Posts Tagged ‘RTDNA’

Journalists Must Be Held Accountable

Charlie Rose in 2006. (Flickr Creative Commons/Thomas Hawk)

Journalism organizations and institutions should not shy away from holding people accountable for their actions.

CBS News, Bloomberg and PBS cut ties with Charlie Rose on Tuesday after numerous reports of sexual misconduct. The allegations, which were first reported in The Washington Post, are the latest to strike a major figure in the world of journalism.

Unlike most of the previous journalists recently accused of sexual misconduct, Rose presents an awkward position for several organizations and institutions that honored him with awards to recognize his long career.

The Radio Television Digital News Association honored Rose with its lifetime achievement award in 2016. The Society of Professional JournalistsDeadline Club inducted him into its hall of fame in 2015. Arizona State University awarded Rose with its excellence in journalism award in 2015. Other organizations undoubtedly honored him over the years, too.

ASU’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication announced on Friday it is revoking Rose’s award in an “unprecedented action.” The Deadline Club is reportedly considering revoking its award.

Rescinding awards is often a divisive conversation, but it shouldn’t be in cases such as the one involving Rose, who apologized for his “inappropriate behavior” but said not all allegations against him were “accurate.” Organizations and institutions established to support and better journalism must not shy away from holding the field’s most powerful practitioners accountable.


The SPJ Code of Ethics ends with the principle that journalists should “abide by the same high standards they expect of others.” If journalists fall short, there should be appropriate ramifications as would be expected in any other profession. In this case, there is no debate that sexual harassment is completely wrong and unacceptable.

Some people argued on social media in response to ASU’s decision that these honors are typically awarded for the journalism a person produces – not for the lives they lived. A person’s career does not occur in a vacuum, however. The journalism a person produces cannot be separated from the pain and damage they may have caused along the way.

Organizations must also consider the people these awards promote and hold up as the profession’s role models. Does the award honor people who created a safe and educational environment for other good people wishing to enter the field? Or, does the award honor people regardless of the work environment they created and the talented people they turned away as a result? The correct answer should be obvious.

Lastly, the element of power cannot be ignored in many of these cases of sexual misconduct. If power and prominence contributed to these actions, the profession must be proactive in removing those as catalysts.

The Washington Post, The New York Times and many other news organizations – including CBS News – must be commended for reporting on these types of behaviors in journalism and other industries. Those reporters and editors are living up to the SPJ Code of Ethics, which says journalists should “be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.”

The journalism industry and profession turned a proverbial blind eye to sexual misconduct for too long. These past few weeks of revelations present an opportunity to change that culture and create a better present and future.

Ultimately, these debates come down to the question: How much sexual misconduct is acceptable? The answer is none.

Andrew M. Seaman is the ethics committee chairperson for the Society of Professional Journalists.

The Intersection of Communication History

The bust of Walter Cronkite greets visitors to the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The bust of Walter Cronkite greets visitors to the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The city of St. Joseph is about a 40-minute drive north of Kansas City in Missouri. The city hugs the banks of the Missouri River and is blanketed with stately buildings that give any visitor the sense that it’s an intersection of history.

I visited St. Joseph earlier this month to speak at a conference on media ethics and integrity held at Missouri Western State University. The conference was held in honor of the late Walter Cronkite, the famed broadcaster and St. Joseph native.

In addition to being the place of Cronkite’s birth, St. Joseph is also the location where riders began their journey for the Pony Express. Serendipitously, in my opinion, the city gave birth to two of history’s most storied communication figures.

A wall of Walter Cronkite's most famous broadcasts is displayed at the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

A wall of Walter Cronkite’s most famous broadcasts is displayed at the Walter Cronkite Memorial at Missouri Western University in St. Joseph, Missouri.

The Cronkite Memorial, which houses artifacts from the journalist’s life, housed the conference. Clips from his most famous broadcasts, caricatures and multimedia presentations are displayed on the walls.

A copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette issue carried by the first Pony Express riders hangs in the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri.

A copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette issue carried by the first Pony Express riders hangs in the Pony Express National Museum in St. Joseph, Missouri. (Click to Enlarge)

Downtown in St. Joseph, the Pony Express National Museum chronicles the detailed history of the business that connected communications between Midwestern and Western U.S. states in record time.

As I walked through the Cronkite Memorial and the Pony Express National Museum, my mind resonated with what I often say about journalism ethics: technology may change but principles remain unchanged.

The first Pony Express riders carried a copy of the St. Joseph Daily Gazette to California in 10 days. On the other hand, Cronkite’s image and voice instantaneously beamed into the homes of millions of Americans. Yet, both aimed to responsibly deliver accurate information.

Please stay tuned for another blog post about the conference and (possible video) of the panel featuring ONA, RTDNA and SPJ representatives.

Osama bin Laden photos: To show or not to show?

By Kevin Z. Smith

With news advancing every day that the White House is considering releasing photos showing Osama bin Laden’s body, journalists will soon be pondering ethical standards and asking themselves if they want or need to use the graphic images.

[UPDATE: 5/4/2011 1:49 p.m. ET – CNN reports that President Obama has decided against releasing the photos:]

(What do you think? How will your newsroom decide? If you aren’t a newsroom manager, will you try to persuade the “higher ups” a certain way? Comment below.)

It’s a debate that’s sure to take place in hundreds of newsrooms around the nation. It’s also a debate that will involve more than journalists and newsrooms, as thousands of bloggers will be eager to be a part of sharing of these images.

For more than 16 years, the Society of Professional Journalists, through its four editions of ethics books, has addressed the rationale for conducting open, thoughtful and deliberate discussions whenever graphic images are under consideration. Such discussions are necessary in order to provide the public with a reasonable explanation about how and why the outlet chose to use or not use the images.

To quote Chapter 10 from SPJ’s latest ethics book – “Journalism Ethics: A Casebook of Professional Conduct for News Media” – “Photo and video images tend to generate the most heated debates within newsrooms. And it’s clear that the ire of the public can easily be provoked by a single photo or a short piece of video.”

What will undoubtedly make its way into conversations is the use of the photos online. There was a time when traditional news outlets could make such ethical decisions within a “professional vacuum,” meaning that there was little chance that the images would ever been seen by the public cooperation of the news media.

That hasn’t been the case for almost a generation of information consumers. What the community newspaper may withhold could be circulated one thousand times within that same community via blogs and social media.

In addition to the questions below, news outlets will need to decide if they want to be forced into making their ethical decisions based on decisions by non-journalists.  If the photos go viral on the Internet – and nothing suggests that this won’t be the case – will there be pressure to succumb even if it might violate existing standards in the news organization (and nearly every news outlet has some policy about graphic images)?

To those who read SPJ’s Code of Ethics and point out that it identifies an ethical journalist’s first obligation is to “seek truth and report it” (and therefore using these images meets that sacred public trust of unvarnished truth), I also refer you to the next section of the Code headlined “minimize harm.” This section suggests that truth can be told with moral consideration to those who are involved or are subjected to the harmful effects of reporting. If we didn’t believe this, we’d be compelled to run news pages and newscasts filled solely with images of dead soldiers, crime victims and those who meet tragic consequences.

Whatever the decision, it should be based on solid principles, values and rationale. To say, “We’re doing it because everyone else is,” isn’t, and hasn’t been, an excuse for circumventing ethics.

Prior to publication or broadcast, the following questions need to be asked:

  1. Do I need more information about facts or context?
  2. Can I verify that photo or images are accurate and the source/s reliable?
  3. What is the news value of the image?
  4. What is the motivation for publishing the photo or broadcasting the video image?
  5. What are the ethical and legal concerns?
  6. Who will be offended? Does the offense outweigh the value of presenting the image?
  7. What are the possible consequences of using the photo or the image? The consequences of not using it?
  8. How would I react if I saw the photo?
  9. Can alternative ways to present the information minimize the harm while still telling the story in a clear way.
  10. Will the ends justify our actions
  11. Is there a potential of establishing a new set of ethical standards by using or not using this image? Do I want that  to happen? Will I adhere to those new guidelines and make them a part of future discussions?
  12. Can I justify my decision?

For additional perspective, see posts on this topic from Ryan Murphy at RTDNA and Al Tompkins at Poynter.

Kevin Z. Smith is chairman of the SPJ Ethics Committee and past national president (2009-10)


Educate the Public

This column in Broadcasting & Cable is right on about Fox News. Fox sells, and that’s the big ethical problem news media face today – making money. Fox can sell its soul and rake in the bucks from the conservative public, MSNBC seems to be doing the opposite on the left, and CNN is somewhere in the middle. It’s not news, but the viewing public does not know that it’s not news. The cable news channels have gone to shouting heads, tweets, Facebook, etc., and constant injection of opinion. It’s entertainment and not news.

What’s needed is massive public education, which is not going to happen anytime soon. The pressure is on news media, and it’s all about money.

Somehow, SPJ, ASNE, APME, RTDNA, etc., must rise above the dollars and educate the public that real news has standards and is necessary to an effective democracy.

The changes we are seeing today in information distribution are similar in nature, if not format, to the changes seen in the advance of the penny press in the early 19th century. The printing press enabled mass distribution of information and hucksters, fakes, and politicians took advantage of it. Anyone with access to paper, ink, and a press could publish just about anything. Today, anyone with access to a computer – a much larger base – can publish just about anything. It took decades and organizations such as SPJ to bring sanity to news reporting.

We are in a period of change, and we will be for decades. We can’t throw up our hands, saying we’re better than they are. We have to educate the public and show that we are. And right now, the public does not have a very high opinion of news media. What are needed are a news media coalition and a grassroots campaign. Excuse the expression, but we need a giant public relations effort. The public does not care about checkbook journalism or doctors working for news media. It wants reliable information – the truth. And someone has to show the public the difference between noise and information. It will take decades, but it won’t happen unless we start now. Think big and be persistent.

Social boundaries

Social media tools (especially Facebook and Twitter) have found a niche in the practice of journalism.

But is this an example of technology moving faster than careful thought?

There are pitfalls in sending out a knee-jerk tweet or stepping into someone else’s Facebook network to cultivate sources on deadline.

Here are new guidelines issued by the Radio Television Digital News Association.

I’ve been asked a few times whether SPJ has updated its code of ethics to keep up with social media.

I’m not sure we need to. The ethical principles in the code, for the most part, don’t pertain only to one form of communication. Fairness, accuracy, context and other fundamentals certainly can apply to BlackBerry or cell-phone texters, too.

But my position isn’t immutable, and the rest of SPJ’s Ethics Committee has a wide range of views, which might lead to some degree of change. The committee will talk about this soon as part of a broad review of the code of ethics, which hasn’t changed in 14 years.

(I’m not sure about this reference in The Washington Times, which seems to suggest SPJ recently updated the code to address social media.)

Does the SPJ Code of Ethics need new language to guide journalists on the ethical use of social media as part of their work? Please tell us what you think.

-Andy Schotz, chairman, SPJ Ethics Committee


Twitter Facebook Google Plus RSS Instagram Pinterest Pinterest LinkedIn

© Society of Professional Journalists. All rights reserved. Legal

Society of Professional Journalists
Eugene S. Pulliam National Journalism Center, 3909 N. Meridian St., Indianapolis, IN 46208
317/927-8000 | Fax: 317/920-4789 | Contact SPJ Headquarters | Employment Opportunities | Advertise with SPJ