Category Archives: Ethics

We want you to see what real news looks like. Join us Oct. 17.

It’s your turn to ask the questions.

In an era of debate over the media’s role, SPJ Rio Grande is gathering several of its members to share information about how they do their jobs with the public. Our discussion will take place from 6 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 17 at the Student Union Building at the University of New Mexico, Mirage/Thunderbird Room.

Each member of our panel will share one thing they want the audience to know about how they work, but no presentations; the majority of this event will be questions from the audience. Come with curiosity, and leave knowing more about how journalism in New Mexico gets done.

See our panelist lineup below.

Tickets are $10 general admission and $5 for students. Register today.

For additional information, contact SPJ Rio Grande board member Rachel Sams: rachelbsams at gmail dot com.



Monica Braine, senior producer, Native America Calling

Gabrielle Burkhart, reporter, KRQE

Megan Kamerick, KUNM Morning Edition host; freelancer in audio, print and TV for outlets including NMPBS

Dan McKay, Capitol Bureau, ABQ Journal



Rachel Sams, editor-in-chief, Albuquerque Business First

SPJ Rio Grande Statement On Reporter Paid By State Agency

As journalists, maintaining our integrity is instrumental if we are to serve the public by being watchdogs over government agencies. This is especially critical if there is controversy over transparency at a public body, such as there has been around the Interstate Stream Commission as it prepares to announce its decision on whether New Mexico plans to build a diversion on the Gila River in Southwest New Mexico. The ISC is being sued for alleged violations of the Open Meetings Act. So the board of the SPJ Rio Grande chapter is particularly disturbed by revelations that a reporter who covered the Interstate Stream Commission was being paid by the same agency while she was also contributing freelance stories to the Silver City Daily Press on the ISC and the Arizona Water Settlements process. (Please see a clarification on this from Editor Avelino Maestas in the comments section)

The full details of this issue are contained in a column by Phillip Connors, and another by the paper’s publisher, Nick Seibel (see below).

Silver City Press columns

The paper also wrote about this issue and interviewed one of the founding members of our SPJ chapter, Gwyneth Doland. (See below)

SC Daily Press article on Murphy

The actions by this reporter represent a clear violation of the SPJ Code of Ethics, which calls upon journalists to avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and to disclose unavoidable conflicts. They should also 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.

We are pleased that Mr. Seibel is taking steps to ensure such a situation does not happen again at his paper and will also be reviewing and sharing the publication’s policies. As he so eloquently states “We cannot do our job as the voice and watchdog for this community without preserving the trust that we will do those jobs fairly and without bias – and as transparently as possible.” We call on all media in New Mexico to ensure that similar situations do not happen in their newsrooms lest public trust in our media institutions is further eroded.


Private Conversations, Public Figures And Ethical Guidelines

Recently, the Albuquerque Journal commissioned a public poll asking whether private conversations are “fair game” for the news media to use publicly.

The results, according to the poll, were uniform: Sixty-five percent of respondents gave a resounding no, while only 18 percent said yes.

But this poll didn’t make clear that the recordings were made legally and that the people being recorded are public figures. These are two very important details.

The news of these recordings, and this poll, prompted a lively conversation about ethics among the journalists in our group. We’d like to share with you some of the things we consider when making decisions about what’s “fair game” in news.

On any given day we may be writing about water, taxes, healthcare, teachers or elections, but every day we share the same ultimate goal: to give you the information you need to be an active, engaged voter and member of your community.

SPJ is the largest and most broad-based journalism organization in the country, but for nearly 100 years we have been united by one thing: a Code of Ethics that guides the decisions we have to make every day. The code has four main tenets with specific guidance for each.

I.            Seek truth and report it.

II.            Minimize harm

III.            Act independently

IV.            Be accountable.

While the first tenet of the code advises us to “seek truth and report it,” it also warns us to  “avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public.”

But in this case, journalists didn’t make the recordings of Clippers owner Donald Sterling or then-candidate Susana Martinez, people close to them did, and they did so legally.

So once reporters found out about the recordings, was it fair to write about them and play them on the air? Again, we can look to the code for guidance. The third tenet reminds us that we should “be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.”

Journalists do think about how news will affect the people we cover and we take their privacy seriously. (That’s why we usually don’t publish the names of victims of sexual assault.) But while we aim to “minimize harm,” our duty to the public means we must also “recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.”

In this case, both the owner of the Clippers and a candidate for governor made themselves public figures.

That’s why so many news organizations came to the conclusion that it was “fair game” to report on these recordings.

Often sharing “private” information is the only way whistleblowers can to expose vital information that shouldn’t be hidden from the public. As journalists, we rely on leaked information to shine a light on public figures and elected officials who violate the public trust.

At SPJ, we support reporters’ rights to use private conversations in ways that stay true to the responsible practice of journalism. We also welcome your thoughts and questions about how and why we work.