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Sep 12 / King Kaufman

New SPJ Code of Ethics emphasizes journalism over journalists

The Society of Professional Journalists released a a new Code of Ethics last week. Revised would be a better word, but there are some significant alterations that are worth noting.

The SPJ is acknowledging the changes that are roiling the media industry, mainly by changing its focus from “journalists” to “journalism.” That is, “giving nod to the idea that journalism is an endeavor that transcends that of the professional workers and encompasses many people and many forms, the idea of speaking to the act of journalism over the actors,” according to the press release announcing the changes.

There’s also a new acknowledgement of the concept of transparency. Without changing its view that journalism should avoid conflicts of interest, the SPJ notes that “when these conflicts can’t be avoided, it is imperative that journalists make every effort to be transparent about their actions.”

Among the other most important changes, according to the release:

  • The code inserts language that tells journalists that a legal right to publish is not the same as a moral obligation to do so. It attempts to separate the legal v. ethical arguments that arise often in ethical debates.
  • The code encourages the verification of information from all sources. This was inserted to address the growing trend to repeat information without independent verification, even when that initial source is another news outlet.
  • The code has always encouraged journalists to resist outside pressures to alter or direct news coverage. This code includes the need to resist internal pressures as well, which speaks to corporation boards and executives trying to exert pressure from the highest levels.
  • It speaks to the components of speed or medium over accuracy, and notes that the neither of those two reasons excuses the lack of the effort in getting the information correct.
  • It is important to gather information throughout the life of the story and to update and correct it, a growing concern due to online storytelling and social media use.

Here’s a critique by journalism expert Steve Buttry, who says he’s pleased, but also disappointed, by the changes.

Note: A minor typo in the press release, repeated here, has been corrected in both places.