For more than a quarter of a century, suicide prevention experts have advised journalists against providing too many details about specific suicide methods, or presenting stories about suicide in a prominent way, due to the risk of copycat deaths. So a New York Times front page headline left me shocked: “Where the Despairing Learn Ways to Die.”
February 3rd, 2023 • Quill Archives, Ethics Toolbox
Wrestling with trust vs. attention when breaking news
In June 2022, new CNN CEO Chris Licht issued a memo to staffers to reduce the network’s usage of the “breaking news” graphic on air. “Something I have heard from both people inside and outside the organization is complaints we overuse the ‘Breaking News’ banner,” Licht wrote in a copy of the memo obtained by Variety.
Just a few weeks into the Russian invasion of Ukraine, photojournalist Lynsey Addario captured a photo of a civilian casualty that spoke to the atrocity of the war. While located at an evacuation route in Irpin, she witnessed the death of a family killed by a mortar.
After interviewing U.S. Sen. Rick Scott about the challenges of rebuilding areas of Florida decimated by deadly Hurricane Ian, Margaret Brennan, host of CBS’s “Face the Nation,” attempted to wrap up with an unrelated question about recent “disturbing rhetoric” from former President Donald Trump and U.S.
Violations of journalism ethics come in a variety of types, many of which were committed in 2021. Some happen because of bad judgment, some are committed by journalists who know they are wrong and some come from maintaining the status quo without question.
October 8th, 2021 • Featured, Quill Archives, Ethics Toolbox
Hicks: Colorado fabrication further erodes trust in journalism
There are countless reasons why many Americans do not trust information reported by journalists, and no one change will turn that around. But each reporting infraction pushes the trust meter in the wrong direction, even if incrementally. The latest breach occurred in Boulder, Colorado, at the Daily Camera, where the newspaper published a nearly 900-word retraction on Page 1 pointing out an extensive list of problems with a story, including numerous false quotations.
College journalists who were familiar with the SPJ Code of Ethics, had taken an ethics course or had other exposure to ethical decision making were more likely to identify unethical behavior in scenarios posed to them in a survey by two South Carolina researchers.
This feature celebrates one of SPJ’s four guiding principals: We are stewards of ethical journalism. Truth took a beating during the past four years, with the previous U.S. president frequently spewing provably false or misleading statements as disinformation overall coursed through social media with ferocious speed.
June 4th, 2020 • Featured, Quill Blog, Ethics Toolbox
Ethics: Should journalists show the faces of protesters?
Taking photos or video of protesters and people marching or demonstrating in public spaces is a right afforded to journalists under the First Amendment. In the United States people have a right to information. Journalists help fulfill that right to information by responsibly reporting on what is happening in communities across the country.
April 8th, 2020 • Featured, Quill Blog, Code Words, Ethics Toolbox
Ethics: Answering questions about COVID-19 coverage
At the Society of Professional Journalists, we talk a lot about how your ethical standards should not change no matter the medium or type of story you are producing. While covering COVID-19, the same is true: Ethics apply no matter the medium.
As the Society of Professional Journalists celebrates its 110th anniversary in 2019, it may come as a surprise that SPJ did not have its signature Code of Ethics for the group’s first 17 years. In 1909 when the young men at DePauw University founded SPJ as a college fraternity, Sigma Delta Chi, one of their goals was “to advance the standards of the press by fostering a higher ethical code.”
An SPJ member asked: “A local entertainment publication provides a weekly print edition with information on weekly entertainment happenings in the area. They also feature various articles on people and events. Sometimes the cover is sold for the featured event. Does this require a disclosure?
My tenure as the Society of Professional Journalists’ ethics committee chairperson began in September 2014. A Minneapolis news station would broadcast a story now known as #Pointergate in early November. Rolling Stone would publish its now-infamous story on sexual assault a couple of weeks later.
April 27th, 2018 • Quill Blog, Ethics Toolbox
Transparency on full display in Garrison Keillor case
As Minnesota prepared for an early April storm that would dump over a foot of snow in the Twin Cities, Minnesota Public Radio and Garrison Keillor struck a deal. Nearly five months after MPR and its parent company, American Public Media Group, severed ties with Keillor over accusations of sexual harassment, Keillor and MPR reached an agreement where the archives of the two programs for which he worked, The Writer’s Almanac and A Prairie Home Companion, would be restored.
The SPJ Ethics Committee handles a lot of issues that, as expected, involve news outlets representing all kinds of media. What may surprise some people is that we also deal with a lot of issues involving non-fiction books. These issues often involve works that could be classified as creative non-fiction.
Opinion writing or broadcasting is a challenging endeavor. Crafting persuasive prose requires a lot of brain power, and sometimes it’s difficult to know what ethical boundaries exist when arguing a specific position. The Weekender, an alternative weekly publication in Northeast Pennsylvania, recently published a column from a regular contributor about him and his friend pretending to be veterans of the U.S.
As everyone knows, the business of news changed dramatically over the past two decades. Major newspapers, websites, television and radio stations now crave clicks and screen time. In that quest, news organizations ceded a lot of editorial power to social media companies.
Nearly 1,000 shootings involving four or more people have occurred in the U.S. since 26 people – including 20 children – were killed in Newtown, Conn., by a gunman in December 2012, according to the crowdsourced Mass Shooting Tracker. While estimates suggest gun violence is less common today than decades ago, there are an increasing number of questions submitted to SPJ’s Ethics Hotline with every new mass shooting that gains widespread attention.
One of the reasons I enjoy being a health reporter is that there are few topics that apply to everyone on such a personal level. Health is important for many reasons, including that it will likely dictate how long a person lives.
As a car show was getting underway in Northeastern Pennsylvania in 2009, one of the cars turning into the parking lot burst into flames after it was hit from behind by another vehicle. Trapped inside, the car’s only occupant — a 64-year-old man — died.
He is one of the people in modern history most quoted by journalists. He knows everything, but goes by many names. Some call him an official. Some call him a source close to the matter. Others just call him anonymous. After years of work, many say he should be forced into retirement.
My peers in middle school often sent letters asking for autographs to famous athletes. I, on the other hand, wrote letters to Walter Cronkite. My father spent many hours during my childhood explaining to me the role the “most trusted man in American” played in the latter half of the 20th Century.
With an overwhelming chorus of “ayes” in September, delegates of the Society of Professional Journalists ushered in a new era of journalism ethics. After a year of work and debate, approved revisions to the SPJ Code of Ethics for the first time in 18 years.
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.
The SPJ Code of Ethics provides valuable guidelines to journalists for handling sticky issues that inevitably arise. SPJ’s Ethics Committee has noted in one of its position papers that the Code is regarded as the “gold standard” when it comes to aspirational codes of ethics.
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?”