You should be getting this issue of Quill a few days before the Ethics Committee of SPJ starts reviewing applications for grants to support programs of the first-ever Ethics in Journalism Week.
The Sigma Delta Chi Foundation has given the committee a generous grant to get Ethics Week underway. The biggest part of the grant is $1,000 for each of SPJ’s 12 regions to help chapters or regions do Ethics Week programs.
The week in question is the last week of April, the month when Quill is devoted to ethics. We want to put special effort into spreading the word that journalists, as represented by SPJ, do care about being responsible and accountable.
Ethics has been identified by the leadership and membership of the Society of Professional Journalists as one of SPJ’s two main missions.
For years, the other principal mission, Freedom of Information, has been the focus of chapter programs, public discussions and materials prepared for local and national media annually, in March, on the anniversary of the adoption of the Bill of Rights.
So now the Ethics Committee, with the blessing of the SPJ Board and the funding of the SDX Foundation, wants to give equal emphasis to the importance of ethical journalism.
The SDX Foundation has granted up to $20,120 to make this first Ethics in Journalism Week a reality.
Casey Bukro, longtime ethics evangelist (including a stint as chairman of the Ethics Committee, not to mention his current co-chair gig) recalls that a former president of SPJ once expressed a goal of getting a copy of the Code of Ethics into every newsroom in the country.
We figure, why not?
So that’s part of the Ethics Committee’s plan for Ethics in Journalism Week: Mailing pocket-sized copies of the SPJ Code of Ethics to each of the Society’s 280 chapters for distribution to local journalists.
We recommend that chapter officers visit media executives to carry the message and a bunch of pocket-sized Codes for media employers to distribute to employees.
Included in the same mailing to chapters will be one plaque-quality copy of the Code for members of the chapter to award, when and where appropriate, to a local media outlet for exemplary ethical behavior.
We also will distribute poster-size copies of the Code to each chapter (depending on size of chapter membership and number of media outlets) to give to newsrooms for them to post.
We’ll include suggestions for chapter programs, panels and public discussions of ethical issues during Ethics in Journalism Week. For example, journalists always seem able to get their teeth into a discussion of scenarios that raise ethical questions, especially if the scenario relates to some recent, and local, controversy.
There will be a media packet giving pointers on arranging talk-radio and television interviews and op-ed pieces to address ethical issues in journalism and to acquaint producers and editors with the availability through SPJ of experts able to address those issues as they arise throughout the year.
The bulk of the grant, though, is to make available, on a one-to-a-region basis, $1,000 stipends to help cover the expenses of bringing in well-known ethicists or journalists involved in high-profile ethical issues to speak at regional or local meetings.
Other ideas also will be considered, so long as they promote ethical, responsible journalism.
The regional grants clearly are the most ambitious part of this program. By now, regional directors should have received and culled through applications, forwarding them, through headquarters, to the Ethics Committee. The committee, through the magic of e-mail, will decide by the middle of this month how to allocate the money.
Most likely the committee simply will OK any recommendation made by a regional director. But if a regional director can’t decide between two outstanding applications, the committee will try to determine which merits the money.
Promptness counts. So does creativity.
The grant can be used to help pay the expenses of bringing in an expert to talk about ethics, or it can be used for some creative program that costs money. It can be used for regional conferences (ones that happen near late April) or for chapter programs – as long at there’s a clear connection with the Society’s ethics mission.
Bukro offers some other suggestions: “One thought is to challenge chapters to pick a point or two in the Code of Ethics and work to emphasize or make that a theme in improving ethics in local journalism in a certain period of time. The emphasis might be on the demonstrated benefits or improvements. I’m not talking about criticism, although if that can be done in a constructive way, that might be OK. SPJ’s history shows it’s more interested in praise, rather than criticism. The idea would be to put the Code of Ethics into action, some sort of action. Make it a living document.”
Start thinking about it now. Be creative. Be timely.
And remember why we’re having Ethics Week.
It’s because ethical behavior is crucial to journalism’s credibility. Credibility is vital to a responsible news medium’s survival in a competitive environment. And ethics has long been one of the things distinguishing SPJ from journalism organizations that don’t give as much attention to the “big-picture” issues.
Fred Brown, co-chair of the Ethics Committee, recently retired as political editor of The Denver Post. He is organizing a project to study media and government ethics.
Tagged under: Ethics