It’s hard to predict situations that will require us to wrestle with ethics. Circumstances come from out of the blue. Time is often of the essence. We can really only prepare ourselves with a foundation of core values – a code – to have in our back pocket to guide our actions. And still, actually walking the ethical path doesn’t always feel so easy. Sometimes it’s downright agonizing.
But I think it’s agonizing precisely because we have that foundation that keeps us on the more righteous path. We agonize because our human brains – as powerful as they are – have the incredible ability to obfuscate relatively simple moral issues. We agonize because we know we are being lured to stray, pressured to stay silent, to let it slide or to make an exception. Our code compels us otherwise.
Earlier this year, the NPPA board of directors began to observe Sinclair Broadcast Group – a financial supporter of NPPA and employer of many of our members – taking actions that did not align with NPPA’s Code of Ethics. Over the course of two days, we agonized over how to communicate this fairly and strongly. That effort resulted in a statement we were proud of. It raised our concerns, advanced the conversation beyond talking points, heightened the level of discourse and was transparent about the financial partnership we had with Sinclair in our legal advocacy efforts.
Upon learning of our statement that was about to publish, a Sinclair executive requested to provide comment. It was a request we certainly didn’t have to honor – it was our statement, not a news story – but in an overabundance of journalistic fairness, we did. And still, in taking a fair-and-balanced stance that was far more analysis than condemnation, there were swift consequences. Less than 24 hours later, Sinclair informed us the NPPA would not be receiving a pledged $25,000 donation to our advocacy program.
NPPA attorney Mickey Osterreicher likes to remind me that the First Amendment protects our ability to speak. It doesn’t shield us from the consequences. The board and I knew full well, and accepted, that consequences might come. How swiftly, though, was a shock.
That wasn’t the end to our ethics story, though. In fact, what followed should be inspirational to those who cynically believe that “nice guys finish last” and ethics are, at best, suffered.
We turned our circumstances into a call for action. We let people know that the best way to support NPPA’s mission of promoting ethics, free speech and press, copyright protections and the value and importance of visual journalism was to become a member or make a tax-deductible donation. The support that followed was heartwarming.
Donations large and small poured in. They came from members, nonmembers, educators, anchors and reporters in honor of the photojournalists they work with, and from others with no ties to journalism at all.
In total, about 140 individual donors and a dozen universities or associations helped us meet our goal to replace Sinclair Broadcast Group’s rescinded pledge. With the help of two organizations in particular, Democracy Fund and First Look Media, we recently exceeded our goal in a big way, with a grand total of about $45,000.
No matter the amount they gave, every single one of our donors helped us prove that ethics matter, that NPPA – not just promoting ethics, but living them – is worth supporting, and that our mission is as important as ever. From the bottom of my heart, I thank each and every one of them. They saw their values of truth and transparency align with ours.
Our statements were never about the money. They were about bringing everyone together around our Code of Ethics and lifting up our profession instead of tearing it down. I believe we succeeded. Thank you so much for your support.
You can contact Michael P. King at [email protected]
Voicing Support for Advocacy