Wisconsin State Journal: Code of Ethics


The Wisconsin State Journal believes its most valuable asset is its credibility in the communities we serve. Without the trust of our readers, the State Journal cannot perform its mission of providing news, analysis and opinion to further the public good. To preserve that trust, State Journal staff members vigilantly avoid using, or appearing to use, their professional status and privilege for personal gain or unworthy motives.

We are guests in our readers' homes, and as such, we hold to high standards of decency, courtesy, responsibility and community.

The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution and the Wisconsin Open Meetings and Open Records laws do not belong to us; they belong to all people. It is, however, our job to defend the First Amendment and the Open Meetings and Open Records laws on their behalf and to resist attempts to weaken them. We uphold the right to speak unpopular opinions as well as the privilege to agree with the majority. We provide a forum of clashing viewpoints.

The intention of this code of ethics is to strengthen the State Journal's longstanding reputation for fairness, neutrality, objectivity and balance in its news columns, and to provide its staff members with a set of professional guidelines to help us avoid situations in which the integrity of the State Journal might be called into question.

Tickets, meals, gifts, travel

Wisconsin State Journal staff members and freelancers pay their own way and do not use their jobs to gain favors not available to the general public.

Free tickets or passes to public events, such as movies, recitals, home shows, plays, fairs, circuses, concerts and sports events, where admission is being charged for the public, will not be accepted, solicited or used by employees.

Working press passes or tickets for employees covering the events mentioned above may be accepted. However, when the staff member is taking a seat that would otherwise be sold, the newspaper will pay for the ticket. Employees who are not covering the event but who legitimately need to be there for background purposes also may accept working press passes or tickets. Press passes or tickets may never be given away or sold. Normal use of press facilities, such as press rooms, press boxes and press parking areas, is permitted. Whenever possible, the newspaper pays for communications equipment provided in such facilities.

If an organization sends free tickets to the newspaper for general staff use, the tickets should be sent back with an explanation of our policies.

When we must cover an event for which the ticket includes a contribution, such as for a political fundraiser, we will pay only for the price of the meal or event itself.

Tickets or passes that are received in consideration for paid MNI promotions or advertising may be accepted.

Generally, employees should not accept free food or drinks from sources or others encountered professionally.

A staff member may accept a meal or a drink from a source only if the staff member expects to have an opportunity to return the favor in the future.

In working situations where food is served, such as at sports events or in hospitality rooms, where staffers would find it awkward either to pay or to decline to eat, they are permitted to accept their host's hospitality in moderation.

Books, records, tapes or similar materials sent to the newspaper are to be considered news releases, and they become newspaper property. Such materials, once reviewed, may be kept by the reviewer with the consent of the department editor.

We accept no gifts offered because of our employment or position. Gifts of significant value ($10 or more) must be returned with an explanation of our policy. Where returning them is awkward or impossible, gifts should be given to charity.

We pay travel expenses of employees on assignment. We pay the proportional costs of staff members, who travel on sports team or political candidate airplanes, trains or buses. Staff members may exercise their own judgment in accepting travel in emergency situations with the understanding payment will be made.

Conflict of interest

Newsroom employees may take an outside job provided it does not interfere with or compromise State Journal duties, there is no conflict of interest and it is cleared with the editor or managing editor.

Outside work includes, but is not limited to, freelancing for other publications, writing columns and stories for online services, teaching, consulting, regular appearances on radio and television shows, and irregular participation in radio or television productions.

Staffers must not work for competitors such as Isthmus, The Capital Times, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Madison Magazine or local radio or television stations. The editor or managing editor must be consulted if there are any doubts and must reapprove any existing arrangements.

Outside employment must not be subject to approval by a potential source.

Information and other material gathered on State Journal time must be offered to the State Journal first. Such information and material belong to the State Journal and any other use of the information and material must be approved by the editor or managing editor.

Approval of outside work is subject to revocation as circumstances change.

Anyone who has accepted outside work without approval must seek such approval immediately.

These outside employment policies may be revised as conditions warrant.

Staff members who participate in television or radio programs should comport themselves as they do in the newspaper. Whenever possible, journalists should inform their supervisor of upcoming public appearances in behalf of the State Journal.

State Journal staff members should avoid making news decisions about corporations or businesses in which they hold ownership interests, such as stock. When there is doubt about the appropriateness of working on a story, the staff member should discuss the situation with a supervising editor. Staff members must not serve on boards of directors of for-profit corporations or businesses.

A staff member should not be involved in coverage directly affecting any individual who is related to the staff member or who has a close personal relationship with the staff member. When questions arise, they should be discussed with a supervising editor.

Journalists should not seek political office or work, for pay or as a volunteer, in any political organization or campaign, whether for a candidate or a ballot issue. Political contributions are prohibited. Participation in public affairs or events that may leave the impression that news judgment is being influenced by activism is prohibited.

Newspaper staff members also are citizens and thus may attend or participate in common community activities, such as churches, parent-teacher organizations or vocational groups. Active leadership in such organizations, though, should be discussed with a supervising editor.

State Journal stationery or other identification should not be used for private business matters, letters of protest or similar dealings.

Fair play

State Journal staffers show respect for the dignity, privacy and rights of people encountered in the course of gathering and presenting the news.

Intrusion into private lives should always be justified by legitimate public interest. While our first goal is to gather and report news, we do so with sensitivity and with respect for the privacy of people who find themselves in newsworthy situations.

Staff members normally should identify themselves as representatives of the State Journal. This is particularly important when interviewing or photographing ordinary citizens, who should be aware they may be quoted or depicted in the newspaper. Any cause for concealing one's identity when gathering news should be discussed in advance with a department or senior editor.

Plagiarism is dishonest and unacceptable.

When we determine we have published inaccurate information, we run prompt corrections. State Journal staffers should be accountable for their reports, and readers or other affected people should be offered a reasonable opportunity to reply.

Complaints of inaccuracy that are not satisfactorily resolved by the reader and the originating staff member must be handled by the staff member's supervisor.

Instances in which an entire story is based upon a confidential source will be rare. No such sources may be used except when the public has a compelling interest in the material and there is no other way to get it. The editor or managing editor must know the source's identity, The editor or managing editor must be involved in any decision to use information from a confidential source when it might harm the reputation of a person or an institution. The news story should state the information was given on condition of confidentiality. The use of confidential sources merely to add perspective or information to a story that is otherwise attributed is acceptable. The use of unattributed quotations is strongly discouraged and must be cleared with the editor or managing editor.

State Journal staffers acknowledge the journalists' ethic of protecting confidential sources of information. However, in some situations, a court can order us to reveal sources. Thus, demands for promises of any level of confidentiality should be discussed with an editor.

We seek to present the news in an interesting but not sensational manner. Vulgar or obscene words or phrases are limited to direct quotations, and only when judged essential to the story.

The State Journal's standards of decency and fair play apply not only to stories but also to page layout, headlines, photographs, captions, artwork and informational graphics. Retouching or electronic manipulation of photos to distort reality, unless labeled as illustration, is prohibited.

No code of ethics can, or should, cover all possibilities. Good judgment and professionalism are assumed. In any case in which the appropriate course is unclear, staff members should seek the guidance of their immediate supervisor. Supervisors, in turn, should consult the editor, managing editor or associate editor before any exception is made.

The publisher and the editor have special responsibilities to make exceptions to any guidelines contained here and then only if such exceptions are in the best interest of our readers and the newspaper.