SPJ ethics code sets journalism standards

By ALEX PEARCE

Journalists are thought to hold themselves to a higher code of ethics in comparison to other professions. While others are able to cut corners in the name of convenience or look the other way while shady deals go down, it is the duty of journalists to expose corruption wherever they find it.

Right?

Personal codes of ethics for journalists vary from reporter to reporter, but the industry as a whole has a set code of guidelines that inform the decisions most make. The Code of Ethics established by the Society of Professional Journalists is the go-to for most journalists looking for the answer to ‘what’s right’ in the field. Many news organizations have their reporters agree to follow either the SPJ code or one similar to it so they know how their employees will act at all times.

Broadly, the SPJ code states that all reporters should:

  • Seek Truth and Report It
  • Minimize Harm
  • Act Independently
  • Be Accountable

These broad rules seem fine without being constricting, but the specifics are what potentially bring the code into conflict with reporters, especially the inexperienced or freelancers.

For example, the SPJ code expressly forbids journalists from accepting free travel or accommodations while on assignment. This might seem like a conflict of interests, but it is my opinion that if any group of people would be able to separate special treatment from the truth while writing a story, it would be journalists.

Oftentimes, young or freelance journalists are unable to pay for the airfare or accommodations involved in the travel stories that this rule targets. They shouldn’t be penalized for their position in life or be denied the opportunity to work on these stories simply because they can’t afford it.

There is no other profession for whom objectivity is drilled so profoundly and rigorously, making journalists uniquely capable of deciding what they deem to be objective.

While the SPJ Code of Ethics serves as the backbone for a great many journalistic ideologies, it doesn’t necessarily fit the paradigm of every reporter. Journalism is a field that values its integrity more than any other and, even without a uniform guiding set of ethics for all journalists to follow, journalists will still maintain their objectivity and dignity.

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