The News-Gazette, Champaign, Ill.: Guidelines for Professional Standards
Anyone in our profession should be willing to have the tables of scrutiny turned on himself or herself. These guidelines are an aid to common sense and conscientious attitudes, not a replacement.
Ethical standards apply equally and universally to editors, reporters and photographers at The News-Gazette. The paper can remain an asset to the community only as long as it retains its credibility from top to bottom.
The appearance of a conflict of interest, as much as its reality, can damage the integrity of the newspaper and should be avoided. When conflicts are unavoidable, they should be made clear in stories and columns.
Ethical behavior means even-handed behavior. Our goals are accuracy, fairness and impartiality. The sources and subjects of news stories should be treated fairly, evenhandedly and without prejudice regardless of affiliation. These guidelines cannot possibly deal with every situation. When in doubt, consult your supervisor.
There should be no political involvement, except for voting, by members of the editorial staff. There should be no work, volunteer or otherwise, for companies, political parties or organizations that take active positions on visible public issues.
Any close relationship with someone who is involved in such activities should be noted with your supervisor.
Activities of social, church or charity organizations don't carry the same restrictions, but you should avoid possible conflicts and notify your supervisor if a possible conflict might arise. Under no circumstances should a staff member attempt to solicit publicity for such an organization.
Staff members should be careful that their personal and family relationships do not reflect on their or the company's ability to report the news. Any potential problems should be reported to immediate supervisors. Nothing in this code is meant to abridge a staff member's personal liberties.
PUBLIC SPEAKING ENGAGEMENTS
Supervisors should be consulted before accepting invitations to appear as a guest on a TV or radio show or speak to a group on any topic other than a general discussion of your job. Staff members may accept a fee or expense money as long as there is not a conflict of interest or appearance of such a conflict. Employees should not accept money from trade or government groups, even for expenses, if doing so could possibly be seen as a conflict. Those with questions about reimbursement of expenses should consult their supervisor.
Stories, editorials, columns and photographs produced specifically for publication in The News-Gazette should be entered only in contests judged by professional journalists, journalism schools or journalism associations. Industry or special interest group contests should not be entered, nor should staff members accept prizes from them.
Membership on the editorial staff shall not be used to curry special treatment or as a device to demand goods or services without fair compensation.
GIFTS, REVIEWER MATERIAL, TICKETS, TRAVEL AND MEALS
The goal of this policy is to call into scrutiny any free item that is intended to influence news coverage or that may create the appearance of doing so.
All gifts from newsmakers or those seeking to influence news coverage should be refused with a polite explanation that it is against the newspaper's policy to accept them. This is true regardless of the explanation offered by the giver and is equally true of 'thank you' gifts.
The News-Gazette pays for all items (such as records, books, foodstuffs, etc.) assigned to be reviewed. Unsolicited products should be used for information only. These items will be disposed of or donated to local charities or institutions. They may not be used personally or sold.
Gifts that appear in the mail will be donated to an appropriate charity. A form letter will be sent to parties mailing gifts asking that no more be mailed and explaining that those already sent were put to a charitable use. See your supervisor for a copy of the form letter.
Free tickets or passes to sports events, movies, theatrical productions, etc. may not be accepted unless a staff member is covering the event or production for The News Gazette.
Acceptance of meals is discouraged. The News-Gazette will make every effort to reimburse an organization or institution for the expense of providing a meal to a staff member. As a general rule, The News-Gazette will purchase items such as banquet tickets when the presence of a staff member is desired for source development or public good will.
Acceptance of meals from news sources is prohibited. Smaller offerings such as coffee or soft drinks are acceptable.
Staff members will avoid habitual hospitality.
The News-Gazette pays the cost of covering a story it assigns to a staff member. This includes, where necessary, transportation, meals, hotels and incidentals.
A staff member covering a story may take advantage of chartered transportation with a sports team or political candidate, for example, or of hotel booking or other services offered by a news source, provided that the team or organization bills the News- Gazette. The managing editor should be consulted in advance.
When free transportation is the ONLY means of covering a story, a staff member should have advance approval from his or her supervising editor. In an emergency, a staff member must report the trip as soon as possible afterward. No free trips may be solicited.
Free trips or subsidized travel for any purpose other than covering a bona fide story, or offered for the sole purpose of gaining publicity, should never be accepted.
WRITING AND PHOTO ETHICS
In general, a staff member should avoid using unnamed sources, except as a last resort and only for information vital to a story. Anonymity should be agreed to only after every effort has been made to persuade a source to allow full identification.
Use of an unnamed source when necessary should be brought to the attention of a staff member's supervising editor before the story runs. The supervising editor should not reveal the name of the source to anyone other than the editor-in-chief without the permission of the author of the story.
Even when unnamed sources are used, they should be cited as specifically as possible without compromising their identity. Thus, 'a Champaign police sergeant familiar with the case' is better than 'a police department source' and both are preferable to 'an informed source.'
No staff member may use quotes, phrases or raw information (other than information that is generally known) from another writer or publication without attributing it to the writer or publication.
No staff member should use composite characters or situations in a story.
No staff member should alter photographs substantially for dramatic impact.
PRE-PUBLICATION OF STORIES OR PHOTOGRAPH
Stories and photographs should not be shown to a source or other person outside the News-Gazette before publication.
Staff members may review information in a story provided by a source with the source before publication, or review information where applicable with expert sources who may or may not have provided it. But changes in the material should only be made in the interest accuracy.
It is our policy to be generous in offering and accepting corrections to material we have published. We are a newspaper of record, and facts, even minor ones, should be accurate in that record. The source of the error is irrelevant.
Staff members are strongly encouraged to be both pleasant and prompt in responding to requests for corrections and to actively pursue possible errors brought to their attention.
Our policy requires that any staff member who receives a request for correction that he or she feels cannot or should not be granted must pass the request on to the editor, managing editor or appropriate section editor. In no case should a correction be refused without turning that request over to the editor, managing or appropriate section editor.