SPJ Code of Ethics: Chicago Report

The following suggestions and comments regarding the 2014 overhaul of the 1996 SPJ Ethics Code come from the April 12 SPJ Region 5 conference in Chicago.

Questions posed of the proposed code  improvements:
1. Does this suggested  revision of the code cover the essential guiding pinciples of our profession  in concise and efficient language?

2. Is this suggested revision of the code helpful  to journalists to improve and maintain their professional  standards?
3. Will these proposed  changes maintain and improve the public’s trust of journalists and their  work?
Generally, the proposed code  changes are an improvement over the 1996 document, but they are still riddled  with redundancies and must be further simplied and distilled. For example, the preamble could be boiled down to this: Justice and good government require an informed public.
Journalists should serve the public with fair, accurate and comprehensive information reported with integrity. This code sets forth our  Society’s principles and standards in the practice of professional  journalism.
One suggestion: The preamble must include as one of the code’s raison d’etres “to protect the public’s right to  know.”
Items of concern NOT addressed  in the proposed changes:
1. Is it ethical for reporters  covering events, issues and people to – in print or on broadcasts – to analyze,  comment and critique those events, issues and people and still maintain a fair  and objective journalistic status?
2. Is the use of music and other  forms of emotional manipulation an ethical use of journalistic tools when used  in video reports?
3. Is there a role for dramatic  re-enactments — in essence “faked footage” — in serious  journalism?

4. What mechanism(s) exist(s) to  enforce the revised code once it becomes adopted? Should there be an appeals  process for those journalists who believe they are innocent of charges of  ethics code breeches?
Other suggestions and  ideas
The code should be a call for  journalists everywhere to unite as a single community and watch each other’s  backs, rather than always viewing each other as “the competition” and setting  up barriers between journalists.

Seasoned professionals understand  the broad concepts of an ethics code, but student journalists need specific  and concrete rules to fully understand what constitutes an ethical breach,  e.g. Do not pick information and photos off the Internet and put them in your  reports even in they appear to be public domain and real information. Verify  the facts and be certain of copyright infringements before  publication.
Respectfully  submitted,


Chicago Daily Herald

Region 5 of SPJ