Archive for August 26th, 2013

I’m pleased that the Society of Professional Journalists is considering an update to its Code of Ethics.

The SPJ Code of Ethics has guided journalists for decades, but hasn’t been updated since 1996. I called for an update in a blog post nearly three years ago, then in a follow-up cover story for Quill magazine and discussed the need for an update in an #spjchat Twitter chat. I applaud new SPJ President David Cullier for calling on the Ethics Committee to consider an update.

In a discussion Sunday at the Excellence in Journalism conference, SPJ Ethics Chair Kevin Smith and some other Ethics Committee members acknowledged a need for at least some fine-tuning, though some said they did not see the need for heavy revisions.

I won’t belabor here the points I’ve made before, but I’ll summarize briefly. The journalism landscape has changed dramatically since 1996 and I think the need for an update is clear and compelling. The code offers little to no guidance for journalists on digital issues such as linking or personal use of social media. The “act independently” section offers little to no guidance for self-employed journalists covering areas in which they have personal interests or those working for organizations involved in advocacy or with direct interests in the topics they cover. The code is silent in the debate over the proper role of opinions in journalism.

SPJ played an important role in journalism by updating its code in 1996. It should play a similar role now, inviting several journalists involved with the challenges of digital journalism and changing business models to join the Ethics Committee in updating the code. You can contribute to the discussion by answering the committee’s online questions.

The need for extensive updating was most dramatically underscored by a young journalist (and I apologize for not getting her name) who said during Sunday’s discussion that the SPJ Code doesn’t provide guidance for the issues she faces. If the code isn’t helpful to such journalists, it needs to be updated, period.

I will repeat here a suggestion I made Sunday, when those minimizing the urgency of an update were saying the code offers timeless principles (an oversimplification in my view), but the Ethics Committee has offered more detailed advice on various timely issues. The SPJ Code is not hyperlinked at all on the organization’s website. Links within the code to relevant elaboration by the Ethics Committee would be a valuable help to journalists while the committee considers whether and how to update the code itself.

I should also express appreciation here for the new book, The New Ethics of Journalism: Principles for the 21st Century, by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel. I intend to read and review the book, but haven’t had time yet. I was involved last fall when Kelly and Tom led a discussion on developing new guiding principles for journalism ethics, and I made some suggestions for Poynter’s new guiding principles.

I applaud Poynter and SPJ for recognizing the need to continue providing current, relevant leadership in journalism ethics.


Read Full Post »

Robert G. Kaiser told a humbling story in the Washington Post Sunday: The Post nearly ignored Martin Luther King Jr.’s speech and his historic “I have a dream …” theme in its coverage of the march on Washington 50 years ago.

It’s not the first big story a newspaper (or most of the news media) has missed. Collectively most of the media blew the coverage of intelligence about weapons of mass destruction in Iraq as well as the developments that led to the subprime mortgage crisis. The Lexington Herald Leader ran a front-page correction in 2004 for its failure to adequately cover the civil rights movement.

Here’s my question: What are today’s historic stories that we will look back on and say that we missed the real story or the importance of the story?

Update: Linda Deutsch writes about covering the march.

Twitter reactions

Update: Sally Duros says the historic story we’re missing is the “death of the public schools.”

Update: Thanks to Steve Fagan for a thoughtful response to this post, wondering if newsroom staff cutbacks won’t prompt some newsrooms to provide shallow coverage of some historic events in their communities.

Without question, cutbacks are causing us to miss important stories and raise the importance of good news judgment in how to use resources (which have always been limited). But I should point out that Kaiser’s piece makes clear that the Post heavily staffed the march, but barely noticed the most important part of the story. So staffing isn’t always the reason for failures by newsrooms.

Also, I doubt that newsroom staffs have been cut as severely since 1963 as Steve speculates. The annual American Society of News Editors newsroom census has counted nationwide staffing in newspaper newsrooms since 1978 (or at least figures are available online going back to 1978. I don’t know what the trend was from 1963 to 1978, but I suspect it was growth. Newsroom employment totaled 43,000 in 1978 and grew to a peak of 56,900 in 1990. It was stable for most of the next two decades, never dropping below 53,000 until 2008. In the past six years we’ve lost 17,000 employees, with 38,000 counted this year. That’s a severe loss, but I suspect it’s about the same as in 1963, not half or one-third less as Steve speculated. Update: Steve updated his post to reflect these numbers.

That said, Steve’s point remains valid. The cuts in recent years have been staggering and we need to beware of missing or minimizing important stories. Steve also had the great idea of linking to the I Have a Dream speech’s text. So I copied that move and added a video:

Read Full Post »

Teresa Schmedding, photo linked from dailyherald.com

This guest post by Teresa Schmedding continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.


Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes — Peter Drucker

I remember, way back in the dark ages, when I was promoted from copy editor to an “editor” management position, I knew exactly what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be anything like the bad bosses I’d had in the past.

I didn’t want to be a boss that blamed his/her subordinates for his/her mistakes. I didn’t want to be a boss that settled for okay instead of amazing. I didn’t want to be a boss that didn’t listen. I didn’t want to be a boss that sugar-coated the facts. I didn’t want to be aloof and unapproachable.  I didn’t want to be autocratic, but I also didn’t want to be laissez-faire.

But what qualities did I want to have? Open door. Straight shooter. Honest. High standards. Fair. (more…)

Read Full Post »