as I look out of the window in the small office of my apartment in Minneapolis, where I’m ending my first full week as a Minnesotan. In the distance is the city skyline, a view that echoes the apartment in Seattle where the fictitious psychiatrist Dr. Frasier Crane lived.

A week or so ago, I made the over 400 mile move from Chicago to the Twin Cities for greener pastures. I was operating on caffeine and adrenaline, and I still am a week later.

Yet, as I write this, I recall the quote from the famous broadcaster and writer Garrison Keillor, which he uses for his Writer’s Almanac broadcasts on Minnesota Public Radio: “Be well, do good work, and keep in touch.”

I had been to Minneapolis twice before in the past few years, and then I didn’t really appreciate the impact of Keillor’s philosophy. In the almost two weeks since I became a Minnesotan, I’ve come to value it and more.

We live in an age where the web has expanded everything that we do, where journalism and storytelling is being enhanced in the realms of Twitter, Facebook and the web. While there have been positive benefits, there also remain questions, especially for those looking to have a successful career in journalism and media.

While we ask ourselves about our role, and how we can truly make a difference, we can take inspiration from those around us. That inspiration can come from reporters trying to make sense of events for the web, print or broadcast, in order to allow us to learn from crafts and the role stories can have.

Inspiration can also come outside of conventional journalism, including from the effervescent spirit of DJs and personalities at MPR’s The Current, who are always eager to share with you something you’ve never heard before.

In St. Paul, on the top floor of MPR’s headquarters, there is a view outside to the east overlooking the state Capitol building – a majestic, poignant reminder of the role journalists have to hold power to account, to promote the exchange of ideas and civil discourse, and to, as SPJ’s Code of Ethics puts it – seek truth and report it. It also is a photographic recollection of the reminder from Fred Rogers that life is for service.

While there are questions that remain to be answered, I simultaneously know that there are people in the Twin Cities, be it at MPR, my colleagues at SPJ’s Minnesota chapter, and elsewhere, whose work and ideas are paramount to helping us understand ourselves. Indeed, the value of the work they do in helping their friends, family, neighbors and the place they call home be at their best is something they don’t take for granted.

They instill in us the desire to learn, day in and day out. I hope, along the way, that I can learn from them.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Fred Rogers’ journalism lesson

When we try to decide what we want to do for a living as a career, a lot of questions come to mind. What are we passionate about? What piques our interest? Is there a profession that calls to us to help us do the most good?

On the weekend where we ponder what it means to be citizens of the United States, I stumbled upon this quote from the writer and public television personality, Fred Rogers.

“Anything that we can do to help foster the intellect and spirit and emotional growth of our fellow human beings, that is our job,” Rogers said. “Those of us who have this particular vision must continue against all odds. Life is for service.”

Journalism is a service based profession. It is a calling. Those who pursue it aren’t interested in fame or fortune. They want to inform, engage and educate, all the while enhancing the public discourse.

It is a profession that is being tested, not simply with new platforms and technology, but also the relationship with the public. Earlier today, President Trump posted a tweet depicting him wrestling an individual that depicted CNN.

My colleague, Andrew Seaman, who chairs SPJ’s Ethics Committee (and which I am also a member of), called on journalists and news organizations in a blog post written earlier Sunday to educate the public about journalism.

“The press needs to teach the public what it does and why it matters,” Seaman wrote. “If the press succeeds, it won’t matter how many times the president publishes the words “fake news” on Twitter. The public will know the truth about responsible journalists and news organizations.”

Facebook and Twitter have become a norm in 21st century journalism. In a matter of seconds, anything you write or say can be disseminated – and while both social networks have provided positive benefits for journalism, it has also provided challenges. At the same time, it also provides opportunities – opportunities to further this education, to convince people why journalism is important.

It can start from explaining reporting decisions on Twitter, explaining to audiences about editorial decisions, or also remembering this important mantra: “It is better to be right than to be first.

But this education cannot be done by one person. In an age where metrics is an influential norm, trust in journalism is important more so than ever, and it is something that no one can compete for. It is something that has to be earned, and working collaboratively can help enhance the public’s understanding of journalism.

Rogers is right. Life is for service, and as life is for service, then journalism is one of the most important professions you can be in.

Education is at the core of what we do. We are storytellers, and we work together to ensure the world remains at its best. If we work together, channeling Rogers’ spirit and that of others, we can ensure that we remain at our best too.

Will you join me?

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.

Editor’s note: This post was edited on July 21 at 3:38pm CT to replace content that was from a broken link.


WSJ: Putting their money where the byline is

The Wall Street Journal has pledged to remove the gender gap in their newsroom. They should keep their word. (Photo: Neon Tommy/Flickr)

Last year, when SPJ convened in New Orleans for the annual Excellence in Journalism conference, my colleague, Elle Toussi (who co-chairs SPJ’s International Community) and I co-wrote a resolution with the help of chapters and colleagues nationwide calling for women in journalism to be supported, and for resources to be made available to help them thrive in the industry.

When we wrote the resolution, it included a mention of activity at the Wall Street Journal, as its editor-in-chief, Gerard Baker, had called for the elimination of the gender pay gap. Baker’s goals had the support of its parent company, Dow Jones.

One year later, there are concerns about that pledge and if it will be honored. According to a report from the Columbia Journalism Review, nearly 200 reporters at the organization are waiting for a reply to a letter, dated the 28th of March, regarding workplace equality, and their patience is running out.

The Review also notes that there has been a decline in stories with women bylines published in the A section. The company pays women 85 percent of their work compared to men, the report adds.

A reporter who works with the women’s advocacy group at Dow Jones told CJR there were still concerns.

“This is something that is a very regular topic of conversation among editors and reporters—gender disparity, pay disparity, not feeling that our newsroom is as diverse as it needs to be in terms of race, LGBT employees, or [those with] diverse socioeconomic backgrounds,” the reporter said, who was not named by CJR at the reporter’s request for concerns of retaliation in the workplace.

This report comes as news emerged of a lack of female management at the publication. Rebecca Blumenstein left the Journal earlier this year to join the masthead of the New York Times. In the letter staffers signed from March, Blumenstein’s departure signaled a broader concern.

“Our highest ranking female role model left the company earlier this year,” the staffers wrote. “There are currently four women and eight men listed as deputy managing editors, and both editorial page editors are men. Nearly all the people at high levels at the paper deciding what we cover and how are white men.”

When Toussi and I wrote the resolution, we applauded the Journal’s decision to close the gap, and called on other organizations to follow suit. We also agreed with the resolution passed by the Asian American Journalists Association, the Native American Journalists Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the National Association of Hispanic Journalists, the National Lesbian and Gay Journalists Association, UNITY: Journalists for Diversity, and the Journalism and Women Symposium (for the record, NAHJ is partnering with SPJ for this year’s Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim, California).

In this important time for journalism, a diverse newsroom is quintessential. It is a newsroom to be proud of – a newsroom dedicated to ethical journalism and reporting the facts, whatever they may be, without fear or favor.

It is a newsroom that signals, especially in the digital age, that diversity is valued, and that women’s voices in journalism are just as important as men’s, especially with studies showing more women studying journalism in the US. Their ideas help enhance the best industry in the world, and they will continue to do so tomorrow, and in the days, months and years ahead.

Women should be recognized as equal in the newsroom, and Baker and the Journal should keep their word. They have a unique opportunity before them to eliminate the gap, to ensure a truly equal workplace environment, and send a clear message that no matter who you are or what platform you work on you can do what matters most in journalism – seek truth and report it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


The pros of verifying

Twitter has become important for disseminating information, but you need to make sure its accurate before publishing. (Photo: Pixabay)

Last Thursday, the UK held a general election which saw a hung parliament. It also saw negotiations begin on a minority government between Prime Minister Theresa May and the Conservatives, and the Democratic Unionist Party in Northern Ireland.

But as the news of the election results came down, so did a statistic on youth voter turnout – which indicated that 72 percent of voters between 18 and 24 voted.

There was widespread praise as the statistic was tweeted near and far, as the issue of young people participating in elections had been raised over the course of the campaign.

There was one problem though – it wasn’t proven to be true. As a result, it raised many questions by journalists and from other observers as to its origins, which began from a voting organization that supports the youth vote, and later tweeted by MPs, political advocates and others.

When all was said and done, it was a talking point on Twitter, and it got the attention of many news organizations, as attempts to verify the claim were made.

Twitter has its pros and cons when it comes to journalism, but one of the issues is that of the quality of information. The Society’s Code of Ethics encourages journalists to seek truth and report it, but most of all, neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

What happened on Twitter that election night serves as a reminder that verifying information is important, even more so in this digital age where anyone can publish anything, whether its true or not.

Here is a guide when it comes to publishing verified information, especially on Twitter.

Don’t run on first instinct: If you’re aware of reports of something, be it politics, business or otherwise, don’t assume its right. Just because Twitter and other platforms are new doesn’t mean the rules surrounding ethics change.

Be honest and forthright: Tell your audience you are trying to confirm the information. Then make inquiries and try to figure out what is going on. Being forthright allows you to be a more credible journalist to your followers and beyond.

Don’t be afraid to cite: Be specific about the reports – you can either quote the tweet or cite the user. Explain to audiences how you’ve spotted the claim and anything you’ve been able to find. Yet, don’t cite endlessly, cite when you feel it is warranted.

Once you’ve confirmed it, tweet it: You have sought the truth, and you now know it is true. Now report it.

Disseminating information on social media is a part of journalism today – ensuring its verified helps ethical journalism thrive on social media. Credibility on the platform is important more than ever, and if you take the time to ensure everything is accurate, people will come back to you for the truth.

When faced with dealing with information that may not be true, remember – it is better to be right than be first. You’ll be a better journalist as a result of it.

Alex Veeneman is a freelance journalist who writes for publications in the US and the UK. He also serves on SPJ’s Ethics Committee. You can interact with him on Twitter @alex_veeneman.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Twitter Chat: “Clicks vs. Quality” on April 25

With the pressure to produce more content and the influx of viral stories across the web, what does it take for newsrooms to invest in journalism that stands out? How do journalists fight for more time to work on quality pieces and less time chasing clickbait? How do managers make those key digital content decisions?

We’ll address these topics and more in our next #SPJDigiChat on April 25, 2017 from 8-9 PM EST.

Join us for “Clicks vs. Quality,” a Twitter chat with digital newsroom leaders about online content strategies in a demanding media landscape.  Just use the hashtag #SPJDigiChat to join the conversation.

Our guest experts are:

  • Mitra Kalita (@MitraKalita) –  Vice President for Programming, CNN Digital 
  • Meghan Wesley (@MeghanWesley) – Digital Enterprise Editor, WCPO

Read more about them here:

S. Mitra Kalita is the vice president for programming for CNN Digital. Kalita leads CNN Digital’s efforts to creatively share its journalism and storytelling across an ever-exploding array of platforms. She also oversees the News & Alerting, Special Projects, and Mobile & Off-Platform teams.
She was previously managing editor for editorial strategy at the Los Angeles Times. During her time there, she helped latimes.com traffic soar to nearly 60 million unique multiplatform visitors monthly, innovated new forms of storytelling and audience engagement, and connected the Times to new communities via events, new beats, translations and partnerships. She also served as the executive editor at large for Quartz, Atlantic Media’s global economy site, and was its founding ideas editor. She also oversaw the launches of Quartz India and Quartz Africa. Kalita worked previously at the Wall Street Journal, where she directed coverage of the Great Recession, launched a local news section for New York City and reported on the housing crisis as a senior writer. She was a founding editor of Mint, a business paper in New Delhi, and has previously worked for the Washington Post, Newsday and the Associated Press.

Kalita is the author of three books related to migration and globalization, including the highly acclaimed “Suburban Sahibs,” and speaks seven languages. A former journalism professor at St. John’s, UMass-Amherst, and Columbia University, she also previously served as president of the South Asian Journalists Association.

She is a graduate of Rutgers College, and received her master’s degree from Columbia University’s Journalism school.


Meghan Wesley is a digital enterprise editor for WCPO Insider, a digital membership model at WCPO/9 On Your Side in Cincinnati. As newsrooms across the country try to figure out how to do journalism digitally, Scripps created a digital newsroom within WCPO that is similar in structure to some newspaper newsrooms. A team of 35 digital editor and reporters create content specifically for digital, working with their TV partners to create dynamic content both online and on TV. Insider charges a small fee for membership, which allows all users access to premium content as well as rewards, similar to a digital entertainment book.

Before she came to Insider in 2015, Meghan was the breaking news editor and home page manager at Cincinnati.com/The Cincinnati Enquirer. Meghan earned her bachelor’s in journalism from the University of Cincinnati in 2007 and her master’s of science in journalism from Columbia University in 2008.

 


Ethics by algorithm

Facebook needs to be more open about its work to help journalism thrive. (Photo: Pixabay)

Facebook’s annual F8 conference began today in San Jose, California. F8 is a two-day conference designed to examine and look ahead to new features for developers and other parties who want to use the social network as part of their work.

The business of journalism and the business of social media have been synonymous. As I wrote on this blog last month, content is king, and with benefits also came questions, notably that of the algorithm, and how it judges the content that users see. Criticism had been made of Facebook for not being transparent enough about it, and news organizations had raised concerns about the algorithm.

The most recent concerns came from Kurt Gessler, Deputy Editor for Digital News at the Chicago Tribune. In a piece published today on Poynter’s web site, Gessler raised concerns about the algorithm as the Tribune worked to engage its audience on Facebook, noting that a third of the Tribune’s posts were not being surfaced by Facebook, causing a decline in the organic reach of the newspaper. This occurred despite a growth in the number of people who like the Tribune’s Facebook page.

Adam Mosseri, speaking today at F8, acknowledged that Facebook had not been the best in communicating its changes to news organizations and publishers. Mosseri also shared some insight into how the algorithm determines what content goes to users.

Mosseri also said that Facebook was training the algorithm to detect content and flag content, in light of the video that emerged this week from Cleveland where a man allegedly shot an elderly person – something my SPJ colleague, Ethics Committee chair Andrew Seaman, wrote about on Sunday. (Disclosure: I’m a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee.)

Mosseri said that the social network needed to react more quickly.

Mosseri also said that the social network was considering a new discovery tab that for content audiences might be interested in.

While its uncertain if the Discovery tab will come to fruition, it will likely again cause changes to social strategies for news organizations when it comes to their relationship with Facebook.

Facebook’s role in journalism is unprecedented, and today’s discussions were a step forward in helping understand a couple of important aspects about its role, and what is ahead. However, more needs to be done.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics calls for journalists and news organizations to be accountable and transparent. Though it is not referred to as a media company, Facebook is by nature a media company, and it too should be transparent, whether it comes to issues about its algorithm, its news feed, or new features.

This transparency helps not just journalists who look to Facebook every day as a way to disseminate the news (be it through posts on pages or via Facebook Live), but also audiences who consume news, a reason why Facebook continues to have a significant amount of users.

The business of social media has become a core part of the future of journalism. In order for it to be at its best, it must be open about what it does. While today’s discussions are a step forward, more questions need to be answered and more conversations must be conducted, led by either journalists or Facebook, in order to help journalism thrive as we try to assess its future in the digital age.

We must also do this for journalists’ most important task of all – that irrespective of platform, journalists continue to do what the Code of Ethics encourages from the start – seek truth and report it.

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


Let’s talk about ethics

We should talk about ethics, not just on the days of Ethics Week, but every day. (Photo: SPJ)

Next Monday (April 24th) begins Ethics Week, an annual event here at SPJ that looks at the role of ethics in journalism, why the Society’s own Code of Ethics is important – and to explore its four key principles – seek truth and report it, minimize harm, and be accountable and transparent.

This year’s observance of Ethics Week comes at an interesting time for journalism – a time where the digital age is challenging the industry and trust between journalists and the public continues to decline. In the conversation we’re having about our future, a vast plethora of subjects have been up for debate, from the future of the business models to how social media platforms are impacting how we curate and disseminate the news.

While ethics too has been a part of this conversation, it plays a particularly distinctive role.

When Lynn Walsh, SPJ’s national president, went to south Florida a few years ago for a panel with video game journalists and bloggers, there was some controversy in the organization’s participation, in light of the events known as Gamergate, consisting of ethical issues in reporting as well as harassment online.

Yet, there was a core reason as to why Walsh said yes to taking part in this – it was all about talking about ethics with the public.

“SPJ needs to share its Code of Ethics with more than traditionally trained journalists,” Walsh wrote in her column in Quill, SPJ’s bimonthly magazine. “This event was a start. It also solidified my belief that SPJ needs to share its Code of Ethics outside of journalism: with the public, bloggers and all people sharing information.”

For Walsh, however, it was more than just about the Ethics Code, as she discussed the usage of anonymous sources. It allowed for a more insightful conversation into the workings of journalism, as change remains at its crux.

“The exchange made me realize how important it is for SPJ to reach out to the public about how and why journalists do their jobs,” Walsh wrote. “We need to explain why we share certain information but choose not to publish other information, how we report on sensitive topics and how we chose stories.”

Reading about Walsh’s reasons reminded me of a theory that was advocated by Laura Davis of the Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication at the University of Southern California. Writing late last year for Nieman Lab, Davis wrote about the need for journalists to show their work – that transparency is a necessity in this evolving digital age.

“Show your work by explaining more of the reporting process to your audience,” Davis wrote. “Be authentic by being more honest about what you know and what you don’t. It’s a small part of all things we can do, but it’s something we can do now — and frankly should have been doing all along.”

This all links back to one of the Ethics Code’s steadfast principles – be accountable and transparent. Journalists should be accountable for their reporting, irrespective of platform. If there is an error, it should be corrected, along with an explanation about why it was corrected, either on Facebook or on your web site. If there is uncertainty surrounding information, speak up, and tell the audience that you’re working to confirm the facts, whether its in a tweet or on the air. If someone asks a question about reporting, it should receive a response.

The platforms may change, but the rules remain the same. No matter your venue, a forthright journalist is a credible journalist. Along the way, it helps the public to better understand how journalists do their jobs. This conversation is a cornerstone of journalism ethics, and though it may appear to be simple, the simplest things are often the most important.

Ethics is at the core of the conversation as we continue to figure out how journalism will work in the digital age. From the conversations between colleagues in outlets, to conversations with my colleagues in SPJ as well as within the Ethics Committee (of which I’m a member), we’re talking about ethics. We’re not going to stop talking about ethics – and neither should you.

So, this Ethics Week (and every week), as we press for ethics, we should talk about ethics. We as journalists will be better for it, and so will the people that matter – our audience.

Editor’s note: Ethics Week is being held from April 24th through the 28th. You can get involved with the conversation on Twitter using the hashtag #pressforethics. If you have a question for the SPJ Ethics Committee, you can call the SPJ Ethics Hotline at 317-927-8000, extension 208, or email your question to ethics@spj.org. 

Alex Veeneman, a Chicago based SPJ member, is a member of SPJ’s Ethics Committee and a contributor to the SPJ blog network. 

Outside of SPJ, Veeneman is a Managing Editor and contributing writer for Kettle Magazine, an online publication in the UK. You can interact with Veeneman on Twitter here.

The views expressed in this blog post unless otherwise specified are that of the author’s, and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SPJ Digital Community, the board and staff of the Society of Professional Journalists, or its members.


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