No Bark and No Bite: When Addressing Ethical Code Violators, is the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Mute and Toothless?

By Rita Colistra.

Published by The Social Sciences Collection

Format Price
Article: Print $US10.00
Article: Electronic $US5.00

In the past decade, journalism in the U.S. has been plagued by ethical scandals that have further brought the field’s credibility into question. But how have professional journalistic organizations reacted? This article examines the how the Society of Professional Journalists, perhaps the most well-known and respected professional journalism organization, has responded to high-profile ethical lapses from 1998 to 2008. Only high-profile violations were considered because (1) they are more likely to be addressed since they are highly visible, and (2) since they are highly visible, they are likely to influence the ways in which other ethical lapses are handled. The effectiveness of professional ethics codes have often been criticized for lacking “teeth,” or enforcement, and for being too ambiguous to be useful to professionals. This research fills gaps in the current literature in order to further improve the profession and the way ethics is handled and discussed in newsrooms and professional organizations.

Overall, findings indicate that SPJ has offered little in terms of issuing specific statements or discussions concerning ethical code violators.

This study is important because it can help shed some light on what actions the industry has taken to clean up the field to help ensure that such violations do not happen again (or at least much less frequently). This research also attempts to bridge the gap between academic scholarship and the profession by making meaningful recommendations for handling such ethical transgressions.

Keywords: U.S. Journalism Ethics, Journalism Scandals, U.S. Journalism Ethics Codes

International Journal of Interdisciplinary Social Sciences, Volume 5, Issue 4, pp.311-330. Article: Print (Spiral Bound). Article: Electronic (PDF File; 722.726KB).

Dr. Rita Colistra

Assistant Professor, P.I. Reed School of Journalism, West Virginia University, Morgantown, WV, USA


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