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.
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.
Elections always raise ethical questions, and the SPJ Ethics Committee hears a lot of them. Editorial endorsements by newspapers, lack of coverage for third-party candidates, breaking stories close to an election – all of these things make some of our readers and viewers suspicious or angry or just unsettled.
The SPJ Ethics Committee has in excess of 30 members. “Excess” is an appropriate way to describe that number – perhaps wretched excess. The committee often expresses more than 30 different opinions on any subject it is asked to opine upon.
Ethics has been identified by the leadership and membership of the Society of Professional Journalists as one of SPJ’s two main missions. In membership surveys, and in strategic planning meetings conducted over two years ending in 2001, ethics consistently emerged as one of the two things that separates SPJ from other journalism organizations.
There has been a lively debate among members of the Ethics Committee about whether the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists needs to be amended to address the ethical issues that swirl around coverage of war and terrorism.
Howie Wright couldn’t sleep. And now, after a fretful night, he could sense that the black nighttime sky beyond the drapes had turned to a slate gray. Tires were hissing on the wet freeway a mile from his trim suburban home – commuters heading to work.
There is little to criticize in SPJ’s Code of Ethics, except perhaps that it is a little bit dull. It is instructive, but prosaic. It contains carefully evolved and thoroughly discussed precepts about ethical conduct. But like most things edited by a committee, it lacks zest and tang, to name two consumer products.
Joe Kollin, a reporter for the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, kindled quite a discussion among ethics committee members recently when he suggested that, because people are ignoring the ethics code, it’s “useless” and should be scrapped. “If the big media companies don’t care about ethics, how can those of us who work for them?
The terrorist attacks in New York and Washington unquestionably were the biggest news event of this still-new century; they rank among a thankfully few others as the biggest in the history of mass media. In the enormity of such a calamity, in the rush to report new shreds of information, ethics sometimes suffer.
Anxiety was in the air at a seminar last May sponsored by New Directions for News. The new media worry that the old media aren’t taking them seriously. One of new media’s biggest concerns is that the old media don’t think the newcomers care about ethics or journalism’s traditional values.