SPJ uses 17 factors in revised ethics code to define ‘seek truth and report it’ mandate

Nashville, TN — “Seek Truth and Report It” — a long-time vital element in most newspaper codes of ethics — has been redefined in terms of 21st century ethical challenges by the Society of Professional Journalists. After months of deliberation by SPJ’s ethics committee, the code’s final draft includes 17 factors addressing the “Truth” mandate.

Two other important code sections give new meaning to long-time principles of “Act Independently” and “Be Accountable and Transparent.” The entire code can be found here.

Excerpts from the code’s first draft appeared in the January issue of Ethics News Updates.

Meanwhile, the “Truth” section — presented below in its entirety — clearly offers much food for ethical thought. According to SPJ, journalist should:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before its release. Use original sources whenever possible.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Put information into context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
  • Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
  • Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
  • Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
  • Question sources’ motives before promising anonymity, reserving it for those who may face danger, retribution or other harm. Anonymity should not be granted merely as license to criticize. Pursue alternative sources before granting anonymity. Explain why anonymity was granted.
  • Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrong doing.
  • Avoid undercover or other surreptitious reporting methods except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
  • Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over government.
  • Provide access to source material when relevant and appropriate.
  • Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices are seldom heard.
  • Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing them on others.
  • Label advocacy and commentary.
  • Never deliberately distort fact or context, including visual news content. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
  • Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

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