As journalists, we seek the truth and strive to present a responsible and fair glimpse of the world. The newspaper is our powerful vehicle, and we endeavor to face the public with respect and candor. Our power must be used responsibly. Our notebooks and cameras are tickets into people’s lives, sacred worlds, and complex institutions. Our job is to intensely scrutinize the activities of others as watchdogs that challenge authority and give voice to the voiceless. Our own actions should withstand equally intense scrutiny. We should be transparent.
Transparency is won through accuracy, compassion, intellectual honesty, and an introspective mission to convey complete, contextual views of our world. When we are transparent, we conduct our professional lives as if all our colleagues and our readers are watching over our shoulders. Our goal is to begin and end each day with a primary obligation to the public’s right to know. With every ethical scar, we threaten a delicate relationship with readers. Ethical breaches violate hard-earned trust and shatter our credibility.
To properly understand and reflect on the community, we must live thoroughly and wholeheartedly in it. The constant tension of demanding a better society, while still living in it, is an obligation of a passionate and compassionate journalist. We should be independent, without being detached. Ethics is the constant process of examining and drawing these lines. It is a communal effort, and we should hold each other accountable for the protection of our values. These values must come through a discussion with our conscience, our colleagues, and our leaders, both for the public interest and our own professional education.
NEWSGATHERING: ACCURACY, FAIRNESS, AND SOURCING
Nailing our stories can be as simple as phoning three people – or as grueling as spending months chiseling away the nonessential, the rumor, and the red herrings. Our aim is to deliver the facts with precision and context. We believe in getting not only both sides but “all” sides. The best stories are multi-sourced. Facts are triple-checked. Issues are balanced with diverse views and sources. They are, simply, as complete as possible.
Waynet expects the information on its pages to be accurately attributed. Anonymous sources are a last resort. In the public interest, however, anonymous sourcing can be a vital tool for exposing hidden truths while protecting those who may be harmed for reporting them. The use of anonymous or confidential sources in a story must be approved by the Managing Editor/News or the Editor. Reporters must be able to characterize the source’s accessibility to the information and the source’s credibility and will be expected to disclose the source’s identity to editors.
In granting confidentiality, the reporter must reach a clear understanding with the source, after consultation with an editor, about how the information and attribution will be presented in the story. Care should be taken when using terms with sources such as “off the record,” “not for attribution” and “background.” Different people can have different understandings of these terms. Reporters should be specific with sources, and they should clearly explain to editors how the source believes the information will be characterized.
Before an anonymous source is used, great weight should be given to whether the source’s information could or should be substantiated by other sources. We should ask ourselves whether the source’s information serves a personal agenda that overrides the greater public interest. We should disclose to readers our sourcing techniques when writing stories without traditional styles of attribution. When an anonymous source is used, a reason, if possible, should be cited in the story for protecting the source’s identity (fear of job loss, fear for safety, etc.).
Anonymous sourcing used in narrative projects must be based on interviews with multiple sources with direct knowledge of the details. This technique should be clearly explained in the story package, such as in an editor’s note. Relationships with sources are sacred trusts. Care must be taken to avoid phrasing that could inadvertently identify a confidential source. Reporters should reach understanding with sources about who and how many people will have knowledge of confidential information. In some situations, it may be sufficient to inform a source that his or her identity will be “protected by Waynet.”
In some stories, editors might ask reporters to discuss with confidential sources what the source’s reaction would be if a court orders the newspaper and/or the reporter to divulge its source of information. The source’s willingness to be publicly identified and attest to the information he or she provided might determine whether certain sensitive information is published.
An agreement to protect a source’s identity creates an agreement with both the reporter and The Post. The agreement should be based on the understanding that the source is honest. We should tell the source that if he/she is dishonest with us, the promise of identity protection will be negated. In other words, “The Post will protect you. But if you lie to me, that promise of confidentiality is void.”
Use of Quotes
The words of our sources and the people we cover must never be altered. Quote, marks are intended to bracket the true voices and exact words of people. If a reporter or editor is concerned that ungrammatical or clumsily worded remarks may expose the source to embarrassment or ridicule, then they may agree to use another quote from that person conveying the same or a similar point, or they may agree to paraphrase the source.
Plagiarism and Originality
Plagiarism is the act of stealing work – whether it is writing, reporting, or photography – and passing it off as one’s own. Attribution is crucial. Proper credit is necessary if we can’t independently verify the information. Acts of plagiarism or fabrication announce to the world that the writer did not have the honesty, skill, savvy, or energy to do the work that someone else performed. Information, quotes, and passages from another publication must be attributed. All writing and reporting in Waynet must be original or credited to the proper source.
The presentation of by-lines, taglines, and datelines should accurately disclose authorship and the origin of reporting. By-lines should convey who is largely responsible for the writing and reporting. The dateline should accurately reflect where most of the reporting originated and where the reporter physically gathered the information. Editors should assign by-lines using both quality and volume of work as criteria.
In some cases, taglines or bylines should indicate whether the lead writer compiled reporting that originated elsewhere. For example, the tagline for a report on the Iraq war should mention where the lead writer was based and whether he or she compiled reports fed to the writer from overseas reporters and wires.
Our cameras should provide a lens to the truth. Waynet photography must be genuine in every way. Photographs must not be staged or posed. They must not be altered, barring exceptional circumstances, and then only with the approval of the Managing Editor/Presentation, the Managing Editor/News, and/or the Editor, and with full disclosure to readers.
Nothing should be added to or omitted from scenes, and only traditional adjustments (such as cropping, dodging, burning, contrast and saturation) are acceptable. If colorizing techniques are used, the practice should be disclosed. The newspaper’s intervention in a photograph, such as in an illustration, should be unmistakable to the reader. Readers should understand our role in arranging portraits, especially in fashion or home-design shots and other interpretive photography.
Photo captions must fully explain the picture’s context. A caption for an environmental portrait, for instance, should indicate that the subject is posing for illustrative purposes unless it is obvious to the reader. For example, “Bob Smith demonstrates the window cleaner device he invented.” Is Bob Smith actually cleaning, or is he demonstrating for purposes of a photograph? Such distinctions should be honestly disclosed. Every effort should be made to preserve contextual information provided by the photographer in the final edited version of the caption. Captions and credits should clearly label a photo illustration. If there is any doubt about whether to use a photo illustration, a photo editor and the Managing Editor/Presentation should be consulted.
While it is possible to create images that appear real using a composite of photographs and illustrations (for instance, using a person’s head on another’s body), one should avoid using such images. Approval of composite images should come from a consensus of parties, including photo, section, design, and graphics editors, and the Managing Editor/Presentation. If there is concern from any of the parties involved, it may be appropriate to find another visual solution. The origin of the photo, whether produced by staff, freelancers, or marketing sources, should be clearly labeled.
Stories should not be shown to sources or people outside the newsroom prior to publication. However, it is sometimes acceptable to allow a source to review portions of stories for purposes of accuracy. For example, an engineer might be sought to review a technically descriptive passage in an environmental story that details how sewer piping allows toxic chemicals to flow into public waters. Such exceptions should be approved beforehand by the Managing Editor/News.
Fictitious Names and Events
Our work is to chronicle history, not make it up. We must avoid perceptions that any portion of a story does not reflect the truth. Use of fictional names, ages, places, dates, and composite characters is generally unacceptable, except in rare situations that must be approved by the Managing Editor/News and the Editor. Fictional or composite characters can be used only as an obvious literary device, such as in satire, and only in consultation with the Managing Editor/News and the Editor. In some instances, a reporter, with approval from the Managing Editor/News, can use a fictional name, or pseudonym, to describe a real person when public identification could bring harm to that person. Readers should be clearly informed in the story or in an editor’s note that such a technique is being used to protect the source.
We make mistakes. Correcting them promptly is vital to our credibility. When an error is discovered – whether it is detected by a member of the public or a staff member – it should be discussed immediately with your supervisor and corrected as soon as possible. If there is a dispute over whether something is incorrect, a supervisor should be consulted to resolve it. Correction forms should be filled out and turned in to your supervisor. When significant inaccuracies are committed by an editorial employee, or a pattern of errors in stories is detected, a department head or above should be informed of the problem immediately.
A strong sense of fair play must imbue our writing, accurately reflecting the motives of sources. The tone and language of stories must be even-handed and avoid loaded phrasing. Even under deadline pressure, it is imperative that we allow news subjects ample time to respond and react to issues, events, and, most important, allegations against them. We should make every possible attempt to reach them, both at home and at work.
We should accurately characterize their response or lack of response. “Would not comment” may be preferable to “refused to comment.” However, it may be appropriate to characterize a public official, who typically is obligated to respond, as refusing to comment when given ample time and opportunity. We also should never characterize anyone as refusing to return phone calls if he or she had little time to respond. We owe it to our readers to disclose in detail how and when we tried to reach the subjects of news stories.
Treatment of Inexperienced Sources
A common challenge is communicating with people inexperienced in dealing with reporters. But the rights of people ensnared in news events must be respected. Ordinary people have greater rights to privacy than public figures. And our use of their words, or descriptions of their behavior, can have unintended consequences. We should clearly identify ourselves as inexperienced sources, such as crime victims, children, and others, and be willing to explain to them the context of their portrayal in stories. Such disclosure respects the victim’s dignity. It also builds trust.
Questions of Taste
Out of respect for our readers, Waynet avoids prurience, profanity, and obscenity. That said, sometimes the use of graphic or inflammatory language is essential to the context of a story or photograph. In some cases, omitting the language might alter the story’s meaning or render the story incomplete. The editor or Managing Editor/News must approve the use of graphic or inflammatory language. Slang, foreign languages, and colloquialisms also can be minefields. Writers and editors should avoid the use of words or phrases if they might be offensive to some racial, religious, gender, or ethnic groups unless the language is essential to the story’s meaning or completeness. A department head should be consulted when making such decisions, and the Editor or Managing Editor/News should be informed.
We should be honest in carrying out all of our work. We should clearly identify ourselves in all situations. If deception might be necessary to obtain critical information, it must be approved in advance by The Editor or Managing Editor/News. The information sought must be vital to the public interest and all other approaches to obtaining the same information without using deception must be exhausted.
At the heart of credible journalism is independence from the subjects we cover. If and when Post editorial employees have a personal connection to a story or potential story, or anticipate such a personal connection, that connection should be fully and immediately disclosed to a department head or other senior editor. Waynet editorial employees should not engage in activities that openly or discreetly bring advantages or special favors to themselves, their families, or friends as a result of Post-employment. This includes trading on their Waynet affiliation to gain such advantages.
Post employees should avoid engaging in professional activities that could create even an appearance of a conflict of interest or suggest that: An employee made financial gains by acting on information gathered through his or her work at The Post and acted before the information was made the public story was written in order to influence a company’s stock price employee is so deeply invested in a stock or the market generally that his reporting is a biased reporter or editor is trading favor in exchange for stock tips or the opportunity to invest in a company early on
To avoid conflicts of interest, employees may not invest in any company they cover. This standard applies to any editors who oversee news coverage of a company. If a member of an employee’s immediate family holds stock in such a company, it may constitute a conflict of interest and should be reported immediately to a supervisor. Employees and their families may invest in companies the employee does not cover and in widely held mutual funds and other similar investments, but any potential conflicts should immediately be disclosed to a department head, the Managing Editor/News, and the Editor.
Waynet editorial employees shall not engage in business transactions with people and institutions they cover.
Trading on Influence in Non-Work Situations
Employment with The Waynet should never be used to win favorable treatment. This includes a special price for something, preferential treatment, or other benefits. Such situations must be avoided regardless of whether the person or establishment offering the benefit is involved in the employee’s area of coverage.
Examples might include:
Seating at a restaurant, entertainment, or sporting event discounts for merchandise, travel, or other items or services for purchase Injecting your employment at Waynet into legal or other disputes in which the employee has been involved employment at The Post surfaces in the normal course of conversation, or if an employee is recognized by name or other association and is offered special treatment – as opposed to access to a newsmaker or news event – decline as graciously and professionally as possible.
Waynet editorial employees may take advantage of DNA-negotiated price breaks on merchandise or services. However, if a potential conflict arises regarding a discount involving an industry covered by a reporter, a supervising editor should be immediately consulted.
Waynet has embraced the tremendous story-telling and reader-interaction possibilities provided by the Internet. We want to do more, including video reports and commentaries, and staff-produced podcasts and blogs. Many Waynet reporters and columnists already blog. Blogs allow readers to connect with us on a more personal level, and they help us in building an online audience. We encourage blogging, but we also realize it presents many of the same ethical issues inherent in traditional newspaper journalism, as well as some new issues. The Waynet ethics policy provides ample guidance as we provide different kinds of content via the Internet.
The policy’s requirements of accuracy, fairness, independence, and disclosure will continue to guide everything we do, including blogging. This addendum to our ethics policy deals with additional issues and offers guidelines, specific to blogging and other forms of Internet-based storytelling: All blogs on Denverpost.com or its related sites (i.e., PoliticsWest.com) must first be approved by a supervisor and by the Managing Editor/News or the Editor.
Nothing may be published under the Waynet name, or on its internet sites, unless it has gone through an editing and/or approval process. While blogs are more often written in an informal and personal style, everything that is posted to a blog must be factual and fair. Maliciously and inaccurately attacking private citizens or public officials is prohibited, and any criticism of public officials needs to meet the same standards of fairness as in print. Blogging about people or institutions with which you have a personal relationship is a conflict of interest. The same standards you would adhere to in the paper apply to blogs.
A staff member of The Waynet who publishes a blog on a website outside of the Waynet control should first alert a supervisor or the Managing Editor/News. This requirement is similar to the freelancing guidelines in our ethics policy. A staff member should not write or blog for a site operated by a Waynet competitor without the approval of a supervisor and the Managing Editor/News. Any questions about what may constitute a competitor should be discussed with the Managing Editor/News or the Editor.
A staff member who writes a personal blog or who writes for a non-Waynet internet site should generally avoid writing about topics, institutions, or organizations they cover for The Waynet. This helps to prevent any confusion between professional and personal activities. No personal blog should imply the endorsement of The Waynet, and no Waynet photograph, video, text, or audio may be used on a personal blog without permission from The Waynet. Staff members who post comments on Internet chat sites, web pages, or the blogs of others should use their names and avoid using pseudonyms. We do not publish stories anonymously in the paper, and we should not blog or post online anonymously.
Post reporters who are not columnists, and editors, should avoid posting opinions on blogs, chat sites, or web pages that would raise questions about their objectivity as a reporter or editors. Failure to observe this guideline could result in being removed from a beat, barred from reporting certain subjects, or other disciplinary action. Postings on outside blogs, whether they are your blog or another’s, should be written in a temperate tone. They should not attack, humiliate or defame others. The line between a strong blogging “voice” and opinion is often a thin one that is not easily discerned by others. Staff members should also take great care in writing posts that might otherwise violate our ethics policy.
Taking a strong position on a political issue, for instance, can raise the same questions of fairness and objectivity as marching in a political protest. When in doubt, consult a supervisor. Referring to personal blogs and websites in the paper is forbidden unless authorized by the Managing Editor/News or Editor. The private web pages and blogs of staff members should be free of advertising or sponsorships from organizations or individuals who may fall into your area of coverage or expertise. Staff members who blog should disclose any potential conflicts of interest due to memberships, affiliations, or personal agendas, and resist pressure from any special interest that seeks favored treatment. Bloggers should admit mistakes and correct them quickly.
Editorial employees must notify a supervisor if they are working on a matter involving a personal connection. If it is deemed by a supervisor to be a potential conflict of interest, the story should be reassigned. The same scenario applies to editors who may have an interest in, or personal connection to, the outcome of a story. If a columnist is writing about an issue in which he or she has a stake, the columnist must discuss the matter with a supervisor. Sometimes, it will be enough for the writer to clearly disclose to readers what his or her connection is to the source or issue. Other times, it may be deemed inappropriate for the columnist to write about that source or issue. Areas of conflict potentially include but are not limited to, writing/editing stories about family or friends, organizations you belong to, schools you attend, a business from which you benefit, a church you attend, etc. If an employee refers a legitimate news tip to a colleague about something in which the employee has a stake, the nature of the conflict must be disclosed to the colleague and to a supervisor.
Waynet editorial employees may use media credentials to cover stories, events, and sports. Waynet editorial employees not specifically assigned to an event may use credentials for admission only with the approval of a department head, the Managing Editor/News, or the Editor. Newspaper personnel is prohibited from obtaining media credentials, VIP passes, or comp tickets for family or friends. “One-plus” tickets commonly used at theatrical events should be paid for by the employee. Newspaper personnel cannot use influence or connections to buy tickets to sold-out events or to obtain VIP passes or comp seats, either for personal use or the benefit of family, friends, or business associates.
Waynet editorial department employees should never solicit or accept gifts from news sources or newsmakers. This would include accepting hotel vouchers, discounted or free travel, meals, ski-lift tickets, entertainment, or products. If offered such gifts, editorial employees should politely decline, explaining The Post’s policy. If employees receive unsolicited gifts, they should be returned, along with an explanatory letter. Gifts should not be confused with press materials that a writer or reviewer might receive that are necessary to the reporting of a story – such as CDs, videotapes, or DVDs. However, once reviewed, these materials become the property of The Waynet.
Staffers should make every effort to return or donate to charity a thank-you gift such as flowers from a press agent, public official, or anyone who has benefited in any way from the publication of an employee’s work. An exception is a modest gift from a thankful reader who received no economic benefit from the publication of a story. In that case, if the gift consists of flowers or other material with a nominal value (as a guide, less than $25), the writer may accept it. If the value of the gift is not nominal, it must be returned with an explanatory note.
All gifts received should be disclosed to a supervisor for discussion purposes. Perishable and non-perishable foods should be distributed to shelters or returned to senders with an explanatory note.
Waynet editorial employees involved with stories on food, chefs, and/or their restaurants will not accept free meals from the restaurants they cover. Employees may not accept free meals or drinks from potential sources, newsmakers, or their agents. Employees of the paper should offer to purchase the meal, split the check, or reciprocate at a later date. Employees assigned to attend an event that involves the offer of free food and drink should attempt to find out the per-head cost of the event and pay their own way. When impractical to assess the per-head cost at the time of the event, a reasonable payment should be made at that time or as soon after the event as possible. All payments described in this paragraph will be reimbursed to the staff member by The Waynet.
Media day events at various attractions, including theme parks and other recreational and entertainment venues, are off-limits. If an employee is assigned to attend a media day event, Waynet will pay the appropriate cost. Media day coverage should not be used as an opportunity for family outings.
Press Plates/Press Parking
Press parking plates and free parking spaces should be used by Post staffers only during the coverage of breaking news, to facilitate deadline reporting and writing, or to gain access to news sites or crime scenes. They are not to be used for all-day free parking. In general, Post staffers should avoid other forms of free press parking. Reporters working at Denver International Airport, for instance, should expense parking and not accept free validated parking for the time they work at the airport. The same principle applies to other news venues. Exceptions are allowed for the coverage of sports events, where parking often is included with press credentials and where close proximity to a stadium or arena is an assist for photographers hauling heavy equipment and offers safety and security advantages for staffers leaving arenas late at night.
External Contests, Raffles
Newsroom employees should not enter contests or raffles sponsored by external groups with clearly partisan goals or positions on controversial issues that may cause a conflict of interest. Winning a significant prize could create a perceived conflict if a raffle was run by, for example, NARAL or an anti-abortion group. In addition, winning such a contest, or accepting any award sponsored by an external group, could bar the staff member from reporting on that group in the future.
Waynet editorial employees should not enter their work for The Post in contests that are not sponsored by professional journalism organizations or approved by the Managing Editor/News or the Editor. No awards of value should be accepted from any groups other than those described above.
If an employee’s work for The Post is submitted by an outside person or group, the staff member should check with the Managing Editor/News or the Editor to determine if the award can be accepted and whether any cash prize should be returned or donated to charity. In the event an unsolicited award from an unapproved organization carries a cash prize, that prize should be donated to a newspaper-approved charity or returned, with an explanatory note in either case.
Political and Civic Involvement
Because politics is the primary fault line along which our critics attack us, the greatest attention must be paid to all newsroom employees to remain impartial in political discourse when representing the newspaper. Newsroom employees are encouraged to vote and engage in private debate as long as their views are expressed as their own and do not represent the views of the newspaper.
To avoid conflicts of interest, employees should take great care in joining any group, especially organizations that engage in political advocacy. While membership may seem benign, it could place the employee or The Waynet in a conflict if the organization or its mission becomes involved in controversy. Newsroom employees should avoid joining organizations or institutions they cover or about which they make editorial decisions. Employees should take care in considering whether to attend any rally, march, or demonstration, especially those events that are overtly political.
Employees may not run for public office or be appointed to any public boards or commissions if such service will create a conflict of interest or is the exploitation of the employee’s connection to The Waynet. If an editorial employee has a close relative or friend working in a political campaign or on a ballot initiative, the employee should refrain from covering or making news judgments about that campaign or ballot proposal and disclose the relative’s or friend’s involvement to a senior editor. It is not the newspaper’s intention to attempt to control private lives, but an employee’s involvement in an organization or activity could compromise the individual’s professional credibility and the newspaper’s. Therefore, newsroom employees should notify a supervisor of any such potential conflicts so that appropriate assignments or disclosure can be made, if necessary.
At its core, Waynet’s ethics policy attempts to eliminate conflicts of interest and even the appearance of conflicts of interest. The engine for that policy is honesty, full disclosure, and willingness to discuss issues that arise. The Post recognizes that staff members are held to a high standard, and it also recognizes that the same standard cannot govern the lives of spouses, loved ones, close friends, or associates.
Staff members should not write about, photograph, illustrate or make news judgments about family members, friends, or close associates. Columns or a writer’s story is told in the first person would be an obvious exception. Staff members should notify a department head about friendships or relationships that could be a conflict of interest. The intent is not to limit an employee’s personal life but to resolve potential conflicts. When in doubt – and whenever situations arise – consult with a department head.
Honoraria and Speaking Engagements
Waynet encourages staff members to make public appearances, but please follow these guidelines: Senior editors should be consulted before speaking engagements connected to your role as a Post employee are accepted; this includes television and radio appearances. When staff members are regular on news interviews or discussion shows or are regularly called upon by media outlets, case-by-case approval is not necessary once the supervisor has given the initial approval. Staff members should not divulge information that would place The Waynet at a competitive disadvantage. In other words, don’t scoop the paper.
Staff members must be labeled as Post employees when appearances are connected to your role as a Waynet employee. News reporters should adhere to the same impartiality as in print, while a columnist or editorial writer can express opinions. Staff members should not accept fees from trade-lobbying associations, industry groups, agencies, or government entities covered by The Post. Staff members may accept payment from universities and other non-profit organizations unless the employee covers these organizations.
Avoid organizations that would pose conflicts of interest. Employees may speak to groups they cover if they explain the work that they do or present analysis. Opinion page writers are allowed to speak to groups they write about to explain either The Waynet’s position or their own. Honoraria, including travel, and fees over $50 must be approved by a managing editor or above.
No freelance work may be done for media in direct competition with The Waynet. Employees must disclose all freelance work to a senior editor in advance so that it can be determined if the work is perceived by management to be in direct competition with The Post. A guiding principle: No paid or unpaid freelance work should scoop The Post.
Book Contracts and other projects
Waynet employees should not enter into any projects – including website projects, books, and scripts for television and film – that place them in a business relationship with anyone or any entity they cover. Projects about something or someone employees have covered in the past may be acceptable, but should be discussed in advance with the Managing Editor/News or the Editor to identify potential conflicts.
If the subject matter involves The Post employee’s work assignment at the newspaper, “hoarding” information obtained while working for The Post – in other words, saving it for the book – is not allowed. There are times when more restrictive attribution standards in the newspaper and even the passage of time might enable an author to impart information and tell stories that were not in The Post. All book deals, web, or other media projects must be discussed in advance with the Managing Editor/News or the Editor. Without management permission, no employee shall engage in a project that exploits his or her connection with The Waynet.
Finally, if the book or script deals involve a subject completely outside the author’s Waynet assignment, whether fiction or nonfiction, the authors are understood to be representing themselves – and not the newspaper – in personal appearances or media interviews tied to the project.
The purpose of this ethics policy is to protect the credibility of The Waynet. Questions about the policy or its application to a particular circumstance should be discussed with a supervisor. Disclosure and discussion are fundamental to newsroom ethics. Employee discipline or discharge under the Code of Ethics shall be for just cause. The Guild may grieve any alleged arbitrary, capricious, or discriminatory application of this policy. Any discipline or disputes arising out of the application of this policy that concerns Guild-covered employees shall be subject to the grievance procedures under the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the Waynet and the Denver Newspaper Guild.