For its first attempt at promoting an Ethics in Journalism Week, the Society of Professional Journalists – with the essential financial support of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation – made grants available for major chapter programs.
SPJ’s Ethics Committee approved seven of these regional grants. Committee members were looking for creativity, educational content and improvement of journalism generally. And that’s what we got. The programs range from workshops on covering war to a public service announcement introducing local audiences to the Code of Ethics.
The deadline schedule was compressed this first year. Just four applications were received by the Ethics Committee before the original Feb. 7 deadline. There was one each from Regions 6, 9, 11 and 12. All were approved.
However, committee members decided to go fishing for a few more good ideas, so we extended the deadline three more weeks. There were four more applications, including a second one from Region 11. We had to deny that one, because we already had approved a grant for that region in the first round.
The rules were up to $1,000 per region, with the initial screening to be done by regional directors.
To give you an idea of what’s being planned – and perhaps some ideas for next year – here are the grants the committee has voted to award:
Region 1: This is one of two programs featuring Peter Sussman, longtime Ethics Committee member and Wells Key winner. Being an ethical sort, Sussman recused himself from voting on this or the Region 6 grant, but other committee members approved it without a dissenting vote. Two programs, plus any classroom lectures Sussman could work in, were to be held at Rutgers University.
Region 5: The Bluegrass Chapter in Kentucky won $1,000 to produce a public service announcement, which television stations and newspapers may use at no cost for ad space or air time. The PSA would tell viewers and readers that if they want reports they can trust, they should look for journalists who subscribe to the SPJ Code of Ethics.
Region 6: Sussman II. The Minnesota Pro Chapter, in cooperation with the Silha Center for the Study of Media Ethics and the Minnesota Journalism Center, had an ambitious program centered on Sussman’s presentation, which is called “A New Kind of Warfare Demands a New Kind of Journalism: Rethinking Journalists’ Wartime Ethics.” The committee awarded $1,000, roughly a sixth of the total cost of the program.
Region 7: The University of Missouri student chapter invited Deni Elliott, ethics professor and director of the Practical Ethics Center at the University of Montana-Missoula, to present her documentaries focusing on the media’s role in bringing about extraordinary medical care. Her frequent collaborator, Paul Lester, professor of journalism at California State University-Fullerton, also was invited for a two-day visit built around the theme of “Ethics in Words and Pictures.”
Region 9: The University of New Mexico chapter invited Dr. William Babcock, a California State University professor, to moderate a forum on the ethics of the way New Mexico Media have covered “one convicted sex offender from another state. The coverage has focused on this man while leaving the other 599 offenders in Bernalillo County alone.” Since the application didn’t include a budget (which we would prefer), the committee approved $500 seed money plus any additional expenses up to a maximum of $500 more.
Region 11: Valley of the Sun Pro Chapter, in conjunction with Arizona Press Women, proposed a program focusing on violence in media coverage. It was to include a keynote by Dr. Jeffrey Cole of UCLA and panel discussions of local coverage, print and broadcast. Dr. Cole is an expert on portrayals of violence on the Internet and in the news/entertainment media. In the absence of a budget, the committee decided to grant $500 initially, plus additional expenses not to exceed $500 more.
Region 12: The Arkansas Pro Chapter invited two pros for a wide-ranging discussion of the ethical decision-making involved in covering controversies such as priestly indiscretions, as well as conflicts between news ethics and marketing strategies. The speakers were to be Phil Record, former SPJ president and Fort Worth Star-Telegram ombudsman, and Ellen Soeteber, editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch . The chapter submitted an $810 budget, so that’s what the committee granted. Record later had to cancel, and the chapter was looking for another presenter.
This was a nice selection for the first year. But while the grants program is perhaps the most ambitious part of Ethics Week, there were plenty of other activities: online discussions of ethical dilemmas, awards for people who commit ethics locally, distribution of the SPJ Code of Ethics to newsrooms and individual journalists, panel discussions and workshops at the chapter level.
One of the first things I learned from The Denver Post copy desk is that a reporter should never refer to anything as the “first annual” whatever it is. You don’t know for sure that it’s going to be an annual event until there’s a “second annual” whatever.
Here’s to exceptions. With this list of programs, and with the active cooperation of other chapters that didn’t seek grants, the Ethics Committee hopes to have begun a tradition that will be the first of many annual Ethics in Journalism Weeks.
Fred Brown, co-chair of the SPJ Ethics Committee, is a newspaper columnist and television commentator in Denver. You can e-mail him at EthicalFred@aol.com
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