Broadway had a new star in late April: the SPJ Code of Ethics.
In case you missed it, the SPJ Ethics Committee, led by Chairman Andrew Seaman and SPJ headquarters staff, launched a campaign that was front and center on jumbo screens in New York City’s Times Square.
“Truthful, compassionate, independent, transparent journalism,” was the message. The goal was to encourage everyone — journalists and non-journalists — to #PressForEthics.
The billboards were a major part of SPJ’s annual Ethics Week, dedicated to highlighting ethical and responsible journalism and the importance of journalists adhering to the code. This year, the week began with the billboards going live in the Big Apple and ended with a letter-writing campaign to members of Congress.
Besides being one of the most public-facing communications campaigns SPJ has ever done, it was also a major step toward communicating directly with the American public, the people we as journalists serve every day.
As I have mentioned before, one of the goals I have as SPJ president is to engage and involve the public. It’s something that is more important than ever, as several recent surveys have found that less than a third of U.S. adults trust the information provided by journalists.
That’s why during Ethics Week we wanted to bring the public’s attention to our Code of Ethics, the core tenets spoken, practiced and honored in newsrooms around the world. With Times Square as the epicenter, we launched a campaign that explained what a journalist is, what journalists do, why ethical journalism is important and how the public can distinguish real news from fake news.
(You can see everything we put together here. Even though Ethics Week is over, we encourage you to still share this content with fellow journalists and the public.)
I mentioned the letters we sent to Congress. No one was left out; we sent more than 500 letters to our lawmakers. The focus of the campaign was to bring attention to SPJ, what we do and who we are. We included a copy of the Code of Ethics and invited them to meet with us. In addition we asked them to invite us to meet with their constituents, to engage in a conversation about journalism, the importance of free speech and tips on how to be informed news consumers.
Through this, we want the public to know: We got the message loud and clear. Trust in media is at an all-time low, a message we need to take very seriously.
And that is where you come in. As journalists, we are taught over and over how important it is to be impartial, to not take a stand on issues. So, unless you are an opinion journalist, weighing in on matters of public concerns may not come easily or naturally. But when it comes to protecting freedom of the press, freedom of speech and the work that we do, if we do not speak out, who will?
SPJ as an organization is speaking out and will continue to. A variety of other organizations also are speaking out, and SPJ is working with many of them to make sure our voices are heard loud and clear. But we need your help.
Who better to inform community members about what journalists do than the journalists working in their communities? Who better to defend the work journalists do to your friends who may be attacking the profession on social media than someone they know and trust?
When we sent the letters to Congress and said we are ready to meet with the public and have these discussions, we meant it. In order to make that happen, we need your help. So if you want to engage your community in a conversation about journalism ethics or what journalists do, let us know. We have the tools to set you up to succeed and the right people to coach you through how to lead these discussions.
If there is any hope of rebuilding trust, we as journalists must work together to rebuild relationships with the communities we serve. That means relationships between individuals, communities and journalists — not faceless organizations or companies.
Lynn Walsh is 2016-17 national SPJ president. She leads the NBC7 Investigates team in San Diego. She loves holding the powerful accountable and spends more time than she would like fighting for access to public information. Connect on Twitter: @LWalsh.