Code of ethics, another round

On July 3, the SPJ Ethics Committee released the second draft of its proposed update of the SPJ Code of Ethics.

The committee is scheduled to convene in person on July 12 in Columbus, Ohio. Today (July 9) was the deadline for feedback on the second draft before the next stage begins.

(I commented previously on the first draft.)

 

Here are my thoughts on the latest version – some of it picky:

(Strike-through is for deletions. Notes and additions are in bold and brackets; suggested wording is in quotes. Underlines shows changes.)

 

CODE OF ETHICS
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that justice and good government require an informed public. The journalist’s duty is to provide that information, accurately, fairly and fully. Responsible journalists from all media, including nontraditional providers of news to a broad audience, should strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty[“THOROUGHLY AND HONESTLY”]. Responsible journalists think ethically before acting, and make every effort to get the story right the first time. Integrity is the foundation of a journalist’s credibility, and above all, responsible journalists must be accurate. The purpose of this code is to declare the Society’s principles and standards and to encourage their use in the practice of journalism in any and all media.

[THIS IS THE CURRENT VERSION:

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

THERE IS DIFFERENT WORDING IN THE NEW VERSION, BUT NO NEW THOUGHTS OR IMPROVEMENTS]

—–

Seek Truth[“AND REPORT IT” – WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SECOND PART? IT’S A NECESSARY PART OF JOURNALISM.]

Journalists should be accurate, honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Use primary sources to verify information before publishing[“PUBLISH” DOESN’T ACKNOWLEDGE BROADCAST REPORTS] when possible.

Gather and update information throughout the life of the news story to avoid error.[“UPDATE A NEWS STORY WHENEVER THERE’S NEW INFORMATION.”]

Pursue accuracy in reporting over speed of publication[SAME AS ABOVE ON USE OF “PUBLISH”]. Neither speed nor abbreviation formats[“ABBREVIATION FORMATS” IS AWKWARD] excuse inaccuracy.[“VALUE ACCURACY OVER SPEED WHEN REPORTING.”]

Put information into context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify information in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

Clearly identify sources. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

Reserve anonymity for sources who could face danger, retribution or other harm for providing information. [“EXPLAIN WHY ANONYMITY WAS GRANTED AND, WHEN POSSIBLE, A SOURCE’S CONNECTION TO A STORY.”] Consider alternatives in reporting before granting anonymity. Anonymity should not be granted merely as license to criticize.[THE FIRST CLAUSE COVERS THESE TWO SENTENCES.] Reveal conditions attached to promises made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

When possible and appropriate, provide access to original documents and other information sources. [“ONLINE, USE LINKS.”]

Diligently seek subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to criticism and allegations of wrongdoing.

Avoid undercover or other surreptitious reporting methods except when traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public. [“BE TRANSPARENT IN EXPLAINING THE METHODS USED.”]

Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.[GOOD TO SEE THIS LINE RESTORED.]

Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open[“OPENLY”] and that [“PUBLIC”]government records are open to inspection.

Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek nontraditional sources whose voices are seldom heard.

Avoid stereotyping[“BY RACE, GENDER, AGE, RELIGION, ETHNICITY, GEOGRAPHY, SEXUAL ORIENTATION, DISABILITY, PHYSICAL APPEARANCE OR SOCIAL STATUS.” I KNOW THIS MAKES IT LONGER, BUT THESE ARE GOOD FOR SPARKING THOUGHT.] Examine your own cultural values and Avoid imposing your own cultural values on others.

Support the open exchange of views in news stories and among news consumers.

Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be clearly labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Clearly label sponsored content.

Never deliberately distort information.[MAYBE DROP THIS? IT’S SO OBVIOUS, IT DOESN’T SEEM NECESSARY]

Label rumors as unconfirmed in the rare occasions it becomes necessary to report one.[AWKWARD SUBJECT-VERB STRUCTURE.][“WHEN RUMORS BECOME A NECESSARY PART OF A REPORT, CLEARLY EXPLAIN WHAT INFORMATION IS CONFIRMED.”]

Never alter or distort news images. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

Never plagiarize. Disclose sources of information not independently gathered.

—–

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance, irreverence or invasiveness.[“INTRUSION”?]

Consider the potential harm when seeking or using information, interviews and images of people affected by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects. Consider cultural differences in your approach and treatment.

Authenticate all photos[“IMAGES”], data or other information, including any gathered from social media forums, including those for which. [“BE SKEPTICAL WHEN”]the source is unknown. or where there is uncertainty regarding the authenticity of the images or information.[THE LAST PHRASE IS UNNECESSARY.]

Recognize that legal access to information differs from ethical justification to publish[“OR BROADCAST”]. Journalists should balance the importance of information and potential effects on subjects and the public before publication.[NOT NEEDED. THIS IS RESTATING THE CONFLICT BETWEEN “SEEK TRUTH” AND “MINIMIZE HARM.”]

Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing private information.[NOT NEEDED.]

Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity or following the lead of those who [“WHEN OTHERS”] do.

Consider the implications of [“BE CAUTIOUS ABOUT” (WHICH IS CURRENT WORDING)] identifying juvenile suspects and victims of sex crimes. Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of online publication.[“REALIZE THAT ONLINE PUBLICATION CAN BE FAR-REACHING AND PERMANENT.”] Provide updated and more complete[“UPDATE AND CORRECT”] information when appropriate.

—–

Act Independently

A journalist’s highest and primary obligation is to serve the public. Journalists should:

Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.[STILL ONE OF THE BEST LINES.]

Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations that may conflict with an impartial approach to information-gathering and may, compromise integrity or damage credibility.[LENGTH OF THIS SENTENCE MUDDIES IT. “THAT MAY CONFLICT” CLAUSE MIGHT BE SEEN AS APPLYING ONLY TO “SERVICE IN COMMUNITY ORGANIZATIONS.” PERHAPS: “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment. Shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations. Freebies or outside connections might tarnish impartial information-gathering, compromise integrity or damage credibility.”]

Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; Do not pay for news or access.[THIS WORDING IS AN IMPROVEMENT FROM “AVOID BIDDING FOR NEWS.”]

Deny favored treatment to advertisers and donors, or any other special interests. and Resist [“INTERNAL OR EXTERNAL”] pressure to influence coverage in any way, even if such pressures come from inside the media organization.

Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not. Distinguish news from advertising and marketing material. Shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. [THIS IS NOW IN THE CODE TWICE. IT’S UNDER “SEEK TRUTH,” TOO, WITH SLIGHTLY DIFFERENT WORDING: Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Clearly label sponsored content.]

—–

Be accountable and transparent [“TRANSPARENT” IS A GOOD ADDITION]
Journalists should take responsibility for their work and explain their decisions to their readers, listeners and audiences [WHAT HAPPENED TO “EACH OTHER”?]. Journalists should:

Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly. Corrections and clarifications should be explained carefully and thoroughly [“CLEARLY”] and displayed with the same prominence [“AS PROMINENTLY”] as the original item [“REPORT”]. [“CORRECTIONS SHOULD BE APPENDED TO THE ORIGINAL REPORT ONLINE, INCLUDING IN ARCHIVES.”]

Explain to audiences ethical choices made in reporting. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices and news content.

Disclose sources of funding and relationships that might influence, or appear to influence, reporting involving both journalists and their sources[COVERAGE.”]

Expose unethical conduct in journalistic [“CONDUCT”] by their own news organizations and others.

Abide by the same high standards they expect of public persons. [AWKWARD PHRASE] [“OTHERS.”]

 


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