Category Archives: Ethics Update

Updating reporting on a hit-and-run as more information is released

A video showing two apparent teenagers intentionally driving into a retired police chief riding his bicycle in Las Vegas went viral over the weekend. The Las Vegas Review-Journal’s coverage of the incident was heavily criticized by readers who posted screenshots of the Review-Journal’s obituary for the officer that was published on Aug. 18 for its use of “bike crash” in the headline. Thirteen days later, a source approached the reporter with the now-viral video and the reporter connected the

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Minimizing harm for families of homicide victims

“More Than A Number” by Justin Baxley is a project aimed at making it easier and more humane for families of homicide victims to engage with local media. Baxley focused on giving the families of crime victims more agency over how quickly and how often a media outlet contacts them (including choosing not to comment at all), ensuring more time to respond to journalists’ questions and having more of a say in how their loved one is portrayed.

One of

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False reporting on a child influencers death

For a three-month period in early 2018, child influencer Lil Tay took over the internet. But after going on “Good Morning America” and the drama around who was managing her, Lil Tay’s Instagram went dark in 2018 until Aug. 9 when a statement was posted saying she and her older half-brother had died unexpectedly. “Major media outlets published, and then walked back, stories about the teenager’s [supposed] death. (Her exact age is unclear, as reports have varied over the

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Answering audience questions with “transparency portal”

One of Norway’s leading newspapers, Verdens Gang, created a “transparency portal” last fall, which includes a list of FAQs about reporting and explains its reporting process to readers. This came after VG was engulfed in a journalism scandal regarding one of the stories it published. “Prior to the scandal, VG leadership was already discussing steps it could take to increase transparency and improve audience trust. But the botched story galvanized the newsroom to examine its standards and ways

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Using official documents during an investigation

Atomic Fallout” is a joint investigation, done by multiple newsrooms, including The Missouri Independent, MuckRock and The Associated Press, of the St. Louis region’s 75-year history with nuclear waste. The outlets reviewed thousands of documents, many of which were either recently declassified or have never been reviewed. What they found was federal agencies knew about radioactive contamination into soil, groundwater and a creek neighborhood children played in, and downplayed it, likely resulting in rare cancers, autoimmune disorders

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Covering suicide responsibly

For Quill, Julie Scelfo writes about how to cover suicide responsibly. Scelfo references a New York Times article that looked into a website where people shared suicide methods and encouragement. It contained graphic details, specific terminology and the name of the website. The Times included a note about the decision-making process, “Editors decided to identify the site and the preservative used in many of the suicides — as some other news outlets have done — in order to fully

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Taking down an article after criticism

Hours after it was published on Monday, GQ removed an article on media executive David Zaslav from its website following complaints from Warner Bros. Discovery. The story, written by freelance film critic Jason Bailey, recounted a number of moves made by Zaslav that made him “the most hated man in Hollywood.” Shortly after the story was published, the article was edited extensively and was eventually taken off the website. In a statement to Deadline, GQ said it was

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Covering Independence Day mass shootings

The Fourth of July accounted for the most mass shootings of any other day of the year in nearly a decade, a CNN analysis finds. This weekend, several mass shootings took place across the country in Washington, D.C.IndianapolisBaltimoreFort Worth, Texas, and Philadelphia.

When covering mass shootings it is important that journalists follow the SPJ Code of Ethics. Journalists should seek the truth and report it. As information is released from these

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SPJ ethics leaders comment on Alito’s preemptive rebuttal

The Wall Street Journal published an essay written by U.S. Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, titled “ProPublica Misleads Its Readers,” on June 20. Alito’s essay has been considered an unusual step of “prebutting” a ProPublica article that hadn’t been published yet. The ProPublica article investigates Alito accepting gifts from major GOP donor Paul Singer. The preemptive rebuttal has brought into question the ethics of publishing a defense when the original article hasn’t been published yet.

In an article

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Sharing victims’ social media photos in news reports

Journalists covering traumatic news often have to make difficult decisions, especially when it comes to photographs. Kimina Lyall writes for the Guardian, there are difficult ethical dilemmas that come with trauma reporting. There was a deadly bus crash in Australia that killed 10 people and some of the images that were circulating with the news were taken from the victim’s social media pages without permission.

The SPJ Code of Ethics says that journalists need to “recognize that legal access

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Using Instagram to display transparency in reporting

Emily Davies, crime and criminal justice reporter for The Washington Post, uses Instagram to follow people from the communities she covers in her stories. Davies used to follow people on her personal account, but she encountered the dilemma of where to draw personal boundaries. She still wanted to let people into her day-to-day life and her process as a reporter, so she created a public Instagram account, @emilydaviesreports.

SPJ’s Code of Ethics says that “ethical journalism means taking responsibility

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Ensure accuracy when reporting on COVID-19

On May 5, the World Health Organization ended the emergency status for COVID-19 and the United States COVID-19 health emergency will end on Thursday. While navigating this “post-pandemic” era, it is important to continue to take care in reporting on COVID-19. Ensure you are using clear language when explaining these updates. Ending the emergency status does not mean COVID-19 is over as a global threat. Continue to follow the SPJ Code of Ethics to seek the truth and report

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Covering the Nashville school shooting

Six people, including three children, were killed in a shooting at Covenant School in Nashville on Monday morning. News organizations have adopted the best practices when reporting on mass shootings to avoid misinformation and pandering to lurid curiosity. However, as Poynter notes, some coverage has focused on details about the shooter that draw away from accurate reporting. Journalists covering the shooting should follow the SPJ Code of Ethics. They must balance the public’s need for information against potential

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Continuing coverage of COVID-19

With California ending its COVID-19 state of emergency and the federal state of emergency set to end on May 11, it feels like the pandemic is over. However, as Jon Mooallem wrote for the New York Times, it is far from over. Mooallem took a look at The NYC Covid-19 Oral History, Narrative and Memory Archive by Columbia University and came to the conclusion that society isn’t looking back on the past few years to move forward. One

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Journalism and objectivity

Newsrooms are debating whether objectivity should still be the standard for news reporting. Recently, Leonard Downie Jr. wrote an opinion piece on objectivity for The Washington Post. Downie argues that moving past objectivity can create more diversity in newsrooms. The piece has sparked a lot of responses from different news organizations, but the question remains: is objectivity outdated and what can newsrooms do about it? “True objectivity is a fallacy that overlooks more important standards, like fairness and truth,” SPJ

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The ethics of using AI

More news outlets are using artificial intelligence to write or supplement stories. Recently, Futurism reported CNET had been quietly publishing articles generated by an unspecified “AI engine” without noting they were bot-written. The news sparked outrage and discussion about the ethics and impact of using AI. “While there is no need for a ban on artificial intelligence in journalism, its use is best limited and considered on a case-by-case basis,” said SPJ National President Claire Regan. “AI, for example,

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Covering the mass shooting on Lunar New Year

On Jan. 22, there was a mass shooting following a Lunar New Year celebration in Monterey Park, California, that killed 11 people and injured nine others. Less than 48 hours later, there was another mass shooting in Half Moon Bay, California, that killed seven people. As reporters focus on Monterey Park, a heavily Asian American community, and Half Moon Bay, a city that employs many migrant workers, Asian American Journalists Association reiterated its guidance on how to cover Asian

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ESPN covers Hamlin’s cardiac arrest

When Damar Hamlin of the Buffalo Bills suffered cardiac arrest on the field during the Monday Night Football broadcast on Jan. 2, it put ESPN at the center of a major breaking news story, as those watching on TV and at Paycor Stadium wondered if Hamlin would be OK. ESPN’s coverage was cautious. It aired few replays, offered very little speculation about Hamlin’s health and only relayed what reporters knew. Scott Van Pelt, who was anchoring SportsCenter, told the Associated

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Covering homelessness during a cold snap

During the major cold snap that engulfed most of the country during the holiday season, Bryce Dole, a reporter for the Bulletin in Bend, Oregon, was covering how it impacted a homeless encampment, when he and photographer Dean Guernsey met Shellie Macvane and were concerned about her wellbeing. “It didn’t take a doctor to discern that Macvane was in bad shape,” Dole wrote. “Her tent was paper thin and she did not have the proper clothes for the frigid

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Granting anonymity while covering mental health and teens

In November, ProPublica and THE CITY published a story about  three New York City teenagers who struggled to get mental health services that the city’s public schools are legally obligated to provide. The teens in the story were granted anonymity. The SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should “identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.” However, when writing about minors and sensitive subjects like mental health,

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Showing protesters faces in China

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets in more than a dozen Chinese cities, raising blank white papers to demand freedom of speech and the end of COVID-19 lockdowns. The media have covered the protests with live photos and videos that have shown the protesters’ faces. “While we understand the journalistic responsibility to document what happens in public spaces, we’re concerned that those photos may create openings for retaliation, from doxxing and professional consequences to persecution by police.

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Correcting inaccuracies from an anonymous source

A report from the Associated Press, citing an anonymous senior U.S. intelligence official, raised international alarms last week. It incorrectly stated that a missile from Russia meant for Ukraine hit a town in Poland, however the missile was from Ukraine. The AP was the first outlet outside of Poland to report on the strike. The SPJ Code of Ethics states that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy. The AP issued a correction within the day. The Code says, journalists

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Being friends with a source

NPR’s Legal Affairs Correspondent Nina Totenberg holds an accolade that is a rarity in journalism – covering one beat for multiple decades. However, some have raised concerns about her friendship with the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (the subject of Totenberg’s most recent book), and the impact it has on Totenberg’s ability to report on the Court and other legal issues. The SPJ Code of Ethics says journalists should act independently and “avoid conflicts of interest, real or

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