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Posts Tagged ‘SPJ Code of Ethics’

I will be teaching a class today on updating ethical guidance for journalists. We’ll be discussing these ethics codes:

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist

Radio, Television Digital News Association Code of Ethics

Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project

Verification HandbookIn addition, we’ll discuss these ethics projects:

Rules of the Road

Telling the Truth and Nothing But

Verification Handbook

Here are some blog posts I’ve written about the codes and other projects that make some of the points I will cover in class:

New SPJ Code of Ethics: an improvement but a disappointment

New Guiding Principles for Journalists a big step forward (but they neglect linking)

ONA project provides helpful, detailed ethics advice

‘Rules of the Road’: A conversation starter on digital journalism ethics

Journalists need to use links to show our work

The Verification Handbook is now available

My version of Craig Silverman’s accuracy checklist

Here are my slides for the class:

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SPJ postWe can’t have a reasonable debate about media coverage of mass killers if people fail to understand the opposing arguments.

Andrew Seaman’s post this week for the SPC Ethics Committee Blog misstates the arguments in favor of not naming or publishing photographs of mass killers.

The headline, “Ignoring a Problem Doesn’t Make It Go Away,” falsely implies that refusing to give mass killers the attention they seek is “ignoring” the problems of gun violence, mental illness or whatever problems each mass shooting illustrates.

That is as absurd as saying that withholding names of rape survivors from stories about sexual assault is tantamount to ignoring the problem of rape. We can cover rape without naming victims. We can cover national security without naming sources whose jobs or lives might be in jeopardy. And we can cover mass shootings without naming people whose actions and words leave no doubt that they are seeking attention.

The “censored” illustration with the graphic is a similarly inaccurate reflection of the argument not to name mass shooters. I have not suggested, and I don’t know anyone who has, that the government not allow publication of the names or photographs of mass shooters. That’s what censorship is, and I would fight such a measure as aggressively as anyone. To repeat my earlier analogy, news organizations are not censoring the names of rape victims or unnamed sources. Those organizations are making sound ethical and news judgments. A more appropriate illustration would have been a graphic depiction of the word judgment. (In fairness, I don’t know whether Seaman made or suggested the graphic, but the headline certainly reflects his post, which did refer to “ignoring” a problem.) (more…)

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I taught a class today in professional codes of ethics for various media careers.

A central point of the class was to discuss whether and why ethics codes should be updated: How much do they present timeless principles and how much should they provide specific guidance relevant to today’s ethical situations and challenges?

I won’t review all the points I made here, but I cited these ethics codes (or principles):

I also cited these narrower but more detailed examinations of slices of journalism ethics, all of them completed in the past few years:

We discussed native advertising, product placement as efforts to blur the lines between advertising and news or entertainment, including the Cities Energized paid post in the New York Times.

I also cited blog posts by Tom Rosenstiel and Tim McGuire about the relative merits of independence and transparency as core principles of journalism ethics.

I also cited Bob Steele‘s 10 questions to make ethical decisions as advice that is as helpful making ethical decisions today as when he first published them in 2002.

I made points covered in more detail in these earlier blog posts:

These were the slides I used in the class:

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BYO ethics codeIn late 2013 I called for detailed guidance for journalists on various ethics issues. I’m pleased to have had a role in answering that call through the Online News Association’s Build Your Own Ethics Code project.

The BYO code gives journalists and journalism organizations thoughtful guidance on 40 different topics relating to journalism ethics. Though it’s formally labeled ONAethics, the editing committee focused on Build Your Own and shortened it to BYO (hey, we’re journalists), which is how I’ll refer to it here.

The BYO project was released Thursday at the #ONA15 conference in Los Angeles (which, unfortunately, I am missing this year).

Disclaimer up front acknowledging my obvious bias in writing about this: I was a leading contributor in the writing of the project and participated with four others in editing. I will applaud all of them and others personally later, but first want to address the final product.

Disclaimer #2: Though we’ve been working on this project for two years, it’s still a work in progress. We welcome your feedback and will improve it as we receive suggestions and people point out flaws that we missed. And we’re still working on some design issues. The link I provide above is a beta. We welcome beta testers.

As I’ve said many times, good ethical decisions don’t come from good rules but from good conversations about ethics. What I like most about the BYO project is that it’s designed to prompt newsroom conversations about ethics, or at least to prompt individual journalists to think about the issues. As you use the tool to develop a code for your organization (or yourself), you have to think about what your values are and how to apply them in your journalism. (more…)

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People who think journalism ethics principles are timeless have short memories. Or no knowledge of journalism history.

When I failed last year to persuade the Society of Professional Journalists to address linking in the update of its Code of Ethics, some ethics committee members didn’t want the code to refer to specific technology (such as hyperlinks) because they wanted a code of “timeless” journalism principles.

Never mind that the code had been updated before as society and journalism changed. They thought ethics were based on timeless principles and ethics codes should stand as a rock during changing times, rather than being updated to reflect the times.

In a speech at an ethics symposium last year, I noted how values change in other areas of life, and said journalism values change, too.

If you think the ethical principle of journalism independence is timeless, read Sunday’s column by Sid Hartman of the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

Hartman has been a journalist for 70 years, and he’s reminiscing as the Star Tribune prepares to move out of its longtime downtown headquarters. I’m not going to question his ethics. In fact, he notes in the column that some of the practices he recalls wouldn’t be acceptable today. But you can’t read his column and then defend the notion that journalism ethics are timeless.

Here’s an excerpt:

In those days most every member of the small 10-man staff — compared with about 40 now — was allowed to earn some extra cash by doing public relations for the different sports teams in town. That’s why I was allowed to be involved with the Lakers.

No metro newspaper would allow that sort of dual relationship today. But we’ve kind of come full circle, with leagues and teams hiring journalists to cover themselves on their own websites, and other companies, government agencies and non-profit organizations creating elaborate operations to produce journalism that is anything but independent.

When the Star Tribune’s former longtime owner and Minneapolis civic leader John Cowles was trying to bring more major league sports teams to the Twin Cities, it was perfectly fine for his sports editor and columnist to be part of the campaign, as Hartman recounts:

The Star and Tribune had its own airplane then, and Cowles allowed (Sports Editor Charles) Johnson and myself to travel any place that was needed to lure any of the major league teams here. …

When it came to the Vikings, Cowles sent then Chamber of Commerce President Gerald Moore and me to Chicago to try to lure the Chicago Cardinals, who were not doing well, to play in Bloomington. And when we made a deal with Cardinals President Walter Wolfner to pay him $125,000 per game to play two regular-season games here in 1959, Cowles guaranteed the check. The two games sold out and helped get the NFL here soon after.

That sort of collaboration with community movers and shakers would be unacceptable in journalism today.

Journalism changes. Organizations that lead us in ethical thought should strive to stay current, not pretend we can cling to timeless principles.

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Jon Stewart cut his old friend Brian Williams a break, making some really big media news to overshadow the story about the possible death blow to Williams’ career.

A suspension of the leading anchor of the old Big Three television networks for embellishing stories is a big deal. But the departure of the king of fake news is huge. Whom will we turn to now to learn what the news really means? Well, John Oliver, Stephen Colbert, Larry Wilmore and whoever replaces Stewart on The Daily Show, but more on that later.

The dual career moves — a suspension following an apology that only made things worse, contrasting with lavish praise following an announcement of a voluntary departure at some vague point later this year — were loaded in contrast and irony that tell us so much about television news and entertainment today:
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spjlogo-for-headerThe Society of Professional Journalists adopted a new Code of Ethics Saturday at its meeting in Nashville.

I am pleased that SPJ updated a code that I described four years ago as profoundly outdated. But I’m disappointed that SPJ didn’t provide better leadership in this code.

Before I address my disappointments, I’ll say what pleases me:

Why I’m pleased

I’m pleased that SPJ has a more timely, relevant code. The code has been outdated for years, and I applaud progress. I’m pleased that the code mostly improved since I criticized the first draft in two lengthy blog posts in April and improved a bit more since I criticized the third draft in July. It even improved since Friday morning, when I was one of many during an Excellence in Journalism conference session who criticized the “final draft” that was approved by the Ethics Committee Aug. 28. In a Friday evening meeting, the SPJ Ethics Committee and Board adopted some of the changes suggested by Andy Schotz in a blog post and at Friday morning’s discussion. That I wish for more doesn’t change the fact that this is progress and I do appreciate that. (more…)

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Update: The final draft of the code update was revised again yesterday. I like what I’ve heard about the changes, but I haven’t analyzed it yet.

I will be leading a session at the Excellence in Journalism conference today about the broader ethics discussion in journalism.

At the EIJ conference, the Society of Professional Journalists will vote on adoption of a new ethics code. Here is the latest draft of the code, though it could be amended in floor debate today. My criticism of the revision stands, and I won’t belabor it either in this post or in my EIJ session.

Other ethics initiatives I will discuss include:

Poynter’s Guiding Principles

McBride_New_Ethics_of_JournalismThe new Poynter Guiding Principles for the Journalist, published in the 2013 book, The New Ethics of Journalism, edited by Kelly McBride and Tom Rosenstiel. I blogged in 2012 from a Poynter event to discuss updating the Guiding Principles, then blogged again with suggestions for the new principles and in 2013 with praise and criticism for the completed guidelines. Among other changes, the guiding principles changed two of the three core values from the original Guiding Principles, authored by Bob Steele in the early 1990s. The 1990s principles were organized around the values of truthfulness, independence and minimizing harm. Now the core values are truthfulness, transparency and community. The 1990s SPJ Code and Guiding Principles were strongly similar, with SPJ using the same three core values, plus accountability (Bob dealt with accountability in his elaboration on the other values). In the final draft of the SPJ update, the core values are unchanged, except that transparency is paired with accountability in the last section. (more…)

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Project Unbolt logoThis is the fifth of seven blog posts about the Berkshire Eagle Unbolt Master Plan (which I explained in the first post). A staff committee developed the plan in response to my call for newsrooms to free themselves from print culture and workflow in six primary areas. This is the plan to update and uphold the Eagle’s standards. Most of this post will be the Eagle’s plan lightly edited, with my comments in italics. 

What are “standards”?

Standards establish the baseline of our credibility at The Eagle. Standards are our accuracy, ethics and integrity that build our brand as The Eagle and entrust us as the No. 1 news source with our readers. Our high standards differentiate The Eagle from the competition.

How do we apply Unbolted standards?

We adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. We aim to avoid errors, and we correct errors as soon as we learn they have been committed and after verifying the accuracy. We may offer explanations as to how the errors were made and how the correct information now affects the context of a news story.

Buttry comment: I’ve blogged about how the SPJ Code of Ethics needs updating and how the first draft of an update is disappointing. I recommend one of two approaches: adhering to Poynter’s Guiding Principles for the Journalist, which have been updated, or developing a few Berkshire Eagle additions or amendments to the SPJ Code.

The notebook

  • Create one binder/notebook for all staff members that will include materials discussed in this committee and the other Unbolt committees. Also, we need to create a “digital” notebook as well. An internal WordPress blog? Buttry: I like the idea of a blog on ethics. You need to handle it carefully, discussing issues without embarrassing staff members who have made mistakes (unless they are egregious offenses such as plagiarism or fabrication). While I see the value of an internal blog, where you might be able to be more candid, without causing embarrassment, I also encourage occasional public posts about ethical matters. I think we build credibility by telling the public about our ethical decisions and standards and our commitment to ethics.

Digital consistency

  • Put a person in charge of coming up with web uploading standards and making sure they are communicated to all staff. Create a web upload checklist (put in notebook)
  • Let’s write these down, be specific, give examples of the proper way to slug, SEO headlines (put in notebook) and make sure ALL STAFF are trained.
  • Feedback when doing web uploading wrong. Have a weekly “state of the web” email sent out to let people know when updates to protocol have been made.

Eagle style

  • Someone needs to be in charge of updating our Eagle stylebook. This person needs to be given time to do this.
  • Updated style guide put into notebook and also online where staff can access it (blog, webpage?).

Corrections policy

  • Who does the reader contact with a correction? (Make sure that person’s contact info is easy to find on the web and in print) Suggestions for policy:

o   All corrections from every department should run in the same spot in the paper.

o   All corrections should be slugged the same. Example: (Section)CORRECTION(date) and filed into B2/B3, along with an email sent to Tom and the night desk editors that a correction has been filed.

  • Online corrections: Ask online editor Jen Huberdeau to correct the error online ASAP and include an editor’s note in italics at the top of the story explaining the correction and date and time the correction was made. The editor’s note should be included online only when the correction is a factual error (i.e. spelling of name, incorrect information, wrong date, place, time) not for punctuation errors. Those should just be fixed.
  • All online corrections should also go in one place online. One suggestion is a live blog of editor’s notes (similar to what AP Breaking news does) that Jen would update after the correction is made in the story. Buttry: The New Haven Register, another of our Project Unbolt pilot newsrooms, has a corrections blog.

Accuracy checklist

Goal: Create one to print out and put in notebooks

  • Remember: Who, what, when and where
  • Spell names correctly; check with that person in person and verify place names. Do a quick Google search on the name, or even check Facebook, especially when the name is a questionable spelling.) Before hitting send, check the names one more time!
  • Check phone numbers (Google search)
  • Check web addresses
  • Double check locations (Everyone should have a map of their coverage area. Also, someone with local knowledge should put together a “common mistakes” list when it comes to local streets/places to help new reporters.) Is your sense of direction correct?
  • When writing about an event: Time, date, place
  • Any red flags? Don’t just take the police report/coach’s word for absolute, final truth. Does something seem fishy? Ask. Does a name or city street name look different? Ask.
  • Get another read before sending to the web, or putting it on the page. No editors around? Ask a fellow reporter.
  • Know your own weaknesses. Do you have trouble with numbers? Triple check your work. Are you terrible with commas? Ask an editor or reporter to double check your punctuation.
  • SPELL CHECK!

Buttry: I’m an advocate of accuracy checklists. As Craig Silverman notes, they have proven to prevent errors by other professionals, such as pilots and surgeons, and journalists should use checklists, too. Craig and I have developed checklists, but I encourage newsrooms or journalists to develop their own checklists, improving on ours.

Social media/blog standards

  • Live by the rule: “The standard is the standard.”
  • Before posting on Twitter, Facebook, blogs run through the accuracy list above.
  • Appoint a point person to do a nightly check of what our reporters/editors are tweeting/posting. Is it meeting our standards? Is someone doing a great job — and have they been told that lately?

Buttry: I pumped my fist at the suggestion of telling people that they’re doing a great job (if they are). I have noted before that praise is one of the most important and effective management tools.

Code of Ethics

  • Make sure everyone has a copy and at least one is posted in the newsroom and posted online — our readers should know the code of ethics we follow.
  • Possible additions: A reminder that these ethics apply to all platforms of journalism: Print, web, mobile, tablets and social media.
  • Respect for others in the newsroom/your co-workers. Is your space clean? Avoid using language that offends others trying to work. Buttry: These are good points, but I don’t see cleanliness or foul language as matters of ethics. Might want to change the heading or give that point its own heading.

Communication

  • Email should be a back up. Phone or face-to-face is best. Buttry: Excellent point for most important communication. Email is valuable, though, for repeating or reminding of the points made face to face, and can be efficient if people are working different hours or someone is in the field.
  • Similar to the meeting we had to roll out Unbolt, let’s have a quarterly meeting to go over large initiatives.
  • Departments should have a “huddle” once a week to go over changes, check in to see how everyone is doing, discussions about what worked and what didn’t. The “huddle”  should be quick, efficient.
  • Editors should come up with a way to encourage staff who have gone above and beyond. Maybe a monthly wrap-up of what went well? (Similar to the “Strokes and Pokes” newsletter Charles used to create.)
  • Praise goes both ways and across departments!

Buttry: I’ll repeat my praise for including praise here.

Features Editor Lindsey Hollenbaugh led the standards committee, assisted by Entertainment Editor Jeff Borak, sports writer and columnist Howard Herman, Sports Editor Richard Lord, Berkshires Week Associate Editor Maggie Button, community news coordinator Jeannie Maschino and editor and paginator David LeClair.

Other posts on the Eagle’s master plan

Berkshire Eagle Master Plan gives direction to the work of unbolting from print 

Berkshire Eagle’s plan to unbolt coverage and storytelling

How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting planning and management from print culture

Berkshire Eagle plans for mobile success

The Berkshire Eagle’s plan for stronger engagement

The Berkshire Eagle unbolts from its processes and workflow from print

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This continues my analysis of a draft of a revision to Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics. I commented Friday on the changes to the “Seek Truth” section of the code. Here I’ll address the next three sections: Minimize Harm, Act Independently and Be Accountable.

I remain disappointed in the revisions and hopeful that SPJ members will insist on a more thorough update. My primary criticisms from Friday’s post still stand: The Ethics Committee went into this process with most members having already decided that the current Code of Ethics, adopted in 1996, just needed a little tweaking. I argued in 2010 and on various occasions since that the code needs an overhaul. I don’t know if we’re in a majority of journalists, but lots of people have told me privately that they agree (a poll on that 2010 post showed a vote of 138-22 in favor of updating, but I’m under no illusion that my blog readers are a cross-section of journalists.

The committee’s draft just tweaked and didn’t sufficiently address the needs of journalists today or the recommendations of a digital “subcommittee” on which I served (only one member of the subcommittee was an actual member of the Ethics Committee). (more…)

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Ethics codes should guide journalists in the world where we live and work, not the world where we wish we worked.

At a discussion at the Excellence in Journalism conference last August, several members of the Society of Professional Journalists Ethics Committee indicated they thought the SPJ Code of Ethics just needed “tweaking,” if it needed anything.

Here’s a surprise: They decided just to tweak it.

The code needs an overhaul and it got a touch-up.

Journalism is changing and journalists make ethical decisions in unfamiliar situations. Journalism ethics codes need to provide helpful guidance for journalists. The SPJ Code of Ethics, last revised in 1996, is perhaps the most-cited code and for many years was the most helpful. Now it’s terribly outdated and needs to reflect the world where journalists work.

The first draft at an update feels more like an effort to resist change than an effort to guide journalists in a time of change. (more…)

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Someone should compile detailed ethical guidance for journalists in the difficult decisions we face in doing our jobs today.

The journalism conversation about ethics has been more robust this year than at any time I remember in my career, and I’ve been fortunate to be involved in much of it. But I think we need still more.

Two notable collaborations have re-examined the most important statements of journalism ethics:

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