Part Seven: Journalism Organizations’ Codes of Ethics

Listed below are the codes of ethics from a number of major journalism organizations. While some of the policies and procedures will seem odd to a filmmaker’s eyes, they are included here as food for thought to help filmmakers determine their own personal codes of ethics.

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)

Radio Television Digital News Association (RTDNA)

National Press Photographers Association (NPPA)

Online News Association (ONA)

Society of American Business Editors and Writers (SABEW)

The Associated Press (AP)

Society for News Design (SND)

ProPublica

The Journalists’ Creed (written by Walter Williams, founder of the world’s first school of journalism at the University of Missouri)

 

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

Seek Truth and
 Report It
Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

Journalists should:

– Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.

– Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.

– Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.

– Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.

– Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.

– Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.

– Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.

– Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.

– Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.

– Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.

– Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

– Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.

– Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.

– Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.

– Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.

– Label advocacy and commentary.

– Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.

– Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

Minimize Harm
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect.

Journalists should:

– Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.

– Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.

– Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.

– Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.

– Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.

– Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.

– Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

Act Independently
The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public.

Journalists should:

– Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

– Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.

– Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.

– Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.

– Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

Be Accountable and Transparent
Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public.

Journalists should:

– Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.

– Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.

– Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.

– Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.

– Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Guiding Principles:

Journalism’s obligation is to the public. Journalism places the public’s interests ahead of commercial, political and personal interests. Journalism empowers viewers, listeners and readers to make more informed decisions for themselves; it does not tell people what to believe or how to feel.

Ethical decision-making should occur at every step of the journalistic process, including story selection, news-gathering, production, presentation and delivery. Practitioners of ethical journalism seek diverse and even opposing opinions in order to reach better conclusions that can be clearly explained and effectively defended or, when appropriate, revisited and revised.

Ethical decision-making – like writing, photography, design or anchoring – requires skills that improve with study, diligence and practice.

The RTDNA Code of Ethics does not dictate what journalists should do in every ethical predicament; rather it offers resources to help journalists make better ethical decisions – on and off the job – for themselves and for the communities they serve.

Journalism is distinguished from other forms of content by these guiding principles:

-Truth and accuracy above all

The facts should get in the way of a good story. Journalism requires more than merely reporting remarks, claims or comments. Journalism verifies, provides relevant context, tells the rest of the story and acknowledges the absence of important additional information.

For every story of significance, there are always more than two sides. While they may not all fit into every account, responsible reporting is clear about what it omits, as well as what it includes.

Scarce resources, deadline pressure and relentless competition do not excuse cutting corners factually or oversimplifying complex issues.

“Trending,” “going viral” or “exploding on social media” may increase urgency, but these phenomena only heighten the need for strict standards of accuracy.

Facts change over time. Responsible reporting includes updating stories and amending archival versions to make them more accurate and to avoid misinforming those who, through search, stumble upon outdated material.

Deception in newsgathering, including surreptitious recording, conflicts with journalism’s commitment to truth. Similarly, anonymity of sources deprives the audience of important, relevant information. Staging, dramatization and other alterations – even when labeled as such – can confuse or fool viewers, listeners and readers. These tactics are justified only when stories of great significance cannot be adequately told without distortion, and when any creative liberties taken are clearly explained.

Journalism challenges assumptions, rejects stereotypes and illuminates – even where it cannot eliminate – ignorance.

Ethical journalism resists false dichotomies – either/or, always/never, black/white thinking – and considers a range of alternatives between the extremes.

-Independence and transparency

Editorial independence may be a more ambitious goal today than ever before. Media companies, even if not-for-profit, have commercial, competitive and other interests – both internal and external — from which the journalists they employ cannot be entirely shielded. Still, independence from influences that conflict with public interest remains an essential ideal of journalism. Transparency provides the public with the means to assess credibility and to determine who deserves trust.

Acknowledging sponsor-provided content, commercial concerns or political relationships is essential, but transparency alone is not adequate. It does not entitle journalists to lower their standards of fairness or truth.

Disclosure, while critical, does not justify the exclusion of perspectives and information that are important to the audience’s understanding of issues.

Journalism’s proud tradition of holding the powerful accountable provides no exception for powerful journalists or the powerful organizations that employ them. To profit from reporting on the activities of others while operating in secrecy is hypocrisy.

Effectively explaining editorial decisions and processes does not mean making excuses. Transparency requires reflection, reconsideration and honest openness to the possibility that an action, however well intended, was wrong.

Ethical journalism requires owning errors, correcting them promptly and giving corrections as much prominence as the error itself had.

Commercial endorsements are incompatible with journalism because they compromise credibility. In journalism, content is gathered, selected and produced in the best interests of viewers, listeners and readers – not in the interests of somebody who paid to have a product or position promoted and associated with a familiar face, voice or name.

Similarly, political activity and active advocacy can undercut the real or perceived independence of those who practice journalism. Journalists do not give up the rights of citizenship, but their public exercise of those rights can call into question their impartiality.

The acceptance of gifts or special treatment of any kind not available to the general public creates conflicts of interest and erodes independence. This does not include the access to events or areas traditionally granted to working journalists in order to facilitate their coverage. It does include “professional courtesy” admission, discounts and “freebies” provided to journalists by those who might someday be the subject of coverage. Such goods and services are often offered as enticements to report favorably on the giver or rewards for doing so; even where that is not the intent, it is the reasonable perception of a justifiably suspicious public.

Commercial and political activities, as well as the acceptance of gifts or special treatment, cause harm even when the journalists involved are “off duty” or “on their own time.”

Attribution is essential. It adds important information that helps the audience evaluate content and it acknowledges those who contribute to coverage. Using someone else’s work without attribution or permission is plagiarism.

-Accountability for consequences

Journalism accepts responsibility, articulates its reasons and opens its processes to public scrutiny.

Journalism provides enormous benefits to self-governing societies. In the process,it can create inconvenience, discomfort and even distress. Minimizing harm, particularly to vulnerable individuals, should be a consideration in every editorial and ethical decision.

Responsible reporting means considering the consequences of both the newsgathering – even if the information is never made public – and of the material’s potential dissemination. Certain stakeholders deserve special consideration; these include children, victims, vulnerable adults and others inexperienced with American media.

Preserving privacy and protecting the right to a fair trial are not the primary mission of journalism; still, these critical concerns deserve consideration and to be balanced against the importance or urgency of reporting.

The right to broadcast, publish or otherwise share information does not mean it is always right to do so. However, journalism’s obligation is to pursue truth and report, not withhold it. Shying away from difficult cases is not necessarily more ethical than taking on the challenge of reporting them. Leaving tough or sensitive stories to non-journalists can be a disservice to the public.

Preamble

The National Press Photographers Association, a professional society that promotes the highest standards in visual journalism, acknowledges concern for every person’s need both to be fully informed about public events and to be recognized as part of the world in which we live.

Visual journalists operate as trustees of the public. Our primary role is to report visually on the significant events and varied viewpoints in our common world. Our primary goal is the faithful and comprehensive depiction of the subject at hand. As visual journalists, we have the responsibility to document society and to preserve its history through images.

Photographic and video images can reveal great truths, expose wrongdoing and neglect, inspire hope and understanding and connect people around the globe through the language of visual understanding. Photographs can also cause great harm if they are callously intrusive or are manipulated.

This code is intended to promote the highest quality in all forms of visual journalism and to strengthen public confidence in the profession. It is also meant to serve as an educational tool both for those who practice and for those who appreciate photojournalism. To that end, The National Press Photographers Association sets forth the following.

CODE OF ETHICS

Visual journalists and those who manage visual news productions are accountable for upholding the following standards in their daily work:

  1. Be accurate and comprehensive in the representation of subjects.
  2. Resist being manipulated by staged photo opportunities.
  3. Be complete and provide context when photographing or recording subjects. Avoid stereotyping individuals and groups. Recognize and work to avoid presenting one’s own biases in the work.
  4. 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.
  5. While photographing subjects do not intentionally contribute to, alter, or seek to alter or influence events.
  6. Editing should maintain the integrity of the photographic images’ content and context. Do not manipulate images or add or alter sound in any way that can mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects.
  7. Do not pay sources or subjects or reward them materially for information or participation.
  8. Do not accept gifts, favors, or compensation from those who might seek to influence coverage.
  9. Do not intentionally sabotage the efforts of other journalists.
  10. Do not engage in harassing behavior of colleagues, subordinates or subjects and maintain the highest standards of behavior in all professional interactions.

Ideally, visual journalists should:

  1. Strive to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in public. Defend the rights of access for all journalists.
  2. Think proactively, as a student of psychology, sociology, politics and art to develop a unique vision and presentation. Work with a voracious appetite for current events and contemporary visual media.
  3. Strive for total and unrestricted access to subjects, recommend alternatives to shallow or rushed opportunities, seek a diversity of viewpoints, and work to show unpopular or unnoticed points of view.
  4. Avoid political, civic and business involvements or other employment that compromise or give the appearance of compromising one’s own journalistic independence.
  5. Strive to be unobtrusive and humble in dealing with subjects.
  6. Respect the integrity of the photographic moment.
  7. Strive by example and influence to maintain the spirit and high standards expressed in this code. When confronted with situations in which the proper action is not clear, seek the counsel of those who exhibit the highest standards of the profession. Visual journalists should continuously study their craft and the ethics that guide it.

The ONA Social Newsgathering Ethics Code is a document that is intended to gather the support of news and journalism organizations of all sizes around the globe to endorse a set of standards and practices relating to the gathering and use of content created by members of the public.

The below organizations, groups, companies and individuals endorse and support these standards as best practices for the industry and acknowledge that integration of each element into their own operations would be desirable. This code may also be used to form the basis of a new UGC ethics code by any individual or organization.

If your news organization wants to be listed as a supporter of the code, please send an email with your organization’s name to socialnewsgathering@journalists.org.

The standards and practices are as follows:

▪           Endeavoring to verify the authenticity of user-generated content before publishing or distributing it, holding it to standards that are equal or equivalent to those maintained for content acquired through other means.

▪           Being transparent with the audience about the verification status of UGC.

▪           Considering the emotional state and safety of contributors.

▪           Considering the risk inherent in asking a contributor to produce and deliver UGC, including whether it incentivizes others to take unnecessary risks.

▪           Considering technical measures to ensure anonymity of sources when required.

▪           Seeking informed consent for the use of UGC through direct communication with the individual who created it.

▪           Being transparent about how content will be used and distributed to other platforms.

▪           Giving due credit to the owner of the content providing that consideration has been given to potential consequences, including their physical, mental and reputational well-being.

▪           Endeavoring to inform and equip journalists to confront the dangers of engaging with sources through social media networks and the digital footprint they leave behind.

▪           Supporting and assisting journalists who are confronted with graphic or otherwise disturbing content. Maintaining an organizational culture that enables journalists to seek help or speak out when they need to protect their mental health.

Statement of Purpose:

As business and financial journalists, we recognize we are guardians of the public trust and must do nothing to abuse this obligation.

It is not enough that we act with honest intent; as journalists, we must conduct our professional lives in a manner that avoids even the suggestion of personal gain, or any misuse of the power of the press.

It is with this acknowledgment that we offer these guidelines for those who work in business and financial journalism:

Personal investments and relationships:

  • Avoid any practice that might compromise or appear to compromise objectivity or fairness.
  • Never let personal investments influence content. Disclose investment positions to your superior or directly to the public.
  • Disclose personal or family relationships that might pose conflicts of interest.
  • Avoid active trading and other short-term profit-seeking opportunities, as such activities are not compatible with the independent role of the business journalist.
  • Do not take advantage of inside information for personal gain.

Sources:

  • Insure confidentiality of information during the reporting process, and make every effort to keep information from finding its way to those who might use it for gain before it is disseminated to the public.
  • Do not alter information, delay or withhold publication or make concessions relating to news content to any government.

Gifts and favors:

  • In the course of professional activity, accept no gift or special treatment worth more than token value.
  • Accept no out-of-town travel paid for by outside sources.
  • Carefully examine offers of free-lance work or speech honoraria to assure such offers are not attempts to influence content.
  • Disclose to a supervisor any offer of future employment or outside income that springs from the journalist’s professional activities or contacts.
  • Accept food or refreshments of ordinary value only if absolutely necessary, and only during the normal course of business.

Editorial Integrity:

  • Publishers, owners and newsroom managers should establish policies and guidelines to protect the integrity of business news coverage.
  • Regardless of news platform, there should be a clear delineation between advertising and editorial content.
  • Material produced by editorial staff should be used only in sections, programming or pages controlled by editorial departments.
  • Content, sections or programming controlled by advertising departments should be distinctly different from news sections in typeface, layout and design. Advertising content should be identified as such.
  • Promising a story in exchange for advertising or other considerations is unethical.

Using outside material:

  • Using articles or columns from non-journalists is potentially deceptive and poses inherent conflicts of interest. This does not apply to content that is clearly labeled opinion or viewpoint, or to submissions identified as coming directly from the public, such as citizen blogs or letters to the editor.
  • Submissions should be accepted only from freelancers who abide by the same ethical policies as staff members.

Technology:

  • Business journalists should take the lead in adapting professional standards to new forms of journalism as technologies emerge and change.

The business journalist should encourage fellow journalists to abide by these standards and principles.

For more than a century and a half, men and women of The Associated Press have had the privilege of bringing truth to the world. They have gone to great lengths, overcome great obstacles — and, too often, made great and horrific sacrifices — to ensure that the news was reported quickly, accurately and honestly. Our efforts have been rewarded with trust: More people in more places get their news from the AP than from any other source.

In the 21st century, that news is transmitted in more ways than ever before — in print, on the air and on the Web, with words, images, graphics, sounds and video. But always and in all media, we insist on the highest standards of integrity and ethical behavior when we gather and deliver the news.

That means we abhor inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortions. It means we will not knowingly introduce false information into material intended for publication or broadcast; nor will we alter photo or image content. Quotations must be accurate, and precise.

It means we always strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable.

It means we don’t plagiarize.

It means we avoid behavior or activities that create a conflict of interest and compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action.

It means we don’t misidentify or misrepresent ourselves to get a story. When we seek an interview, we identify ourselves as AP journalists.

It means we don’t pay newsmakers for interviews, to take their photographs or to film or record them.

It means we must be fair. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we must make a real effort to obtain a response from that person. When mistakes are made, they must be corrected — fully, quickly and ungrudgingly.

And ultimately, it means it is the responsibility of every one of us to ensure that these standards are upheld. Any time a question is raised about any aspect of our work, it should be taken seriously.

“I have no thought of saying The Associated Press is perfect. The frailties of human nature attach to it,” wrote Melville Stone, the great general manager of the AP. But he went on to say that “the thing it is striving for is a truthful, unbiased report of the world’s happenings … ethical in the highest degree.”

He wrote those words in 1914. They are true today.

* * *

The policies set forth in these pages are central to the AP’s mission; any failure to abide by them is subject to review, and could result in disciplinary action, ranging from admonishment to dismissal, depending on the gravity of the infraction.

STANDARDS AND PRACTICES ANONYMOUS SOURCES:

Transparency is critical to our credibility with the public and our subscribers. Whenever possible, we pursue information on the record. When a newsmaker insists on background or off-the-record ground rules, we must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, enforced by AP news managers.

Under AP’s rules, material from anonymous sources may be used only if:

  1. The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the news report.
  2. The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
  3. The source is reliable, and in a position to have accurate information.

Reporters who intend to use material from anonymous sources must get approval from their news manager before sending the story to the desk. The manager is responsible for vetting the material and making sure it meets AP guidelines. The manager must know the identity of the source, and is obligated, like the reporter, to keep the source’s identity confidential. Only after they are assured that the source material has been vetted should editors allow it to be transmitted.

Reporters should proceed with interviews on the assumption they are on the record. If the source wants to set conditions, these should be negotiated at the start of the interview. At the end of the interview, the reporter should try once again to move some or all of the information back on the record.

Before agreeing to use anonymous source material, the reporter should ask how the source knows the information is accurate, ensuring that the source has direct knowledge. Reporters may not agree to a source’s request that AP not pursue additional comment or information.

The AP routinely seeks and requires more than one source. Stories should be held while attempts are made to reach additional sources for confirmation or elaboration. In rare cases, one source will be sufficient — when material comes from an authoritative figure who provides information so detailed that there is no question of its accuracy.

We must explain in the story why the source requested anonymity. And, when it’s relevant, we must describe the source’s motive for disclosing the information. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, the reporter must describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible.

The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility; simply quoting “a source” is not allowed. We should be as descriptive as possible: “according to top White House aides” or “a senior official in the British Foreign Office.” The description of a source must never be altered without consulting the reporter.

We must not say that a person declined comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously. And we should not attribute information to anonymous sources when it is obvious or well known. We should just state the information as fact.

Stories that use anonymous sources must carry a reporter’s byline. If a reporter other than the bylined staffer contributes anonymous material to a story, that reporter should be given credit as a contributor to the story.

And all complaints and questions about the authenticity or veracity of

anonymous material — from inside or outside the AP — must be promptly brought to the news manager’s attention.

Not everyone understands “off the record” or “on background” to mean the same things. Before any interview in which any degree of anonymity is expected, there should be a discussion in which the ground rules are set explicitly.

These are the AP’s definitions:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication.

Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record. These background briefings have become routine in many venues, especially with government officials.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record.

ANONYMOUS SOURCES IN MATERIAL FROM OTHER NEWS SOURCES:

Reports from other news organizations based on anonymous sources require the most careful scrutiny when we consider them for our report.

AP’s basic rules for anonymous-source material apply to pickups as they do in our own reporting: The material must be factual and obtainable no other way. The story must be truly significant and newsworthy. Use of sourced material must be authorized by a manager. The story must be balanced, and comment must be sought.

Further, before picking up such a story we must make a bona fide effort to get it on the record, or, at a minimum, confirm it through our own sources. We shouldn’t hesitate to hold the story if we have any doubts. If the source material is ultimately used, it must be attributed to the originating member and note their description of their sources.

AUDIO:

AP’s audio actualities must always tell the truth. We do not alter or manipulate the content of a newsmaker actuality in any way. Voice reports by AP correspondents may be edited to remove pauses or stumbles.

The AP does permit the use of the subtle, standard audio processing methods of normalization of levels, general volume adjustments, equalization to make the sound clearer, noise reduction to reduce extraneous sounds such as telephone line noise, and fading in and out of the start and end of sound bites _ provided the use of these methods does not conceal, obscure, remove or otherwise alter the content, or any portion of the content, of the audio. When an employee has questions about the use of such methods or the AP’s requirements and limitations on audio editing, he or she should contact the desk supervisor prior to the transmission of any audio.

BYLINES:

Bylines may be used only if the journalist was in the datelined location to gather the information reported. If a reporter in the field provides information to a staffer who writes the story, the reporter in the field gets the byline, unless the editor in charge determines that the byline should more properly go to the writer.

We give bylines to photographers, broadcast reporters and TV crew members who provide information without which there would be no story.

If multiple staffers report the story, the byline is the editor’s judgment call. In general, the byline should go to the staffer who reported the key facts. Or, one staffer can take the byline for one cycle, and another for the following cycle.

A double byline or editor’s note also can be used when more than one staffer makes a substantial contribution to the reporting or writing of a story. Credit lines recognize reporting contributions that are notable but don’t call for a double byline.

If either of the staffers with a double byline was not in the datelined location, we should say who was where in a note at the story’s end.

For roundups, the byline goes to the writer, with credit in an editor’s note to the reporters who contributed substantial information.

Regarding credits for staffers who do voice or on-camera work: We do not use pseudonyms or “air names.” Any exceptions — for instance, if a staffer has been known professionally by an air name for some time — must be approved by a manager.

CORRECTIONS/CORRECTIVES:

Staffers must notify supervisory editors as soon as possible of errors or potential errors, whether in their work or that of a colleague. Every effort should be made to contact the staffer and his or her supervisor before a correction is moved.

When we’re wrong, we must say so as soon as possible. When we make a correction in the current cycle, we point out the error and its fix in the editor’s note. A correction must always be labeled a correction in the editor’s note. We do not use euphemisms such as “recasts,” “fixes,” “clarifies” or “changes” when correcting a factual error.

A corrective corrects a mistake from a previous cycle. The AP asks papers or broadcasters that used the erroneous information to use the corrective, too.

For corrections on live, online stories, we overwrite the previous version. We send separate corrective stories online as warranted.

For graphics, we clearly label a correction with a FIX logo or bug, and clearly identify the material that has been corrected.

For photos, we move a caption correction and retransmit the photo with a corrected caption, clearly labeled as a retransmission to correct an error.

For video, corrections in scripts and/or shotlists are sent to clients as an advisory and are labeled as such.

For live broadcasts, we correct errors in the same newscast if at all possible. If not, we make sure the corrected information is used in the next appropriate live segment. Audio correspondent reports that contain factual errors are eliminated and, when possible, replaced with corrected reports.

DATELINES:

A dateline tells the reader where we obtained the basic information for a story. In contrast, a byline tells the reader that a reporter was at the site of the dateline.

When a datelined story contains supplementary information obtained in another location — say, when an official in Washington comments on a disaster elsewhere — we should note it in the story.

The dateline for video or audio must be the location where the events depicted actually occurred.

For voice work, the dateline must be the location from which the reporter is speaking. If a reporter covers a story in one location but does a live report from a filing point in another location, the dateline is the filing point.

FABRICATIONS:

Nothing in our news report — words, photos, graphics, sound or video — may be fabricated. We don’t use pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names, ages, places or dates. We don’t stage or re-enact events for the camera or microphone, and we don’t use sound effects or substitute video or audio from one event to another. We do not “cheat” sound by adding audio to embellish or fabricate an event. A senior editor must be consulted prior to the introduction of any neutral sound (ambient sound that does not affect the editorial meaning but corrects a technical fault).

We do not ask people to pose for photos unless we are making a portrait and then we clearly state that in the caption. We explain in the caption the circumstances under which photographs are made. If someone is asked to pose for photographs by third parties and that is reflected in AP-produced images, we say so in the caption. Such wording would be: “XXX poses for photos.’

GRAPHICS:

We use only authoritative sources. We do not project, surmise or estimate in a graphic. We create work only from what we know.

We post or move a locator map only when we can confirm the location ourselves.

We create charts at visually proper perspectives to give an accurate representation of data. The information must be clear and concise. We do not skew or alter data to fit a visual need.

We credit our sources on every graphic, including graphics for which AP journalists have created the data set or database.

IMAGES:

AP pictures must always tell the truth. We do not alter or manipulate the content of a photograph in any way.

The content of a photograph must not be altered in PhotoShop or by any other means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by PhotoShop or any other editing tool. Only retouching or the use of the cloning tool to eliminate dust and scratches are acceptable.

Minor adjustments in PhotoShop are acceptable. These include cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments that should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction (analogous to the burning and dodging often used in darkroom processing of images) and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated by burning down or by aggressive toning.

When an employee has questions about the use of such methods or the AP’s requirements and limitations on photo editing, he or she should contact a senior photo editor prior to the transmission of any image.

On those occasions when we transmit images that have been provided and altered by a source — the faces obscured, for example — the caption must clearly explain it.

Transmitting such images must be approved by a senior photo editor.

For video, the AP permits the use of subtle, standard methods of improving technical quality, such as adjusting video and audio levels, color correcting due to white balance or other technical faults, and equalization of audio to make the sound clearer _ provided the use of these methods does not conceal, obscure, remove or otherwise alter the content, or any portion of the content, of the image. The AP also allows digitally obscuring faces to protect a subject’s identity under certain circumstances. Such video must not be distributed without approval of the Editor of the Day or senior manager. In addition, video for online use and for domestic broadcast stations can be fonted with titles and logos.

Graphics, including those for television, often involve combining various photographic elements, which necessarily means altering portions of each photograph. The background of a photograph, for example, may be removed to leave the headshot of the newsmaker. This may then be combined with a logo representing the person’s company or industry, and the two elements may be layered over a neutral background.

Such compositions must not misrepresent the facts and must not result in an image that looks like a photograph — it must clearly be a graphic.

Similarly, when we alter photos to use as graphics online, we retain the integrity of the image, limiting the changes to cropping, masking and adding elements like logos. Videos for use online can be altered to add graphical information such as titles and logos, to tone the image and to improve audio quality. It is permissible to display photos online using techniques such as 360-degree panoramas or dissolves as long as they do not alter the original images.

OBSCENITIES, PROFANITIES, VULGARITIES:

We do not use obscenities, racial epithets or other offensive slurs in stories unless they are part of direct quotations and there is a compelling reason for them.

If a story cannot be told without reference to them, we must first try to find a way to give the reader a sense of what was said without using the specific word or phrase. If a profanity, obscenity or vulgarity is used, the story must be flagged at the top, advising editors to note the contents.

A photo containing something that could be deemed offensive must carry an editor’s note flagging it.

When a piece of video or audio contains something that might be deemed offensive, we flag it in the written description (rundown, billboard and/or script) so clients know what they are getting. Recognizing that standards differ around the world, we tailor our advisories and selection of video and audio according to customer needs.

We take great care not to refer readers to Web sites that are obscene, racist or otherwise offensive, and we must not directly link our stories to such sites.

In our online service, we link the least offensive image necessary to tell the story. For photo galleries and interactive presentations we alert readers to the nature of the material in the link and on the opening page of the gallery or interactive. If an obscene image is necessary to tell the story, we blur the portion of the image considered offensive after approval of the department manager, and flag the video.

PRIVACY:

We do not generally identify those who say they have been sexually assaulted or pre-teenage children who are accused of crimes or who are witnesses to them, except in unusual circumstances. Nor do we transmit photos or video that identify such persons. An exception would occur when an adult victim publicly identifies him/herself.

Senior editors/managers must be consulted about exceptions.

PROVIDING ATTRIBUTION:

We should give the full name of a source and as much information as needed to identify the source and explain why he or she is credible. Where appropriate, include a source’s age; title; name of company, organization or government department; and hometown.

If we quote someone from a written document — a report, e-mail or news release — we should say so. Information taken from the Internet must be vetted according to our standards of accuracy and attributed to the original source. File, library or archive photos, audio or videos must be identified as such.

For lengthy stories, attribution can be contained in an extended editor’s note, usually at the end, detailing interviews, research and methodology. The goal is to provide a reader with enough information to have full confidence in the story’s veracity.

QUOTATIONS:

The same care that is used to ensure that quotes are accurate should also be used to ensure that quotes are not taken out of context.

We do not alter quotations, even to correct grammatical errors or word usage. If a quotation is flawed because of grammar or lack of clarity, the writer must be able to paraphrase in a way that is completely true to the original quote. If a quote’s meaning is too murky to be paraphrased accurately, it should not be used.

Ellipses should be used rarely.

When relevant, stories should provide information about the setting in which a quotation was obtained — for example, a press conference, phone interview or hallway conversation with the reporter. The source’s affect and body language — perhaps a smile or deprecatory gesture — is sometimes as important as the quotation itself.

Use of regional dialects with nonstandard spellings should generally be limited to a writer’s effort to convey a special tone or sense of place. In this case, as in any interview with a person not speaking his or her native language, it is especially important that their ideas be accurately conveyed. Always, we must be careful not to mock the people we quote.

Quotes from one language to another must be translated faithfully. If appropriate, we should note the language spoken.

The video or audio editing of quotations or soundbites must not alter the speaker’s meaning. Internal editing of audio soundbites of newsmakers is not permitted. Shortened soundbites by cutaway or other video transition are permitted as long as the speaker’s meaning is not altered or misconstrued. Sound edits on videotape are permitted under certain circumstances, such as a technical failure. They must be done only after approval by a senior editorial manager.

RESPONSES:

We must make significant efforts to reach anyone who may be portrayed in a negative way in our stories, and we must give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to us before we move the story. What is “reasonable” may depend on the urgency and competitiveness of the story. If we don’t reach the parties involved, we must explain in the story what efforts were made to do so.

USE OF OTHERS’ MATERIAL:

An AP staffer who reports and writes a story must use original content, language and phrasing. We do not plagiarize, meaning that we do not take the work of others and pass it off as our own.

But in some respects, AP staffers must deal with gray areas.

It is common for an AP staffer to include in his or her work passages from a previous AP story by another writer — generally background, or boilerplate. This is acceptable if the passages are short. Regardless, the reporter writing the story is responsible for the factual and contextual accuracy of the material.

Also, the AP often has the right to use material from its members and subscribers; we sometimes take the work of newspapers, broadcasters and other outlets, rewrite it and transmit it without credit.

There are rules, however. When the material is exclusive, controversial or sensitive, we always credit it. And we do not transmit the stories in their original form; we rewrite them, so that the approach, content, structure and length meet our requirements and reflect the broader audience we serve.

Similar rules apply when we use material from news releases. Under no circumstances can releases reach the wire in their original form; we can use information and quotes from releases, but we must check the material, augment it with information from other sources, and then write our own stories.

We apply the same judgment in picking up material from members or from news releases that we use when considering information we receive from other sources. We must satisfy ourselves, by our own reporting, that the material is credible. If it does not meet AP standards, we don’t use it.

For video, if another broadcaster’s material is required and distributed, the name of that broadcaster shall be advised on the accompanying shotlist.

Pickups of audio and of television graphics are credited in billboards/captions when the member requests it.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

The AP respects and encourages the rights of its employees to participate actively in civic, charitable, religious, public, social or residential organizations.

However, AP employees must avoid behavior or activities — political, social or financial — that create a conflict of interest or compromise our ability to report the news fairly and accurately, uninfluenced by any person or action. Nothing in this policy is intended to abridge any rights provided by the National Labor Relations Act.

Here is a sampler of AP practices on questions involving possible conflict of interest. It is not all-inclusive; if you are unsure whether an activity may constitute a conflict or the appearance of a conflict, consult your manager at the onset.

EXPRESSIONS OF OPINION:

Anyone who works for the AP must be mindful that opinions they express may damage the AP’s reputation as an unbiased source of news. They must refrain from declaring their views on contentious public issues in any public forum, whether in Web logs, chat rooms, letters to the editor, petitions, bumper stickers or lapel buttons, and must not take part in demonstrations in support of causes or movements.

FAVORS:

Employees should not ask news sources or others they meet in a professional capacity to extend jobs or other benefits to anyone. They also should not offer jobs, internships or any benefits of being an AP employee to news sources.

FINANCIAL INTERESTS:

Associated Press employees who regularly write or edit business or financial news must always avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of any conflict of interest in connection with the performance of these duties. For these reasons, these employees must abide by the following rules and guidelines when making personal investment and financial decisions.

These employees must not own stock, equities or have any personal financial investment or involvement with any company, enterprise or industry that they regularly cover for the AP. A technology writer, for example, must not own any technology equities; a retail industry writer must not own the stock of any department store or corporate enterprise that includes department stores. Staff members who are temporarily assigned to such coverage or editorial duties must immediately notify a manager of possible conflicts to determine whether the assignment is appropriate. If necessary, employees might be asked either to divest or to suspend any activity involving their holdings.

Editors and writers who regularly cover the financial markets may not own stock in any company. They may invest in equity index-related products and publicly available diversified mutual funds or commodity pools.

Financial news employees must also avoid investment activities that are speculative or driven by day-trading or short-term profit goals because such activities may create the impression that the employee is seeking to drive market factors or is acting upon information that is not available to the public. Instead, the personal financial activities and investments of these employees must be based upon the longer term and retirement savings. For these reasons, an employee covered by this policy should not buy and sell the same financial product within 60 days, unless he/she gains the permission of the department manager and is able to demonstrate financial need that is unrelated to information discussed or gained in the course of his/her employment. This trading limitation does not apply to equity-index funds, broadly diversified and publicly available mutual funds and commodity pools.

All employees must comply with federal and local laws concerning securities and financial transactions, including statutes, regulations and guidelines prohibiting actions based upon “inside information.” All employees are reminded that they may not act upon, or inform any other person of, information gained in the course of AP employment, unless and until that information becomes known to the general public.

Employees should avoid any conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest in the investments and business interests of their spouses or other members of their household with whom they share finances. They are expected to make every effort to assure that no spouse or other member of their household has investment or business interests that could pose such a conflict.

Employees should be aware that the investment activities and/or financial interests of their spouses or other individuals with whom they share financial interests may make it inappropriate for them to accept certain assignments. Employees must consult with their managers before accepting any such assignment.

Employees who are asked to divest holdings will be given one year from the date of the request to do so, in order to give them the opportunity to avoid market fluctuations.

When this document requires the sale of stock holdings, an employee can satisfy this requirement by putting the shares into a blind trust (or into an equivalent financial arrangement) that meets the same goal: preventing an individual from knowing, at any given time, the specific holdings in the account and blocking an individual from controlling the timing of transactions in such holdings. If AP assigns a staff member to a new job where mandatory divestiture would impose a financial hardship even after the one-year grace period, AP will reimburse the staff member up to a maximum of $500 for the reasonable costs of setting up a blind trust.)

FREELANCE WORK:

Individuals who seek to engage in non-AP work are subject to the following restrictions:

  • Freelance work must not represent a conflict of interest for either the employee or the AP.
  • Such activities may not interfere with the employees’ job responsibilities, including availability for newsgathering.
  • Such activities may not exploit the name of The Associated Press or the employee’s position with the AP without permission of the AP.
  • Inevitably, some employees will use material they accumulated in their AP work — notes, stories (either written or broadcast), images, videotape, graphics — for other-than-AP uses. The resulting product must be presented to the AP for its approval prior to submission to any outside publisher, purchaser or broadcaster. And under no circumstances should the AP incur expenses for research material that is not used for AP purposes.

FREE TICKETS:

We do not accept free tickets to sports, entertainment or other events for anything other than coverage purposes. If we obtain tickets for a member or subscriber as a courtesy, they must be paid for, and the member should reimburse the AP.

GIFTS:

Employees should politely refuse and return gifts from sources, public relations agencies, corporations and others hoping to encourage or influence AP news coverage or business. They may accept trinkets (like caps or mugs) of nominal value, $25 or less.

Books, tapes, recordings, CDs and other items received for review or provided as promotional material for an event may not be sold for personal gain. Items of more than nominal value, such as computer gear, must be returned. If appropriate, items can be donated to charities.

AP and its employees may accept discounts from companies only if those discounts are standard and offered to other customers.

We do not accept unsolicited contest awards from any organization that has a partisan or financial interest in our coverage; nor do we enter such contests.

OFFICIAL SCORERS:

Employees may not serve as official scorers at sports events.

OUTSIDE APPEARANCES:

Employees frequently appear on radio and TV news programs as panelists asking questions of newsmakers; such appearances are encouraged.

However, there is potential for conflict if staffers are asked to give their opinions on issues or personalities of the day. Advance discussion and clearance from a staffer’s supervisor are required.

Employees must inform a news manager before accepting honoraria and/or reimbursement of expenses for giving speeches or participating in seminars at colleges and universities or at other educational events if such appearance makes use of AP’s name or the employee represents himself or herself as an AP employee. No fees should be accepted from governmental bodies; trade, lobbying or special interest groups; businesses, or labor groups; or any group that would pose a conflict of interest. All appearances must receive prior approval from a staffer’s supervisor.

POLITICAL ACTIVITIES:

Editorial employees are expected to be scrupulous in avoiding any political activity, whether they cover politics regularly or not. They may not run for political office or accept political appointment; nor may they perform public relations work for politicians or their groups. Under no circumstances should they donate money to political organizations or political campaigns. They should use great discretion in joining or making contributions to other organizations that may take political stands.

Non-editorial employees must refrain from political activity unless they obtain approval from a manager.

When in doubt, staffers are encouraged to discuss any such concerns with their supervisors.

And a supervisor must be informed when a spouse — or other members of an employee’s household — has any ongoing involvement in political causes, either professionally or personally.

TRIPS:

If a trip is organized, and we think the trip is newsworthy, we go and pay our way. If we have a chance to interview a newsmaker on a charter or private jet, we reimburse the news source for the reasonable rate of the costs incurred — for example, standard airfare. There may be exceptional circumstances, such as a military trip, where it is difficult to make other travel arrangements or calculate the costs. Consult a manager for exceptions.

Preamble: As members of the Society for News Design, we have an obligation to promote the highest ethical standards for visual journalism — for all journalism — as they apply to the values of accuracy, fairness, honesty, inclusiveness, and courage.

Accuracy

Accuracy is the indispensable value in journalism and must not be compromised. We must deliver error-free content, across all our media platforms. We must ensure that our content is a verifiable representation of the news and of our subjects. We promise never intentionally to mislead those who depend upon us for public service. We will correct errors promptly and prominently. We must be as accurate with our colleagues as we are with our audiences.

Honesty

We value original thought and expression. Our work will be free from fraud and deception — that includes plagiarism and fabrication. We will attribute content and honor copyrights. We will strive to keep news content free of special interests, inside or outside the news organization. We embrace the value of transparency, disclosing the thinking behind key decisions — from a credit line up to an editor’s note on the front page.

Fairness

We must be scrupulously fair. We recognize that our work can have great impact on the subjects we cover and therefore we must respectfully balance that against the public’s need to know. Even when it is impossible to avoid harm in the pursuit of truth telling, we will work hard to minimize that harm. We will listen to our critics. Our judgment in these matters must be based on our sense of right and wrong in a manner consistent with our professional values.

Inclusiveness

We will remain vigilant in our quest to combat prejudice and lead needed reforms. We will avoid stereotypes in reporting, editing, presentation, and hiring. Diversity, broadly defined, will be a hallmark of our work.

We accept the responsibility to understand our communities and to overcome bias with coverage that is representative of the constituent groups in the community. Over time, many groups, lifestyles, and backgrounds should see themselves and their values represented in the news.

Courage

Journalists need moral and, at times, physical courage to fulfill their responsibility to serve the public. It takes courage to stand behind values such as accuracy, honesty, fairness and inclusiveness. Such courage is necessary to achieve personal integrity and build credibility. This includes the courage to step beyond rigid boundaries. We must test conventional thinking explore innovative story-telling to help changing audiences understand an increasingly complex world.

Logic and literalness, objectivity and traditional thinking have their important place, but so must imagination and intuition, responsible creativity and empathy.

This Code is designed to supplement ProPublica’s Conflicts of Interest Policy (required by the Internal Revenue Service), and set out our expectations and aspirations for the conduct of our newsroom.

The mission of ProPublica is to practice and promote investigative journalism in the public interest. All of the values stated here, and the rules set out here, are intended to contribute to that mission. Much of the language below draws proudly on similar policies in place at distinguished American news organizations, including Dow Jones & Company, the Associated Press, the Washington Post and Time Inc. We do this because, while our entity is new, and our business model somewhat innovative, our ethics are neither. They reflect what we and others have learned over many years. At the same time, however, this Code is not immutable. Most of it consists of guidelines; exceptional circumstances may require exceptions to these rules. We expect to continue to learn, and, as we do so, to revise this document in light of further insight and experience.

Everyone affiliated with ProPublica is encouraged to discuss the matters within the ambit of this Code, and to make that discussion a continuing part of our work. Indeed, the most important wisdom about dealing with these questions is: When in doubt, ask.

It is an essential prerequisite for success in the news business that we tell the truth, and that our readers believe us to be telling them the truth. If we are not telling them the truth — or even if they, for any valid reason, believe that we are not — then ProPublica cannot succeed. ProPublica will suffer, for example, if our readers cannot assume that:

  • Our facts are accurate and fairly presented;
  • Our analyses represent our best independent judgments rather than our preferences, or those of our sources; and
  • There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.

All organizations profess integrity. But the impact of our work on the work of others, and on their lives and fortunes, places special responsibilities upon all ProPublica employees.

These responsibilities include following several important guidelines in our approach in news-gathering, while writing and editing, and after publication:

We strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable. To the extent that we can, we identify in our stories any important bias such a source may have. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, we describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. We do not say that a person declined comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously.

Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources in our stories, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using their information. Sources need to understand this practice.

We don’t misidentify or misrepresent ourselves to get a story. When we seek an interview, we identify ourselves as ProPublica journalists.

We don’t pay for interviews.

We don’t plagiarize.

Nothing in our work should be fabricated. We don’t use pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names, ages, places or dates.

Overall, we must be fair. Investigative reporting requires special diligence with respect to fairness. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we should make a real effort to obtain a response from that person, preferably in person. We should give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to us before we publish. What is “reasonable” may depend on the urgency and competitiveness of the story. If we don’t reach the parties involved, we should explain in the story what efforts were made to do so.

No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.

No story is fair if it misleads or deceives the reader. Fairness includes honesty — leveling with the reader.

Any time a question of fairness or accuracy is raised about any aspect of our work, whether by a source, subject or member of the public, the reporters involved should discuss the issue with their supervising editor and decide what response is warranted. When mistakes are made, they need to be corrected — fully, quickly and ungrudgingly.

Acceptance of a position at any level or in any part of ProPublica includes acceptance of individual responsibility to uphold ProPublica policies governing legal and ethical business practices. It also includes acceptance of individual responsibility for following all legal requirements and ethical business practices, as well as the responsibility to stress proper ethical behavior among colleagues and subordinates.

Any and all information and other material obtained by a ProPublica employee in connection with his or her employment is strictly the property of ProPublica. Such information includes not only our own work and that of our colleagues, but also information relating to future activities, including as-yet-unpublished news, as well as schedules for publishing the same. Such material should never be disclosed to anyone outside ProPublica, including friends and relatives. In no event should any information obtained in connection with ProPublica employment be disclosed privately to anyone until such information has been made available to the public.

Similarly, the use of ProPublica property of this sort — i.e. forthcoming news — as a basis for any investment decision is strictly prohibited. No employee with knowledge of any such forthcoming material may, prior to publication, buy or sell securities or in any way encourage or assist any other person in buying or selling securities, directly or indirectly, based on that information.

All ProPublica employees are expected to conduct themselves at all times in a manner that leaves no grounds for belief, or even suspicion, that:

  • The creation or dissemination, or non-dissemination, of any news or other information was influenced by a desire to affect the price of any security;
  • An employee’s personal financial situation with respect to investments is such that it creates a temptation to violate these rules; or
  • An employee is beholden to newsmakers, information providers or market participants, creating a temptation to violate these rules.

In making personal investments, all employees must avoid speculation or the appearance of speculation. No employee of ProPublica may engage in short selling of securities.

In addition, all managers and all news personnel must not engage in short-term trading of equity securities or of non-investment grade fixed-income securities; such employees must hold such securities for a minimum of six months unless, in order to meet some special need, they get prior permission for an earlier sale from the general manager of ProPublica. The six-month rule does not apply to publicly-available diversified open end and closed end mutual funds.

News personnel and members of management with any responsibility for news also must not buy or sell futures or options. However, these employees may invest in equity index-related products and publicly available mutual funds or commodity pools that invest in futures or options.

No news personnel assigned to report on a specific industry may buy or sell securities in any company engaged, in whole or significant part, in that industry, nor may any member of the immediate family of any such employee do so.

It is important to take care not to discuss confidential matters with family members or business or social acquaintances or in places where one can be overheard. Within ProPublica, confidential information should be divulged only to other employees who need to know the information in order to carry out their job responsibilities.

ProPublica employees should not offer or provide to customers or prospective customers, directly or indirectly, any gift, entertainment or reimbursement of expenses of more than nominal value or that exceeds customary courtesies for that time and place. Nor should employees offer or provide, directly or indirectly, any material, equipment or services to any individual in a position to make or influence any business or governmental decision affecting ProPublica.

Conversely, ProPublica employees should not solicit or accept, directly or indirectly, any payment, loan, services, equipment or any other benefit or thing of value, or any gift, entertainment or reimbursement of expenses of more than nominal value or that exceeds customary courtesies for that time and place from suppliers or customers, or from any company, individual or institution that furnishes or seeks to furnish news, information, material, equipment, supplies or services to ProPublica, or from anyone else with an actual or prospective business relationship with ProPublica. Thus, for instance, we accept no free trips. Beyond that, we neither seek nor accept preferential treatment that might be rendered because of the positions we hold.

ProPublica employees may not serve as directors or officers of any company devoted to profit-making, with the following exceptions:

  • Companies which are owned by an employee’s family, where the employee has obtained the written consent of the editor-in-chief of ProPublica;
  • Otherwise as approved in writing by the editor-in-chief of ProPublica.

Many organizations, for a variety of reasons, participate in the partisan political process, at various levels of government. As a publisher, ProPublica is different. ProPublica does not contribute, directly or indirectly, to political campaigns or to political parties or groups seeking to raise money for political campaigns or parties, and ProPublica does not and will not reimburse any employee for any political contribution made by an employee. All news employees and members of management with any responsibility for news should refrain from partisan political activity, including signing petitions, participating in marches or rallies, displaying lawn signs or making political contributions. Other political activities (including “issue oriented” activity) are permitted, but should not be inconsistent with this Code.

On the other hand, it is not the intention of ProPublica, or of this Code, to dissuade employees from participating actively in civic, charitable, religious, public, social or residential organizations. Such activities are permitted, and even encouraged, to the extent that they:

  • Do not detract from performance or effectiveness at work;
  • Are, in the case of Board memberships, disclosed to an employee’s direct supervisor;
  • Do not, by their extensiveness, cause ProPublica to subsidize or appear to subsidize the activity; and
  • Do not otherwise violate this Code. In the event that a conflict arises or may arise between an outside organization with which an employee is affiliated and the interests of ProPublica, the employee should refrain from participating in the conflicting or potentially conflicting activity.

No ProPublica employee should permit his or her ProPublica affiliation to be noted in any outside organization’s materials or activities without the express written approval of the editor-in-chief, managing editor or general manager, or unless of course the employee serves as a representative of ProPublica or unless the affiliation is merely noted as part of a broader description of the employee’s identity.

ProPublica takes this Code of conduct very seriously. All employees of ProPublica are responsible for compliance with all aspects of this Code. All new employees shall be required to read this Code at the outset of their employment, and to attest in writing that they have done so; all ProPublica employees shall be required, at the time this Code is first promulgated, to read it and so attest. In the case of all members of management, and all news personnel, such written attestations shall be required once each year.

The matters addressed by this Code are sufficiently important that any lapse in judgment within the areas covered here may be considered serious enough to warrant discipline up to and including dismissal.

ProPublica maintains an open door policy and suggests that employees share their questions, concerns, suggestions or complaints with someone who can address them properly. In most cases, an employee’s supervisor is in the best position to address an area of concern. However, if an employee is not comfortable speaking with his or her supervisor, or is not satisfied with the supervisor’s response, the employee is encouraged to speak with the director of finance & operations or anyone in management whom they are comfortable in approaching. Supervisors and managers are required to report suspected violations of this Code to the general manager. In serious cases, individuals should feel free to contact the general manager, the editor-in-chief, or the chairman of the board of directors directly. Violations or suspected violations may be submitted on a confidential basis by the complainant or may be submitted anonymously. Reports will be promptly investigated and appropriate corrective action will be taken if warranted by the investigation. Reports of violations or suspected violations will be kept confidential to the extent possible, consistent with the need to conduct an adequate investigation.

Anyone filing a complaint concerning a violation or suspected violation of this Code or other ProPublica policies must be acting in good faith and have reasonable grounds for believing the information disclosed indicates a violation. Any allegations that prove not to be substantiated and which prove to have been made maliciously or knowingly to be false will be viewed as a serious disciplinary offense.

No employee or director who in good faith reports a violation of this Code will suffer harassment, retaliation or adverse employment consequence. An employee who retaliates against someone who has reported a violation in good faith is subject to discipline up to and including dismissal.

Finally, and to repeat probably the most important point in dealing with these questions: When in doubt, ask.

I believe in the profession of journalism.

I believe that the public journal is a public trust; that all connected with it are, to the full measure of their responsibility, trustees for the public; that acceptance of a lesser service than the public service is betrayal of this trust.

I believe that clear thinking and clear statement, accuracy and fairness are fundamental to good journalism.

I believe that a journalist should write only what he holds in his heart to be true.

I believe that suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is indefensible.

I believe that no one should write as a journalist what he would not say as a gentleman; that bribery by one’s own pocketbook is as much to be avoided as bribery by the pocketbook of another; that individual responsibility may not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

I believe that advertising, news and editorial columns should alike serve the best interests of readers; that a single standard of helpful truth and cleanness should prevail for all; that the supreme test of good journalism is the measure of its public service.

I believe that the journalism which succeeds best — and best deserves success — fears God and honors Man; is stoutly independent, unmoved by pride of opinion or greed of power, constructive, tolerant but never careless, self-controlled, patient, always respectful of its readers but always unafraid, is quickly indignant at injustice; is unswayed by the appeal of privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance and, as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood can make it so, an equal chance; is profoundly patriotic while sincerely promoting international good will and cementing world-comradeship; is a journalism of humanity, of and for today’s world.


Part One: First Amendment Rights and Guarantees

Part Two: Public Information, Sunshine and the Freedom of Information Act

Part Three: Respect, Privacy and Freedom from Harm

Part Four: Transparency, Accountability and Independence

Part Five: Copyright Laws, Fair Use, Licensing and Insurance

Part Six: Journalism Organizations and Resources

Part Seven: Journalism Organizations’ Codes of Ethics

Next Section: Credits


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