Thursday, April 24, 2014

Journalism ethics: A Chicago minority report

SPJ's Chicago regional ethics conference, before the the career breakouts.

Midwest journalists met in Chicago to discuss their code of ethics, and immediately got bogged down in the generalities.

Truth to tell, mention ethics on a bright spring afternoon and people start drifting away. Students cleared the room when job-hunting sessions started. But after live-blogging professional sessions at the Society of Professional Journalists regional conference, I caught up on efforts to revise the SPJ ethics code.

The conference produced a Chicago ethics report. Here's my slant. You decide if it's ethical reporting.

Chicagoans have a fascination with ethics, or their public absence. Chicago reporters have elbowed their way into standards-and-practices discussions for years. Casey Bukro was in the room April 12; he drafted the society's 1973 code revisions. For this session, he brought business ethicists from his Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists. (SPJ has its own hotline, staffed by journalists).

Film critic Dann Gire once led Roger Ebert and other opinionated peers to draft a reviewers' code. Gire's charge here was to walk through SPJ's first attempt at ethics revisions since 1996.

My first question; What needs changing? Gire seemed at a loss. The committee issued its draft by noting but not resolving a struggle among its 18 committee members to define the scope: "How much should we change? Shorter? Longer? More specific? More general? Keep, change or add to the guiding principles? What’s missing as we march into 2014 and beyond?"

So many questions, so few answers. Despite the lack of clarity, a subgroup emerged to address standards for digital media, and the committee called for this regional review. Journalists will vote on a final draft at SPJ's September convention in Nashville.