The News Journal, Newcastle, Dela.: Code of Professionalism and Ethics
A newspaper's most important asset is its integrity. Lose it, and the newspaper loses the very power that makes it a community force.
Because of this, every newspaper - and every newspaper person - must take certain safeguards to ensure the paper’s integrity. Because a newspaper and its staff are subject to severe public scrutiny, it becomes necessary for employees to avoid both the fact and appearance of partiality and dishonesty.
All of us as members of the press have been operating under our own codes of ethics. In some cases, these individual codes may be more stringent than what follows here as News Journal policy, but this code will give all of us the same minimum guidelines.
As statements of general principle in this code of ethics, the following are offered:
That an individual's own judgment and integrity are the keystones of this code, because it would be impossible to spell out every single question that might arise.
That our management and employees must remain free of obligation to any special interest. This means avoiding all possible conflicts of interest, or the appearance thereof.
That the public must be assured that our writers, photographers and editors are beholden to no one.
That this code of ethics applies to all news and editorial department employees of The News Journal Co.
These guidelines were prepared and revised by committees of news and editorial department employees. Every effort was made to elicit comments and contributions from the entire staff while they were being prepared.
News Journal recognizes that the power it has as the dominant source of information for residents of Delaware and adjacent areas carries with it special responsibilities to face the public with politeness and candor, to avoid the appearance of arrogance and to listen to the voiceless.
Accuracy and impartial reporting and editing should be the hallmarks of The News Journal.
Reporters should not comment editorially on stories they are covering and should not write about events in which they're personally involved. Each of us should avoid public involvement in, and expression of opinion about, controversial issues. The editorial page and opinion columns are the places for such expressions. Each of us should be wary of expressing opinions in casual conversation or elsewhere that may then be cited by others as a basis for charging news slanting.
To avoid any appearance of partisanship in any public issue, campaign buttons and bumper stickers should not be displayed nor should public advertisements or petitions be signed.
A reporter or an editor shall advise a supervisor or the editor of any potential conflict of interest. Such consideration should include personal investments, outside business interests and personal, professional or business relationships, as well as any issue to which the reporter or editor has an overwhelming personal commitment. The supervisor or the editor should then determine whether the potential conflict requires removal of the reporter or editor from handling a story.
For example, a reporter should not cover nor should an editor make a crucial editorial decision about a story involving a business in which a spouse holds a job or has a strong financial interest, about such volatile issues as abortion if he or she has an overwhelming philosophical commitment or about a zoning issue if the reporter's house or neighborhood is affected.
When an issue involves two or more sides in conflict, all significant interests should be given an opportunity to respond. Fairness in stories requires completeness, relevance, leveling with the reader and straightforwardness ahead of flashiness. On this last point: No story is fair if reporters hide their biases or emotions behind such subtly pejorative words as ”refused,” “despite,” “admit” and "massive.”
The News Journal discloses the source of all information unless disclosure would endanger the source's security or would prevent publication of a significant story.
Before any information is accepted without full attribution, reporters must make every reasonable effort to get it on the record. If that is not possible, reporters should consider seeking the information elsewhere. If in turn this is not possible, reporters should request an on-the-record reason for restricting the source's identity, and should include the reason in the story.
Quotations attacking a named person or institution in pejorative terms will not be published unless attributed to a named source. “Cheap shots” have no place in our papers.
Reporters should not take advantage of unsophisticated sources not familiar with newspaper procedures. Reporters should clearly explain at the outset the difference between off-the-record, not-for-attribution, background and on-the-record remarks.
The responsible editor should be satisfied that the protection of the source is important, and the reporter should if necessary be willing to share with his editor the identity of that source. Should the reporter not be willing or able to share that information, the editor may reject the story. In no case should the identity of a source be disclosed in print once the source was promised anonymity.
Outside employment, political and social activism
Two cardinal principles must be observed by news and editorial employees in considering outside employment, either paid or volunteer.
Under no circumstance may such outside employment exert influence or effect leverage on the employee's work for The News Journal Co.
The News Journal Co., as prime employer, has first call on the employee's services. Before agreeing to do any outside journalism-related work, the employee must consult his or her supervisor.
Within the context of these principles, the following rules apply:
1. An employee may not work for a daily or weekly newspaper, magazine, radio station or television station within The News Journal's circulation area. For example, work for Philadelphia newspapers, the Delaware State News, Cecil Whig, Delaware Today, Philadelphia Magazine, or Wilmington, Philadelphia and Salisbury radio and television stations is not permissible.
2. An employee may work as a correspondent for a newspaper, news service, magazine, radio or television station provided these outlets are not in direct competition for news with The News Journal and provided the principles stated above are scrupulously observed. For example, stringing for The New York Times or selling photographs to a wire service is impermissible. An employee may also participate as a panelist or commentator on a radio or television show within the competing area provided the employee's position with The News Journal is made clear. Because on-line services are global in nature, before doing any work for an electronic media outlet reporters and editors need the managing editor's or the executive editors permission.
3. An employee may not do public relations, writing, photography, or similar work for any organization that comes within the normal range of News Journal coverage.
4. Employees should not report, write or edit stories about any outside business, institution or individual that employs them. For example, an employee teaching at the University of Delaware should have nothing to do with any story touching on university affairs.
5. Employees may not be involved in policy-making positions in major outside organizations (such as local or state school boards, Medical Center of Delaware, Delaware Symphony board, etc.) that falls in the normal range of News Journal coverage. Participation in such organizations on a non-policy making level is permissible. The holding of office in minor groups with small community impact (such as alumni chapter, tennis club, local church, etc.) is also permissible as long these activities do not coincide with the employee's special professional assignment. In short, people who report the news should not be involved in making that news.
We are eager for News Journal employees to play full roles in the community. At the same time, we are worried that if News Journal employees play a dominant role on something like the Delaware Law School board of trustees and the law school then happens to get a lot of favorable coverage, the public would draw unflattering conclusions about cause and effect.
Should a minor organization where a News Journal employee plays a dominant role suddenly be propelled into the limelight, the employee would have to step down from his or her leadership position.
6. Because politics and government are of prime news interest and are woven through almost all areas of coverage, a News Journal news and editorial department employee may not run for or hold public office, may not work for a political party or candidate and may not work for any agency receiving public funds.
7. Public demonstrations are another area of potential conflict. Employees may not participate in such demonstrations if they fall within the normal range of News Journal coverage.
8. Freelance contributors, while not bound by the same restrictions as regular employees, should abide by the spirit of these standards, since the freelancers also represent The News Journal papers to some degree. To avoid any potential conflict between journalistic objectivity and a freelancer's commercial or political interests, it is the freelancer's responsibility to make any potential conflict known to the News Journal management. If management deems that a conflict exists, the freelancer's work will be refused. A freelancer who happens to run a book store, for example, will be barred from reviewing books.
The freelancer's ties to relevant organizations should be shown with the freelancer's article.
9. No news department employee or freelancer shall enter any material printed in The News Journal in any contest without the permission of the editor or his designate.
The coordination of contest entries is designed to avoid the embarrassment of participating in purely commercial contests and to assure that our newspapers are represented by our best efforts in those contests that limit the number of entries.
10. A news department employee shall make a confidential disclosure to his or her supervisor or to the editor should he or she become involved in covering or editing a story which could be publicly construed as a conflict of interest. Such a conflict could arise from stock ownership or the place of employment of the employee, spouse of dependent child or from an overwhelming commitment to a public issue.
Favors and favoritism
No employee shall accept gifts of money or items of value. Such things as pens and pocket diaries that appear to be worth no more than a few dollars may be accepted. Other items that come in unsolicited, such as product samples or promotional items, and would be difficult to return, will be delivered to the editor's office where they will be held for an auction. Proceeds from the sale will go to the Needy Family Fund, and the sender of the item should be so informed.
Employees may neither ask for nor accept special favors nor use their position with the newspaper to seek special treatment.
Employees may neither solicit funds from, nor sell advertising to, people and institutions within their areas of coverage or editorial responsibility.
Free admissions to any event that is not free to the public are prohibited. If the public pays, The News Journal pays. The only exception is for seats not sold to the general public, as in a press box. Whenever possible, arrangements will be made to pay for the seats.
Tickets and passes received by employees or the company will be returned to the sponsoring organization with an explanation of this policy.
Invitations to press parties should be accepted only by those employees assigned to cover or who otherwise need to attend the event.
Hospitality such as drinks and meals may be accepted when, in the employee's judgment, it would be rude or ungracious to refuse and when it is made known to the host or hostess that it is the employee's intention to reciprocate at some future time.
The News Journal Co. will pay for all travel costs in connection with news coverage. Free transportation may be accepted only when it cannot be paid for and there has been a legitimate effort to do so. Such an exceptional case might be a helicopter ride to an oil rig or a trip on a military aircraft.
Freelancers hired by The News Journal may not use the free travel opportunities that full-time employees are barred from accepting. Sponsoring organizations' should be notified of The News Journal's rejection of their offers.
If there is an extenuating circumstance warranting a free trip, the company, person or organization paying for the trip should be named in any resulting article.
Violations of the law
Employees of the news and editorial department operate in the public-domain, both on and off the job. Consequently the activities of these employees, even where and when normally considered private and not job related, can influence public opinion of the newspapers and can affect the credibility of the writers and editors.
Crimes and violations that involve morals and ethics assume greater significance because of this image effect. Minor traffic and domestic-affairs violations, while not condoned or encouraged, are of little concern to the employer, if they do not interfere with the employee's ability to do his job. Crimes that indicate personality impairment are more serious and will be considered an illness. The provisions of the sick-leave policy apply.
No change in an employee's status or assignment will be considered until conviction, except in extraordinarily serious accusations or unless the employee is unable to work. If failure to obtain bail, institutionalization or a jail term arises, an employee might be placed on unpaid leave.
Depending on the nature of the charge or conviction, the editor and the department supervisor may consider reassignment of the employee.
The regular policies on crime reporting will be observed in publishing charges and judicial action involving news and editorial department employees. These stories should be displayed based only on their news value.
Violations that involve theft or misuse of company property or funds or other allegations of misbehavior of a serious nature within the company, whether or not accompanied by prosecution can result in dismissal.
Possession or use of alcoholic beverages is prohibited on company property. The same prohibition applies to narcotics or dangerous drugs, except if prescribed by a physician.
News and editorial department employees are prohibited from possession of or carrying firearms, even if licensed, while on the job.
1. The policies and rules spelled out in this code apply to all news and editorial department employees, full and part time, who are on the News Journal payroll. Freelancers also must adhere to these policies, as stated above.
2. Every present employee of the news and editorial department and every new employee shall be given a copy of this code by the personnel department. Supervisors shall go over this code with current and new employees to make sure that the policies are fully understood.
3. To aid in the enforcement of the professional ethics policies, employees shall inform the editor or the editorial page editor by Feb. 15 of each year, in writing, of any outside employment for the previous year. This information will be confidential.
4. It is the obligation of staff members to bring any violation of this code to the attention of the supervisor or the editor.
5. Responsibility for abiding by the ethics policies and enforcing them rests with the editor and the editor of the editorial pages. They must see that the rules are followed and that violations are dealt with promptly and uniformly.
6. Any employee who violates the ethics policies may be given a formal reprimand, suspended without pay or dismissed.
7. In cases where there is doubt or question on any of the policies, the editor or the editorial page editor should be consulted and they will make the final decisions for their respective departments.