The erosion of public trust – it’s one of the most important issues facing journalism today.
Maybe you’ve experienced this, too: You meet someone and tell them you are a journalist. Eyes roll. Maybe there’s a snide comment about “the media.”
It’s a cynicism that must be confronted. There is every reason to be concerned that a free press, the underpinning of self-government, protected by the First Amendment, will become marginalized. We know the reasons: government secrecy, public mistrust and apathy, consolidation of ownership, dwindling resources, changing roles – the list goes on.
As journalists, we must pull together for the good of the profession and to ensure a free press. That’s why the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and the Society of Professional Journalists are taking bold steps to restore public confidence in journalism.
Our organizations have initiated the Campaign for Ethical Journalism and received a $25,000 grant from the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation to develop a plan to guide the project.
We want to restore public confidence in journalism by reminding news consumers that the vast majority of journalists are trustworthy, responsible professionals. We’ll remind the public about all the good that hardworking journalists do for their communities and for this nation. We’ll point out the differences between professional journalism and the loud-mouthed commentary that is too often confused for journalism.
Through a speakers program, we will bring that discussion to cities from coast to coast. And we will recruit media leaders to promote the Society’s acclaimed Code of Ethics, to rekindle a sense of pride and commitment within our own professional ranks.
This work won’t be easy. The planning and research will take time. But we can’t stand by. There is too much to lose.
SPJ’s Code of Ethics will play a central role in this campaign. In addition, we’ve already developed new resources for SPJ’s Web site, and that work will continue. Legendary newsman Walter Cronkite lent his voice to help us spread this important message about responsible reporting. Hear his comments at spj.org.
At the end of April, SPJ will celebrate its fifth annual Ethics in Journalism Week. The theme this year, “Minimize Harm,” gives us an appropriate opportunity to discuss the humanity of journalism. The inherent conflict between a journalist’s responsibility to seek and report the truth and the consequences of that reporting, offer an excellent opportunity for reporters to share their own stories and put a personal face on the sometimes impersonal world of journalism.
You can contribute now to SPJ’s efforts to show the “human faces of journalism” by sharing your stories about tough ethical decisions and how your stories and your reporting have influenced you and those you were covering. E-mail your 200 to 300 word stories to Julie Grimes at firstname.lastname@example.org. We will share them with journalists and the public through spj.org.
You’ll hear more about our national ethics initiative in coming months. In the meantime, I hope you will consider joining us in this important and essential work.
Steve Geimann is president of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation and producer for Bloomberg Radio.