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I have said multiple times here that attribution is the difference between plagiarism and research.

I also have said many times that linking is a matter of journalism ethics and that if journalists were expected to link to their digital sources, editors would prevent plagiarism more effectively and detect it more quickly.

Fareed Zakaria apparently did more research than attribution in some of his work for Time, CNN and the Washington Post. And his failure to link to sources — and his newsrooms’ failure to demand links — has damaged his credibility as a journalist, however this latest accusation plays out.

The media watchdogs who caught Buzzfeed editor Benny Johnson plagiarizing, known only as @blippoblappo and @crushingbort, have documented a dozen cases of apparent plagiarism by Zakaria. All of the incidents they cite occurred prior to the 2012 incident when Zakaria was suspended for plagiarizing the work of the New Yorker’s Jill LePore.

His employers then said they reviewed his previous work, satisfying themselves that the theft was, in the words of Time’s official statement, “an isolated incident.” On their Our Bad Media blog, the watchdogs say that they needed only “less than an hour and a few Google searches” to find a dozen examples of Zakaria using verbatim passages or lightly rewritten passages from other news sources. So they rightly question how rigorously Zakaria’s employers reviewed his work, a question Craig Silverman raised in 2012. Continue Reading »

Minneapolis Tribune, Aug. 9, 1974

I remember this day 40 years ago so clearly. The whole nation was expecting Richard Nixon’s resignation. But it took me by surprise.

As a student journalist, I followed with fascination the biggest story of my college days, the Watergate scandal that was engulfing the presidency of Richard Nixon. A House committee was considering impeachment and I was fascinated and eager to see how it all worked out. Then I missed the conclusion.

Mimi and I married on Saturday, Aug. 3, 1974. These days many honeymoons come weeks or months after the wedding, but we headed north for a cabin in Minnesota just a few hours after the wedding. The Monday of our honeymoon, the “smoking gun tape” was released, proving Nixon’s deep involvement in the cover-up. Well, my bride and I weren’t paying attention to the news that day.

In fact, we didn’t pay any attention to the news at all for the next few days. We enjoyed our rustic cabin and the beautiful lake. We didn’t have a TV in the cabin and we didn’t go to town for a newspaper. And this was two decades before the Internet was an option. My bride didn’t need to tear the cellphone out of my hand to unplug for a few days (though that has happened a few times since).

Finally on Thursday, Aug. 8, we decided to surface and go to the lodge nearby for dinner and a game of pool. As we were playing pool, a TV played in the background, but we paid little attention. Until we heard John Chancellor say something about the “Ford administration.” (Mimi recalls that she heard Chancellor and that I slammed my pool cue on the table, saying something unkind about Nixon, after she told me. The pool-cue memory is probably accurate, but I’m not sure you can trust all her details 40 years later.)

I took it very personally that Tricky Dick had resigned when I wasn’t even looking. We, of course, scrambled to catch up, buying the Minneapolis Tribune (above) and Duluth Herald (below). Hard to believe this was 40 years ago, but we just celebrated our 40th wedding anniversary, of course.

Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 9, 1974

Duluth News-Tribune, Aug. 9, 1974

When we got back to Iowa, I was pleased to find that my parents had saved a copy of the Des Moines Register for me:

Des Moines Register, Aug. 9, 2014

Des Moines Register, Aug. 9, 2014

Observations on those 40-year-old front pages:

Damn, 8-column pages were huge!

Headlines

The Tribune’s banner headline, “President resigns,” is weaker than the Des Moines and Duluth headline, “NIXON RESIGNS,” both because the Trib used the title, rather than the name, and because the Register and News-Tribune used all-caps.

I wondered first whether the Tribune was the old afternoon paper, which would have had second crack at the story (but would not likely have been delivered to northern Minnesota, where we were honeymooning). But I quickly confirmed my memory that the Tribune was Minneapolis’ morning paper and the Star was the evening paper. (They merged in 1982, becoming the Star Tribune.) I can see a “President resigns” headline in an evening paper if the morning paper had “Nixon resigns.” But I can’t understand why you’d go that way with the morning headline.

Nixon reeferThe Tribune and the Register gave the whole front page over to the resignation, while Duluth had two local stories and an international wire story on the cover. Bad call by Duluth. I don’t care if your emphasis is local news. When a story dominates conversation and attention the way this one did in every community, give it the attention it deserves, the full front page. The Tribune apparently bumped from the cover that day’s installment of a series on juvenile justice, which had to settle for a reefer to the story on Page 13A.

Washington bureaus

Nixon Risser AnthanNixon WilsonOne thing that stands out today about those Minneapolis and Des Moines front pages is the number of staff Washington correspondents covering the story: Jim Risser, George Anthan and Richard Wilson for the Register and Frank Wright and Finlay Lewis for the Tribune. I joined the Register a little over three years later. Wilson, who started the Register’s Washington Bureau in 1933 and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1954, had retired in 1970 but still wrote a syndicated column. His 1974 byline on that historic day identified him as a Register Washington correspondent. I’m presuming that he could contribute when he felt like it and who wouldn’t feel like it on that day? Wilson’s column ran on the editorial page and he also wrote an analysis for Page One.

Jim and George were in the Register’s Washington bureau for my whole first hitch with the Register, 1977 to 1985 (Jim left the same day I did in ’85 to lead the Knight Fellowship program at Stanford). I remember at least three other Washington correspondents at that time, plus columnist Donald Kaul, who worked out of the Washington Bureau. I don’t think they all worked there at the same time, but I think it’s safe to say we had at least five people in the Washington Bureau for most, if not all, of my first hitch at the Register. It might have been more, especially if you counted Wilson, in 1974.

Nixon WrightNixon Finlay LewisWhen I worked at the Register, we had a close (but sometimes competitive) relationship with the Star and Tribune. The Des Moines and Minneapolis newspapers were owned by different branches of the Cowles family and were close but competitive like family members are. The Minneapolis Washington Bureau was bigger than the Des Moines bureau (or so we heard frequently in Des Moines). I’m not sure about the Minneapolis staffing, but no one covered the White House regularly for the Register (they primarily covered agriculture and the Iowa congressional delegation). But our people were credentialed and jumped in to cover big stories. And this was one of the biggest.

The Register’s Washington bureau dwindled over the years and finally was folded into the Gannett Washington bureau. The Star Tribune has only one Washington correspondent, Jim Spencer.

Photos

Duluth photoThe Register used file mugs of both the incoming and outgoing presidents. The Tribune used a photo of Nixon giving his resignation speech on television and a photo of Ford speaking earlier in the day. Both were better choices than the News-Tribune’s local photo of local people watching the announcement on televisions in a department store. The only images of Nixon on the front page were tiny talking heads on the TVs. The local photo would have been fine below the fold (there is no art below the fold, and, as I’ve already noted, local stories that didn’t belong). That “NIXON RESIGNS” headline demanded a Nixon photo.

The only whole paper that I saved was the Register, and it has a full page of Nixon photos inside and a half-page of Ford pictures, all from the archives. The only fresh photo the Register had of either man was a back-page official White House picture of Nixon hugging his daughter, Julie Eisenhower, after telling the family of his decision.

The famous photo of Nixon waving as he boarded the helicopter to leave the White House didn’t come until the next day.

My favorite art was not a photo, but Frank Miller cartoons through the years, a half-page display of eight cartoons on Page 7 and then two more — a fresh one and a 12-year-old cartoon that was timely again — on Page 10 with the text of Nixon’s resignation speech. Frank was a great cartoonist and Nixon gave him a lot of material.

Frank Miller cartoons

Leads

Jim Risser had the best lead of the three people writing the lead stories, straightforward and clear, just 14 words. That’s not surprising. Jim, a two-time Pulitzer winner, needed less editing than any reporter I ever edited. He shared the byline here with George Anthan, a great reporter. But I’m sure that was Jim’s lead:

Risser lead

Wright’s lead for the Tribune was more labored. While I prefer Risser’s simple lead, I’m OK with the last part here, noting how quickly Nixon’s presidency changed directions. But the “irresistible blight” was overwriting and ignored how long Nixon did resist the blight.

Wright leadWilliam Bloom of the Ridder News Service, the wire service for Ridder-owned papers, couldn’t choose which of two points to feature in the lead from Nixon’s speech. So he chose both. Bad choice.

Broom lead

Especially when writing leads, more is not better. Jim’s lead at 14 words was stronger than Wright’s at 28 or Broom’s at 26. I’m guilty of writing long leads sometimes, too. I rewrote the lead on this post after writing this section. It’s easier to spot the too-long lead by someone else.

Local stories

The Tribune had the strongest front-page local story, a Robert Franklin interview with a Twin Cities Watergate figure, Kenneth Dahlberg. If you’ve read the book or watched the movie “All the President’s Men,” you may remember that Washington Post reporters Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein were trying to find out why a $25,000 cashier’s check from him ended up in the bank account of Bernard Barker, one of the Watergate burglars. Dahlberg was a Nixon fund-raiser. Woodward (played by Robert Redford in the movie), called Dahlberg and asked him about the check. Dahlberg said he handed the money over to Maurice Stans (former Commerce Secretary, who was finance chairman of Nixon’s re-election effort). Dahlberg told Woodward/Redford, “I’ve just been through a terrible ordeal! My neighbor’s wife has been kidnapped!” (which was true).

Dahlberg also came up in the “smoking gun” tape. White House Chief of Staff H.R. Haldeman, told Nixon about the Dahlberg check and Nixon asked, “Who in the hell is Ken Dahlberg?”

That was a great local angle to pursue for the Tribune and a worthy front-page story. I love this quote in the Franklin story, explaining why Dahlberg worked for Nixon’s re-election: “I kind of had the idea, right or wrong, that if McGovern was president I might see what’s his name — William Kunstler — as attorney general and Jane Fonda as secretary of state.” (Conservatives trying to scare each other about liberals is not a new feature in American politics.)

Dahlberg storyThe local story in the News-Tribune is just dreadful. It carries no byline so I can’t blame the writer by name. It may be the worst “man-in-the-street” story ever written in reaction to a historic event. The first 13 paragraphs quote a guy who would vote for Nixon again. I’m not saying that guy shouldn’t be in the story, but to give him more than half the story before the jump was nuts. A reaction story should convey a variety of views, not give one person that much space. If he was representative of most of the reaction, which I doubt, it’s OK to lead with him. But move on to someone else. Kenneth Dahlberg is worth several quotes (he got eight from the Tribune). This 21-year-old student got seven quotes. Atrocious news judgment by the reporter and the editors.

And the student was the only person named in the story. Other people quoted are “one downtown shopper,” “a dental assistant,” “a saleslady,” “another shopper” and so on. A similar story didn’t quote anyone by name. A local reaction story needs names. This story shouldn’t have been published, much less on the front page.

We sometimes romanticize the good, old days of newspapers, especially now when the whole industry seems endangered. And this was a great time for journalism, when the Washington Post helped bring down a corrupt president. But when you take a close look at old newspapers, you find yourself cringing pretty often, too.

If the journalists responsible for this were identified, I’d Google them to try to contact them and get some reaction. If you know someone from the News-Tribune at the time, please tell them I’d welcome a response, if they were involved or can shed some light.Ford

The Register handled its local stories just right. None was good enough to merit the front page, so the editors didn’t force a local story on Page One (though a brief noted that Ford would be visiting the next month). Cover stories are all on important topics: A look at Ford’s record from Congressional Quarterly (the same story was on the Tribune front page); a wire news story on Ford’s press conference after Nixon’s speech (I’ll bet photos from that press conference ran in metro editions of both the Register and Tribune; the events unfolded right on deadline for the early editions of both papers that I got); a wire story with Special Watergate Prosecutor Leon Jaworski saying he had no immunity agreement with Nixon.

The local stories inside were good, though, and the bylines brought back a lot of memories: Excellent journalists I worked with for many years:

  • Gene Raffensperger wrote a story on Nixon’s time stationed in Ottumwa, Iowa, in the Navy for eight months during World War II. (Yeah, I know, a navy station in Iowa.) Raff was a Register legend who served as city editor and sports editor. But he was best known for his quest as a reporter to reach every county courthouse in Iowa. But a mere toe-touch in the courthouse would not be enough. Raff’s ambition was to use the restroom facilities in every courthouse in Iowa, which has 99 counties. A colleague developed a map to chart Raff’s quest. I believe he retired without reaching his goal, but he certainly entertained us along the way.
  • Jerry Szumski wrote a sidebar, with remembrances from Ottumwa neighbors and an image from the 1943 Ottumwa city directory, recording Richard and Pat Nixon as residents (she was a teller at Union Bank and Trust). I was Jerry’s editor a few years later and played softball with him for several years. We’re Facebook friends today.
  • Chuck Offenburger, who hired me to my first journalism job at the Evening Sentinel in Shenandoah, Iowa, in 1971 and moved to the Register the next year, wrote a story for Page 12 about the reaction in the little town of Henderson, Iowa. I’m pleased to report that Chuck quoted people by name. Chuck was named the Register’s “Iowa Boy” reporter a few years later and became one of the most beloved and recognized people in Iowa. He’s now an Internet entrepreneur and we remain friends. He invited Mimi and me to participate (and we did) at a Writers’ Jubilee for last year’s Shenfest back in Shenandoah.

An unnecessary “keeper” typo

Specal sectionSometimes the big typos will sneak by copy editors who catch every stray comma in the body type. This front page was displayed for decades in the elevator lobby on the fourth floor of the Register’s old downtown Des Moines building. I don’t think I ever passed it without a smile about the “specal section” promo. I didn’t smile smugly, but with that-could-have-been-me sympathy for whatever copy editor(s) wrote the reefer and proofed the front page. Journalists know when we are working on historic front pages that will be “keepers,” stored away for decades as I’ve done with these. We want everything to be perfect. And when an error happens in big type, it stands out for decades as a reminder of our imperfection. We had no spellcheck back then, just sharp-eyed editors. And even sharp-eyed editors let one slip past now and then. (BTW, I just rechecked my headline for this post, in case anyone checks it in 10 years. And Mimi caught several of my typos.)

What’s especially unfortunate is that it wasn’t really a special section. In newspaper jargon, a section comes off the press folded all together, separate from the rest of the paper. But the extra coverage of the Nixon resignation was inside the A section. And it wasn’t just six pages. The back 10 pages of the 14-page A section were dedicated to Nixon-Ford coverage.

Other Nixon-resignation front pages?

Did you save a Nixon-resignation front page? I welcome you to share it here, with or without your commentary.

Update:

David Lewis commented below and I asked him to share photos, so he emailed them with this further comment:

In the summer of ’74 at the Register, I was on the “corporate staff” at the Register, along with Jim Hopson and Charlie Edwards. We analyzed and managed various projects for the top execs (like I headed up the conversion in classified to a front-end system that allowed us to take ads on computers!). I knew Norm Rosenberg well, and on the 9th, I persuaded him to let me have a couple of the lead stereo plates. I think each side of the cylinder plate weighs around 70#. But when put together, they make somewhat of a circle and inspire interesting conversations with a plant between them.

No journalist of our era could ever forget the coverage and impact of Nixon and Watergate on our lives.

Oh, as you can see, I’m still enjoying the business. (I used to refer to my job as being in the “newspaper business,” but like the term instead that I am in the “content engagement business.”)

David A. Lewis,

Group Publisher, Wick Communications

David Lewis' plate of the Nixon-resignation front page.

David Lewis’ plate of the Nixon-resignation front page.

David Lewis' framed copy of the Register's front page.

David Lewis’ framed copy of the Register’s front page.

 

You can’t wait until you need a job to position yourself for the job hunt.

Yesterday I posted some advice on looking for a job in journalism when you lose your job. Today I’m making the point that your next job hunt starts in what you do while you’re employed and feeling secure and happy with your job (as I was for nearly all my time at Digital First Media). While working, you need to build the brand, accomplishments and connections that will become essential in your job hunt.

Your job hunt might start with losing your job in a corporate staff reduction, as happened to my Thunderdome colleagues and me in April. Or you may be frustrated with your current job and decide to move along. Or you may want to pursue your dream job. Someone may come courting you when you’re pleased with your current job (that happened to me in 1998 and I left the Omaha World-Herald to join the Des Moines Register and it happened in 2012 and I came very close to leaving Digital First Media). In any of those situations, it’s important to position yourself for future opportunities in the job you’re doing now.

Do good work

Quality work often isn’t enough, but job-hunting success always starts there. You can do good work and still not succeed in a job hunt because you didn’t do the things I discussed yesterday (or just because job-hunting is hard). But no amount of digital sophistication, networking or other techniques discussed here is likely to help if you don’t do quality work. I apologize for what will amount to boasting here, but the point is important to make.

My new job as Lamar Visiting Scholar at the Manship School of Mass Communication at Louisiana State University stems from a string of good work I’ve done over the years. In 2009, when I was finishing some work on a grant for some ethics seminars for the American Press Institute, Jerry Ceppos was dean of the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. We might have met before at a conference, but we didn’t know each other well. Jerry brought me in for the seminar, which examined the ethical issues of digital journalism. If I hadn’t delivered a good seminar, that would have been the last time I had worked for Jerry. But I did a good job and he remembered me. Continue Reading »

My own job-hunting experience, along with occasional hiring experience, continues to give me firsthand perspective on hunting for jobs in today’s journalism marketplace. Updating posts from 2010 and 2011, I offer tips for job-hunting.

I apologize (just a little) for any boasting in this post. Seeking a job in the competitive market requires honest assessment of your strengths and weaknesses, and I’ve tried to carry through in that here. I’m grateful for the opportunities I’ve had throughout my career. I know that luck has played a role, but I also know that my own efforts have played a role, too, and I’ll try to share lessons from both.

I’ll also share advice from former Thunderdome colleagues Mandy Jenkins, Tom Meagher and Ross Maghielse and from Kevin Sablan, who recently left the Orange County Register.

I’ll do a separate post tomorrow on things to do while you’re employed that will help when you start looking for work, whether you lose your job or are seeking your next opportunity. But for today, here is advice for your job hunt:

Spread the word

Losing your job is a blow to the ego, even if you have a lot of company. We all like to believe we’re indispensable. So your first instinct might not be to tell the world you’re available. But tell the world.

Continue Reading »

As I noted in yesterday’s post about crowdfunding, I was participating in a #MuckedUp chat on the topic last night. You can read a Storify curation of the chat if you missed it.

I made brief reference in the post to a community-funded project by the Pottstown Mercury:

Nancy March

Nancy March

Thanks to Nancy March, editor of the Merc (and a previous guest blogger here in our days as Digital First Media colleagues), for letting me use this email about the project as a guest post:

We extended a paid internship to our Chips Quinn intern Miica Patterson for an additional 23 weeks to work on this project. I don’t assign her any other work, and every story runs with a note at the end saying reporting is funded in part by the Pottstown Area Health and Wellness Foundation. She is learning new journalism skills and strengthening others — video, interviewing, engagement, writing, photography.

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

Miica Patterson riding for Bike Pottstown

The work involves a lot of community engagement aimed at promoting cheap and accessible ways to exercise and eat right. Miica organizes and manages a “Mercury Mile” lunchtime exercise break every Thursday at noon to emphasize that you can get exercise in your work day.  Last week we did yoga in a downtown park.

We have had zumba and agility classes after work in public parks, features on the community garden and cooking with vegetables, and a wonderful community engagement effort in the Fourth of July parade in which Bike Pottstown, health and wellness foundation staffers, Stop the Violence marchers and The Mercury family joined forces to show off our causes.  Here’s my column about that.

We feature our Fit for Life coverage on a subsection of the website, and it has its own Facebook and Twitter identity.

Rather than a conflict of interest, the foundation funding is a joining of community interests. It allows us to report on and engage people in a project that we would not be able to manage with our staff resources.  The project was inspired by news — a health needs assessment that showed obesity and health-related concerns on the rise in the Pottstown tri-county area — and is intended to lead the community in improving itself.

Can we combine a community-supported business model with the declining commercial model for news?

I’ve been mulling the idea of crowdfunded beats for a while, probably since the idea occurred to me while David Cohn was speaking by Skype to my class at American University in 2011. Dave’s business at the time, Spot.Us, was helping crowfund stories by journalists: A freelance writer would propose a story idea and a budget, and when people pledged the budget, the journalist would do the story.

I asked Dave whether he had tried the idea for a particular beat — maybe as a way to fund reporting of a topic that was important to the community, that some people might care greatly about but that wouldn’t generate enough traffic to survive the next round of budget cuts at a news organization.

He liked the idea, but didn’t know about anyone doing that. Laura and Chris Amico did something like that when they crowdfunded an internship to continue Homicide Watch while they went to Boston for Laura’s Nieman Fellowship. Only that was their whole business focused on a single beat, not a slice of a larger news operation.

I never fleshed the idea out enough to pitch it as something we should try at Digital First Media, where our newsrooms cut many jobs in my tenure. But when John Robinson recently blogged about his concerns about a community arts group funding arts coverage in the Greensboro News & Record, I shared it on Facebook, saying, “I’d be more comfortable with a community-based crowdfunding, where ArtsGreensboro would be one of many funders, with a ceiling on how much any one source could contribute.”

John wrote about my suggestion, then Columbia Journalism Review’s Corey Hutchins wrote about it. Now Muck Rack has asked me to discuss the idea in a #MuckedUp Twitter chat this coming Tuesday (8 p.m. Eastern time/5 Pacific).

So maybe it’s time I fleshed out this idea. Continue Reading »

The rewrite of the SPJ Code of Ethics is moving in the right direction, just not far enough.

In three monstrously long posts in 2010 and earlier this year, I called for an update of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics and criticized the first draft of an update by the Ethics Committee.

In a Saturday meeting in Columbus, Ohio, the Ethics Committee finished its latest draft.

Mónica Guzmán, an Ethics Committee member who led a digital subcommittee that I served on (she was the only committee member on the subcommittee), praised the progress made since the first draft (I missed a second draft published July 3):

I agree that the committee has made progress, but I’m still disappointed in this attempt to update what used to be journalism’s most important ethical guide.

In March, I wrote:

I think I’d prefer no update to these tweaks. If the code remains obviously outdated, the need to update it will remain strong. And maybe they’ll take another try in a few years and get it right or closer to right. I’d rather do that than tweak it now and have the anti-change forces spend the next 18 years claiming they had already updated it.

I’m not sure I’d go that far now. If SPJ wants to return to the days when it was a leading voice in journalism ethics, it certainly needs to go further than the current draft. For that reason, I might vote against this draft if I were an SPJ member (I let my membership lapse because of the lack of progress on updating the Code of Ethics). But I would not say this update is better than none at all. I’ll just be disappointed if SPJ doesn’t go further.

I will not go through the code point by point as I did in the previous posts (which, reading them now, I can see made for some long and perhaps confusing reading). I’ll just summarize the primary things that disappoint and please me.

Here’s what the Ethics Code still needs to do:

Address linking 

I am absolutely flummoxed by the refusal of either SPJ’s Ethics Committee or Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist to address journalists’ reticence to link to digital sources of information that they use. Refusal to link may be the most widespread ethical failure in journalism today, and what good is an ethics code that doesn’t address our failures?

In a response to my March post, Ethics Committee Vice Chair Fred Brown said, “We stuck with basic, abiding principles and tried to avoid any mention of specific technologies.” But that’s not true. The first and latest drafts both refer to “social media” and “online publication.” If specific technologies merited mention in those places (the social media one was unnecessary), then digital linking merits specific mention.

The current draft says “always attribute,” and to many journalists, that just means to add “so-and-so said” after material, not to link to sources. The latest draft also says, “Provide access to source material when relevant and appropriate.” I’m not even sure what “when relevant and appropriate” means. I guess “provide access” covers embeds as well as links. But it’s ridiculous to write around linking. Many, if not most, journalists and news organizations don’t link to sources. They should and SPJ should tell them specifically that they should.

I sent a draft of this post to Mónica and some others who have been involved in this process, inviting response. She said the committee is planning to hyperlink passages of the code to deeper discussions of applying the principles in the code. I look forward to hearing more about those plans, which follow a suggestion I made last year. This doesn’t change anything I said above about the need to address linking in the principles, but it’s an improvement and I welcome it.

Endorse accuracy checklists

Checklists save lives when doctors and pilots use them. They save errors when journalists use them. The current draft makes some strong statements about accuracy but SPJ should go further and endorse a practice that can improve accuracy. Statements of broad principles are fine, but I think it’s an important principle to endorse best practices that are not widely practiced. Principles don’t lead to better journalism. Practices do.

Editing suggestions

The committee should restore the explicit statement that journalists, not sources, are responsible for accuracy. I was pleased to see that phrasing (which I suggested in 2010) make it into the first draft. Now the reference to sources has been removed. That section says journalists should “take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before its release.” Normally I think a positive statement about what you should do should suffice. But not here.

As I noted in a recent post on corrections, too many journalists blame sources for their errors. The Code of Ethics should be explicit in saying that’s no excuse.

The committee also should restore this passage: “Be sensitive when seeking or using information, interviews and images of people affected by tragedy or grief.” I can’t figure why that was cut from the “Minimize Harm” section of the first draft.

Improvements in this draft

The biggest improvement is the pairing of transparency with accountability in the fourth basic principle in this latest draft, and a little strengthening of the transparency principles in the section. This would be a good place to address linking.

Other improvements included restoring the current code’s call to “give voice to the voiceless” and adding, “Seek sources whose voices are seldom heard.”

Nashville conference

I have no idea whether the latest draft will be adopted when SPJ meets at the Excellence in Journalism conference in Nashville Sept. 4-6. I suppose it could be revised further in debate, though I’m not familiar with the approval process. And certainly it could be rejected, either for going too far or not far enough, or perhaps for reasons not yet apparent to me. Michael Koretzky, an SPJ board member, has been critical of how SPJ’s senior leaders have handled revision of the code. I won’t pretend that I’ve studied his accusations enough to comment on their merit, but clearly the code revision could face some dissent in Nashville.

I commend Mónica for advocating persistently and effectively for a stronger update. And I appreciate the time and thought that the Ethics Committee chairs and members have given to this important job.

I don’t think the SPJ Code of Ethics will regain its place as journalism’s most important guidance on ethics. Poynter’s Guiding Principles are stronger and more relevant. Telling the Truth and Nothing But, Rules of the Road and the Verification Handbook are much stronger, more detailed and more helpful, even though each addresses a narrow range of ethical issues. The Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project also is more helpful, providing detailed guidance in multiple directions in the areas where journalists don’t agree. One of the two sessions I’m leading at the EIJ conference will place the SPJ revision on the context of this broader discussion. (The other will focus on a digital approach to enterprise stories.)

The latest draft at least brings SPJ some relevance in the discussion of journalism ethics today, and that’s an improvement. I hope members push for more when it comes up for approval in September.

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