Ethics & Professional Standards Guidelines
WhichEV is committed to the highest ethical standards.
Fairness and accuracy are among our core values. But nothing stands above the need for the organisation to maintain and preserve its integrity. The public’s trust in our work — our most important asset — depends on it.
This evolving document is meant to provide general guidance to WhichEV staffers on the many difficult ethical questions that arise in the course of doing our jobs. But because not every situation can be anticipated, it is useful to keep two particular guidelines in mind.
1) None of us should act in ways that could damage the organisation’s credibility. Many complicated issues — from political involvement to attribution to freelance policy — can be navigated easily with that principle in mind.
2) Any situation that raises questions of credibility ought to be discussed with a ranking (masthead) editor. None of us should decide such issues alone.
We are all collectively responsible for ethical standards. Any employee who is aware that a fellow staff member has committed ethical violations should immediately bring the matter to the attention of a ranking editor.
WhichEV recognizes that while there are many black-and-white issues that are easily resolved, there are also many that involve shades of gray. Not every question needs to be brought to the immediate attention of a ranking editor. Questions often can, and should be, discussed openly and thoroughly with members of the newsroom. Avoid “doing” ethics alone. Collaboration produces better decisions.
Professional Activities and Standards
Fairness, Accuracy and Corrections
WhichEV strives to operate with fairness, accuracy and independence.
Whenever possible, WhichEV seeks opposing views and solicits responses from those whose conduct is questioned in news stories.
It is our responsibility to accurately report the news we know, and as soon as possible after breaking the news, we should update what we can from an opposing side or provide more background. If the opposing side can’t be reached, we should say that. We should also foster a spirit of fairness in the tone of our coverage. An opposing side shouldn’t necessarily be expected to provide cogent and thoughtful responses to complex issues instantaneously. Developing stories must indicate they will continue to be updated with “More to come” or similar phrasing.
We must strive to create balance in all of our coverage with a sense of immediacy.
All errors shall be acknowledged promptly in a straightforward manner, never disguised or glossed over in a follow-up story. Only in rare circumstances, with approval from the Executive Editor, should an attempt be made to remove erroneous content (or content published inadvertently) from the Web. When errors are made online, we should correct the errors and indicate that the story has been updated to correct an error or clarify what it says. We always acknowledge our mistakes and set the record straight in a transparent manner.
In considering requests to remove accurate information from our public archives, we should consider not only the person’s interest in suppressing the content but also the public’s interest in knowing the information. Circumstances will guide the decision and must be approved by the Editor. Our policy is not to remove published content from our archives, but we want archives to be accurate, complete and up-to-date, so we will update and correct archived content as needed, including headlines.
Clarifications should be made when a story, photograph, video, caption, editorial, etc. creates a false impression of fact.
A correction or clarification should repeat the original error only if omitting that information fails to provide necessary context for understanding the correction/clarification. For example, a correction such as “The name of Joe Editorowski was incorrectly spelled in a story about WhichEV” is sufficient in print. It is not necessary to repeat the original error. Corrections/clarifications should be appended to the original story online and be located in a consistent place in print.
When there is a question over whether a correction, clarification or removal of story or photo is necessary, bring the matter to an editor.
Reporters or photographers ought to identify themselves to news sources. In the rare instance when circumstances suggest not identifying ourselves, the Editor or appropriate senior editor must be consulted for approval.
Journalists must not plagiarize, whether it is the wholesale lifting of someone else’s writing, or the publication of a press release as news without attribution. WhichEV journalists are responsible for their research, just as they are for their reporting. The inadvertent publication of another’s work does not excuse the plagiarism. Plagiarism will result in serious disciplinary action, and may include termination.
While journalists are expected to cover breaking news aggressively, they must not interfere with civil authorities while on assignment. In no circumstance should a journalist break the law. Journalists who feel they have been unlawfully restricted from doing their job are expected to remain calm and professional and report the situation to a ranking editor immediately.
Confidentiality and Unidentified Sources
Agreements about anonymity should be ironed out with sources in advance. Make sure sources understand the ground rules: What information can be attributed to the source and what can not be attributed? What is off-the-record, meaning what information cannot be published unless confirmed through another source.
In general, we should avoid the use of unnamed sources in stories. We will attribute information to unnamed sources only when news value warrants and it cannot be obtained any other way.
When we choose to rely on unnamed sources, we will avoid letting them be the sole basis for any story. We will not allow unnamed sources to make personal attacks. We should describe the unnamed source in as much detail as possible to indicate the source’s credibility. And we should tell readers the reason the source requested or was given anonymity.
A reporter must identify any unnamed source to his or her editor and the editor must ask for the identity of any unnamed source used in the story. The use of unnamed sources is subject to approval by the Editor.
To the extent possible, we should apply our own standards to the use of unnamed sources in stories produced by other newspapers or wire services. In cases where there are significant conflicts between the attribution of information in the wire story and WhichEV policy on unattributed sources, an effort should be made to contact the originating news agency for more information.
Under no circumstance does WhichEV pay for information.
Use of Names / Descriptions
When law enforcement or other officials identify a person who has been arrested, that person can be identified by WhichEV outlets. In some instances, a person might not be named until charged.
Juveniles should not be identified unless they are to be tried as adults, or their alleged crime is deemed particularly newsworthy. Such a decision should be made in consultation with an editor.
Once a person is named in our reporting, WhichEV should make every effort to report on the ultimate adjudication of the case.
WhichEV generally does not name victims of sexual assaults.
Physical descriptions of suspects should be published only if they are of sufficient specificity that they can be useful in identification.
Social Media Identities / Use
Social media accounts should be clearly branded with the name of the news organisation, WhichEV.
An employee of WhichEV should refrain from endorsing entities that they cover or have direct contact with. Retweets, sharing of posts or “+1” indicators do not constitute endorsements.
Official WhichEV social media profiles should clearly and prominently indicate the account is representative of our news organisation. Examples of prominent indications include branded backgrounds, the name of the website incorporated into the title of the page when possible, in addition to including the name of WhichEV in the profile or locational information as allowed by the social media entity.
WhichEV journalists are expected to maintain professional decorum on their personal and work social media accounts, just as they would be expected to conduct themselves professionally when representing the news organisation in public. Journalists should be cognizant of their language, the opinions expressed, visual material presented, and how their posts may be perceived by the public. Foremost, they should remain cognizant of the public nature of social media.
They should consider themselves a representative of the company in all public interactions.
WhichEV employees should always source the information they are pushing out via social media. If they are not the original source, they need to make sure that they reference who/what that source is.
WhichEV employees will not delete incorrect posts; instead, they will follow similar guidelines set up for website corrections, indicating they had previously published incorrect information when posting the correct information.
- For media that now allow editing, e.g., Facebook, we should correct the error and include an UPDATED at the beginning of the post. A comment should also appear in the post, identifying that an update/fix has been made.
- For Twitter, a reply to the initial post with the accurate information is the best way to keep the content linked and visible.
WhichEV journalists are allowed to break news via social media, especially in competitive situations. However, they should carefully consider their overall reporting approach, using social media reporting to augment and not substitute for the writing of stories. The goal is to ensure our reporting is published accurately across all channels.
Social Media in Breaking News Coverage
When breaking news via social media, the initial post must be sourced, and the journalist must make it clear whether they are at the scene or not. If they are not at the scene, they must clearly — and repeatedly — source the information they are getting about the event.
In the event the reporter wants to post on their own social media information attributed to an anonymous source, they must adhere to the guidelines in the “Confidentiality and Unidentified Sources” section of this document. If anything is going to be pushed out anonymously sourced, an editor must be involved in the decision. Nothing should be published before a discussion takes place.
When attributing information found on Twitter, they should retweet the information in its original form, whether in a single post or in multiple instances. Copying and pasting alone is not acceptable.
Quotations and Attribution
Quotations should always be the exact words that someone spoke, with the exception of minor corrections in grammar and syntax. Parentheses within quotations are almost never appropriate and can almost always be avoided. Ellipses should also be avoided.
We generally should explain when a quote was received in a manner other than an interview: via email, in a prepared statement, in a televised press conference. In cases where we conduct an interview through a translator, we should identify quotes received in that manner.
A reporter should not make it sound as if a source made a statement to the reporter if, in fact, it came to us through a third party.
Bylines, Datelines and Credit Lines
Bylines, datelines and credit lines should accurately convey to readers the source of reporting. All stories, including briefs, should have a byline and contact information for the writer so readers know who to contact if there is an error or issue.
In multiple bylines, the first name generally should be that of the reporter who wrote the article, or if different, of the largest contributor. Any reporter who contributed substantively to a story should be included in the byline. Contributor lines should be reserved for those who provided small slices of reporting, such as a single quote or two, for a story.
When a WhichEV reporter writes an article based in part on wire service reports and in part on the reporter’s own work, the article should carry the reporter’s byline and a credit to the wire service in a tagline. If the reporter independently reports the facts of the story, the byline can stand alone. If the reporter simply inserts some local material, the byline should be the originating source with a reporter’s credit at the end.
When adding a wire-service quote to a story, particularly if it is exclusive information or an anonymous quote, indicate the source: “Johnson is going to run for re-election,” a senior administration official told the Daily Telegraph.
On some pages you will see bylines from news agencies rather than our staff. We trust news agencies to help us cover the world as fully as possible and to adhere to the highest journalistic standards.
We have a no byline policy on editorials written by our Editorial Board. The editorial board and opinion section staff are independent of the news-gathering side of our organisation. Through our staff-written editorials, we take positions on important issues affecting our readership, from tax benefits to protecting our region’s unique natural resources to transportation. The editorials may be signed “Staff Writer” because, while written by one or more members of our staff, they represent the point of view of our news organisation’s management. In order to take informed positions, we meet frequently with government, community and business leaders on important issues affecting our cities, region and country.
Visual Imaging and Editing
Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:
Strive to make images that report truthfully, honestly and objectively. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
Aside from portraits and illustrations, never set up photographs or videos or manipulate news events. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects. Images that are altered by the photographer or designer for illustration purposes must be labeled as such.
Treat all subjects with respect and dignity. Give special consideration to vulnerable subjects and compassion to victims of crime or tragedy. Intrude on private moments of grief only when the public has an overriding and justifiable need to see.
Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images (still or video) or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects. Be truthful and accurate in your captioning.
Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
Reproducing images from print and online publications is sometimes acceptable if the context of the printed page or screen grab is included and the story is about the image and the use in said publication. Editor discussion and approval is required.
Harvesting images from television media requires agreement between the television station and our publication. Frame grabs must be of images made by the station’s staff. Source credit must accompany the image.
All photographs are, by definition, copyrighted by the person or entity that made or owns the image. We therefore should not publish images taken from the Web or other digital sources without permission of the copyright holder except in circumstances that require approval by a ranking editor. Exceptions are media sites, such as those of car manufacturers that provide images for media dissemination, and sites of public agencies (such as cities, counties, state and federal departments). Any photos pulled from social media should be first vetted by an editor so that all verification efforts and processes are discussed and followed.
Every effort will be made to know and adhere to the video policy of the venue we are covering ahead of live coverage. If the video policies are prohibitive, there should be discussion on how to proceed with coverage.
WhichEV prohibits the use of news photographs or video by political campaigns or any advocacy group. Likewise, WhichEV visual journalism generally is not to be used for any commercial purpose (other than our own). Exceptions may be made at the discretion of the executive editor for educational textbooks/purposes or for historical accounts. WhichEV journalism should not be compromised by becoming a part of any candidate or group’s political campaign, or used for a money-making venture by an outside organisation.
Issues about visual taste, such as dead bodies, nudity, graffiti and language, must be discussed and approved by editors for both print and online.
Meals, Tickets, Travel Policy
As a general rule, we pay our own way.
WhichEV will pay for meals and drinks shared with news sources. In general, we do not accept complimentary meals.
Staff members may accept free admission to plays, concerts and other performances and automotive sporting events only for the purpose of reviewing them, covering them or are otherwise on assignment for WhichEV.
Transportation and other expenses necessary for the performance of professional duties shall be paid by WhichEV in all possible cases — including travel on the press plane of a carmaker or manufacturer.
Gifts and Sample Products
Employees should not accept or solicit business-connected gifts or free services. Items received whose value is greater than £25 should be returned or donated to a charity. Items that are of token or insignificant value (under £25), such as calendars, pencils or key chains, may be accepted if returning them would be awkward.
Books, compact discs, sample food products, software or other items sent to WhichEV for review purposes are accepted as news releases. These items should never, under any circumstances, be sold for personal profit.
Grants and scholarship funding for seminars/conferences and events to help build skills and knowledge could also be accepted. Before accepting any funding to cover tuition to any outside event, a member of the senior management team must be consulted and allowed ample time to weigh-in.
Conflicts of Interest and Outside Activities
Employees should not have a financial connection to anything they cover, whether it be owning stock or other form of investment, holding an outside job, or receiving a fee for service or preferential treatment that has an economic value. Conflicts involving the financial interests of spouses or close family members should also be avoided.
Online and Outside Activity
Staff members should avoid advertising or blatantly espousing viewpoints on public issues in professional or public settings — in person and online. Staff members should not take an active part or a public stand on political, public policy or any other debates over which they may end up covering. Taking a public stand includes putting bumper stickers on your car, wearing clothing with slogans, indicating support for a motorsports team if you cover sports, taking part in a protest or rally or posting opinions on web sites.
Staff members should also avoid signing petitions or otherwise identifying themselves with causes they are expected to cover.
Staff members should avoid outside activities that could conflict with their jobs. Editorial staffers, no matter their position or beat, cannot engage in partisan political activities. Journalists cannot work for a political candidate on a paid or volunteer basis. Journalists cannot participate in demonstrations for political causes. Contributions to political candidates, parties, political or activist organisations in the news could be a conflict of interest and should be avoided. Contributions to religious or charitable organisations normally do not pose a conflict of interest.
Routine involvement in religion, hobbies, recreational pursuits, neighbourhood and school programs generally do not pose a conflict of interest. Journalists should review leadership positions in outside organisations with a supervisor. Journalists should avoid involvement with an organisation’s public relations or publicity.
In order to preserve the integrity of WhichEV as a business, matters such as internal policies, personnel issues, internal conversations and staff meetings, and data such as metrics or financial results, are not for public consumption — including live tweeting — unless they appear in published form or you have obtained permission of a ranking editor.
Freelancing by staff members may be permissible in certain circumstances. Freelance PR work or other outside jobs can also raise concerns. All freelance assignments must be approved by a supervisor.
WhichEV staffers may not work for media that are in direct competition with our organisation. However, a supervisor should be consulted first.
Information that appears first in WhichEV may be recast to appear in a national or international publication. The writer will be identified as a WhichEV staffer whenever possible. A supervisor must always be notified when staffers intend to use their WhichEV role for identification purposes in freelance work.
WhichEV has the right to an employee’s first and best effort and may decline to approve freelance work if a supervisor believes the assignment will interfere with the journalist’s primary responsibilities.
Radio and Television
Staffers asked to appear on shows where the appearance is related to the staffer’s area of expertise should obtain the approval of a supervisor. The guest must be clearly identified as a staffer for WhichEV. WhichEV journalists are held to the same standards in broadcast media as they would be in print. A reporter, for example, should speak to facts and can provide analysis, but should not offer opinion. A columnist has more leeway in this regard, just as he or she does in print.
Paid appearances, such as regularly appearing on a radio show, are regarded as freelance assignments. They are allowed with a supervisor’s knowledge and approval.
When invited, WhichEV staff members are permitted to speak before trade groups, community organisations, etc., but should not accept speaking fees.
Instances where a staff member will be permitted to accept expenses or fees as part of a speaking engagement will be decided on a case-by-case basis in consultation with a supervisor, using ethics — not economics — as the overriding factor.
Employees shall not use their positions with WhichEV to get any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or personal business for themselves, their families, friends or acquaintances.
Employees shall not use the company name, reputation, phone number or stationery to imply a threat of retaliation or pressure, to curry favour or to seek personal gain.
Employees shall not write, photograph, illustrate or make news judgments about anyone related to them by blood or marriage, or with whom they have a close personal relationship. This does not apply to first-person stories or stories in which the relationships are clearly spelled out.
Journalists shall not provide sponsored content in order to preserve the organisation’s editorial integrity and independence. This includes reporters, visual journalists and digital specialists. Any and all sponsored content online and in print must be clearly identified as such.