Posts Tagged ‘#SPJEthics’


The Road Ahead

Member of the SPJ Ethics Committee are pictured after the revised Code of Ethics was approved on September 6, 2014.

Members of the SPJ Ethics Committee are pictured in Nashville after the revised Code of Ethics was approved on September 6, 2014. (Credit: Robyn Davis Sekula)

The delegates of the Society of Professional Journalists had not approved a revision to the organization’s Code of Ethics since 1996, when I was preparing for third grade.

Recognizing the need for an update, the Society’s delegates at Excellence in Journalism 2014 in Nashville overwhelmingly approved a revision that resulted from countless hours of work, thought and deliberation.

As I begin my service as chair of the Society’s Ethics Committee, I want to explain the next steps in the process of adopting the revised Code.

First, I would like to acknowledge the hard work and dedication of Kevin Smith, who sat on this committee for 24 years and served as its chair during the past two revisions. The revision and adoption of the newest Code would not have happened without his leadership. His work on the Code of Ethics – coupled with his decades of service as a member, committee chair, board member and president – made him the obvious choice to receive the Wells Memorial Key, the Society’s highest honor.

Moving forward, I hope to keep Kevin’s momentum alive during my tenure as chair of this committee, which includes Lauren Bartlett, Elizabeth Donald, Mike Farrell, Carole Feldman, Paul Fletcher, Irwin Gratz, Hagit Limor, Chris Roberts and Lynn Walsh. Monica Guzman and Fred Brown will serve the committee as co-vice chairs.

We will move swiftly to broadcast the Code to journalists around the world and the Society’s members. The text is already online and available in PDF format. Soon, printed materials for newsrooms and classrooms will also be available.

The Society’s chapters and members can also expect to receive emails soliciting feedback on which parts of the Code should provide additional guidance. We hope to create a rich repository of position papers, perspectives and case studies to support the Code and guide journalists in their work.

While the committee plans to include many of its own position papers and case studies, it hopes the Society’s members and journalists will add to this evolving library of documents and opinions.

Additionally, the committee will continue to serve the journalism community with the Ethics Hotline and several other programs, including an ongoing discussion on this blog and Twitter using the hashtag #SPJethics.

With the help of the Society’s members and the journalism community at large, this committee will continue to be the watchdogs of the profession’s best practices. Guarding these standards will ensure that the future journalists preparing to start third grade will have a trusted and respected profession waiting for them in 18 years.

New Code of Ethics draft available

Not long after comments from the first revision began pouring in, the group working to revise SPJ’s Ethics Code attacked Round 2.

That draft is now available here, and we hope you will take time to provide input before July 9. This will give the group a few days to evaluate those comments before it meets July 12 in Columbus, Ohio. On that day, it will hammer out what I would define as the first fully-vetted draft of the updated Code.


If you can’t provide input before the meeting, join us at SPJ.org on July 12. We will be live streaming the meeting, and I’ll be hosting a daylong Twitter chat (#spjethics) while the process unfolds. This will, in part, allow the group to consider real-time input from around the globe.

Moving forward, the draft that comes out of that meeting will be shared with members, the larger journalism community, the SPJ Board of Directors and, eventually, SPJ’s voting delegates during EIJ14 in Nashville. Before the delegates receive the draft, however, members will have the opportunity to cast an advisory vote during SPJ’s annual elections. The board will also make a recommendation to the delegates. Armed with board and member input, the delegates (which are the supreme legislative body of SPJ) will make the decision to accept the latest version, or send it back to the drawing board.

It’s entirely possible SPJ could have an updated Code of Ethics before October. It’s also entirely possible this process could continue for another year. Case in point, it took two years to adopt the current code.

But, back to the current draft:

Similar to version 1.0, subcommittees tackled each of the Code’s four sections: Seek Truth, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, Be Accountable.

Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith opened discussion of Round 2 with the idea of moving away from the four guiding principles. Although the group felt the current structure of the Code remains important and relevant, the latest version does contain an updated principle: Be Accountable and Transparent.

In order to gain fresh perspectives on each section, Smith reassigned the subcommittees, and tasked them with sections different from what they worked on during the initial draft. Furthermore, he appointed different people within the group to lead each subcommittee. Smith, meanwhile, refrained from participating on any subcommittee – freeing himself to oversee the process and jump in as a reserve if needed.

The assignments for the latest revision were:

Seek Truth
Chris Robert, chairman
Fred Brown
Lauren Bartlett
Kelly McBride

Minimize Harm
Hagit Limor, chairwoman
Elizabeth Donald
Lynn Walsh
Irwin Gratz

Be Independent
Monica Guzman, chairwoman
Stephen Ward
Jim Pumarlo
Andrew Seaman

Be Accountable
Mike Farrell, chairman
Carole Feldman
Paul Fletcher
Jan Leach

On Monday, the subcommittees submitted their work. Smith compiled that into one document – the latest revision.

Since August 2013, SPJ has conducted a session at its national convention and sessions at several regional conferences around the country. It has accepted comments online (which actually started prior to Aug. 2013), and engaged the larger community via Twitter chats and other social media engagement. Many chapters have conducted their own programs, and passed along their findings.

This has resulted in hundreds of comments, which have been considered by the group to formulate the latest version. So, please keep those comments coming. We aren’t at the finish line yet.

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