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SPJ Code of Ethics
Revised September 6, 2014 at 4:49 p.m. CT at SPJ’s National Convention in Nashville, Tenn.
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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
Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible. annotate arrow
Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy. annotate arrow
Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story. annotate arrow
Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story. annotate arrow
Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make. annotate arrow
Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing. annotate arrow
Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public. annotate arrow
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless. annotate arrow
Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate. annotate arrow
Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear. annotate arrow
Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting. annotate arrow
Label advocacy and commentary. annotate arrow
Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments. annotate arrow
Never plagiarize. Always attribute. annotate arrow
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.
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. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate. annotate arrow
The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
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. annotate arrow
Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage. annotate arrow
Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content. annotate arrow
Be Accountable and Transparent
Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.
Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content. annotate arrow
Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness. annotate arrow
Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly. annotate arrow
Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations. annotate arrow
Abide by the same high standards they expect of others. annotate arrow
Now available: Media Ethics: 5th Edition
Media Ethics: 5th Edition Closely organized around SPJ’s Code of Ethics, this updated edition uses real-life case studies to demonstrate how students and professionals in journalism and other communication disciplines identify and reason through ethical dilemmas.
The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.
For an expanded explanation, please follow this link.
annotate arrow Click or tap the arrow icon anywhere it appears in the code to explore additional resources the Society’s ethics committee compiled to help people with day-to-day ethics decisions. Links will open in their own window.
pdf icon Translations
Ethics Case Studies
Committee Position Papers
SPJ Ethics Committee Publications
Media Ethics: A Guide For Professional Conduct, 5th edition
Quill: Stories About Journalism Ethics
What the Codes Say: Code provisions by subject
Other codes of ethics
Contact the Ethics Committee
Become an SPJ Member
Become an SPJ Supporter
2014 revision project
1996 Ethics Code [PDF]
1973 Ethics Code [PDF]
1926 Ethics Code [PDF]
The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by additional explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable.
Sigma Delta Chi’s first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984, 1987, 1996 and 2014.