When delegates convene during the closing business session at the national convention this September, they will have an extraordinary vote before them: whether to support revisions to SPJ’s Code of Ethics. There have been three such revisions and two compete rewrites in the Society’s 105 years, so this is a big moment for SPJ.
Transparency is the new objectivity. If you don’t believe me, ask many of journalism’s millennial ethicists; they’ll tell you it’s far better to be open about your conflicts than it is to be detached from them. That represents a significant step in a new ethical direction.
The first Quill ethics column of 2014 seems like the perfect opportunity to talk about ethical resolutions for the coming year. Hundreds of calls to the Society’s Ethics Hotline, weeks upon months, have inspired this list. So, it stands to reason that if you can make these resolutions and stick to them, you will be doing your all-important part in 2014 to turn around the reputations of journalists.
When SPJ leaders announced their intentions to consider a revision to our Code of Ethics, it seemed like a logical first step to ask “why?” After all, sound reasoning should be offered before digging deep into the nuts and bolts of rewriting the 17-year-old code.
It’s never easy saying goodbye to an old friend, especially one that has been so loyal and helpful to you over the years. Old friends remind us of simpler, bygone times when we become confused by all of the noise and uncertainty generated in our changing world.
When it comes to codes of conduct, history presents a long and populated account of people wanting to do the right thing. Whether it’s through religious teachings, political legislation or the development of morality by 10 young men trapped on an island without adult supervision, rules of moral behavior quickly develop for the betterment of the group.
At the risk of losing my lifetime membership in the Journalism Club of America, I think it’s important to say that not every story needs the news media’s attention. Sometimes, no matter how tempting, we need to take a pass — for ethical reasons.
As far as single questions go, it was the perfect one to ask when you’re writing one of those end-of-year, forward-looking pieces in hopes of capturing some thoughtful insight from purported experts. “What is the single biggest challenge facing journalism in 2013?”
Some years ago while teaching a freshman composition course at a state college, I received a paper from a student whose writing had taken an astounding turn for the better. Suspecting she plagiarized the paper, I investigated and, not to my surprise, discovered she had lifted wholesale from an online source.
In slightly more than a year, the American public has been treated to some of the most high-profile and media-hyped criminal trials in decades. Since July 2011, we have given the watchful public Casey Anthony, Conrad Murray, John Edwards, Roger Clemens and Jerry Sandusky, each catapulted into the national spotlight and scrutinized under the hot lights of the media.
People magazine pulled no punches with its April 9, 2012, cover showing deceased Florida youth Trayvon Martin’s innocent good looks peering over the emboldened yellow wording: “An American Tragedy.” It was a clear message with an obvious editorial agenda, magazine design students from the University of Central Florida told me recently during a visit to that school, pulling no punches of their own in their critique of the cover.
I was watching TV the night news broke of singer Whitney Houston’s death. My phone buzzed shortly after 8 p.m. on Saturday, Feb. 11, with an Associated Press news alert. I made a quick post on Facebook, and within minutes the social medium was red hot with comments.
A former student of mine, now working for a metro paper, called recently to ask about the ethics of reporting suicides. A businessman had jumped from a high-rise apartment onto a bustling street below, leaving behind a grieving wife and three daughters.
Each week thousands of people visit the SPJ website, and many of them navigate to the ethics page to read our Code of Ethics. In fact, aside from the homepage, the ethics page has the single largest population of unique visitors in the last year, nearly 35,000.
As calls to the SPJ ethics hotline have come in over the past year, it’s clear to me that one area of ethics has distanced itself from the rest in terms of concerns, questions and complaints. That is conflicts of interest.
One of the strongest voices for the defense of a federal shield law, Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., announced in early April that he was willing to again author a version of the Free Flow of Information Act. Some might consider it a futile effort given that a version of a shield bill has been introduced on the Hill since 2005 with no success, albeit with some progress of acceptance.
In October, while attending the BlogWorld and New Media Expo 2010 in Las Vegas, I found myself anxiously scanning the convention program looking for a session on journalism ethics. I mean, after all, I was the newly appointed SPJ Ethics Committee chairman, and I wanted to get my hands good and dirty at this convention.
As far as e-mails go, this one didn’t have any indications it would be any different than the rest. Most of my e-mails are from people within SPJ who want to communicate information or ask questions. As I read this e-mail in response to a Quill column, I gathered a sense of despair about the state of this profession brought on by personal events.
Last year I was attending a Future of Journalism conference at Yale University when a panel of academicians took that stage touting their views of the future of journalism education. The way they saw it, the wave of the future was citizen journalists.
The voice on the other end of the phone was barely discernable. The broken English coupled with the static made it almost too difficult to do the interview properly. The reporter was from an Iraqi magazine. He had called me months earlier to talk about a U.S.
About a month before I took office as president, outgoing leader Dave Aeikens suggested I subscribe to Google Alerts and use “SPJ” and “Society of Professional Journalists” as my link words. This way I could be up on the latest information being circulated about the organization.
“When it comes to the future, there are three kinds of people: those who let it happen, those who make it happen, and those who wonder what happened.” — American scholar John M. Richardson Jr. Nothing comes closer to the truth when applying this quote to the future of journalism.
A Malaysian journalist stood next to me puffing on a cigarette, quietly drawing down its tobacco and holding its intoxicating smoke deep in his lungs before releasing his stormy cloud into the air. “You know, smoking will kill you,” someone in the crowd said, obviously as taken as I was with the delight with which the man smoked.
I’ve always been something of an independent person. When my schoolmates were following trends and trying hard to fit in with their peers, I tended to think more individually, resisting fads and being a part of their loop. My independence has served me well over my 30 years as a journalist.