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SPJ: Code of Ethics Cheat Sheet (DRAFT) by [deleted]

Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

This is a draft cheat sheet. It is a work in progress and is not finished yet.


Members of the Society of Profes­sional Journa­lists believe that public enligh­tenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of inform­ation that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

Seek Truth and Report It

Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journa­lists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interp­reting inform­ation. Journa­lists should:
Take respon­sib­ility for the accuracy of their work. Verify inform­ation before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccu­racy.
Provide 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.
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:
Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allega­tions of wrongd­oing.
Avoid undercover or other surrep­titious methods of gathering inform­ation unless 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.
Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and govern­ment. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.
Provide access to source material when it is relevant and approp­riate.
Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experi­ence. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
Avoid stereo­typing. Journa­lists should examine the ways their values and experi­ences may shape their reporting.
Label advocacy and commen­tary.
Never delibe­rately distort facts or context, including visual inform­ation. Clearly label illust­rations and re-ena­ctm­ents.
Never plagia­rize. Always attribute.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journa­lists should:
Balance the public’s need for inform­ation against potential harm or discom­fort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrus­ive­ness.
Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensit­ivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexpe­rienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differ­ences in approach and treatment.
Recognize that legal access to inform­ation differs from an ethical justif­ication to publish or broadcast.
Realize that private people have a greater right to control inform­ation about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the conseq­uences of publishing or broadc­asting personal inform­ation.
Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implic­ations of identi­fying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
Consider the long-term implic­ations of the extended reach and permanence of public­ation. Provide updated and more complete inform­ation as approp­riate.

Act Indepe­ndently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journa­lists should:
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoi­dable conflicts.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impart­iality, or may damage credib­ility.
Be wary of sources offering inform­ation for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
Deny favored treatment to advert­isers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
Distin­guish news from advert­ising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Promin­ently label sponsored content.

Be Accoun­table and Transp­arent

Ethical journalism means taking respon­sib­ility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journa­lists should:
Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journa­listic practices, coverage and news content.
Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
Acknow­ledge mistakes and correct them promptly and promin­ently. Explain correc­tions and clarif­ica­tions carefully and clearly.
Expose unethical conduct in journa­lism, including within their organi­zat­ions.
– Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.