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Ethics survey doesn’t violate Code of Ethics

By Billy O'Keefe

Looking for a free lobster dinner? David Cuillier, assistant professor of journalism at the University of Arizona and SPJ FOI Committee chairman, could help out.
Participants are entered into a raffle for $25 gift certificates to Red Lobster, Old Navy, Starbuck’s, Best Buy and The Home Depot. Cuillier’s study, co-sponsored by SPJ, tests the psychological factors that impact journalists’ perspectives on government, ethics and the state of journalism.
As of Saturday, about 60 journalists had participated in the survey. Cuillier hopes to get 70 or 80 participants by the end of the conference.
“Not many people do research on the psychology of journalism,” Cuillier said.
He hopes to produce information that will be useful to journalists. Cuillier studies freedom of information and ethics.
Before the convention, Cuillier sent letters to SPJ members who were working journalists, asking them to participate. He included $2 because research has shown it’s the precise amount needed to capture a potential study participant’s attention to a letter.
“A few people felt weird about getting money, but there’s a difference between a source giving money and someone giving money to a journalist to participate in something,” he said.
Accepting money for a survey is in line with the SPJ Code of Ethics.
Under the SPJ Code of Ethics, journalists are told to “act independently.” It says, “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.”
Cuillier said that because the journalists who are participating are not using him as a source, it is not a violation of ethics. He added, “It has no bearing on their coverage or what they do.”
Stacy Shelton of The Atlanta Journal-Constitution thought it was strange to receive $2 in the mail but figured it was standard procedure.
“You would probably find that that’s part of the normal methodology,” said Shelton, who took 40 minutes to complete the survey.
Cuillier plans to publish the results in a scholarship journal and submit an article to a journalism trade publication.
The survey will run until 1 p.m. Sunday in the Auburn Room (Motor Lobby level) in the Hyatt.