Newsroom ethics | SummitDaily.com

Newsroom ethics

Swift Communications and each of its member newsgathering organizations are committed to the highest ethical standards and require the same of their employees. The key values of integrity, objectivity, fairness, balance and accuracy are the basic tenets of our news operations in print and digital media. 

The credibility of our news reports is one of our most valued assets. We proudly accept our role of reporting the news and we aspire to meet the highest of standards in our news coverage. 

We must maintain the public trust. Deadline pressure or the concern of getting beat to publication by a competitor should never outweigh our responsibility to get the story right. We recognize that errors are inevitable in reporting news on a timely basis, but journalists aspire to report accurately all information available at press time. 

An ethics code cannot cover all possible cases. Journalists must realize they have responsibilities beyond those included here. Common sense must be applied and consideration given to individual circumstances. Ultimately, it is the duty of every journalist to do what’s right. 

It’s vital that all of our employees raise red flags, ask questions and point out to supervisors potential problems or pitfalls with newsgathering and reporting. 

This is a living document and should be revisited and refined when necessary. 

This ethics code and the policy guidelines cover general areas. Individual news organizations in the company may refine or further define these and develop more specific policies that mesh with local laws and established practices. 

These policies cover news reporting and publishing in all mediums. 

Accuracy 

Journalists must strive to be as accurate as possible, subject to time and other limitations, in their reporting and editing and in how stories, photographs and graphics are presented. 

Any errors discovered or brought to our attention will be corrected promptly and published prominently in a designated area of the newspaper or online. 

Anyone who becomes aware of an error in his/her or someone else’s work has the responsibility to report it to the appropriate editor for action. 

Confidentiality 

Newsroom staffers should understand and honor the confidential nature of news-gathering, and not divulge outside the newsroom any information obtained in the course of newsgathering prior to publication. Even following publication, staffers should convey only such information that was published and should not comment or speculate upon any additional or unpublished information. 

Fairness/Balance 

It is our responsibility to make our news reports balanced and fair to all involved. Those gathering news must go to lengths to get alternative viewpoints in a story and give sources reasonable time to respond. 

If someone can’t be reached for comment, be specific, such as “Numerous phone calls Wednesday to John Doe were not returned.” 

All sources should be treated the same, without regard to their association with the company. 

Those story subjects accused of wrong-doing should be given a chance to explain their side of the story. 

News coverage of the news organization, any other Swift Communications entity, any employee or any family member of an employee, should be handled just as if there were no relationship, along with written disclosure of the relationship. 

Plagiarism 

Presenting the work of others as our own is a serious and unacceptable violation of journalistic principles. We must ensure that any third-party information presented is properly attributed to its source, and readers are never given the impression that something previously printed or distributed by others is our original work. 

Conflict of interest 

We must be careful to avoid conflicts of interest and guard against the appearance of conflict of interest. Journalists must take care to ensure they have no personal or financial interest in the stories they cover. Staff members should not write about people to whom they are related or have close personal relationships. Exceptions would be in personal columns, or travel-type or outdoor stories. In these cases, editors should be made aware of the relationship ahead of time. 

Any outside employment of newsroom staff must be cleared to ensure that it does not compromise the impartiality of news reporting. 

Whenever a story involves a connection with the news organization or another Swift Communications company, it should be disclosed in the story. 

If any fellow employees are sources or are included in a news story, that should usually be disclosed. 

Employees of the company or other Swift entity should not receive any special consideration if they become part of a news story. 

Notes, images, outtakes 

All material used by company staffers (not stringers/independent contractors) in collecting news is the property of the company. Anyone wishing to use that material for other uses or to take copies needs written permission from a supervising editor. 

Outside employment/freelance 

Staff members may work at other jobs and work as a freelancer for other companies, as long as it does not conflict with their work responsibility. Prior to undertaking such employment, approval should be obtained from a supervising editor to ensure there is no conflict of interest, or conflict with work schedules, and to ensure it does not involve a direct competitor. 

When working as freelancers, staff members must make it clear to sources they are not representing a Swift company. 

Stories and photographs produced by full- and part-time employees for a company publication on company time remain the property of the company, which retains all rights. 

Financial investments 

Staff members should not have financial investments in institutions that they cover, or direct coverage on. 

Political involvement 

Members of news gathering operations may not participate in any way in political organizations or campaigns, other than belonging to a political party and voting. 

Journalists cannot display or wear political buttons while at work or have political bumper stickers on vehicles they use for work. Employees are cautioned against displaying buttons, bumper stickers and yard signs on personal time. 

Staff members must not seek public office or sit on government boards or committees. 

Relationships with sources 

Staff members need to take care with relationships with sources, potential sources and newsmakers. They need to build the relationship with a source, but stop short of personal friendships or romantic involvement. If a reporter has had a prior or existing personal relationship with a source on a story he or she is assigned to cover, the reporter should immediately notify the supervising editor of this fact. 

Public Appearances 

Staff members are encouraged to participate in their communities, and may be called on to speak at functions or on radio or television shows. It’s important that they are careful that they do not say anything that will reflect poorly on their organization. 

Staff members must get approval of a supervising editor before participating on a radio, television, Internet or broadcast. They must take care to not express opinions that could lead the public to doubt their objectivity or that of the news organization. 

The same procedure must be followed in interviews with other news outlets. 

Community service 

While community service is encouraged, staff members should avoid conflicts and the appearance of favoritism by not accepting the role of directing publicity for the organizations, or in some cases serving as officers. Advice can be given to members of an organization, but direct involvement in dealing with the news department for the group should be avoided. 

Quotes and attribution 

The use of quotation marks tells our readers that these are the exact words a source used in a story. 

If a quote must be altered to comply with decency standards or for other generally acceptable reasons, it must be made clear to the reader that a change was made. (The defendant said the judge was a no-good, lying, son of a b—-.) When statements are taken from two or more different conversations with a source, the reader should be so informed. 

Reporters have some freedom in reporting colloquialisms, such as “I’m gonna …” as “I’m going to,” since it is difficult sometimes to clearly hear the exact pronunciation. 

Generally, we would only report dialect or mispronunciations if it is an essential element of the story. Otherwise, readers might assume we are making fun of a source. 

Quotes should accurately reflect the context of a story. 

When paraphrasing, it’s important to accurately reflect the sources’ statements. 

Bylines 

A byline tells our readers that the bulk of a story was researched and written by that person. If a significant amount of the material in a story came from a source such as a wire service, that must be clearly stated at the beginning or the end. For example: (By John Doe and The Associated Press), or at the end, (–The Associated Press contributed to this story.) 

Opinion 

There must be a clear separation between opinion and straight news. Opinion in the form of columns or editorials must be clearly labeled so as not to mislead the reader. 

Blogs can be problematic. The casual nature does not mean that journalists can give their opinions on the news which could damage their credibility, or that of the company. This includes personal blogs as well as news site blogging. Employees should notify a supervising editor before blogging about their work on the newspaper. Bloggers must abide by the confidentiality guidelines included in this document. 

Impartiality/bias 

If a journalist feels so strongly about a topic that the journalist doesn’t feel able to do report on it objectively, the journalist must notify a supervising editor. 

Photography/video/graphics 

Photography, video and the creation of graphics in print and online fall under the same guidelines and principles as news reports. 

Photographs must not be altered other than cropping, minor toning and color balance. Nothing should be eliminated or added to a news photo with the exception of blurring the faces of individuals to conceal identity. 

News photos should not be posed, re-enacted or ‘flipped’ to reverse direction. 

Illustrations, where creative license can be taken, must be clearly labeled as such. 

Graphics should be constructed with care so they accurately reflect the data and context. The source of information should be noted. 

Gifts/meals/travel 

In general, no newsroom staff member should accept any gift or service from a news source or potential news source, so as to avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest. Exceptions can be made when it would become too awkward to decline. These instances must be reported to a supervising editor. 

Reporters should not allow news sources to buy them meals. Reporters should insist that they pay for at least their share of a meal. Exceptions could be made rarely, when it would become too awkward or embarrassing to insist, or in a case such as regular lunches with key sources where reporters and their sources take turns purchasing a meal. These exceptions should be reported to a supervising editor. 

Common practice is for reporters or photographers to accept press passes or tickets for coverage of most events. Free tickets and press passes should never be accepted or used by others in the department unless they are actually collecting information that will be used. Individual companies will establish detailed guidelines depending on their operations. 

News organizations may set levels for the acceptance of minor items of nominal value such as baseball caps or coffee mugs. Other items should be returned with a polite explanation of the policy. 

Press cards or free tickets should never be used to gain entry to an event that is not being covered by that individual, nor given to anyone outside the department, nor to friends or family members. 

Review books or recordings 

Staff members may keep submitted books, CDs or other recordings sent for review. These are considered to be similar to news releases. 

They should not be sold, but can be donated to libraries, schools or nonprofits. 

Race 

Race or ethnicity should only be identified in a story if it is relevant or important to understanding the story. If there is only a vague description of a suspect in a crime story, for example, race is not pertinent and should not be included. 

Words such as Hispanic should usually not be used in a physical description, since they describe ethnicity, not appearance. Describing skin color is a better choice in most cases. 

Be consistent. If the need has been established to identify someone’s race in a story, evaluate if others in a story should be identified by race as well. 

Libel/privacy/public records 

Journalists have a responsibility to be familiar with the laws of libel, privacy, open records and public meetings pertinent to the locale where they work. 

Misuse of company position or affiliation 

At no time should staff member use employment with their newsgathering organization or any Swift Communications company to benefit themselves personally in any way. 

It is forbidden to use the company letterhead in print or via e-mail for personal use, personal gain or advantage. 

Separation of news/advertising 

News and editorial decisions must always be made independent of the advertising and business operations of the news organization. 

Advertisers and non-advertisers must be treated fairly and equally. 

At no time should newsroom representatives take advantage of the business relationship with the company to gather information about an advertiser. 

Unidentified sources 

Using unidentified sources must be done with great care and only when it is critical to an important story, or when it involves an alleged crime victim. Use of unidentified sources must be done within the guidelines of individual newsrooms and only with the approval of a top editor, who must know the name of the unidentified source. 

Minimize harm 

Journalists need to remember that reporting can cause significant harm to individuals, especially private parties who are not often the subject of stories. 

We need to treat our sources with compassion, dignity and respect, and balance their right to privacy against the news value of a story. 

Be sure to follow individual company policies on reporting the names of juveniles or victims of crimes. 

The key in reporting such cases is having comprehensive discussions with editors prior to publication or posting. 

Obeying the law 

Staff members must obey local, state and federal laws when collecting news. This also applies to local laws concerning recording of conversations. (Conversations should not be recorded without the knowledge of the source, even if the law permits, without prior approval of a supervising editor.)