SPJ Calls for ‘National Debate’ Surrounding Sale of Knight Ridder

By: E&P Staff

The Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) on Thursday will call for what it terms “an urgent national conversation about how to preserve public-service journalism in light of the likely sale of the Knight Ridder newspaper company,” E&P has learned.

The call, which is being spearheaded by the national group’s Northern California Chapter, continues: “News media play a vital role in ensuring a robust and transparent democracy, a role that is too important to be compromised by the quest for profits. SPJ believes that both journalists and the public need to discuss openly the societal implications of these kinds of business decisions, as several groups have done in recent weeks. “

According to the statement, SPJ believes that those directing the production of news “have an ethical obligation to readers every bit as significant as their fiduciary accountability to shareholders….

“We acknowledge that newspapers cannot serve their democratic role unless they stay in business. But the increasing corporate pressure to squeeze additional returns out of already profitable newspapers, at rates exceeding the margins in most other industries, has skewed the balance between journalism and commerce.”

The statement continues: “Though there is disagreement about what should happen to Knight Ridder — whose 32 daily newspapers, various Web sites and weekly publications provide news to millions of readers — there is broad consensus within the journalism community that it should not be allowed to fall into the hands of those unwilling to guarantee the continuity of public-service journalism.

“Journalists in particular have an obligation to invite discussion on this topic. The SPJ Code of Ethics urges journalists to ‘clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.’ We call on reporters, editors, columnists and editorial writers to write about the planned sale and solicit ideas from community leaders and readers, who have a significant stake in the civic-minded management at their local newspapers.

“A national conversation about how Knight Ridder newspapers can maintain their journalistic integrity under escalating profit pressures should send a message to investors not to ignore the social value of their investments — either now or in future battles over media ownership. Such a dialogue would also help journalists fulfill their ethical responsibility to be accountable to their readership. And it would help that readership participate, as we believe the Constitution envisioned, in preserving a free, vibrant and competitive press.”

A comment from Knight Ridder could not immediately be obtained.

Further information will be available later on Thursday at www.spj.org/norcal

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