SPJ 2020 Journalism Conference • Sept. 12-13, 2020



Speaker challenges audience with ethical questions

By Billy O'Keefe

By Joan Khalaf / Photos by Nikki Villoria
Sometimes Jim Burke has more ethical questions than answers.

Chanda Temple, of Birmingham, Ala., at center, plays among fellow SPJ members at the SPJ-modified Texas Hold'em game in the State Room at the Indianapolis Westin on Friday. The game was designed to not only provide the entertainment of poker but to also ingrain the SPJ Code of Ethics into the minds of the players.

Chanda Temple, of Birmingham, Ala., at center, plays among fellow SPJ members at the SPJ-modified Texas Hold'em game in the State Room at the Indianapolis Westin on Friday. The game was designed to not only provide the entertainment of poker but to also ingrain the SPJ Code of Ethics into the minds of the players.

He’s heard it all on his ethical advice hotline: a journalist wondering whether to identify a sexual assault victim, an author attempting to convert Christians to atheism, a reporter interviewing a child who witnessed a murder.
Burke and Casey Bukro are co-founders of the Ethics AdviceLine for Journalists — 1-866-DILEMMA — which provides a free, 24-hour safe haven for journalists in need of advice.
Although organizations like SPJ and Poynter have similar hotlines and resources for journalists struggling with an ethical question, the AdviceLine is different because it helps keep discussions unbiased by using ethicists instead of working journalists, said Bukro, a SPJ ethics committee member.
“Journalists know about journalism,” he said, “and ethicists know about ethics.”
In an interview after an “Ethics on Call” session Friday, Burke said the strangest case he’d received was an author who was writing a book to promote atheism. During interviews for the book, the author had implied to church-going sources that he was writing an anti-atheism book.
Burke said sometimes the conversations with hotline users end up as just that — conversations.
“We’re not trying to tell people what to do,” he said.
During Friday’s session, Burke talked about several thought-provoking calls and asked attendees what they would have done in each situation.
One journalist called in with a case of a high school basketball coach accused of sexual assault. The alleged victim was the only girl on the team, so the reporter was concerned about including information that might identify her.
“Are you the protector of somebody or is your job to tell the news — the full news?” Burke asked.




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