Ethics Guide

"eth · ics: moral principles that govern a person's behavior or the conducting of an activity." - Google

Fundamentals

Telling the truth

Accuracy is the overriding value that virtually all journalism organizations agree on. We must strive to report facts accurately or we will lose our credibility. Accuracy is achieved through a combination of commitment, skill, transparency and correction.

We may come across information that’s difficult to verify and turn to the reader for help in confirming or denying it. We will refrain from reporting rumors, etc., because “it’s out there” and if we confirm that a widely read rumor is untrue, we will provide a public service by shooting it down.

Objective journalism attempts to present all sides of a story, and not slant a story so a reader draws the reporter’s desired conclusion. In marketing, the intent is to pursuade the reader to take action from a storyline. Our goal is to deliver an accurate, evidence based story that is compelling for the reader to take healthy action.

  • Be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. Do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.
  • Provide accurate context for all reporting.
  • Seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject you’re writing.
  • Ensure that sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, make clear to your audience who and what your sources are, what motivations your sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving you information. When unsure of information, leave it out or make clear it has not been corroborated.
  • Correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. Make it easy for your audience to bring errors to your attention.
  • If a report includes criticism of people or organizations, give them the opportunity to respond.
  • Clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.

 

Conflicts of interest

  • Avoid any conflict of interest that undermines your ability to report fairly. Disclose to your audience any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may validly affect their judgment of your credibility.
  • Do not allow people to make you dishonestly skew your reporting. Do not offer to skew your reporting under any circumstances.
  • Do not allow the interests of advertisers or others funding your work to affect the integrity of your journalism.

 

Community

  • Respect your audience and those you write about. Consider how your work and its permanence may affect the subjects of your reporting, your community and ­­ since the Internet knows no boundaries ­­ the larger world.

 

Professional Conduct

  • Don’t plagiarize or violate copyrights.
  • Keep promises to sources, readers and the community.
  • If you belong to a news organization, give all staff expectations, support and tools to maintain ethical standards.

 

In Practice

Interviewing

  • Our organization never pays for interviews.
  • Our organization permits interviewees with transcripts to revise their comments to clarify complicated or technical matters.
  • Our organization will provide interview subjects with a general idea of our questions in advance.
  • Articles and reports must state the method of interviewing (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype or email) regardless of the situation or context.

 

Sources: Reliability and Attribution

  • We may use sources with a conflict of interest in stories, but details that signal the conflict of interest should be included (e.g. a scientist who conducted a study about a drug's effectiveness when the study was funded by the manufacturer).
  • We include source attribution in online stories themselves as well as links, if available, that provide additional information.

 

Accuracy

  • Our staff members must take responsibility for the accuracy of all information that we publish, using an accuracy checklist before publication.
  • We should not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.
  • If we are unsure of the accuracy of information, we should cite our sources, word stories carefully to avoid spreading false rumors, acknowledge what we don’t know and ask the community’s help in confirming or correcting our information.

 

Online Commenting

  • We have a system that permits individuals to “flag” comments for potential problems, and we review those “flagged” comments in a systematic and timely fashion.
  • We do not permit anonymous comments at all.

 

Quotations

  • We will clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.
  • We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by ellipsis. (“I will go to war … but only if necessary,” the president said.)
  • We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by attribution. (“I will go to war,” the president said. “But only if necessary.”)

 

Withholding Names

  • Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, we always publish names of people involved in the stories we cover.

 

Community Activities

  • Our journalists are encouraged to be involved in the community and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.

 

Gifts, Free Travel and Other Perks

  • Our journalists may accept free travel and other gifts if they are financially essential, but we should disclose those gifts in our reporting.

 

Personal Ethics Statements by Staff

  • Our journalists are encouraged to make personal ethics statements, which provide more information about themselves and their attitudes, even though they must follow our corporate values.
  • Our organization’s policy prevails if personal ethics codes and organizational policy conflict.

 

Plagiarism and Attribution

  • We must always attribute all sources by name and, if the source is digital, by linking to the original source.
  • When we are using someone else’s exact words, we should use quotation marks and attribution.
  • Basic facts may be taken from other sources without varying the wording.

 

Political Activities by Staff

  • Our journalists should disclose community and political involvements, particularly those involving topics they might cover, both in general statements we will publish on our website and in stories relating to their involvement.

 

Social Networks

  • We encourage staff members to retweet, reblog, share and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.
  • Staff members should note in their social media profiles that retweets or shares are not endorsements.
  • We should edit or delete inaccurate social media posts, so people who haven’t seen the corrections will not spread them on social media. We should note that we have edited or deleted inaccurate posts.

 

Awards and Contests

  • We will accept awards from advocacy organizations, if we are transparent about favoring that point of view.
  • We will accept awards from corporations if we feel such awards will not skew our reporting.

 

Censorship

  • In military situations, we will agree to censorship and other restrictions that are reasonable for reasons of security and respect for troops.

 

Corrections

  • If a mistake is made in a social media post, we will publish a corrected version indicating that the new post is a correction. We will include a link to the erroneous original post and allow it to stand.

 

Freelance Work by Employees

  • We permit freelancing by full-time employees if it meets our overall criteria, and we do not require advance notice.
  • We allow part-time employees to perform freelance work without prior notice to direct managers.

 

Removing Archived Work

  • We will correct any errors we learn of in our archived content and note the corrections.

 

Diversity

  • We will seek diverse pools of candidates for all jobs, but will always seek to hire the most qualified candidate.

 

Hate Speech

  • We consider the climate for free expression when making publication decisions.
  • We support local, national or international laws to combat hate speech.

 

Mental Health and Suicide

  • We will cover mental health and suicide as broad public health issues as consistently as we cover other health matters.

 

Naming suspects

  • We will not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases.

 

Obscenities

  • We will replace obscenities, vulgarities and slurs with something that implies the word rather than stating it directly (e.g. “f---”).
  • We will apply the same standards on obscenities, vulgarities and slurs to reader comments on stories that are applied to the story itself.

 

Race and Gender

  • We will seek out people in the groups we cover to gain perspective on our coverage and terminology.
  • We will use racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality identifiers when specifically germane to a story but not otherwise.

 

Sensational Material

  • We will run sensitive material that might be offensive to specific members of the audience after internal debate has demonstrated a clear public interest in and value from the publication.
  • We will refrain from running sensitive material specifically or solely for the revenue purposes, such as increased digital traffic.

 

Audio

  • Audio cuts of newsmakers may be edited to remove insignificant stumbles.
  • Cuts and programs may be heavily edited and rearranged as needed, as long as there’s a disclosure the audio was edited, the meaning of statements remains the same after editing, and rearrangements of audio do not affect the original meaning.
  • We need not identify person-in-the-street speakers by name if they are not stating controversial opinions.

 

Data Journalism

  • We believe that data is like raw footage and may be purchased if it cannot be obtained through other means.
  • In collaborative projects, we insist that all parties are clear on shared ethics, values and roles.
  • We will not use personally identifiable data without specific and valid news value to support disclosure.

 

Interactives

  • We will organize and internally link our interactives in a way that users entering and navigating in different ways will be able to grasp the essential points of the story.
  • We will reconstruct events through infographics or animations only if we are sure that the details we show are correct given best-effort discovery.

 

Photo and Video

  • When documenting private or traumatic moments, we will seek permission from subjects before shooting photos or video.
  • We will allow the use of drones to capture images, but publish or air those images only if they serve a compelling public interest.
  • We do not need to label a photo or video if it is clearly posed (e.g. an award-winner holding up a trophy).
  • We will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it.
  • If using music in video stories, we will be cognizant of the emotional effect the music may have, and avoid using music if the story is intended to have a neutral voice.
  • We will verify photos or videos from social media before using them.

 

User-Generated Content

  • We will guard against using UGC in situations that might be dangerous to the person who created it or to others in the images. We will stress to possible providers of UGC that they must not take risks to gather information or imagery.
  • We will not syndicate UGC content unless we’re certain we have the rights to do so.

 

Accepting money

  • Our funder(s) may see our stories before publication, and their comments on stories will be taken into account by the editorial staff.
  • Our funder(s) will be used as sources in stories they fund if their contributions are specifically relevant and important.

 

Clickbait and Metrics

  • We are encouraged to write clever, creative headlines and social media posts that will entice readers to click on our stories, but headlines will not make promises that our stories don’t deliver.
  • We will accurately reflect the content of related stories in headlines and social media posts.
  • We will use metric considerations as one of a number of factors in determining what we cover and how we place stories.

 

News and Advertising

  • We do not allow advertisements for certain types of products.
  • We require news-like content produced by advertisers to be clearly identified as advertising.
  • We have specific, consistent definitions of terms like “Advertisement,” “Sponsored Content” and “Message from ...” and disclose them to our readers.
  • We will use best efforts to accurately categorize each article with a content 'badge' and references to substantiate claims made in the article.

Prepared using the Online News Association's Ethics Code project. https://ethics.journalists.org