Archive for the ‘Guest post’ Category


Guest post: Be Vigilant and Courageous, SPJ

Regional director’s note: The following piece is by Gideon Grudo, a board member of the Washington, D.C., Pro chapter of SPJ. I offered this space as a platform for his opinion.

Gideon is reacting to this:

On Friday, SPJ posted this statement from Ethics Committee Chairman Andrew Seaman about journalists entering the home of suspected San Bernardino killers Syed Farook and Tashfeen Malik:
“Journalists should feel free to investigate stories when and where possible. They need to minimize harm in their reporting, however. Walking into a building and live broadcasting the pictures, addresses and other identifying information of children or other people who may have no involvement in the story does not represent best and ethical practices.”

Gideon’s response (from himself, and not representing the D.C. Pro board):

BE VIGILANT AND COURAGEOUS, SPJ

When I read SPJ’s reaction to the now infamous live-broadcast shooters’ apartment ransack, it pissed me off.

Why? Because when SPJ fails to stomp its foot and slam its fist at unethical journalism, it violates its own code of ethics and it loses more relevance.

Here’s a clause from the very first plank of that code: Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

Absent are these traits in the statement SPJ’s ethics chair, Andrew Seaman, delivered about CNN’s and MSNBC’s unethical blunder. It is not vigilant and it is not courageous. It is weak and it is cowardly. It is indirect and it is fragile. It’s not a statement. It’s a friendly reminder that SPJ’s code exists, directed at no one and avoiding eye contact.

So let’s get courageous…

Seaman writes: Journalists should feel free to investigate stories when and where possible. They need to minimize harm in their reporting, however.

Don’t be afraid to call spades and write something like this: CNN and MSNBC journalists violated journalistic ethics in their apartment crawl coverage. If you get access to a suspected shooter’s apartment, be responsible.

And vigilant…

Seaman writes: Walking into a building and live broadcasting the pictures, addresses and other identifying information of children or other people who may have no involvement in the story does not represent best and ethical practices.”

What the hell does “does not represent best and ethical practices” mean? Say what you mean, like this: Don’t walk into a building and live broadcast identifying information of people who might have nothing to do with killing people. You could be endangering lives with this unethical drivel. It’s irresponsible and has no place on your platform.

Get angry. Get loud. Stand up. Get red in the face. Stop being so damn polished. When you’re this clean, no one can hear you. When no one can hear you, SPJ’s membership keeps falling. It’s all connected.

If SPJ wants folks to respect its code, it should show the code some respect, too (and itself some respect while we’re at it).

To its credit, SPJ now links to material that expounds on its ethics clauses (an effort Seaman adamantly and successfully championed). Here’s backup for the clause I quoted from the likes of Poynter and Harvard. CNN and MSNBC don’t make policy like those at whom the clause is historically targeted, but they do very much set an example of what to do or not do to media across the world. They are largely influential, or as I see it, “with power.”

We know SPJ’s Code of Ethics and we belabor its importance in an effort to elevate our stature. But when shit hits the fan and smears the lot of us, we subtly forget about Strunk & White. We force our words through turnstiles of passivity and placidity. The result? No one notices. No one cares. If change is realized, it won’t be by our hand.

In an age saturated with aggregate filler, direct and deliberate speech is the currency of relevance.

Here’s my likely quixotic advice to this society I hold very dear: Be who you are or don’t be at all.

To respond, either post a comment here or contact Gideon at ggrudo@gmail.com.

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