Why do journalists need the SPJ Code of Ethics?
By: Heather Chavez
The Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics are important for all journalists to follow, because without these guidelines, their work and material will be unreliable. The first code to live by when writing includes the journalist’s need to seek the truth and report it. Newsgathering and interpreting information to make sure they maintain accuracy before releasing material is one element all journalists know is required of them. When reporting newsworthy information, the writer needs to be aware of the accuracy of the information. To maintain accuracy on a report the writer must continue to update and correct information for the life of the story. Also, journalists would be smart to identify sources, consider the source’s motives, provide access to source material, avoid stereotyping, and avoid plagiarism.
The SPJ states that while working on a story, journalists should be mindful of minimizing harm to sources, colleagues and members of the public. People that are involved in the story must be treated with respect. There is a balance that needs to be considered when writing. Will this information benefit the public or will this information cause harm and discomfort? If the news seems worthy to be published, then it would be wise to show compassion for those who may be affected by the coverage. Consider balancing the public’s need to know and the sources’ privacy and comfortability. A journalist’s job is to give a voice to the voiceless by providing an element of sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victim of sex crimes and sources unable to give consent. Also, journalists must consider the possible outcomes that come from identifying possible criminal suspects before they face their charges.
According to the SPJ, avoiding conflicts of interest and acting independently will assure the reader that the information was not constructed to benefit the sources or subjects involved. It should be a no-brainer that receiving gifts or special treatment may damage the writer’s credibility. Damaged credibility will lead to the accuracy of the information to be questioned. It’s in the journalist’s best interest to provide information in the traditional way of seeking out the truth, rather than gaining information by corruption.
Lastly, the SPJ states taking responsibility for one’s work allows the writer to be accountable and transparent. Allowing the readers to understand how the writer came to their conclusion shows accountability and insight. It’s important for the writer to open to civil dialogue with the public. Providing quick responses to questions or concerns is a must. Also, journalists owe the public the exposure of corruption or unethical conduct, even if that is conducted within their organization.
What is the number one rule to take from all this information? Journalists need to abide by the high standards that they expect by others. There is a saying that one must “do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31, New International Version). This is something journalists should live by and keep in mind while writing their material because it will allow them to be the judge of whether they are following the above codes.
Society of Professional Journalists. (2014) SPJ Code of Ethics. Retrieved on April 16, 2017 from https://www.spj.org/ethicscode.asp
[Untitled Got Ethics? Photograph] (n.d.) Retrieved on April 16, 2017 from http://etspj.org/about-us/spj-code-of-ethics/
[Untitled Ethics Example Photograph](n.d.) Retrieved on April 17, 2017 from http://camcape.org/?tag=cambodian-code-of-ethics-for-journalist