Posts Tagged ‘Ethics Committee’


As Buzzfeed might say: 23 things from the SPJ board packet for this weekend

Items in the packet for Saturday’s SPJ national board meeting include (watch from home via livestream starting at 9 a.m.; the pages note where to find the item in the packet):

1 – There will be five Ted Scripps Leadership Institute sessions in SPJ’s next fiscal year (p. 24). The places and dates haven’t been announced yet, other than: Region 10 in July, Region 5 in August and Region 6 in November.

2 – SPJ expects to have a $1.2 million budget for the coming year (p. 25).

3 – There are four new chapters seeking to be chartered, including American University in Bulgaria (p. 36). Only one chapter is being considered for inactivation (the number might grow when this year’s annual reports come in – or don’t come in).

4 – At least 14 people have committed to run for positions on the national board – including two for secretary/treasurer (p. 37). A few others who are considering running are named here, too. [Editor’s note: I am planning to run for re-election as Region 2 director. If anyone who would like to run for that or any other national SPJ position, contact Nominations Committee Chairman Sonny Albarado at salbarado@spj.org.]

5 – The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation had $12.3 million in holdings as of Jan. 31, 2015 (p. 38). Also, SPJ and SDX are working on a transition of a new division of duties and responsibilities.

6 – Did you know SPJ is helping to manage other journalism associations? Read the list. (p. 42) SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel says this “further cement[s] SPJ’s role in the journalism landscape: to be the ‘umbrella’ organization that helps other groups better reach their mission.”

7 – SPJ and other journalism organizations are talking about ways to make it easy for people to join multiple groups at once (p. 43).

8 – The next SPJ JournCamp – a day of professional training – will be June 13 in New York City (p. 45). Other cities being considered: San Francisco, Seattle, Denver, Houston or Dallas, New Orleans and Boston.

9 – “Since September, SPJ has distributed 48 news releases and statements…. The topics that have garnered the most traditional and social media attention are SPJ’s statement on the Charlie Hebdo attack; our statement and other Tweets regarding the FOI Improvement Act; our statement regarding the Columbia Journalism Review’s Rolling Stone report; and our statements regarding Indiana Gov. Mike Pence’s attempt at creating a state-run news service.” (p. 46)

10 – For the first time, SPJ collaborated with several other journalism organizations in judging SPJ’s New America Award. Our partners included: the Asian American Journalists Association, Radio Television Digital News Association, the National Association of Black Journalists, the Native American Journalists Association and National Association of Hispanic Journalists (p. 48).

11 – There will be a stronger effort this year to train delegates to the national convention, so they’re familiar with procedures and protocol (p. 50).

12 – Why is the national convention in September every year? It’s complicated – but not mandatory (p. 51).

13 – The post-graduate membership rate is available for three years. There is talk of extending it to four (p. 54).

14 – SPJ now has five communities, which are groups related by a common thread, other than geography (p. 56).

15 – When should SPJ issue a statement about the death of a journalist? (p. 59)

16 – About 41 percent of SPJ’s members do not belong to a chapter (including 38 percent in Region 2), which means they aren’t represented by a delegate on business matters at the national convention. A group is going to look at ways of giving that 41 percent representation. Again, it’s complex and there are no easy answers (p. 62).

17 – The pro/student membership breakdown for Region 2 is 597 pro (78 percent) and 172 student (22 percent). The largest chapter in the region is Washington, D.C., Pro, with 146 members (p. 67).

18 – The method for deciding on SPJ awards (Distinguished Teaching, Ethics, Fellows of the Society, and others) might change this year (p. 76).

19 – The SPJ Awards and Honors Committee studied whether any SDX awards given to NBC Nightly News with Brian Williams should be revoked, in light of his six-month suspension (p. 103)

20 – The SPJ Diversity Committee is working on a way to pay tribute to former SPJ President Reggie Stuart through a minority management training program (p. 111).

21 – The SPJ Ethics Committee and the International Community have worked together to translate the new SPJ Code of Ethics into several foreign languages (p. 112).

22 – Since November, the SPJ Legal Defense Fund Committee has considered six cases of legal action, but didn’t award any grants (p. 121).

23 – The SPJ Student Community is gathering information and feedback about internships, which are becoming rarer because of concerns about labor law (p. 123).

 

 

 

 

 

Ethics code highlights: So, what changed?

Maybe the updated SPJ Ethics Code is no longer a front-burner issue six weeks after it was approved (Sept. 6, by a voice vote). But I think it’s still worth highlighting what was changed.

My past posts showing proposed changes to the code, draft by draft, line by line, and my thoughts on them, might have been too busy and overwhelming for the average person. For example, this.

Some people followed along intently with as much wonkiness as I had, but at this year’s convention in Nashville, more people wanted something more boiled down and digestible.

With that in mind, here are several of the most noticeable differences in the new version:

• The preamble was reworked, but the different wording doesn’t have any substantially different ideas.

• In a few places, “journalists” has been replaced by “journalism.” Presumably, the idea is to include anyone who practices journalism — which is more important than trying to define journalists.

• A new line: (Each line in the code is prefaced with “Journalists should”) “Take responsibility for their work.” You could call this “the anti-Judith Miller” line. Miller, formerly of The New York Times, once said: “W.M.D. – I got it totally wrong. The analysts, the experts and the journalists who covered them – we were all wrong. If your sources are wrong, you are wrong. I did the best job that I could.”

• A new line: “Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.” This is worth emphasizing and absorbing. Too often, I’ve heard, “It’s no big deal. It’s for the web. We’ll fix it later.”

• An enhanced standard, added: “Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.” This is a commonly used test for granting anonymity, but is frequently ignored in Washington, D.C., where anonymity is an overused crutch. [Note: Steve Buttry argues, correctly, that sources are “confidential,” not “anonymous,” when we know their names but shield their identities.]

• Examples deleted: “Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.” The code used to say “Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.” The argument for the cut was: Why the need for examples? And what if something is left out? I think the examples spark an inner review that can be illuminating. Prompts help us see stereotyping we didn’t realize we were doing.

• A watering down: The old code said: “Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or content.” The new code says: “Label advocacy and commentary.” The new, weaker language is hazier and less meaningful.

• A simple, concise, powerful addition: “Never plagiarize” is now followed by “Always attribute.”

• A smart addition: “Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.”

• An even smarter addition: “Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.” Many newspapers print lists of arrests, and don’t have initiative, time or staff to follow up on adjudications. In the age of the Internet search engine, this presents a huge ethical problem.

• An excellent, more forceful rewording: Old – “avoid bidding for news.” New – “do not pay for access to news.” TV networks run roughshod over ethics by paying sources, then rationalizing it as “licensing fees” – which, coincidentally, always come with exclusive interviews. Under the old wording, this was acceptable, as long there was no competitor trying to pay that same source.

• An expanded heading, recognizing an important concept: Old – “Be Accountable.” New – “Be Accountable and Transparent.”

• Stronger language on corrections: From “Admit mistakes and correct them promptly” to “Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.” A cryptic correction buried in the back of the paper isn’t enough.

***

What’s not in the new code:

• Linking: It’s something I hadn’t thought about until I read Buttry’s convincing argument. He writes: “It’s the best way to attribute in digital content. It provides depth and context. A culture of linking is a strong measure to help prevent plagiarism and fabrication.” In Nashville, the arguments against linking were peculiar. One journalist talked about working in a dangerous setting, where she could be punished for showing where she got information. Others balked at forcing journalists to link. Actually, no one would be forced to do anything – the code is almost entirely “Journalists should…” Add “whenever possible or practical,” if tempering it makes you more comfortable.

• Suicide coverage. The Ethics Committee proposed: “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.” I spoke out strongly against this reference when I read it. First, it singles out suicide, rather than calling for care in reporting on any death. Second, the subtext is that suicide remains a taboo topic to be avoided whenever possible. This is an outdated way of thinking, perpetuating the myth of stigma attached to suicide. Actually, suicide is a serious mental health problem that should be covered as much as possible, remaining sensitive while covering a person’s life and death. Finally, there was an unintended meaning as it was written: Private suicides require caution, but public suicides do not. The SPJ national board agreed it should be removed. After further objections in Nashville, it was cut before the code reached delegates for a final vote.

• Anonymous online comments: This is a particular peeve of mine, and I figured that, as part of the code update, it was worth trying to get SPJ to be a leader in ethical thinking. Anonymous online comments too often are corrosive and harmful to an atmosphere of thoughtful, civil debate. They turn the ethics of responsible comment (letters to the editor are edited in advance for libel; identities are almost always required and confirmed) on their head. So, I proposed adding: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions. Recognize the potential harm of allowing anonymous online comments.” There was some support within the national board and even more in Nashville, but unresolvable dissent on what to target and how to say it. I didn’t pursue the matter further before convention delegates, which might have prolonged debate. Maybe I’ll try again in the future.

***

Epilogue: It was particularly interesting to look back on the start and end of the code update process. A year ago (and even before that), some people clamored that the code – last updated in 1996 – was woefully out of date, largely because it didn’t address the new phenomenon of social media.

I was skeptical at the time about the need for any update, but especially one based on that reasoning. I thought the code’s principles of ethical decision-making work fine on any platform. Information’s distribution channels didn’t matter; the ethics that went into gathering, compiling and presenting the information did.

Still, the code update process moved ahead.

But, go figure. There’s one more thing missing from the new code: Any reference to social media.

New ethics code draft is REALLY final, for now

On Aug. 20, the SPJ national board met by Skype to consider endorsing the Ethics Committee’s third and final proposal for updating the SPJ Code of Ethics.

The board voted 11-4, with one abstention, to endorse the draft, after agreeing that a newly added reference to coverage of suicide should be stricken.

The board also directed the Ethics Committee to go back over its latest draft and clean it up, eliminating typos and changing passive constructions to active.

On Aug. 28, the board got a copy of that reworked draft. A copy also was posted on the Ethics Committee’s blog.

However, unlike the document distributed to the national board on Thursday afternoon, the version posted on the blog doesn’t indicate what final changes were made.

The marked-up versions of each draft have made it much easier to follow what changes were made.

Since only a handful of passages were changed in this final editing process, I’ll paste them here, highlighting the changes that were made since the committee’s third draft was released. (On the other hand, some people might prefer seeing and absorbing the clean version.)

 

Here are the final edits (bold indicates additions, strike-through indicates deletions):

Under “Seek Truth and Report It”

• Question sources’ motives before promising anonymity, reserving it for those who may face danger, retribution or other harm.  Do not grant aAnonymity should not be granted merely as license to criticize. Pursue alternative sources before granting anonymity. Explain why anonymity was granted.

• Avoid undercover or other surreptitious reporting methods unless except when traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

• Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

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

• Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual news content.  Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

Under “Minimize Harm”

• Consider the implications of identifying juvenile suspects, victims of sex crimes, and criminal suspects before they face are legal chargesd.  Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. be informed.

Under “Be Accountable and Transparent”

• Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently.  Explain Ccorrections and clarifications should be explained carefully and thoroughly.

 

For the first time in any of the Ethics Committee’s four drafts, a disclaimer has been added:

The SPJ Code of Ethics is a living document, a statement of principles supported by additional explanations and position papers (at spj.org) that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.

This doesn’t exactly qualify as a minor edit for typos or verb construction, but it is not entirely new. It takes pieces of the current disclaimer:

The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of journalists, regardless of place or platform, and is widely used in newsrooms and classrooms as a guide for ethical behavior. The code is intended not as a set of “rules” but as a resource for ethical decision-making. It is not — nor can it be under the First Amendment — legally enforceable.

About four years ago, the Ethics Committee wrote the current disclaimer to address frequent, inappropriate attempts, particularly by lawyers, to frame the code as “law” or “rules” that journalists had to follow. That distorts the code’s actual purpose, as a set of guidelines and considerations for journalists before they make decisions. I’ve seen the disclaimer cited many times; I think it has been effective.

On Thursday, when I saw the new version of the disclaimer added to the committee’s final draft, without any references to the current disclaimer, I asked that it be given the markup treatment like everything above it. I hope that’s done before delegates review it in Nashville next week.

Remember that everything in the final draft is subject to change at the convention, under scrutiny of the delegates (of which I am one). Here are suggestions I recently made for further edits.

 

SPJ board meets by Skype, debates code of ethics

“Transparency” is not just a principle to add to the SPJ Code of Ethics. It’s also a guide for how SPJ conducts its business, especially for the national board.

This week, SPJ took a small step forward as the national board held an electronic meeting.

In the past, remote meetings have been held by conference call, with no chance for the public to participate, listen or observe.

But SPJ has adopted an Openness and Accountability Best Practices Guide that acknowledges that meetings and official business are best done in the open, just as journalists expect of public bodies they cover.

On Wednesday at 7 p.m. Eastern, the SPJ national board used Skype to meet electronically for two topics.

I generally avoid Skype, but the meeting went pretty well. Here is a link to the archived broadcast.

I think we had about 20 people on the call at its peak. We kept from talking over each other by typing a message (“raises hand”) through Skype’s chat function. This is a transcript of that written discussion. In many places, the written comments won’t make sense without hearing the spoken comments.

We still need to do better.

It’s a great sign that links and a transcript of the discussion were posted shortly after the meeting, thanks to Tara Puckey at SPJ headquarters.

Hopefully, a summary of the board’s actions will be provided to all SPJ members soon, too. As the Openness Guide says: “Post a summary of the meeting at a chapter website promptly, preferably within five business days of the meeting, so members can keep abreast of chapter activities. Include any decisions or votes.”

***

We limited the agenda for the electronic meeting to two topics that needed to be discussed before the national convention in Nashville next month.

The first one was easy and quick. SPJ has created a “community” called SPJ Digital.

A community is a group of people with a common interest. It’s similar to a chapter, and can create a leadership structure and organize activities. But, unlike a chapter, it’s not based on geography.

SPJ Digital, led by Alex Veeneman, now has 80 members.

The national board approved the creation of this community by a unanimous voice vote.

***

The second topic — whether to endorse (a non-binding action) the newest draft of proposed changes to the SPJ Code of Ethics — took the bulk of our time.

The SPJ Ethics Committee has worked through three drafts, using public comments and collaboration by the committee last month at a meeting in Ohio.

The draft will go to delegates at the national convention in Nashville. It will be discussed at the opening business meeting Thursday, Sept. 4 (2 to 3:15 p.m.). Then, it will be debated, dissected and likely changed through amendments at the closing business session on Saturday, Sept. 6.

The closing business meeting is also when resolutions are introduced, debated and voted upon and when winning candidates for national SPJ offices are announced and sworn in.

The closing business session is scheduled for two hours – 3 to 5 p.m. Even if there are no controversial resolutions, I don’t expect two hours to be enough for scores of delegates to dissect more than 1,000 words of type and reach an agreement. The national board spent nearly that much time on Wednesday debating just two specific points.

I’m told that if needed, the closing business session can go longer, but not much. The next item on the schedule that day is the Legal Defense Fund Auction/Reception at 6:30 p.m., so the business meeting could run another 60 to 75 minutes or so.

Personally, I think debate over a code of ethics update is one of those extraordinary measures that calls for wiping clear a good chunk of the convention schedule. I’ll be disappointed if delegates’ debate is cut off just to follow a schedule and get to a reception.

***

To start discussion on the code of ethics on Wednesday, Secretary/Treasurer Paul Fletcher, who is on the Ethics Committee, moved that the board endorse the latest draft of the proposed code. Rebecca Tallent, a campus adviser at-large, seconded.

Several board members said they support the new version and it’s time for SPJ to move ahead. (The code of ethics was last updated in 1996.)

Immediate Past President Sonny Albarado agreed with some of the copyediting changes I pointed out in my critique of the third draft, especially fixing the typos. The Ethics Committee will be asked to correct any typos and change passive verb constructions to active.

There also was discussion about how the code of ethics will be turned into a “living document” — although that phrase doesn’t actually describe what would happen. It’s not that the code will be constantly updated. What the Ethics Committee has in mind is an “annotated code,” in which case studies are linked to certain principles for an expanded analysis.

***

Although there was little time or interest in doing a full-scale review of the latest draft during what was expected to be a relatively short board meeting, I recommended two changes.

The first concerned this line, which the Ethics Committee had recommended adding to the code: “Be cautious about reporting suicides that do not involve a public person or a public place.”

Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith, in a blog post, wrote that the committee wanted to give a “gentle reminder” about the balance of private and public lives and whether their suicide deaths should become news, and in what detail.

However, I object to the subtext that suicide still should be seen as taboo and generally not a topic of news coverage. Actually, suicide is a serious national mental health concern and should be covered regularly and openly, whenever people are willing to talk. Those deaths should be handled with sensitivity, just like journalists should for deaths from any other causes, such as accidents.

Besides, the wording of this line, to my reading, has an inadvertent reverse message — that caution is not needed for suicide deaths involving a public person or public place. I don’t think that’s what the committee intended.

I moved that that line be removed from the draft of the code that the board endorsed. Student representative Lindsey Cook seconded.

After further discussion (see the transcript), the board voted in favor of my motion. Since the vote was oral, I’m not certain who voted which way, but I believe there were just three no votes.

***

The only other proposal for changing the draft also was mine.

I recommended that SPJ speak out in its code against anonymous online comments, or at least urge caution in allowing their use. Too many times, I see anonymous online comment threads turn into a cesspool of vicious, angry, racist and even libelous comments, all because people know they don’t have to attach their names to their thoughts.

For years, news organizations automatically allowed this free-for-all, but I’ve noticed that some are rethinking this and either shutting them down or more tightly monitoring them.

I moved that this passage be added in the “Minimize harm” section: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions, in which participants don’t mask their identities and poison the conversation. Recognize the potential harm of anonymous online comments.” Region 12 Director Tony Hernandez seconded.

Fletcher initially said he liked my suggestion and would accept it as a friendly amendment. However, there clearly was a difference of opinion (starting on p. 5 of the written transcript), so the board agreed to vote on that amendment.

It was voted down (we thought at the time that it was 11-4, but I now see that it was 10-5).

Yes (5): Schotz, Kopen Katcef, Hallenberg Christensen, Hernandez, Brett Hall

No (10): Corry, Neuts, Cook, Radske, Sheets, Matthew Hall, Fox, Tallent, Gallagher Newberry, Albarado

***

Region 4 Director Patti Gallagher Newberry moved for alternate wording: “Encourage online commenters to identify themselves so as to preserve civil discourse.” President-elect Dana Neuts seconded.

There was some support, but it didn’t acknowledge anonymous online comments; it was too subtle for me.

Matthew Hall proposed another alternate — “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions” — but the board first had to vote on Gallagher Newberry’s motion.

Here, the discussion picked up and many people chimed in. Gallagher Newberry even recommended another version: “Encourage news consumers to identify themselves and offer civil exchanges when offering feedback to news coverage or issues of the day.” I think this is the version we voted on, although I’m not positive.

The board rejected Gallagher Newberry’s proposal by a voice vote.

***

I then put forward a simplified version of my earlier motion, striking the “poison” reference: “Encourage a civil exchange of public opinions. Recognize the potential harm of allowing anonymous online comments.” Hallenberg Christensen seconded.

There was more support this time, but this, too, was rejected — particularly as some board members were ambivalent about tinkering with the current draft. Again, the roll call vote was tough to monitor, as people’s votes scrolled by quickly, which is one reason we need a better system for an electronic meeting. It’s not good to be unsure of what you’re voting on or what the outcome is. Some people might have voted orally.

My final motion was rejected, 8-5.

Yes (5): Schotz, Gallagher Newberry, Hernandez, Kopen Katcef, Hallenberg Christensen

No (8): Matthew Hall, Cook, Albarado, Corry, Tallent, Fox, Sheets, Neuts

***

Finally, the board voted on whether to endorse the latest draft, as amended (without the reference to suicide).

The board voted 11-4 in favor. However, the transcript of the written comments, where we had been voting, show an incomplete total, missing more than half of the votes.

Here’s how it’s shown in the draft minutes compiled by SPJ headquarters, which are in the packet for the next board meeting:

Yes (11): Brett Hall, Neuts, Hernandez, Gallagher Newberry, Albarado, Hallenberg Christensen, Fox, Matthew Hall, Tallent, Kopen Katcef, Fletcher

No (4): Cook, Koretzky, Schotz, Corry

Abstain (1): Sheets

The meeting was adjourned at 8:54 p.m. Eastern.

So far/still to come – SPJ Code of Ethics review

In response to a discussion at last month’s SPJ national board meeting, some officers, staff members and Ethics Committee members created the following overview of the process for possibly updating the code of ethics.

There are plenty of ways to participate up to (and including) this year’s national convention in Nashville in September. One way that’s not listed, but I believe will happen, is a session to discussion the changes during the conference.

Please look at the first draft of proposed changes to the code, if you haven’t already. This is a mark-through version that’s probably easier to follow than comparing the original to the draft.

—–

 

SPJ Code of Ethics Revision Process
Version 2.0 (May 6, 2014)

Process Overview
This memo outlines the process for revising the SPJ Code of Ethics, which was last updated in 1996. Ultimately, only the SPJ delegates have the authority make changes to the code. Any delegate can propose changes at the national convention, but typically changes have been made through a process that solicits suggestions from members, non-members and leaders in journalism ethics. This revision process mirrors previous revisions, but adds more opportunities for input based on the technology available today. The Ethics Committee has been tasked with gathering input, crafting a revised code (likely several drafts), bounce it off other groups, such as the SPJ Board, and offer it to the delegates at EIJ14 Sept. 4-7 for their consideration. The delegates may adopt it, adopt it with modifications, reject it, or ask for more information and further consideration at EIJ15.

Phase 1: Initial Draft (August 2013-April 2014)
The first phase focused on gathering input from inside and outside SPJ and crafting an initial draft:
•    Big-picture discussion: After hearing from journalists inside and outside of SPJ regarding the need for a code update, then-incoming-President David Cuillier scheduled a town hall meeting at the EIJ13 convention in Anaheim in August 2014. The gathering was led by Ethics Committee Chairman Kevin Smith and various views were expressed.
•    Task assigned: Following the open discussion, Cuillier directed the Ethics Committee to solicit feedback and craft an update that delegates could consider at EIJ14 in Nashville.
•    Working group formed: Smith created a working group consisting of the 10-member committee, as well as eight ethics experts from outside the committee, including Kelly McBride from the Poynter Institute, social media pro Monica Guzman, and others (Chris Roberts, Carole Feldman, Tom Kent, Jan Leach, Stephen Ward, Lynn Walsh). The group also solicited feedback from the members and the public via e-mail, social media and  other SPJ communication tools. In addition, a digital subcommittee was formed to provide input on new ethical challenges resulting from emerging technology.
•    Four-section assignment: In late January, the ethics group was divided into four groups, each responsible for taking first crack at each section in the code: Seek Truth and Report It, Minimize Harm, Act Independently, and Be Accountable. The public comments and the digital subcommittee report were shared with the groups before they crafted their respective sections. When the groups were done, they gave their drafts to one of the other groups for editing.
•    The work groups were as follows (*denotes core ethics committee member):
•    Seek Truth — *Irwin Gratz, *Mike Farrell, Monica Guzman, Jan Leach
•    Minimize Harm — *Kevin Smith, *Andrew Seaman, Chris Roberts, Carole Feldman
•    Act Independently — *Paul Fletcher, *Lauren Bartlett, Lynn Walsh, Stephen Ward
•    Be Accountable — *Fred Brown, *Hagit Limor, Kelly McBride
•    First draft compilation: Smith then compiled all the drafts into one version and distributed it in late March for discussion at SPJ spring regional conferences. It was posted on the SPJ website (http://blogs.spjnetwork.org/ethics/2014/03/27/ethics-code-revisions-our-first-draft/) and more than 600 suggestions were gathered via the blog, an online form at TinyURL.com/EthicsCodeFeedback, conferences, and email sent directly to Smith.

Phase 2: Public Outreach and Revision (May-July 2014)
The next phase is to gather as much feedback as possible from members, non-member journalists, the public, ethics scholars and other constituencies, and work through two more drafts. Starting in May, a steering group of Smith, Walsh and Andrew Seaman, aided by SPJ Executive Director Joe Skeel, will coordinate outreach and communications efforts. Also, the new SPJ communications strategist will likely be assigned to assist with outreach. They include:

•    Website update: A new webpage just for the code revision will be created, rather than relying on the blog format. Information about the revision process will be posted as it progresses, including various efforts to collect input, and a time line for what is ahead in the process. Also, bios and headshots for the working group will be added to the website, as well as news coverage about the ethics code revision. The target launch date for the site is May 19.
•    Comment aggregation: Seaman is setting up an online comment aggregation tool so that the hundreds, perhaps thousands, of comments can be aggregated and assimilated in some relative order. The comments will be available online for anyone to see and should help the committee make sense of the prevailing thoughts.
•    Online solicitations: With the conclusion of the final SPJ Spring Conference, the committee will send an email to all SPJ members and other interested parties outlining the rest of the drafting process. Within that email, there will be a link for people to submit comments, suggestions and questions.
•    Tumblr page: Lynn Walsh created a Tumblr page (http://www.tumblr.com/blog/spjethics) that could also be used to curate comments and spark discussion.
•    Twitter chats: In an effort to bring in people outside SPJ, the committee is planning to organize Twitter chats with well-known groups. Those included so far are MuckRack (Tuesday, May 13) and #WJchat.
•    Newsroom outreach: Walsh will reach out to newsrooms. People can forward copies of the draft to their colleagues for feedback, or they can hold small focus group within their own newsrooms to submit the recommendations.
•    Other publicity: In addition to the previous ways of communicating about the Code, the steering committee is looking at other possibilities proposed by Michael Koretzky, including:
•    Interested board members and other SPJ leaders personally contacting industry thought leaders to make suggestions.
•    SPJ polling every journalism ethics professor in the country.
•    SPJ leaders asking to present at other organizations’ conventions.
•    Consider spending a few hundred dollars on PPC and leveraging SEO on the page, maybe installing Yoast on all Ethics-related material.
•    Asking candidates for SPJ office to comment on the Code revamp.
•    Membership emails linking directly to curated, interactive pages.
•    Second draft: The revision work group will continue revising the draft, based on the feedback gathered. Comments must be received by June 30, and then a second draft will be finished by the committee in July, along with an explanation of why certain types comments were included and others were not. Realistically, we will have hundreds, if not thousands of comments, so every suggestion cannot be incorporated, but a general discussion of thinking in the revision with comment themes will be provided. The second draft will be posted online and distributed through the communication channels described above.

Phase 3: Final Revisions (July-September 2014)
The final phase will involve polishing the third draft and bouncing it off select audiences before presentation to the delegates for a September vote.
•    Third draft: The working group will meet in person in July to hash out the final points of contention and produce a polished third draft. The meeting will be streamed live and viewers may post comments as it happens.
•    Sounding boards: Ideally, a panel discussion with ombudsmen and standards editors will be set up to discuss the third draft and to gather outside viewpoints. Also, in August the SPJ Board will discuss the draft in a conference call and consider making its advisory recommendation to the delegates on whether to approve the draft.
•    Membership vote: A question will be put on the membership ballot this fall so members can vote on their level of support or non-support for the revisions. This vote will be advisory to the delegates, and non-binding
•    Delegate discussion: At EIJ14 in Nashville in September, the delegates will have the opportunity to approve the final draft, not approve it, approve it with amended changes, consider other versions, or postpone consideration for further review and discussion. The board and president will take direction from the delegates if further discussion or action is necessary.
•    Code promotion: If the code updates are approved, SPJ’s communications strategist will develop a plan for distributing and promoting the revised Code to all of the appropriate stakeholders including but not limited to SPJ members, non-members, journalism schools, other journalism organizations and the media.

A fever over the Code

Here is SPJ review topic number 2 this year: the venerable code of ethics. (The first topic, in the previous post, was whether SPJ should update its name).

There have been several versions of the code. The first one dates to 1926, when Sigma Delta Chi (as SPJ was known at the time) “borrowed” a code from the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code in 1973. It was updated in 1984, 1987 and 1996.

About four years ago, then-SPJ President Kevin Smith asked the Ethics Commitee, which I chaired, to review the Code of Ethics and consider whether it should be updated again.

That effort was put on hold, though. SPJ was in the midst of publishing a new edition of a book of journalism ethics case studies. Since the book contained the SPJ Code of Ethics, the sentiment among committee members was that this was not the right time to change the code.

Now, in 2013, there is renewed interest in reviewing and possibly updating the code.

Some say parts of the code are dated and, in particular, it doesn’t address new technology, such as social media.

I, however, see the code as a set of structural principles that don’t change because of new methods of collecting and distributing information. The underpinnings of ethical journalism remain the same.

Nonetheless, SPJ is soliciting opinions about the current code and whether and how it should be changed, a little or a lot.

Please share your thoughts by taking this survey.

Then, look at this page on Google Docs to see what others have said.

As of this writing, 92 people had answered.

On the question of whether the code should be updated, 35 said “yes” (38 percent) and 24 said “no” (26 percent). The remaining 33 people (36 percent)  said “not sure – but it’s good to review.”

SPJ will continue the discussion at the chapter and regional level this year and next year. If the consensus is that changes are needed, there will be a draft for delegates to consider at next year’s convention in September in Nashville.

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