Editorial Policies

JOURNALISTIC ETHICS

The Center for Public Integrity subscribes to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional journalists, reprinted here in full:

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.

Seek Truth and Report It

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
  • Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
  • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
  • Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
  • Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
  • Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.
  • Never plagiarize.
  • Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
  • Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
  • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
  • Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
  • Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
  • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
  • Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
  • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
  • Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
  • Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
  • Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other. Journalists should:

  • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
  • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

Sigma Delta Chi’s first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984 and 1987. The present version of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics was adopted in September 1996.

DATA ACCURACY

To ensure data accuracy and the integrity of the process, the following mandatory steps are required of all Center staff for all projects and stories that we publish. We believe they are absolutely necessary and will be enforced.

1. Anyone working on a story or project involving a database will consult the data editor and editorial director about methods and plans before any data are gathered or input.

2. The data editor, in conjunction with the project coordinator or director, will design a plan to check the data according to agreed upon methods once data are gathered.

3. A Center staffer not involved in any phase of the story will have autonomy in fact-checking.

4. Databases entered by the Center staff or other nongovernmental entity are not to be treated as primary source documents. We believe there is no substitute for reviewing actual documents and comparing them against the electronic database.

5. Fact-checking documents will include print-outs of the source documents (even when those documents are entered in a database) unless there are more than 200 source documents or records in the database. In such cases the data editor and the lead fact-checker will consult about a suitable alternative to facilitate fact-checking.

6. All outlying statistics (those that are more than 50 percent higher or lower than the next nearest figure in a grouping) will be checked by hand against source documents by a staffer not on the story team.

7. All listed rankings will be compared against source documents. All ranked parties listed or mentioned will be contacted for quality assurance verification, though not necessarily for comment.

8. Databases will be reviewed line by line by a staffer not involved in entry of or reporting on the data. Again, in cases of databases larger than 200 documents or records, the data editor will consult with the project director about a suitable alternative.

9. The copy editor will verify with the data editor and editorial director that steps 5-8 have been completed for each statistic used in a Center story and that they document their verification of data for inclusion in the fact-checking files.

10. Only the editorial director or managing editor will tell the web team when a Center story is ready for online publication. No story will be shared or promised to be delivered at a specific time before final edits from the editorial director or managing editor have been made and the copy editor has signed off on the story.

11. When the copy editor, fact checker, or data editor is sick, on vacation, or out of the office, their duties will be undertaken only by those who have been trained and briefed by them to do so.

12. Any variation from this protocol must be approved by the editorial director in conjunction with the executive director.