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.

Additonal Ethics Guidelines which apply to staff of the Center for Public Integrity

Conflicts of Interest

Staff employed by the Center for Public Integrity are not permitted to participate in stories in which they or any family member or domestic partner have a direct financial or work interest, except in rare instances when approved by the Chief Executive Officer. If the CEO permits a staff member to work on a story despite such a conflict, the Center will disclose the conflict to its readers in a note attached to the story. In addition, the Staff Handbook of the Center is clear that all staff — not just editorial — are prohibited from engaging in political advocacy or donating to political candidates at any level of government.

Donors and Disclosure

Journalists employed by the Center for Public Integrity take no editorial direction from donors whose contributions may support the Center’s activities. (Go here for Donor and Gift Acceptance Policies.) The Center will not hesitate to report on its donors when events warrant. If it reports on a donor, the Center will disclose its relationship with that donor to its readers.

Use of Confidential Sources

The Center generally refrains from basing stories solely on the assertions of confidential sources, except in extraordinary circumstances and after review by the Executive Editor of Public Integrity or the Director of the ICIJ, or their approved designee.

Identification of Victims of Sex Crimes and Minors Accused of Crimes

Absent a compelling reason to do so or permission from the person involved, the Center will not identify the alleged victims of sex crimes or minors charged with crimes.

Surreptitious Reporting

As a general matter, staff of the Center for Public Integrity will identify themselves and their relationship to Public Integrity or the ICIJ when covering a story. Center staff should not lie about their identities or connection to the Center. However, in rare circumstances, it may be appropriate for Center staff not to disclose their identity or connection to the Center if doing so would prevent the Center obtaining information in the public interest. Any exceptions must be approved by the Executive Editor or the Director of the ICIJ or their designee.

Outside Work

Center staff wishing to engage in freelance or other outside work must obtain prior approval from the Executive Editor or Director of the ICIJ.

Use of Social Media

As a digital news organization, the Center is committed to using social networking platforms to distribute its work and build an engaged audience. Staff members are mindful that their actions online may be seen as a representation of the Center, whether Public Integrity or the ICIJ. They are therefore expected to be polite and avoid any impression of partisanship.

 

 

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