The Kansas City Star: Code of Ethics
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
If we expect readers to view us as credible, then Star editorial employees must aggressively seek and fully report the truth while remaining independent and free from any legitimate suggestion that their independence has been compromised. No policy can anticipate every conceivable conflict. But these guidelines should apply to all editorial employees, full and part-time, freelance or contract, and regardless of position, title, beat or personal circumstance.
Editorial employees should:
Avoid even the appearance of a conflict and immediately report to their supervisor anything that would allow a news source to call our impartiality into question. Editors should make news judgments solely on their merits and use diligence in determining when real conflicts exist.
- Refrain from writing about, reporting on, photographing or making news judgments about any individual related to them by blood or marriage or with whom they have a close personal relationship. If the spouse, relative or close friend works for a business or institution, editorial employees may be barred from writing about that enterprise. Employees should make certain they disclose conflicts or potential conflicts to their supervisor.
The importance of the position occupied by the family member or friend is another critical factor. It would be a conflict, for example, for a reporter to cover a city that employed a close relative as a department head or council member. But it might not be a conflict or a legitimate appearance of one for a reporter to cover a city that employed a close relative as a truck driver.
Exceptions may be made only when editors agree, and only when the conflict is clearly disclosed in the story.
Advertising/news: Maintain a clear line between advertising and news. Business considerations should not influence news judgment. All editorial employees should alert their supervisors when advertisers and /or employees from the business side of the newspaper attempt to exert influence over their work. Editors shall exercise sole judgment over all editorial content, including special sections.
When news stories are not time-sensitive, attempt to avoid running stories on the same subject on the same day of an advertising special section. While this may be sometimes unavoidable, we must be sensitive to the appearance of advertisers buying news.
Organizations: Refrain from reporting on or making news judgments about organizations that they, or family members, have a significant involvement with. However, nothing in these guidelines is meant to discourage them from volunteering their time for nonprofit charitable endeavors whose aim is to improve the community or help its neediest residents. Serving as an officer in a public relations, personnel or fund-raising position frequently creates a conflict. When in doubt about a relationship, ask themselves: Could they or the newspaper publicly disclose the situation without fear of embarrassment or legitimate criticism? Above all, when in doubt, disclose a conflict or the appearance of one to your editor.
Gambling: Avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest in coverage of gambling. Newsroom employees for The Star are prohibited from wagering at races, bingo games or casinos during working hours, whether they regularly cover those industries or not. This policy does not apply to state or regional lotteries or to raffles or sweepstakes sponsored by charities.
While gambling by newsroom employees, even during off-duty hours, poses a potential appearance of conflict of interest, newsroom employees are not barred from such activities as long as they do not accept favors, gratuities, gifts, or any other form of preferential treatment from such facilities not available to the general public.
Newsroom employees directly involved with coverage of the gaming industry must report to their supervisor weekly on each visit's gaming gains or losses. Any significant wins or losses could result in reassignment.
Editorial employees should not belong to organizations about which they must write or make editorial judgments. Membership in professional journalistic organizations and voluntary work for religious, cultural or social groups are acceptable. Staffers should avoid duties or activities involving fund-raising, personnel issues and public relations.
Should an employee be faced with the prospect of reporting or editing a story about an organization to which he or she belongs, or for which he or she volunteers time or money, that newsperson should inform a supervisor and may be asked to relinquish the assignment.
Free or reduced-rate memberships in private clubs or like organizations may not be accepted. If such a membership is necessary for coverage of a beat, the cost will be borne by the company.
Political involvement or holding public office shall be considered a conflict of interest for editorial employees. Staff members are encouraged, even urged, to exercise their franchise as citizens to discuss matters of public interest and to register and vote. However, because their profession requires stringent efforts against partiality and perceptions of bias, staff members should avoid political activity beyond that. Those who do not should be aware that their involvement might affect their duties at The Star. For example, marching in an abortion rally could preclude a reporter not only from covering that issue but perhaps other health-care issues as well.
Marching, picketing and active campaigning, including organizing or supervising petition drives, should be avoided. When there is doubt whether an outside activity is appropriate, staff members should bring the issue to the attention of their department heads. If there is a reasonable chance that their outside activity could reflect on the fairness or credibility of The Star and its coverage, they should not become involved.
While we do not want to penalize staff members by suggesting that they not buy stock or make other investments, it is not enough to be honest. It is equally important that no one has grounds for even raising the suspicion that an employee misused a position with The Star.
Therefore, editorial employees:
Should not enter into a business relationship with a source.
- Should not work on stories about enterprises in which they have a financial interest. Any newsroom staff member, including news editors, with an investment in a business shall not make news decisions involving that business.
- Are not to invest in companies active in their specific beat area. Except for Knight Ridder Inc., employees also are not to hold single-stock investments in companies they cover with major operations in metropolitan Kansas City: In general, mutual funds are excluded from this prohibition because they hold packages of stocks rather than individual investments. However, reporters and editors who regularly handle mutual-fund stories should consult their supervisor regarding any mutual fund holdings and may be asked to relinquish the beat or transfer their holdings.
- Shall not trade on inside information. Moreover, unpublished information gathered by The Star may not be used by staff members to make investment decisions.
(See appendix, Knight Ridder ethics policy)
DEFINITION: "Inside information" constitutes corporate affairs that have not been made public. An insider is a person usually a director or officer (but extended legally to include reporters), with access to that information. Under Securities and Exchange Commission rules, insiders are prohibited from trading on their knowledge.
Newsroom employees shall not exploit their position at The Star for personal gain in any commercial transaction or to conduct personal business for themselves or anyone else.
Deception is a form of lying and is to be avoided in newsgathering.
People being interviewed for news stories should know they are speaking to a reporter and their comments may be published. Using deception to gather news, whether by lying or misrepresentation, is inappropriate under virtually all circumstances.
In rare and justifiable circumstances, however, deception may be used when it is the only way to report an important story of vital public interest. However, in all cases, deception may be used only with the advance approval of a managing editor.
Identifying yourself but not immediately revealing you are a reporter is acceptable only in extremely unusual circumstances. In these cases, you must ultimately reveal you are an editorial employee for The Star. Advance approval of a managing editor is required, unless physically impossible. If asked' under all circumstances, you must identify yourself as an editorial employee of The Star.
When deception is used in newsgathering, it must be revealed in the story (for example, in a "How-we-did-the story" sidebar). The subject of the deception should be informed before publication for an opportunity to respond.
HIDDEN CAMERAS: The use of hidden cameras and surreptitious tape-recording devices is to be avoided, except in rare cases when they are the only ways to get an important story. Advance approval of a Managing Editor is required.
TAPING PHONE CONVERSATIONS: In most cases, inform a source before taping a telephone conversation. To make an exception -- for example, if informing the source might compromise a story of compelling public importance -- seek permission from your supervisor.
In some states, law requires that both parties consent to recording a telephone conversation. Although it is legal to record a telephone interview without a person's knowledge in Missouri and Kansas, if asked, you must say you are taping the conversation. Generally, recordings made without a person's knowledge may not be offered for StarTouch without permission of the source. A recording of a scheduled public appearance by a public figure is an exception.
FABRICATING NEWS: Deceiving readers by fabricating news events is prohibited. Under no circumstances should events be fabricated, unless clearly obvious to the reader, as when a writer recounts his "visit to Hell." Care 'must be taken in re-creating events so that it is clear to the reader that the event was not witnessed firsthand.
COLUMNS AND FEATURES: Fabrications in non-news stories, such as columns or features, must be obvious to the reader. The writer should avoid using real news events as material for fabrications.
REVIEWERS: Arts and entertainment critics must stay until the end of a performance or disclose to readers they left early because of deadline.
PHOTOGRAPHS: Photojournalists should not set up, re-create, direct or otherwise intrude on the reality of an event. Direction is allowed for situations such as portraits, fashion, studio work and photo illustration and should be obvious to the viewer. A photo illustration should be labeled.
Manipulation of images through physical or electronic means should be done only to enhance the technical quality of the photographs for best reproduction, except when an image is manipulated to create a photo illustration. Such manipulation must be obvious to the viewer and the photo illustration should be labeled. Again, the intent should not be to deceive.
Cropping and sizing to enhance clarity, impact or composition are encouraged. COBS (photos with backgrounds cut out) are allowed as long as they do not deceive the viewer about the essential nature of the original photograph.
Credibility is The Stars greatest asset. For that reason alone, editorial employees must make every effort to fully identify the news source in a story or behind one. There also are strong legal reasons to do so.
When you grant someone confidentiality, you are putting your word and The Star's reputation on the line. You also are entering into what later may be judged a legal contract, a contract the newspaper will be expected to uphold.
Finally, you run the risk of making the story less credible in the eyes of the reader.
For those reasons, The Star expects all editorial employees to follow these guidelines:
Generally, confidentiality only should be granted to protect someone who is relatively powerless or who might be harmed should his or her identity be revealed. In addition, the story should be of overriding public importance.
Before promising confidentiality, try to obtain the same information from sources willing to be quoted. Also, make it clear to the source that you will pursue other avenues of verifying the information.
- Don't let sources use the cloak of anonymity to attack other individuals or organizations. As a rule, The Star does not print accusations by unidentified individuals.
Whenever possible, you must seek the consent of your supervisor before promising confidentiality. In all cases, you will be expected to share the identity of your source with at least the Editor, and generally your supervising editors, before information from that source is printed in The Star. Any anonymous quote appearing in The Star or use of a pseudonym - must be approved by a managing editor.
- Before agreeing to a condition of anonymity, iron out the terms of the contract with the source. For example, are you willing to keep your promise if the source is lying? What if the source later goes public with the information, or testifies in court? Is the source willing to come forward should you or the newspaper be subpoenaed? Are you willing to go to jail? Could protecting the source endanger the life of a third party?
- Make sure sources understand the ground rules for on-the-record, off-the-record, notfor-attribution and so forth.
On the Record -- All information and the name of the source are fair game. Most interviews are on the record.
Off the record -- Information that generally cannot be published. However, if the reporter can confirm the information from another source who talks on the record, then it can be published. Sources often get this confused with Not for Attribution.
Not for Attribution -- Information given to a reporter that can be published, but the identity of the source cannot be used.
Background -- A difficult area. Generally background information is intended to educate and guide the reporter in crafting the story, but the gist of the information can be used if the source is not identified. The reporter is free to make it clear that he or she isn't the original source but must be careful to guard the exact source.
Deep Background -- Rarely used. The information is strictly off the record and not to be used immediately. If later a story develops, then the outline of the information can be used, but never attributed. Generally it appears that the reporter is the original source.
Avoid any agreement implying a subject may clear a story for publication. If someone wants a story read back before publication, politely refuse. Also do not agree to such a request as condition for an interview. However, if your story deals with complex, technical information you are not sure of, feel free to call the person to make certain the information was correctly understood, even if that means reading passages back.
It is permissible, particularly in sensitive stories, to read back to a source the quotes you plan to use from that source in your story. Similarly, it is permissible to show portions of a graphic to a source to help ensure accuracy.
As a matter of policy, avoid disclosing to people outside The Star when an article will be published, particularly stories of a sensitive or financial nature.
We do not offer money, favors or anything of value for news.
Do not borrow someone else's work. Plagiarism includes the wholesale lifting of someone else's writing (including wire services) as well as publication of a press release as news without attribution. Both are unacceptable. This prohibition refers to graphics as well as stories.
Staff members may not enter articles, photographs or graphics published in The Star in contests that are not sponsored by professional journalistic organizations. An exception would be a contest of journalistic excellence sponsored by a foundation, university or organization deemed by the managing editor or Editorial Page editor to be free of commercial or self-serving interests.
No awards of significant value may be accepted from any organizations other than those just described. In cases where a staff member's work was submitted by some person or group outside The Star, the employee should check with a supervisor to make sure the award can be accepted.
Winning an award may bar the staff member from reporting on the sponsor of the award in the future. Staff members are encouraged to suggest contests other than those customarily entered, but no staffer may use The Star's name to enter any contest without the approval of the managing editor or Editorial Page editor.
As a general rule, no editorial employee may accept free transportation or the payment of travel expenses. Those will be borne by the company. If the event is newsworthy, the newspaper should pay its own way.
Any exception requires the approval of a managing editor or Editorial Page editor.
If airlines or cruise firms will not accept payment for inaugural flights or maiden voyages, such trips should not be taken. Staffers should not use their Star connections or credentials to solicit trips or special press rates or press fares from airlines or other transport from travel organizations, hotels, agencies or government. Corporate discounts available to staff members, as company employees, are acceptable.
If a reduced-fare trip or special travel arrangement is the only way to complete an assignment, as with military transport, staff members are to use common sense and discretion.
(Example: If a disaster occurs, and military helicopter is the only transportation available, the staff member covering the story could accept the ride if there is no time to ask an editor for approval. The editor must be informed of the circumstance as soon as possible and will determine whether a conflict of interest exists. If so, it should be reported in the paper.)
In the case of a political campaign, The Star should pay the equivalent airfare (most political campaigns charge first-class rates) for reporters to ride a charter plane. Sports reporters should make their own travel arrangements whenever possible. However if the staff member and the sports editor determine it necessary to travel on a team charter, The Star will pay the team for the cost of transportation. Because of the news value derived from staying in the same hotel as a political candidate or sports team, it is permissible for reporters of the paper to accept the negotiated group rate for such a room.
Employees should never accept cash, gifts or gratuities such as food, flowers, alcoholic beverages and so forth from an individual or organization with which a staff member has or might someday have professional dealings.
Unsolicited gifts should be returned to the donor with a note explaining The Star's policy. When returning the gift is not practical (it is perishable, for example) or when the cost of returning it exceeds its value, the gift should be given to the recipient's supervisor for donation to a charity. The recipients should send a letter to the donor that notes the disposition of the gift and explains the newspapers policy. Each department's administrative assistant will be responsible for keeping blank form letters and should file copies of letters sent to givers.
MEALS AND REFRESHMENTS: For a soft drink, coffee, etc., of nominal value, staffers should use their best judgment. No staffer can by bought for a 50-cent soft drink. However, it's a good practice to pass up meals at events you're covering (such as school board meetings) or, if refusing the meal is impractical or exceedingly impolite, make arrangements to pay for the meal later. On source lunches, insist on picking up the tab at the next meeting. In short, don't let yourself be wined and dined. Pay your own way.
BOOKS, CDs, SOFTWARE AND TAPES: Items sent to The Star should be paid for if kept or donated to The Star's designated charities. Only staff members with a valid reason should accept review materials. After the review is completed, those materials should be donated to charity or paid for if kept as reference material. To avoid the appearance of impropriety, no employee should accept materials at home. Freelance writers should follow these guidelines, during any projects they do for The Star.
PRESS EVENTS: As a rule, press hospitality events are better politely declined. (A hospitality event would be, for instance, a suite with open bar at a political convention sponsored by a liquor company.) However, if the event is likely to yield beneficial contacts or important background information, and not attending would put The Star at a disadvantage in gathering and reporting legitimate news, the staff member should estimate the value of the hospitality and offer to reimburse the host. If the host declines, staff members should send a like amount (at company expense) to a charity suggested by the host.
If a staffer accepts food at an event site in a press room or along a press row, he or she should maintain a running voucher (including the reason for the meal) and turn it in to the department head. The department head will assure the team or institution is reimbursed by the company.
FREE TICKETS: In no case will The Star or its employees accept free admittance to an event for the purpose of entertainment, unless The Star provides the tickets. Admittance of working news people to designated press facilities is permissible.
When editorial staffers need admittance to an event that does not issue press credentials, a ticket should be purchased.
In sports coverage, standing press credentials will be issued only to regular beat writers, the regular sports columnists, and the sports editor and assistant sports editors. Other transferable press credentials will be available for issuance per event by the department head. This will enable staff members, who deem it beneficial to the performance of their jobs, to attend various local sporting events on occasion with the approval of their supervisor. Persistent use of this privilege is discouraged.
Editorial employees at The Star have long supplemented their income through freelancing. This policy doesn't seek to curtail that activity. It's important, however, for staffers to understand that there are specific rules to freelancing arrangements. First and foremost: get prior written approval from your department head.
Also keep in mind these things:
Work only for non-competing publications or on-line services. Both circulation and advertising base will be used to determine whether the medium is competitive. In general, no employee may freelance for an online service deemed by the company to be in competition with our own services. (See also Knight Ridder Online Freelance Policy.) Because of the accessibility from all over the country, the circle of competition is much larger. Ultimately, the editor or managing editors will decide.
- Avoid conflicts of interest: No public relations or publicity work of any kind is permitted. (See also Moonlighting section.) In addition, editorial employees may not write for sports teams covered by the paper.
- Staffers should not shop an idea to other publications or online services without offering it first to The Star. In other words, don't scoop yourself or your employer.
- One of the reasons your supervisor needs to be notified of freelance work is to make sure it does not pose a conflict for any other staff member - for example, receiving a freelance assignment to do a story another staff member is doing for The Star could cause confusion.
Employees may not work on freelance assignments during regular working hours.
The Star expects high professional standards from its employees when they perform freelance work. To avoid embarrassment, only reputable publications will be approved for freelance assignments. And while completing those assignments, staffers are still expected to adhere to the code of ethics. No gifts, free travel and so forth.
- Editors who purchase freelance material should make sure that no ethical breaches were committed in composing the material. For example, it would be wrong to purchase a freelance travel story knowing that the writer accepted a free trip to report it. Consequently, editors should share the ethics policy with regular freelance writers and expect them to abide by it. If they don't, editors should obtain another source of material.
The Star needs to protect its credibility, reputation and position in Kansas City, and that is why employees need to be careful of certain kinds of moonlighting. Outside employment should not put a staff member in a possible conflict of interest. Because of the risk of real or perceived conflict of interest, staffers may not work in fund raising, publicity or public relations, whether paid or unpaid, even if the work is done for a charity or nonprofit organization. Neither should they accept appointment to boards and commissions having to do with public policy. Volunteer work for scouts, schools and small community groups is generally acceptable, but even that should be avoided if it entails writing press releases. The best bet is to check with your supervisor.
Staff members should not serve as official scorers or contest judges or have other official involvement in an event the newspaper is covering, excluding journalism contests. Acting as a celebrity judge for minor contests (such as a charity cook-off, for example) might be acceptable. If in doubt, check with your supervisor.
In general, a staffer's title or assignment at The Star should not be exploited in a second job. Star staffers are not permitted to work for competing media. Both circulation area and competition for advertising will be used to determine if other media compete with The Star. Also, with the increasing use of crossbranding between media, defining competition has become much more difficult. Depending upon the specific function, The Star may compete with a radio or television station in one area (such as general news) and cooperate with them in another. It will be up to the editor or managing editors to make those determinations.
So that there are no ambiguities, staff members holding or contemplating a moonlighting assignment must alert their department head in writing, and get prior written approval before accepting assignments. If there is a potential problem, that will allow us to work together to resolve it.
HONORARIA, PUBLIC APPEARANCES
Staff members are encouraged to make public appearances for the purpose of improving public understanding of The Star's role; and to make the newspaper a more visible part of the community. No staff member, however, should feel obligated to accept speaking engagements.
In keeping with the paper's guidelines on avoiding even the appearance of a conflict of interest, staff members who accept speaking engagements or appear on panels or television or radio shows are asked to adhere to these guidelines:
Editorial employees need a supervisor's approval before accepting any request for speeches or other public appearances before any organization offered because of a staffer's affiliation with The Star. Any such appearance that could be perceived by a reasonable person as a conflict of interest must be avoided. The nature of the organization must also be considered.
- Honoraria may be accepted only with the specific approval of a managing editor. Without that approval no editorial employee may accept an honorarium or any other thing of value, other than a meal of nominal value (less than $25) in return for a speech or other appearance offered because of his/her affiliation with The Star. The company will reimburse for travel and any other legitimate related expenses as long as the supervisor approves. There are conceivable exceptions to this guideline, including appearances before legitimate journalistic organizations, reporting or writing workshops, or education events such as commencement speeches. However, acceptance of honoraria under these circumstances will prohibit the staffer from future coverage of the organization or group.
- In no case, however, should staff members accept or request honoraria from primary or secondary schools (public or private), church groups, senior citizen groups or other organizations of a distinctly religious or social service character.
Online: All content that appears on The Star's editorial Web site, kcstar.com, must follow these ethical guidelines. Only editorial employees should post stories or add links or any content to the Web site.
StarTouch: StarTouch, The Star's telephone information service, operates as a department of the newsroom. News content on the service is determined by editors.
Editorial employees may not use their voices, names or personalities to promote any advertiser's products or services on StarTouch.
Publishing: These guidelines also apply to newsroom employees involved with projects for The Star's book publishing division. For example, while reporter/authors may discuss their books in speeches, at book signings and other public events, they should not be drafted to actively market the book. Such marketing activities would include, but not be limited to, canvassing bookstores to ask them to carry the book or delivering promotional materials or books to retailers.
In addition, newspaper promotion efforts for such books should make use of house ads; not news stories. However, nothing in this code should prevent reporter/authors from letting readers know how to obtain their book. For example, newsroom employees may supply book order forms at speeches and other public appearances.
Editorial staffers may participate in outside events run or co-sponsored by newsroom divisions such Business or FYI as long as those events meet ethics code criteria Because these events often involve commercial partners, newsroom participation must be structured similarly to the newspaper it self which recognizes a clear line between advertising (and other forms of revenue generation) and the independent editorial roles of news gatherer and information provider. Consider such an event a living newspaper." with all of its ethical implications.
Kinds of events:
Generally staff members can participate in these kinds of company-sponsored public events:
- Not-for-profit or charitable events that involve no commercial sponsors provided the staffer does not routinely cover the charity involved.
- Not-for-profit or charitable events that include commercial sponsors, but the purpose of the commercial sponsorship is to offset the event's expenses or to help a charity. Again, staffers who routinely cover the sponsor or any charity involved should not participate.
- For-profit events that involve commercial sponsors, but the primary content of these events is organized controlled and presented by members of the editorial department as an extension of the newsroom mission to be objective providers of information. (Example: The MoneyWise Personal Finance Fair.) Sponsors can provide their own content at an event. but it must be proportionally smaller than that provided by members of the editorial department and clearly identified as advertising-sponsored information.
Editorial-controlled content can be presented in affiliation with other groups, such as educational or professional organizations. But these groups' contributions should be monitored -- "edited" -- by the editorial staff to ensure their objectivity.
The newsroom should have no role in soliciting commercial sponsors.
Staff members organizing such events should make clear to readers and attendees - in programs signage and promotional materials - that there is a separation between the editorial content of the event and any information provided by a commercial sponsor.
Staff members are allowed to work as ticket-takers or in other event-related jobs as long as the newsroom controls the event. Staff members should not do such jobs at non-newsroom sponsored events.
Staff members should not participate in for-profit events that involve commercial sponsors in which the sponsors control the primary content of the presentation. However if there is an exhibition floor, the newsroom can participate in a Kansas City Star booth or other appropriately segmented area.
Coverage of events:
Staffers should use sound reasonable news judgment in assessing how much coverage The Star should give a company-produced event. In all cases, such news stories or "advances" should fully disclose to readers the company's sponsorship of the event or any other connection that might be perceived as a conflict of interest.
Newsroom organizers of public events must submit a coverage plan to their managing editor for approval. Such a proposal should detail anticipated advance and spot coverage. Event organizers should use house advertisements or advertising special sections rather than news space to provide extensive details about an event.