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The ‘power’ of respect in the newsroom

I was honored to represent SPJ this month at “The Power Shift Summit,” a meeting of more than 100 media leaders in Washington, D.C. who came together with a shared purpose: “to address the problem of sexual misconduct in newsrooms and to identify solutions for creating meaningful and sustainable change.”

The invitation-only event, held at the Newseum’s Knight Conference Center, was organized as a series of discussions featuring leaders from all media platforms. Journalists who have reported stories about sexual misconduct, and victims of that misconduct, discussed the impact of the coverage to date. The event was trending on Twitter under #PowerShiftSummit for most of the day.

The end of the summit offered some solutions as to what newsrooms and media organizations are doing to deal with emerging cases, and what systemic changes are needed for the future. They included educating young journalists about their rights to a safe and hostile-free workplace, involving human resources as a partner in developing and enforcing sexual misconduct policies, including men in any and all conversations about sexual misconduct, and making sure sexual harassment awareness and prevention is an ongoing topic.

One solution stood out: creating a culture of respect in the newsroom. Too often, rudeness, hostility and boorishness can open the door to more serious misconduct. In short, management should not tolerate seemingly minor acts of bad behavior and stop them from spreading or worsening. In the words of some of the panelists (and yes, these are exact quotes) “Don’t be an a**hole. Don’t hire a**holes.”

As members of SPJ, each of us can serve as an example of what an ethical, respectful and tolerant journalist should be. We can be leaders of good behavior in our newsrooms and in the field. We can take steps to see that our workplaces not only have sexual misconduct policies in place but that they are enforcing them. We can share SPJ’s sexual harassment resources page with your colleagues and encourage them to speak up about any abuse they see or experience. Working together, we can we stop the scourge of sexual harassment.

Postscript: I was delighted to see two members of the Sigma Delta Chi board (SPJ’s foundation) at the summit: Evelyn Hsu, representing the Maynard Institute as its executive director, and Sonya Ross, representing the Associated Press as its race and ethnicity editor. Both serve the SDX board well.

Trust and the Media in a New Era

How can the press regain the public’s trust?

That’s a question some of the country’s top journalists attempted to answer this week at the inaugural Poynter Journalism Ethics Summit in Washington, D.C. I was privileged to attend and want to share with you some highlights of the event.

The all-day gathering kicked off with the release of Poynter’s media trust survey called “You’re Fake News!” It confirmed what many of us in the media have experienced or sensed: “Republicans and Trump supporters have far more negative attitudes toward the press” (19% confidence in media reporting) than do Democrats and Trump opponents (74% confidence)

What was truly disturbing was some of the overall findings: 44 percent of those surveyed said they believe journalist make up stories about Trump, and 31 percent agreed that the media are the “enemy of the people” and “keep political leaders from doing their job.” Nearly two-thirds of Trump supporters believe those statements, the survey found.

Perhaps the worst of all: 16 percent of Trump opponents and 42 percent of his supporters said that government should “be able to stop a news media outlet from publishing a story that government officials say is biased or inaccurate.”

So what can be done about all of this?

Jay Rosen, a journalism professor at New York University, offered a three-step plan to restore trust, which I shared on Twitter: 1. Don’t oppose Trump, oppose a political style where facts and truth are expendable. 2. Focus on people’s troubles, not issues created to get them angry. 3. Generate trust through transparency, not authority.

Poynter itself outlined several steps to move the needle toward public trust of the press:

  • Be transparent: describe your process for ensuring accuracy. Shift from “show-me” journalism to “this is why you should trust me” journalism. Have an ongoing explanation of who you are and what you do.
  • Adopt signifiers of trust outlined by The Trust Project, which offers tips to help news consumers feel confident that what they’re reading and seeing is legitimate
  • Strike a balance between the courage/confidence needed to do our work with the humility needed to listen to your audience and find out their concerns
  • Educate people about the public role journalism plays in Democracy
  • Protect and defend Democratic institutions include the First Amendment

The last one has been the mission of the Society of Professional Journalists for more than a century, and we will continue to join legal battles to preserve the rights of a free press and the free flow of information to the public.

It just keeps getting worse

It just keeps getting worse.

In the span of just a few hours on Monday, New York Times reporter Glenn Thrush and CBS/PBS broadcaster Charlie Rose joined the ever-growing dishonor roll of high-profile male journalists publicly accused of sexually harassing their female colleagues.

That Hall of Shame includes Mark Halperin, Michel Oreskes, Jann Wenner, Leon Wieseltier, Matt Zimmerman, Bill O’Reilly and the late Roger Ailes of Fox News, and many others across the media landscape we’ll never know because they are not famous or prominent enough to warrant a news story.

And this is far from over. I predict we’re going to hear a lot more stories of powerful media men taking advantage of their positions of prominence to perform unwanted acts of sexual aggression toward younger (often much younger) men and women at a point in their careers where they are the least powerful, the least influential.

How many smart, talented journalists have our industry lost because of sexual harassment? How many have left our profession, their careers cut short, because they could no longer tolerate the unwanted advances of a boss or co-worker? We’ll never know, and that might be the worst part of it all.

So what can we do? As SPJ ethics chairman Andrew Seaman wrote earlier this month, we need to create a culture where would-be harassers are too scared to act on their worst instincts.

As Seaman points out, the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics calls on journalists to “expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations” and to “abide by the same high standards they expect of others.”

Here are a few other ways that might help rid journalism of the scourge of sexual harassment:

  1. Demand that your newsroom, no matter its size, has a sexual harassment policy on the books.
  2. Insist that the sexual harassment policy be acknowledged in writing as having been read by every single employee.
  3. Urge your HR department or newsroom leaders to host annual sexual harassment training for all employees.
  4. Establish a peer-support network of employees, outside the chain-of-command, that can be a go-to place for victims of sexual misconduct and that’s trained to bring reports of sexual misconduct to those who might be able to make it stop.

Meanwhile, I’ve requested that all of SPJ’s regional conferences this spring host a discussion about the issue of sexual harassment in newsrooms. And I’m urging SPJ chapters to sponsor an event about what to do when encountering sexual harassment on the job.

Hopefully these discussions – inside and outside the newsroom – can help purge the predators and protect the respectable practitioners of journalism.



Memos and Emails to Federal Agency Employees Ban Press Releases, Social Media Posts and “Outward Facing” Documents

Denying agencies from sharing and communicating with the public, even temporarily, denies citizens their rights to access and the ability to hold the government accountable.

The public’s access to its government and its employees is dying.

Tuesday, memos and emails, obtained by a variety of news organizations, show federal agencies are being prohibited from sending press releases, posting on social media and sharing information on blogs.

The agencies involved include the Environmental Protection Agency (link 1, link 2) and the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

It is being described as a temporary media blackout but in reality, it is the public that is being kept in the dark.

The Associated Press is reporting emails sent to EPA staff since President Donald Trump took office, ban employees from “providing updates on social media or to reporters.” According to BuzzFeed News, USDA employees, specifically employees in the Agricultural Research Service department, were told not to release “any public-facing documents” including “news releases, photos, fact sheets, news feeds, and social media content.”

This is a step away from transparency. This is also a step in the complete opposite direction of what The Society of Professional Journalists and more than 60 other journalism and free press organizations were hoping to discuss with President Trump and his administration when we sent a letter asking for more transparency within government agencies and more direct access to government employees.

The letter, sent to President Trump and his administration less than a week ago, specifically asked for a meeting to discuss three things:

  • the ability of reporters to directly interact with government employees who are subject matter experts, rather than interacting with Public Information Officers (or having all conversations monitored by Public Information Officers);
  • access to the activities of the President;
  • and ensuring that the Federal Freedom of Information Act remains as strong as possible.

Click here to read the letter.

Policies, where federal agencies are barred, even temporarily, from releasing information to the public are unacceptable. These policies prevent the public from knowing what the agencies are spending taxpayer money on. They go against what this country was founded on. They go against our existence as a democracy.

These policies keep the public completely in the dark. They also do not allow journalists to hold the government and its officials accountable.

According to the Washington Post, USDA officials said ARS had not “blacked out public information.” They added, according to the article “that scientific articles published through professional peer-reviewed journals have not been banned.” In a statement, a representative with the ARS told the Washington Post, “as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s chief scientific in-house research agency, ARS values and is committed to maintaining the free flow of information between our scientists and the American public as we strive to find solutions to agricultural problems affecting America.”

It is unclear if these directives came from within the USDA, from Trump himself or from officials overseeing the transition.

What is clear when instituting policies like this is that it shows a complete disregard for the public’s right to know what the government it is doing and it threatens the right of the public to access information through the Federal Freedom of Information Act.

SPJ will not stand by and watch as journalists and the public’s rights are being threatened. Even if temporary, this is a step away from an open and honest government.

SPJ Board endorses ethics code draft revision

Next week SPJ delegates will discuss whether to revise the Code of Ethics at EIJ14 in Nashville, and the Board endorses approval of a draft revision developed over the past year.

During a recorded Skype meeting Aug. 20, the Board discussed the draft code for an hour and a half  (see Skype meeting online, along with text discussion).

The Board voted to remove the line “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.” Members also debated including an additional line encouraging caution in dealing with anonymous online comments, but it was not approved by the full board. There was quite a bit of conversation about a variety of topics, which can be viewed online.

The final tally of the Board vote was 11 in favor of the revised code (Brett Hall, Neuts, Hernandez, Gallagher-Newberry, Albarado, Hallenberg, Fox, Matt Hall, Tallent, Kopen Katcef, Fletcher), 4 against (Cook, Koretzky, Schotz, Corry), and 1 abstention (Sheets). Also, see analysis by Region 2 Director Andy Schotz, who proposed several amendments.

The Board’s recommendation is only advisory. Members also will get to vote online on whether they think delegates should approve the revision. Ultimately, it will be up to delegates in the closing business session 3-5 p.m. Sept. 6. They can approve the proposed draft (which delegates can change next week), turn it down, or continue discussions for the next year.

In addition to the ethics code discussion last week, the Board also approved, unanimously, the creation of a Digital Community. Stay tuned for more information about that from incoming President Dana Neuts!

Board appoints two for interim positions

On Monday, the SPJ Board conducted a phone conference call meeting to appoint two people to national positions in the interim until national elections in September.

A student rep position will be filled by Brett Hall from the University of Maryland and the Region 11 Director position will be filled in the interim by Matt Hall of the San Diego pro chapter. The field was extremely competitive, which goes to show we have amazing people in SPJ willing and capable of taking leadership roles.

While the two will serve only five weeks, we felt it was important to get people in the spots because of two upcoming board meetings, one in August by phone and the first board meeting at EIJ14 in September. The positions will be filled permanently through the online election process at EIJ14, so members will elect a student rep and Region 11 members will choose their permanent director. Anyone can still run for both positions, if they wish (ask Tara Puckey for more details, at

In the board meeting Monday, a variety of issues were discussed, but the main focus was considering the individual nominees’ strengths. Ultimately, we were ecstatic by the strong slate of candidates and will be encouraging all of them to get involved in SPJ through other ways, including national committees. If you are interested in joining a cause, such as the Ethics Committee, Diversity Committee, or FOI Committee, among others, contact president-elect Dana Neuts at

Before the next virtual board meeting planned for August to discuss the ethics code revision, creating a digital journalism community, and a future plan for advocacy, we are hoping to find a platform that will enable the public to listen in. We have worked to improve transparency this year, including live streaming of in-person meetings, but we can do more.

In the spirit of transparency, we would normally post roll call votes in the minutes and leave it at that, but here were the votes from Monday’s phone meeting:

Roll call vote for Brett Hall (6 yes, 3 no, 3 abstain):
Fletcher: Yes
Neuts: Yes
Kopen Katcef: Yes
Albarado: Abstain
Corry: Yes
Fox: No
Tallent: No
Schotz: Yes
Koretzky: Abstain
Stevens: Yes
Sheets: Abstain
Hernandez: No

Roll call vote for Matt Hall (7 yes, 4 abstain, 1 no)
Fletcher: Yes
Neuts: Yes
Kopen Katcef: Abstain
Albarado: Abstain
Corry: Yes
Fox: Yes
Tallent: Yes
Schotz: Yes
Koretzky: No
Stevens: Abstain
Sheets: Yes
Hernandez: Abstain

Third draft out on ethics code revision

Kudos to the Code of Ethics revision group that met in Columbus this weekend to hammer out the final draft of the code. Feel free to check out the meeting, which was streamed live.

In the next few days the code revision website will also include a Q&A on the revision by Kevin Smith, who is leading the process, as well as a strike-through version to see the specific changes. Members can review it, continue to provide feedback, and vote on it in the online election in September. Also, the SPJ Board will chime in with its thoughts and recommendations and ultimately delegates will discuss it at EIJ14 in Nashville Sept. 4-6.

Thanks to the group that has been working all year to provide delegates a revised code to consider. Also, thanks to the hundreds of members and non-members who have provided suggestions and feedback (see feedback form), which were all considered by the group. The latest version truly reflects today’s media much better than the existing code.

John Seigenthaler: Friend to SPJ, journalism, civil rights

Today a great journalist and SPJ friend died.

1404931281000-seigenthaler-2John Seigenthaler, a longtime, editor of the Tennessean, died at age 86. You can read his obit, along with links to amazing examples of his legacy. He was the kind of person who has a name bridge after him, except unlike a lot of people who have structures named after them, he actually effected social change as an advocate for civil rights. He knew presidents. He knew a lot of people. He was an advocate for rural journalism. He made a difference.

SPJ has honored him in many ways, including a First Amendment Award and a Fellow of the Society. When we convene in Nashville for EIJ14 in September, let’s all raise a toast to him and other journalists who made the world a better place.


A voice in the wilderness finally heard

Wow. I am floored by the solidarity of journalism groups in pushing back against excessive information control by the federal government.

Since Tuesday when we sent a letter to Obama urging him to stop the secrecy, along with 37 other groups signing on, we’ve received even more support from other groups and a flood of interview requests and mentions from media around the world, including interviews with Fox News, USA Today, HuffPostLive (six minutes in).

Never before have I seen as many journalism groups come together on an issue, particularly one that has been relatively marginalized for years. I credit the tenacity of SPJ member Kathryn Foxhall, who has led the charge on this issue for several years. This D.C.-based freelancer has pushed, pulled and yelled, often shunted aside. Journalists have said it’s inside baseball and that reporters just need to buck up and do their jobs.

Kathryn did not give up. She worked with the National Press Club, Society of Environmental Journalists and other groups to drum up attention. She put on a press conference earlier this year in D.C. She helped former SPJ president and current Kennesaw professor Carolyn Carlson and the SPJ FOI Committee with survey research about the issue. She kept pushing for this letter.

It is finally paying off. Journalists now see that they don’t have to stand by and remain silent to these tactics. Such as today as the feds give a tour in Oklahoma for journalists of the facility holding children who tried to cross the border from Latin America. The Media tour restrictions prohibit recording devices, prohibit reporters from talking to anyone, and even prohibit reporters from asking questions.

We do not have to go along. We can push back. At all levels of government. Write about these controls. Do not accept the restrictions. Get Congress to pass a shield law and give the Office of Government Information Services the authority to punish agencies that are secretive and break the law.

Thank you, Kathryn. Let’s not just hold the line. It’s time to regain lost ground.

President Dave: Unethical, secretive and raiding the coffers?

In the past week Region 3 Director Michael Koretzky has posted two blog items that have accused SPJ and myself of being unethical, secretive, and “raiding SPJ coffers.” While I have admired Michael’s creativity and passion, and I certainly have no problem taking criticism, I feel I should set the record straight on his accusations because he impugns SPJ.

And he’s just plain wrong.

In Michael’s posts, he takes issue with how the SPJ Code of Ethics revision process has progressed, and is particularly opposed to an in-person meeting to be held in mid-July in Columbus by the group honing a third draft, based on feedback from members and non-members. I don’t have a problem disagreeing over process, and certainly we could always improve and have improved the process based on Michael’s feedback, but he plays loose with the facts, saying SPJ and senior leaders are unethical and secretive.

  1. Columbus Day: At issue is the plan to hold a meeting July 12 in Columbus, Ohio, for the 18-member group tasked with drafting an updated code of ethics, taking into account feedback from members and non-members. The final draft will be reviewed by the SPJ Board, voted on by the members, and eventually provided to the delegates at the EIJ14 convention in September for consideration. Of the 18 people working through the revisions, 12 have confirmed their attendance (Kevin Smith, Fred Brown, Hagit Limor, Irwin Gratz, Paul Fletcher, Mike Farrell, Lauren Bartlett, Elizabeth Donald, Carole Feldman, Chris Roberts, Andrew Seaman and Monica Guzman (and Joe Skeel)). They will stay at a campus hotel and four people will drive rather than fly. Based on these preliminaries, the estimate is about $9,000. They will start 9 a.m. Saturday at a free campus conference room and work through the day, probably done by 5-6 p.m. The meeting will be streamed live for anyone to watch. They will start at the top of the code and work their way through. Kevin anticipates a few areas of contention in Act Independently and Be Accountable, but he believes it’s doable in 8-9 hours. Executive Director Joe Skeel will post the revisions to the website on Monday for people to review and provide feedback.
  2. Out in the open: The meeting next month has not been a secret, and certainly not to Michael. He knew about this plan for months. The idea of an in-person meeting was outlined in an SDX Ethics Grant Request submitted March 25, which Michael had read. I’ve posted information online on this blog. At the April 26 SPJ Board meeting we talked about the process for 40 minutes (discussion begins at 2 hours, 39 minutes). Information is online at the ethics code revision website. To say that the process has been secretive is not true. As most people know, I’m not a fan of secrecy.
  3. Board support: The SPJ Board had the chance to question the process, and it did. Some very good points were raised and as a result we made changes and provided more details online. When the SDX Foundation Board decided to turn down the grant request on April 27, they told me that SPJ should pay for the expense of the in-person meeting since it’s an Ethics Committee function. Given the level of support I saw on the SPJ Board the day before, and that we did not have an SPJ Board meeting before July, I made the call to move ahead. I understand that Michael opposes the meeting, but I chose to act because of the importance of the code – an initiative I believe vital to our mission, our members, and journalism. I believe I did so with the support of the majority of the Board, and this week a majority of the Board confirmed their support for the process and in-person meeting next month.
  4. Fiscal responsibility: This expense is well within our means, and we wouldn’t move ahead if it wasn’t. The cost of the meeting next month is currently estimated at $9,000. That is still just 0.56 percent of SPJ’s $1.6 million budget, and even less when you consider the $400,000 SPJ has available in reserves. That is why the budget is flexible, and why we have a reserve fund – to cover things that come up unexpectedly, that we could not predict 18 months ago in January 2013 when the budget was first drafted.
  5. Essential expense: Michael thinks the meeting is a waste of time, and there are others in the minority who agree. I respect opposing opinions. When the code was last revised in 1994-96 the group held several in-person meetings, due to the technology at the time. Some say the code could be hashed out online via email or online conferencing. I disagree. Online conferencing would not allow for members to watch the meeting live streaming (most limit number of participants), and this year I have made it a priority to make sure our business is conducted openly. Also, when it comes to working through contentious issues, I believe face-to-face communication is best, particularly when non-verbal communication is involved. What’s the best interview method, email, phone or in-person? In-person. This code revision is important, and given it happens rarely, it is imperative we proceed as best we can.

I would be more than happy to answer questions or provide further clarification for any members (email: If anyone thinks I am unethical, secretive or raiding SPJ coffers, I would be happy to talk about it. While I respect Michael’s creativity and passion, I believe his latest behavior and accusations have done nothing to help the process or SPJ.


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