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Ethics code helps readers keep us accountable

Today we are reprinting a draft of one of the most important documents to be found in any newsroom.

For more than a year, a newsroom task force has been revising The Spokesman-Review’s newsroom code of ethics, the first major revision in more than a decade. Today we’re again printing the near-final draft of the code. It also is available online.

The draft code will be the subject of two public meetings this week: Monday in Coeur d’Alene and Tuesday in Spokane Valley. A meeting in downtown Spokane, canceled last week because of the weather, will be rescheduled soon.

We hope readers will respond to this ambitious ethics code rewrite, offering fresh ideas, suggesting deletions or additions or thinking about how the newspaper can be held accountable for meeting these standards.

Our task force will review public response as well as final suggestions from The Spokesman-Review staff before preparing the final code. Once completed, it will be prominently posted on and reprinted in the newspaper.

The revision process so far has involved representatives from every newsroom department. It’s been facilitated by Whitworth University journalism professor Gordon Jackson, who also will facilitate the public meetings. By the time of its final adoption and implementation, the revised code will have been reviewed and vetted several times by newsroom staff, presented to the public and reviewed by newsroom managers. The result will be an effective road map to professional conduct that embodies our long-standing craft values as well as the posted professional and news values of The Spokesman-Review newsroom.

This code revision, for the first time, takes into account ethical landmines presented by our online journalism, including blogs. The code makes a strong statement about the newsroom’s independence from special interests and its independence from the newspaper’s owners when covering their activities and business interests. And it is more specific than the old code about the obligation of our journalists to avoid conflicts of interest.

A complete understanding of our code is expected of every newsroom staff member. Code violations carry consequences and can lead to disciplinary action up to and including dismissal.

We expect readers to hold us accountable for our performance. We want to hear about it when people believe we have failed to live up to these standards. And we have asked our new, independent ombudsman, University of Idaho journalism professor Rebecca Tallent, to use the code as a framework for her monthly critiques.

Going public with this process is, as far as I know, unprecedented. It’s an experiment. Our hope is that public involvement will make future conversations about newspaper performance more focused and maybe more productive than we sometimes see in our blogs and e-mail exchanges.


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