A primer on the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

By Shraddha Gupta, NECIR Research Assistant

Social media and technology have changed the game when it comes to journalism. There’s pressure to be first when reporting news on Twitter, but in the race to share breaking news accurate reporting can fall by the wayside. Technology has also changed the way we are able to edit photos and videos. As the ways journalists share news continue to evolve, it’s important to be thorough and maintain fairness and accuracy. The SPJ Code of Ethics is a great reminder of the ideals journalists should strive for in their work, and a quick read now and then is one way to stay on track amid changing journalistic practices and methods.

We’ve summarized the key points from the Code of Ethics below, but please visit SPJ’s site and read the full statement there. The SPJ also offers downloads of the document in bookmark, flyer, and poster size – perfect for journalism classrooms. Some of the wording below has been taken directly from the Code of Ethics, with all credit going to the Society of Professional Journalists.

Seek Truth and Report It

To be an ethical journalist, one needs to act with integrity. Be honest and courageous about gathering, reporting and interpreting your information. Verify your sources and identify them clearly, while avoiding the urge release reports in a hurry. Update and correct facts throughout the life of a news story as new information becomes available or errors are discovered.

Give voice to the voiceless and be vigilant about holding those with power accountable. Serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Avoid stereotyping and commentary. Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments. Plagiarism is always a big “no”, while attribution is a must.

Minimize Harm

Remember to treat all your sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings, deserving of respect. Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Be compassionate and sensitive while dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, or subjects/sources who are unable to give consent. Be understanding of cultural differences.

Realize that private people have a greater right to control the information about themselves than public figures. Weigh the consequences before releasing personal information, and consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.

Act Independently

Journalists should always serve the public first. Avoid conflicts of interests, and refuse to any form of bribe or special treatment that may compromise your integrity, damaging your credibility. Never pay for news, nor seek information from paid sources. Do not favor advertisers or donors, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage. All sponsored content should be clearly labeled as such.

Be Accountable and Transparent

Take responsibility for your work and be ready to explain your ethical choices and decisions to the public when necessary. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content. Respond in a timely manner to concerns regarding factual accuracy.

Journalists should acknowledge their own mistakes and make clear and careful clarifications. If you are aware of unethical conduct, it is your duty to expose it, even within your own organization. Abide by high standards that you would expect of other journalists.

Read the full SPJ Code of Ethics here.

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