Society of Professional Journalists – Code of Ethics – Good Standards for Media and Social Media

I have pasted below the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, which I found at The Code was news to me. The SPJ should publicly promote its Code offers some good guidance for media, and social media.

The Code is divided into four primary headings: Seek Trust and Report It; Minimize Harm; Act Independently; and Be Accountable and Transparent.”

I do have a few comments. The SPJ states that the Code is not a set of rules, but is a guide. Generally I tend to view a code of ethics as rules or standards that are to be followed, not simply guidance. I assume the response would not be favorable if a business defended questionable actions by taking the position that its code of ethics was just a guide.

One theme that the Code presents, with which I agree, is that the public is entitled to as much reliable, identified, source materials as possible so as to allow the members of the public the ability to determine for themselves:  “The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motives of sources.” “Use original sources whenever possible.” “Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.” “Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.” I would add: as a general rule don’t use, cite or quote anonymous sources, and if you do use, cite or quote an anonymous source, provide as much information about that source as possible. For example, if you cannot provide the person’s name, provide how they obtained the information that they provided, and, as relevant, with what organization, party, group, or employer do they associate?

The heading “Act Independently” states in part that “Journalists should: – Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.” I would add under that heading – Journalists should avoid journalist or reporter bias. And I would add, disclose bias, although I suspect that having to disclose bias would be viewed as difficult.

I like “Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of the news story,” and “Label advocacy and commentary.” I would add, report the evidence, and avoid journalist editorializing, opinions, viewpoints, conclusions, elaboration, adjectives, adverbs, and added “facts,”  unless it is labeled as such. Or the writer or speaker can say “I believe that . . . ” or “In my opinion . . . ” or “In my view . . . ” or “I have a different view . . . ” or “I don’t believe that . . . ” or something along those lines. I would also add, include a summary of relevant evidence, sources and information that are currently unknown, and, thus, not included.

I recommend most of the Code’s standards. Whether the standards are followed or not is a different question and different issue. You might want to keep the Code in mind as you read, evaluate, engage in, and comment about media and social media.

Here is a screenshot of the SPJ Code of Ethics:

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Best to you, David Tate, Esq. (and inactive California CPA) – practicing in California only.

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