Twelve ethics pearls pulled from SPJ’S first draft of suggested code revisions

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A preview of the Society of Professional Journalists’ revised ethics code clearly reflects committee thoughtfulness in terms of addressing concerns of a dramatically broadened membership. When Ethics News Updates previously interviewed chairman Kevin Z. Smith, he clearly indicated the revision effort’s direction.

SPJ’s code is now in the midst of only its second revision in the past 17 years, Smith said. Ultimately, the ethics committee “must create standards that support all genres of reporting. Our freelance faction has expanded, and the code also must be relevant for a variety of quasi journalists.”

There are dozens of new thoughts proposed already. Much more review is planned before the finished document is put to a membership vote. Here are one dozen proposed inclusions that struck home with ENU’s editorial staff in terms of clearly being on target:

  1. Aggressively gather and update information as it unfolds and work to avoid error. Deliberate distortion and reporting unconfirmed rumors are never permissible.
  2. Remember that neither speed nor brevity excuses inaccuracy or mitigates the damage of error.
  3. Journalists, not sources, are responsible for the accuracy of stories. Verify information from sources before publishing. Information taken from other news sources should be independently verified.
  4. Recognize the harm in using photos or information, including any photos and data from social media forums, for which the source is unknown, or where there is uncertainty regarding the authenticity of the images or information.
  5. Deny favored treatment to advertisers and donors, or any other special interests, and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  6. 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.
  7. Admit mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently wherever they appeared, including archived material.
  8. Clearly identify sources; the public is entitled to as much information as possible on a source’s identity, reliability and possible motives. Seek alternative sources before granting anonymity. Reveal conditions attached to any promises made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
  9. Seek sources whose views are seldom used. Official and unofficial sources can be equally valid.
  10. Diligently seek subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to criticism and to allegations of wrong doing.
  11. Avoid publishing critical opinions by those seeking confidentially.
  12. Never plagiarize. Always attribute information not independently gathered.

Last but not least is this key passage appearing in the proposed code’s opening paragraph:

“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 non-traditional providers of news to a broad audience, should strive to service the public with thoroughness and honesty. 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.”