Does the SPJ Ethics Code need a revision?

The SPJ Ethics Committee is asking that question and seeking input from members.

In the latest Quill (July/August 2013), Kevin Smith, SPJ past president and Ethics Committee chair, notes that it’s been 17 years since the last revision of the Code.

The question that no one in SPJ can dodge, he says, is “whether the Code has worn-out verbiage and might need an editing facelift to address current times.”

The Ethics Committee wants to hear what you think – whether everything is fine, whether a little tweaking is needed, whether a full overhaul is needed.

Read the Code. It’s available on the SPJ website.

Then offer your thoughts on a special feedback portal set up by the committee.

And if you’re attending the Excellence in Journalism confab in California this weekend, come to a special Town Hall meeting in which Smith and the committee will hear input on the Code.

It’s on Sunday afternoon from 2:30 to 3:30. Hope to see you there!

The committee will be working on the Code in the coming year with an eye to bring any changes before SPJ at EIJ14 in Nashville, Tenn., next September.

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Another reporter arrested…while doing his job

In June, police in Raleigh, NC, arrested a reporter from the Charlotte Observer who was covering protesters at the NC General Assembly.

The local prosecutor later dropped the trespassing charges against the reporter, Tim Funk.

Rick Thames, executive editor of the Observer, gives some background and the story of the arrest from the paper’s perspective in a post yesterday at “The Inside Story,” a blog maintained by the paper.

Its title: “Why the arrest of a reporter should matter to all.”

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Some perspective on the “unhappy journalists” survey

A lot of ink got spilled this past week, reporting on a new survey from the University of Georgia on career satisfaction among journalists. had the story: Some 28 percent of the journalists surveyed wish they had chosen a different career.

Some of the coverage boo-hooed and intoned that this is yet another manifestation of a profession in a tailspin.

Really? I think it’s pretty damn good that three-quarters of the people who chose to be journalists are happy with that choice.

This is a field, recall, where compensation historically has not been high: for example, the starting annual salary for a new journalism grad in 2012 was more than 10 grand lower than the median pay for all grads: According to CNN, the median annual pay last year for a new journalist was $32,000; the figure was $42,666 for all jobs.

Let’s compare those satisfaction rates in the UGa survey to those in a profession with a lot more earning power: law.

The American Bar Association did a survey in 2007 called, “The Pulse of Legal Profession.”

It was nationwide and pretty comprehensive. And note that it was completed before The Great Recession, when things really got bad.

Of lawyers in practice six to nine years, only about 40 percent were happy with their career choice.

For lawyers who had been in practice 10 years or more, the figure was higher – about six in 10.

Ponder that a minute — 40 percent of the lawyers who had been slogging away a decade or better were stuck in a job they really didn’t like.

All the sudden, the fact that three-quarters of the journalists are happy looks pretty good.

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A ‘golden age’ for journalism

Henry Blodget, the editor of the business news site “The Business Insider,” appeared on CNN’s “Reliable Sources” last weekend, where he said that he thought journalism had entered “a golden age.”

One viewer, a former print journalist, called this assertion “absurd.” But Blodget, in this post, said that he was speaking about journalism itself, not the newspaper or print business. He gave a number of reasons for his optimism:

• The world is vastly better informed than ever before.
• More great journalism is being produced today than ever before.
• Every journalist on earth can now reach nearly every human on earth —directly and instantly.
• The struggles of the traditional news business have been greatly exaggerated.
• Digital news organizations now employ a whole new generation of talented journalists, and these organizations are getting better, more comprehensive, and more sustainable by the day.
• The proliferation of mobile gadgets has made it possible to consume news anywhere 24 hours a day.
• Today’s journalism now offers a full range of storytelling formats.
• There are no longer any time or space limits for any story.
• There are no space or topic constraints for the broader publication.
• Publications can now take advantage of many different forms of distribution.
• There is now more media accuracy and “consensus knowledge” than ever before.
• It is easier than ever before for talented aspiring professional journalists to start practicing their trade.

I can’t think of a better piece to read before heading the Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim next week.

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Online tools for journalists, a site for journalists in the United Kingdom, has a quick-hit list of 16 online newsgathering tools for journalists. Sarah Marshall, the site’s technology correspondent, enumerates the tools that let you monitor Web activity, including stories that are trending or gaining popularity.

Make it 15 — most journalists on this side of the Atlantic may not be interested in, a treasure trove of government data in the UK.

But sounds pretty cool: It has a content discovery features called “probes.”

As Marshall tells it, “You can set up probes and subscribe to existing ones. For example, if you are interested to discover viral videos, you could track ‘YouTube videos on Reddit with more than 1,000 Facebook likes.’”

I’ve already sent this link to my web editors and reporters, asking if there’s anything in here we can use.

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Journalists and citizen journalists

The news of the bombing at the Boston Marathon earlier this year was broken immediately on Twitter and other social media outlets. Reuters was the first news organization to tweet a confirmed news report, six minutes after the event.

It’s a few months old now, but Neiman Foundation visiting fellow Hong Qu has a nice article that highlights the role for professional journalists in an era of citizen journalists who take to Twitter to push out raw information.

Professional journalists are needed, he argues, because of their ability to broadcast news widely, the credibility they bring and their skills in weaving disparate facts into a story. Social media is another valuable news-gathering tool, not necessarily a force to be feared or ignored, he says.

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My message to SPJ members

The SPJ staff in Indianapolis very shortly will be sending an email to SPJ members with greetings from all the candidates seeking office in this year’s elections. Here is my message:

Hello everyone –

My name is Paul Fletcher and I am seeking your support and your vote for SPJ Secretary-Treasurer.

A few words about me: I just completed two years as the president of the Virginia Pro chapter; I am a member of the SPJ Ethics Committee. For the past 24 years, I have been the publisher and editor-in-chief of Virginia Lawyers Weekly, a newspaper and website for the legal profession.

A few words about what I’d like to work on, if elected: Our society motto states that we work to improve and protect journalism. To do that, we need to be advocates for journalists and journalism itself.

Our SPJ leaders have been vocal advocates this summer in their support for a federal shield law, giving protection to reporters and their sources. We should keep pushing this effort.

We also need to speak up for the values we hold dear, among them freedom of information and the public’s right to know.

FOI laws are being chipped away in statehouses across the country. And in a number of states, there are efforts that threaten the public’s right to know: Local governments seek the authority to move public notices, required by law, from independent newspapers to websites…run by the local governments.

The ways that readers and viewers get their news continue to evolve. SPJ does an excellent job of seeking to keep pace and helping journalists match their skills to the new methods of delivery. We need to stay on watch, anticipating additional changes and helping our members to adapt.

I’m looking forward to seeing you in Anaheim. In the meantime, please visit my campaign site ( or read my campaign bio at You can follow me @paulfletcher, or please shoot me an email at Thank you.



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