Ethics in Journalism Award

Ethics in Journalism Award
Ethics means walking the talk – like doing the right thing.
This means acting like a professional, taking into consideration the welfare of those we encounter in covering the news and the possible harm our reports might do to an individual or a community.
It’s a tough line to walk, and is judged by our conduct. It means always asking ourselves if we are being fair and accurate.
The Chicago Headline Club honors those who do that with the Ethics in Journalism Award, which has been presented since 1996. The recognition honors Chicago area reporters, editors or news organizations that distinguish themselves in journalism by performing in an ethical and sensitive manner. The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics defines ethical conduct.
Do you know someone in the journalism profession deserving of special mention for behaving in an ethical and sensitive manner? Download a nomination form to nominate a fellow journalist. The Ethics in Journalism Award is given at the annual Peter Lisagor Awards. Questions? Call (312) 553-0393 or e-mail Beth Konrad at

No award. The Headline Club decided that this year’s nominees failed to demonstrate the high standards required for the honor.

Anchor/reporter Anna Davlantes of NBC5 in Chicago was cited for courage and professionalism in reporting the sale of the Village of Bridgeview golf dome despite repeated threats and intimidation from a man involved in the sale who wanted her to stop her investigation.
Friends and relatives urged Davlantes to drop the story. Instead, she produced five reports on the sale, which involved a man who said he was forced to sell his property.

Chicago Sun-Times publisher John Cruickshank in 2004 discovered that the Sun-Times had overstated its circulation for years. He urged company officials to go public with this discovery. Some of them feared that would kill the newspaper. Cruickshank said the future of the newspaper depended on doing the right thing, and correcting an unethical practice. Under his leadership, parent company Hollinger International disclosed the overstated circulation figures and set aside $27 million to reimburse advertisers.

The award went to Virginia Gerst, former editor for the Glenview-based Pioneer Press newspapers, who resigned as an arts and entertainment editor. She said the integrity of the editorial process was violated when the publisher assigned an editor, who Gerst described as a marketing director, to write a restaurant review to replace one already written. Gerst quit after 27 years with Pioneer Press.

Mike Waters, Daily Southtown managing editor, and columnists Phil Arvia and Phil Kadner won the award, for their roles in challenging a promotion supporting U.S. troops in the Persian Gulf, which could tarnish the newspaper’s and staff’s reputation for objectivity.

The award also went to the Chicago Tribune for taking steps to enforce its newsroom ethics code, forcing the resignation of columnist Bob Greene for inappropriate sexual conduct.

Carolyn Hulse, director of news reporting and writing at Columbia College, received the award. She resigned as interim chairwoman of the college’s journalism program to protest an attempt to name as acting dean of the school of media arts a person who had been fired at a Chicago newspaper for fabricating a story. Hulse said it was unacceptable for a person like that to teach journalism and be held up as a model for students.

Victor M. Crown, assistant editor of Illinois Politics magazine, took the award for diligence in seeking guidance on fairness and balance in a story involving Illinois Sen. Peter Fitzgerald and ethics in government. He posted all of his evidence in the case on a web site so it could be scrutinized by journalists and the public, following advice from the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists.

John Cherwa, the Chicago Tribune’s associate managing editor for sports, turned back staff credentials for the Indianapolis 500 race. A Sports Illustrated staff writer had been denied credentials to cover the race because his coverage of auto racing was considered unfavorable. Cherwa said he took “a stand against a form of censorship by a sports organization.” Other newspapers followed Cherwa’s example, and the Indy Racing League reconsidered and gave credentials to the Sports Illustrated writer.

We had five nominees this year, and one winner: Nigel Wade, editor in chief of the Chicago Sun-Times. The award is not necessarily given for being polite. Last year, after the Headline Club’s Lisagor Awards keynoter gave a speech telling what newspapers could do to be more ethical, Wade got up and said that newspapers that followed such advice would be as boring as the speaker. But that month, he went on to prove there’s nothing boring about being ethical.

On May 22, 1998, the Sun-Times printed a front page message to readers, explaining that he refused to play the Springfield, Ore., school shooting on the front page because the story might harm or frighten vulnerable children. The following day, The New York Times carried Wade’s op-ed piece explaining why he didn’t print the story on Page 1. Wade proved this was not a one-time gesture when he decided against playing the Littleton, Colo., school shooting on the front page, for the same reasons.

The 1998 award went to Ron Magers, now with WLS-Channel 7, for consistently showing ethics leadership in the newsroom throughout his career at WMAQ-Channel 5.

In 1997, Ethics in Journalism awards went to:
• The Austin Voice, a Chicago weekly newspaper that became a target of threats and harassment for the first stories of police involvement with drug dealers and armed street gangs on Chicago’s West Side. The Austin Voice was nominated by two neighborhood groups.
• John Lampinen, managing editor of the Daily Herald, Arlington Heights, for refusing against intense pressure to print Richard Jewell’s name the day he was named but not charged as the Atlanta Olympics bombing suspect. Lampinen followed with a front-page story on privacy and the public’s right to know.
• Bill Lazarus and The Times of Northwest Indiana for tenacious coverage in expoising political connections in waste disposal despite a $10 million libel suit filed by an East Chicago hazardous waste firm. THe paper perssisted in the expose and a jury later found Lazarus and The Times innocent.
• Carol Marin, for courage in journalism by resigning from WMAQ-Channel 5 in a dispute with management over news values and hiring “trash talk” host Jerry Springer as commentator.

In the first year the awards were presented, there were 19 nominations. Honors were given in broadcast news, print news and print commentary:
• Carol Marin was suspeended from WMAQ-Channel 5 for objecting strongly to reading what she considered blatant plugs for sponsors while presenting the news.
• Harris Meyer laid his job on the line by writing stories on Medicare and health-care reform that sometimes were contrary to American Medical Association policy. He was fired from American Medical News for insubordination.
• Bill Rentschler, editor in chief and president of the weekly Voice Publications in Lake Forest, was cited for editorial integrity and a body of work spanning decades in columns and stories that tackled tough issues.