A Magazine by the Society of Professional Journalists



June 11th, 2018 • Quill Blog, SPJ Works
Colorado Pro chapter helps high school newspaper in Senegal

High school girls in Senegal, one of the poorest countries in Africa, have been granted $2,000 by the SPJ Colorado Pro chapter to help them start an online newspaper. The international effort, a first for the Colorado chapter, was proposed by Bob Burdick, a chapter board member and former editor of the Denver Rocky Mountain News.


April 4th, 2011 • Quill Archives
What-Who-Why-How: Using SPJ’s New Ethics Book

I am not convinced that ethics can be taught, even though I’ve been trying to do it for six or more of the eight years since I (sort of) retired from The Denver Post. When you think about it, ethics depends on a person’s good moral instincts, and those are the product of many things, including parents, peers, good and bad examples, religion and other beliefs, all producing a gut feeling for what’s right and what’s wrong.


February 2nd, 2011 • Quill Archives, Ethics Toolbox
Ethics Toolbox

More than four years ago at a meeting of the Sigma Delta Chi Foundation board of directors in Indianapolis, two board members asked if I’d be interested in editing a fourth edition of SPJ’s widely acclaimed book on journalism ethics. It was in a dark and smoky cigar bar in Indianapolis, Mac McKerral insists, though I remember the rather sterile second floor of the SPJ headquarters where McKerral, a former SPJ president, and Howard Dubin, longtime treasurer of the SDX Foundation, first mentioned it to me.


April 2nd, 2007 • Quill Archives
Cable TV loses way with celebrity ‘news’

The death of Princess Diana in 1997 was a legitimate news story. After a while, the coverage got a bit overwrought, but the princess was more than just a celebrity. The murder trial of O.J. Simpson, starting much earlier with that bizarre slow-speed police chase, deserved coverage too; probably not as much as it ended up getting, but he had been a star in football and film and had also been a role model.


March 6th, 2007 • Quill Archives
When the audience does the reporting

Old-line media’s embrace of the Internet may be the logical — and faintly disquieting — extension of the “civic journalism” movement of a decade or two ago. Civic, or community, journalism is an attempt to engage the public in the affairs of its community.


February 2nd, 2007 • Quill Archives
Caught up in the chase

Students in a communication ethics class I taught at the University of Denver last fall were heavily supportive of the “Dateline NBC” project, “To Catch a Predator.” This was a class of nontraditional students, and most of them were mothers of young children.


October 18th, 2006 • Quill Archives
Ethical debates heat up with JonBenet Fever

We just had another media explosion in my neck of the woods. A relapse of JonBenet Fever was triggered by a pathetic pedophile who said he murdered the 6-year-old beauty queen 10 years ago. It seems that he really thought he did, but alarms should have been raised from the beginning.


September 1st, 2006 • Quill Archives
Journalist suspended for leading gay-rights parade

Frank Whelan, a features writer who also wrote a history column for the Allentown, Pa., Morning Call, took part in a gay-rights parade on June 17 and stirred up a classic ethical dilemma. The situation raises any number of questions about what is and isn’t a conflict of interest.


August 1st, 2006 • Quill Archives
Share your ethical cases so everyone can learn

Those who endeavor to teach ethics to budding journalists are always looking for case studies. Unfortunately, there seems to be no shortage of ethical problems facing today’s media. The Society of Professional Journalists would like to serve as a repository for some of these cases.


June 30th, 2006 • Quill Archives
The watchdog goes ARF: An Internet survival guide

The Internet offers many challenges and opportunities for mainstream journalists. The challenges: The Internet is luring away a chunk of mainstream media’s readers and viewers. Also, there is a risk when reporters use the Web as a resource because much of its content is not accurate.


May 1st, 2006 • Quill Archives
Asking right questions a key to minimizing harm

Minimize Harm. It’s one of the four major sections of the SPJ Code of Ethics. It’s also a major factor in moral reasoning and ethical decision-making. Many ethical decisions, in journalism and elsewhere, are a struggle between doing one’s duty and being responsible about the consequences of that action.


March 30th, 2006 • Quill Archives
Letting sources check your story can be a good thing

The idea of prepublication review makes some reporters cringe in revulsion or puff up in righteous indignation, but in this complicated world, it should be done more often. The stories we cover are more complex. Our sources, and our readers and viewers, don’t trust us as much as they used to.


March 1st, 2006 • Quill Archives
SAD Formula can turn happy ethical results

SAD can make you glad — or at least more confident in your ethical decision-making. When I started teaching a communication ethics course at the University of Denver, I inherited a syllabus used by Laura Ruehl, now at the University of North Carolina.


January 31st, 2006 • Quill Archives
Did sexual abuse story cross the line of fairness?

When it comes to training, ethics is different from other newsroom workshops. It is a more esoteric subject than, say, using numbers in reporting, or writing without bias. In ethics, there are no pat answers. The trick is to ask the right questions, to hash it out so you’re able to justify your decision to yourself and the public.


December 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Studies: Americans are tuning out traditional news

Despite all the media choices available to them in this technology glutted world, is it possible that a significant number of Americans are simply choosing to ignore what we used to call “news”? Not a large number, mind you, certainly nowhere near a majority, maybe not even a double-digit percentile — but enough to cause concern about the future of a fully informed citizenry and all that implies for good government.


October 12th, 2005 • Quill Archives
Getting involved is better than ‘stony detachment’

As journalists, we know better than to get involved in a story we are covering. But what does that mean, exactly? Some reporters will say not getting involved means you should always be totally detached — an observer, never a participant.


August 31st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Push for more news councils sparks debate, controversy

The Knight Foundation has decided to try to encourage the formation of more news councils throughout the country. There already are news councils in Hawaii, Minnesota and Washington that respond to complaints about the ethical behavior of news media outlets. But Knight agrees they should have some company.


August 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
‘Citizen’ journalism is not professional journalism

Ah, for the carefree world of the blog. “It’s optimistic, energetic, new, open, growing, and fun; it’s the medium in the better mood, and that’s catching,” wrote the widely quoted Jeff Jarvis of BuzzMachine. “In short: Bloggers make better bar mates.”


June 30th, 2005 • Quill Archives
Anonymous sources needed, but must be used with caution

Anonymous sources are losing favor in journalism. From an ethical perspective, that’s mostly a good thing. That’s “mostly” but not “unequivocally” good. Anonymous sources can generate some important stories. The recently revealed “Deep Throat” is a reminder of the enormous potential of anonymous sources.


May 2nd, 2005 • Quill Archives
SPJ condemned use of VNRs long before latest scandals

Video news releases produced by federal agencies pop up from time to time in the real news. It happened again this spring, which drove The New York Times to produce this editorial scolding: “The Bush administration has come under a lot of criticism for its attempts to fob off government propaganda as genuine news reports.


April 1st, 2005 • Quill Archives
Ethical matters have varying degrees of danger

Columnists are different from the rest of us in journalism. They are paid to have opinions. They do more than report; they advocate. Sometimes they become wealthy, famous and in high demand. Even so, they shouldn’t be getting paid by conflicting sources.


March 8th, 2005 • Quill Archives
Get out of your chair, news doesn’t happen in newsrooms

Technology has added a lot to reporting. It’s much easier in a high-tech world to look up information, access public records, track down sources and calculate what statistics mean. But because there is so much information available to a reporter sitting in front of a computer screen, it’s tempting to minimize what ought to be a vital element of journalism: personal contact.


May 13th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Balancing accuracy with independence

It used to be an unwritten rule in journalism: You would never EVER ask a source to review something you were planning to put in the paper. Prepublication review was strictly taboo. There’s still a lot of resistance to the idea.


April 8th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Getting past the game

Howard Dean’s collapse in the race for the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination showed that traditional “horserace” reporting of political campaigns has some serious shortcomings. Dean seemed to have everything going for him. The former Vermont governor had raised the most money.


April 8th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Reporting and endorsing

Most newspapers make endorsements in political races. It’s part of what editorial boards consider to be their responsibility to the community. If a newspaper has ideas about what its city, state and nation should be like, it has ideas about which policy-makers – the incumbent office holders as well as the challengers – are best for turning those ideas into reality.


March 17th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Ethics calls apply widely

The SPJ Ethics Committee never lacks for questions to answer. Headquarters probably forwards an average of three or four questions a week to Gary Hill, Casey Bukro or me. Two of the most recent are problems often faced by journalists: An educator wanted to know when it’s appropriate and necessary to attribute facts.


February 9th, 2004 • Quill Archives
Keep grudges out of news coverage

Every once in a while, it does a reporter good to be quoted by other reporters. The good thing is that it helps a reporter understand why sources may feel they’re not quoted accurately. I know. I’ve occasionally been quoted, and occasionally I’ve felt the reporter didn’t really understand what I was trying to convey.


December 9th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Anonymity hurts reporters and politicians

Every once in a while I write about journalism ethics for my weekly column in The Denver Post. It usually brings thoughtful responses from readers. When I wrote about the problems created by widespread use of anonymous sources in Washington, specifically as it related to columnist Robert Novak’s naming of a CIA undercover agent, a reader in another state suggested the leaking of the name might have been part of a plot to discredit President Bush.


November 12th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Start planning for Ethics Week now

Our timing was superbly ironic. The first national Ethics in Journalism Week, April 24 to May 3, 2003, also was the week in which the antics of Jayson Blair shamed The New York Times. It also was when two reporters at the Salt Lake Tribune were caught collecting money from a supermarket tabloid without telling their editors.


July 24th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Ethics week brought plenty of ethics discussion

The Ethics Committee of the Society of Professional Journalists, as you know, thought it would be a good idea to designate the last week in April as “National Ethics in Journalism Week.” We had no idea what would happen. We thought we’d call attention to the need for journalists to behave responsibly and ethically in their pursuit of the truth.


May 21st, 2003 • Quill Archives
War brings ethical discussions

Journalists, for all the criticism they get for being too liberal, are very much like right-wing nuts in one significant way: They are very gullible to conspiracy theories. Tell a journalist that the government is trying to prevent him from doing his job, and the likely response will be, “So what else is new?”


April 29th, 2003 • Quill Archives
Chapters plan for Ethics in Journalism Week

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.