Lou Ziegler was editor of the Forum from May 2000 to Jan. 29, 2005, when he died of complications related to pancreatic cancer that had spread to his liver.
In 2004, Mr. Ziegler guided the process that led to The Forum's current ethics policy. The following, with minor changes to acknowledge his death, is his letter inviting readers to examine our policy.
This is an active site designed to show you what The Forum is doing to address concerns among the public, in general, about the way the news is gathered and reported. Please look for updated material.
It is our hope that you'll leave this site believing that the news staff at The Forum is giving serious thought to ethical issues and that we have guidelines in place for the way we conduct business, guidelines developed only after considerable discussion with readers and debate in the newsroom.
The Forum's revised code of ethics went into effect in fall 2004, after nearly five months of study. Various news articles and columns on this site give you an idea of how it came together.
We listened to 'real people' while shaping the code. Scores of readers responded through online questionnaires posed to members of our Real People Bank, through several public online 'chats' on ethics, and through discussions facilitated by the Group Decision Center at North Dakota State University. Our Readers' Board also provided input.
We engaged readers in other ways, including two public forums conducted by Kelly McBride, an ethicist with the Poynter Institute. She also provided our staff with training.
Virtually every member of our newsroom had a hand in creating the policy from May and into September 2004. They met in teams, reviewed policies from other newspapers, and approved the final version of the code, after having opportunity to comment on it anonymously during a session at the GDC, which is affiliated with the Northern Plains Ethics Institute.
We recognize that a code of ethics doesn't provide failsafe assurances that The Forum newsroom is immune from ethical problems. The code, however, gives us guidance as we go about doing our business each day, while providing readers with a document to hold us more accountable for our conduct.
Thank you for your interest in this issue and for accessing our Inforum Web site.
This code serves as a guide to the news staff as it conducts work. We recognize the importance of following this code to protect both the credibility of The Forum and our personal integrity as journalists.
This code is the product of collaboration by virtually the entire newsroom staff during summer 2004. It is a code of ethical conduct for the newsroom, developed by the newsroom, with considerable study of other ethics policies, most notably the VirginianPilot.
This code is an evolving document; a newsroom Ethics Committee meets periodically to reflect upon possible additions and revisions to this code.
A. It is important that newsroom job applicants, who are seriously being considered for hire, know about our ethics policy, have an opportunity to review it, and to ask questions about it during the interviewing process. Newsroom management needs to know that prospective new employees agree to abide by The Forum's Newsroom Code of Ethics.
The editor primarily responsible for the interviewing will make sure to address the above. (See Newsroom Operations Manual for more on Hiring Practices.)
A. Accuracy and authenticity are essential for Forum news staffers.
- In being accurate, we will strive to get the facts right.
- In being authentic, we will strive to reflect what people in our community see, hear and experience.
- We will work to put context and perspective into our coverage, producing coverage that authenticates our community. We will do this by relying on all five senses in our reporting.
- We will seek to understand what people are thinking and feeling, not only what they are saying.
- We will do so with humility and the absence of omniscience.
B. Imaginary characters or fictional situations should never be used unless approved by the editor.
C. The Forum will never knowingly alter facts and must not give readers reason to think we have.
- Therefore, we will not use fictional names.
- But there is an exception. Compassion and the unavoidable conditions of reporting may demand we guard someone's identity.
- In rare cases, we may identify someone with only a first name or a first name and initial. Or, we may use a general description such as 'the Fargo doctor' or 'the Moorhead firefighter.' However, use of partial anonymity, like authorization of other anonymity, must be approved by the editor.
D. In cases where it makes a difference, we will tell readers if we directly witnessed a scene or if we obtained information from a personal interview, or by telephone, email interview or a written statement.
A. The Forum defines plagiarism as using words, ideas, and phrases belonging to another writer or source without crediting the author or source.
- Examples would include press releases, wire services and information published on the Internet.
- An exception woud be basic background information frequently plugged into stories involving ongoing issues.
- An example of that might be a political candidate's history, or when a complex concept, issue or formula has been boiled down to a succinct paragraph or two.
- When information is pulled from archived stories that is substantial, creative, obviously dated or historical, or reflects disagreement regarding versions of events at the time the original story ran, the information should be cited as coming from a previous story. If there is a question about whether the material needs to be sourced, ask a supervisor.
A. Part of providing fair coverage is providing complete coverage and The Forum will strive to represent all sides of a story, or will explain why we can't.
- Sources should have established credibility. We don't need to seek out everyone down to the last unbalanced or marginal person who may have an opinion about the story.
- We should guard against giving the stamp of credibility to people who may not, in fact, deserve it.
B. Particularly when a news story makes an allegation about someone or some group, the target of that accusation should be given every possible opportunity to respond.
- If the allegation is serious enough, that could mean delaying publication, a decision that should be made by the editor.
- If the target of a story won't give us an answer, we should simply say 'Person A would not comment on Person B's statements.' That is preferable to 'refused to comment,' which implies combativeness that may not be exist, or 'declined to comment,' which may make the target seem unduly apathetic.
- The top editor on duty at the time will determine, when the question arises, whether an arrested person should get a chance to comment for the next day's story noting the arrest. Obviously, we'd do that in some major cases; if, say, the mayor were arrested for a DUI. But it isn't practical in all cases.
C. Local opinion columnists and cartoonists can cause pain and harm to individuals and to newspapers if not held to many of the same standards as other members of the news staff.
- Columnists are employed to offer their opinion; however, this does not give them carte blanche approval to make any statements they wish and not be subject to editing.
- The editor of any potentially controversial column that attacks an individual or business must inform the editor or managing editor prior to publication.
- Columnists and cartoonists must avoid repeated meanspiritedness, or promotion of the same individuals and organizations.
- At the same time, columnists must be encouraged to act with conviction and courage, taking unpopular stands, if need be, to espouse personal beliefs.
- Columnists must be encouraged to be their own persons' and not to take popular positions simply because they are popular.
- Columnists are expected to approach their work with the same sound research techniques as reporters.
- Columnists must handle sources and sourcing as stated in this policy.
- Fabrications in nonnews stories, such as columns, should be obvious to the reader. The writer should avoid using real news events as material for fabrication.
A. The Forum has an obligation to its readers to identify sources and, whenever sources are anonymous, to explain why.
- An unnamed source should only be used as a last resort after every attempt to find somebody who will go 'on the record' has been exhausted.
- The editor needs to approve use of any unnamed source and, in confidentiality, know the identify of the source. If at all possible, material from an unnamed source should be checked with other sources.
- The Forum follows the guideline established by the Poynter Institute: The newspaper should be willing to tell the public why a source is unnamed. When a source's identity is withheld, stories will state the reason and provide as much information about the source as possible without revealing the person's identity.
- Sources will be treated with fairness and respect. Reporters will always identify themselves as journalists so someone knows their comments could be published. For exceptions, reporters should consult the editor. (VirginianPilot)
- Whenever possible, anonymous sources are to be avoided in routine stories. That means making an effort to get the name of the nursing supervisor who provides a condition report on an accident victim, or the police officer who provides information about an arrest.
B. Our treatment of sources will be done with professionalism and dignity, with fairness the driving force.
- We will treat sources and subjects with respect, not as means to journalistic ends.
- We will show compassion for those who may be adversely affected by news coverage. We will be especially sensitive when working with sources/subjects affected by tragedy or grief.
- We will be sensitive when dealing with children and inexperienced sources. It is especially important for those who rarely have contact with reporters to understand that what they say could be published. The is could avoid the embarrassing, 'But I don't want this in the paper,' at the end of the interview.
- No sources or subject of a story should be surprised when the paper appears, or feel that there was no opportunity to respond. We recognize reporting information may cause harm or discomfort, but we will balance that by reporting every possible side of the story.
- When an agreement is made to shield a source, it must be made clear that the source understands the ground rules, which are articulated elsewhere in this policy.
C. Promises of anonymity should be made only in special circumstances and only with the advance approval of the editor.
- Granting anonymity to a source must be absolutely essential to a significant story.
- Before granting anonymity to sources, reporters must make every reasonable effort to try to get the information on the record or to secure the same information from an ontherecord source or from one that can confirm the anonymous source's information. If it is not possible, the editor must be advised of the identity of the unnamed source prior to publication and approve of the use of said source. A determination must be made as to whether the information from a potential anonymous source is crucial to the public's understanding of an important issue.
- Reporters and sources must have a mutual understanding of the terms under which anonymity is granted, including what's meant by 'off the record,' 'not for attribution,' 'for background,' and 'for deep background.'
- Unnamed sources must be aware that they could be identified if lawsuits involving coverage were pursued and efforts to keep them confidential were exhausted in legal disputes.
- Reporters and editors should discuss general conditions under which promises of confidentiality can be made. Reporters should not make a pledge or promise of confidentiality they are not empowered to honor and enforce, and editors should honor promises properly made by reporters.
- When a source's identity is withheld, stories will state the reason and provide as much information about the source as possible without revealing the person's identity.
A. With very rare exceptions, quotes must reflect, verbatim, what was said.
- Information within quotation marks should reflect exactly what the person said. Otherwise paraphrase it. (Washington Post)
- If a quote containing mangled pronunciation or grammar is essential to the story, minor editing can be done. The same is true for eliminating filler words, such as 'um.' (VirginianPilot)
B. When a story includes a powerful narrative, a reporter does not have to interrupt the story with constant attributions.
- When appropriate, a block of type leading into or following the story can inform readers of the number and types of sources used. There are moments, even in narrative stories, which require spot attribution, but using a block method can minimize the clutter. (Washington Post, Poynter Institute)
C. As has been referred to elsewhere in this Code of Ethics, verification of information is an essential part of our jobs.
- When Web links are included in a story, they must be checked.
- Phone numbers included in stories will be called to verify they are correct. This is the responsibility of the person entering the information into the computer system.
- If information is obtained through an email, the sender should be verified. If appropriate, readers should be informed the information came through an email communication.
- If a Real People Bank source is used, the reporter must call the individual to verify who they are and to inform them their comments are being used in a story.
- When a subject of a story cannot be reached for comment, the paper will tell readers what efforts were made to contact them. For example, if two messages were left on a home answering machine and one message was left on a cell phone, we will tell readers that.
- When factual claims are made that seem extreme or unusual, such as, 'John Doe said the temperature on Dec. 3, 2003 was 100 degrees,' attempts should be made to verify the information.
A. We operate under the principle that 'loose lips sink ships,'
so we are protective of the ongoing work being done in The Forum's newsroom.
- We do not make promises to sources about where a story will appear in the newspaper.
- We generally should not volunteer when a story will appear.
- It is recognized there are different types of stories, ranging from highly sensitive stories that could require legal screening, and major scoops, to soft features stories. Avoid disclosing to people outside The Forum when an article of a sensitive or financial nature will be published.
- It is permissible to tell a subject of a softer story when it will likely run, but no absolute guarantee can be given. If there is doubt about whether such information can be given to a subject of a story, reporters should consult with their supervisor.
- Also, out of urgency to reach a subject, we recognize it is sometimes necessary to tell the subject 'we are working on a story for tomorrow.'
- Generally, if someone wants a story read back before publication, politely refuse. Do not agree to such a request as a condition for doing the interview.
- It is understood there can be exceptions to reading back stories, especially with stories of a highly technical nature. Reporters should consult with their editor before agreeing to read a story back to a source.
- Similarly, it is permissible to show portions of a graphic to a source to help ensure accuracy.
- Whenever possible, reporters should call the subject to verify quotes taken from another publication. The source of where the information came from should be reported if the subject cannot be reached.
- It is understood that newsroom employees discuss newsroom business and stories being reported with family and friends and even with community groups during speaking engagements. Employees should use discretion regarding the release of possibly proprietary information in such discussions.
A. Every attempt should be made to correct errors or mistakes as soon as reasonably possible.
- The correction should be made when the correct information can be confirmed by a credible source.
- Correction should contain: the date the mistake took place, the section/page it occured, the headline of the story.
- The Forum will not repeat the original error or mistake, or give a reason for the mistake.
- Page A2 is the preferred location for all corrections. Editors will determine if a correction depending on its severity constitutes a placement in another section.
- The Editor's column should be used occasionally to explain newsroom errors, which include corrections
B. There are occasions when 'clarifications' are in order.
- Clarification of copy will be made if and when editors determine that factual information in a story or graphic could be deemed misleading or misinterpreted.
C. Correcting mistakes on Olive
- Attempts will be made to correct all archive information.
- At the top of all corrected stories there should be a note stating: This story has been modified (stamped with time and date.) Modified means a correction has been made to the copy.
D. Correcting mistakes on InForum
- At the top of corrected stories, there should be a note stating: This story has been modified (stamped with time and date). Modified, meaning, a correction has been made to the copy. Also, a 'see corrections' hotlink should be provided so readers can view what mistake that has been corrected.
- The Online corrections page is the same as the paper's correction area on A2. We don't repeat the mistake. If breaking news needs to be updated or corrected on InForum, the correction should indicate the wrong information was found online, and not in the newspaper.
E. As part of their jobs, all employees must report errors or complaints of errors in writing to their supervisor, with a copy to the public editor.
- All employees are obligated to report complaints of errors to their supervisors, whether it be an inperson complaint, telephone call or email. Editors will then determine if a correction is necessary.
A. In reporting crimes and tragedies:
- Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
- 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 filing of charges.
- Balance a criminal suspect's fair trial rights with the public's right to be informed.
- 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. (The policy points, above, are found in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics)
- In any matter of uncertainty in reporting about crimerelated incidents, consult with the supervising editor. (The newsroom's operations manual provides considerable other information related to crime reporting.)
A. Deception/misrepresentation is a form of lying and is to be avoided in newsgathering.
- Using deception to gather news, whether by lying or misrepresentation, is inappropriate under virtually all circumstances.
- People being interviewed for news stories should know they are speaking to a Forum reporter and their comments may be published.
- In those rare and justifiable circumstances where deception may be used when it is the only way to report an important story of vital public interest, you must first seek permission from the editor.
- If asked, under all circumstances identify yourself as an editorial employee of The Forum.
B. In those rare cases where deception is used in newsgathering, it must be revealed in the story.
- One way to do this is through a 'Howwedidthe story' sidebar.
- The subject of the deception should be informed before publication for an opportunity to respond.
C. Hidden cameras
- The use of hidden cameras and surreptitious taperecording devices is to be avoided, except in rare cases when they are the only ways to get an important story.
- Advance approval of the editor is required.
D. Tape recording
- Under North Dakota and Minnesota laws, it is not necessary to tell a source you are taperecording either a telephone of inperson conversation. In most cases, out of courtesy, inform a source. Again, it is the reporter's discretion.
- If asked, you must say you are taping the conversation.
- It is not necessary to inform public figures at public appearances that they are being taped.
- Before taping someone from states other than North Dakota and Minnesota, check to see laws applicable to the states. Information can be found at HERE, which is the Web site of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. The following comes from the RCFP:
'In light of the differing state laws governing electronic recording of conversations between private parties, journalists are advised to err on the side of caution when recording or disclosing an interstate telephone call. The safest strategy is to assume that the stricter state law will apply.
'For example, a reporter located in the District of Columbia who records a telephone conversation without the consent of a party located in Maryland would not violate District of Columbia law, but could be liable under Maryland law. A court located in the District of Columbia may apply Maryland law, depending on its 'conflict of laws' rules. Therefore, an aggrieved party may choose to file suit in either jurisdiction, depending on which law is more favorable to the party s claim.
'In one case, a New York trial court was asked to apply the Pennsylvania wiretap law which requires consent of all parties to a call placed by a prostitute in Pennsylvania to a man in New York. Unlike the Pennsylvania wiretap statute, the New York and federal statutes require the consent of only one party. The call was recorded with the womans consent by reporters for The Globe, a national tabloid newspaper. The court ruled that the law of the state where the injury occurred, New York, should apply. (Krauss v. Globe International)'
E. Fabricating the news
- Deceiving readers by fabricating news events is prohibited.
- Under no circumstances should events be fabricated, unless clearly obvious to the reader, as when a writer recounts 'here, in FargoMoorhead, where there are just two seasons, winter and July'
- Care must be taken in recreating events so that it is clear to the reader that the event was not witnessed firsthand.
F. Fabricating columns and features
- Fabrications in nonnews stories, such as columns or features, must be obvious to the reader. The writer should avoid using real news events as material for fabrications.
G. Early exits by reviewers
- Arts and entertainment critics must stay until the end of a performance or disclose to readers they left early because of deadline.
H. Using other media to report stories
- It must be disclosed whenever news, columns, reviews, etc. are written off radio, television, the Internet, or other publications.
A. Obeying the law in pursuit of the news
- We conduct ourselves lawfully while reporting and presenting the news.
B. Paying for information
- We don't. We don't give anything of value to obtain news information for stories we report.
C. When The Forum or Forum Communications properties are in stories
- The managing editor or editor must be informed, prepublication, whenever the newspaper or FCC are named in stories.
D. Working with media partners
- When collaborating with other Forum Communications Co. news media, reporters should be sure to consult with their supervising editor before including outside information in their story or supplying information to these partners.
- If information in a Forum story has been supplied by an outside media source, it must be properly attributed to that media partner, as specifically as possible.
- Forum reporters should attempt to verify the information independently, rather than rely solely on media partners.
E. Keeping reporters out of stories
- Reporters should make every effort to remain in the audience, to stay off the stage, to report the news, not make the news. The Washington Post)
F. Covering Forum Communicationssponsored events
- Events sponsored by Forum Communications are legitimate community events, and The Forum should help inform the public about them.
- Such events should not, however, receive greater coverage than the newspaper would give a similar event not sponsored by Forum Communications.
G. News and Advertising
- The paper should maintain a clear line between advertising and news. Business considerations should not influence news judgment, and reporters should immediately report to editors if advertisers or advertising staff seek to sway reporting decisions. (The Kansas City Star)
- Advertisements should continue to be set apart from editorial content by use of design elements.
- Online advertisements should be confined to the side columns of the Web page, or be marked by an 'advertising' label.
- Advertising supplements, created and edited separately from the editorial department, should be labeled as such on every page.
H. Avoiding sensationalism
- Based on our interaction with the public, reporters and editors know this is one of areas of greatest concern for our readers. Sensationalism is difficult to codify; it has to be defined largely on a casebycase basis. But sensationalism, even if only perceived, hurts our relationships with our readers and our sources. It breaks the faith people have in our newspaper, the trust that we are doing our best to tell the truth in every story.
- Sensationalism is worse than making a factual error or missing an angle, because those are honest mistakes. When readers see sensationalism, they believe it rises from active malice, even where none exists.
- Therefore, Forum reporters and editors will guard against sensationalism in writing, editing, photography, and play of stories, by:
- honoring straightforwardness ahead of flashiness (The Washington Post)
- considering carefully whether a story or photograph merits the play and space it is given
- not hiding biases or emotions behind subtly pejorative words or inflammatory adjectives such as 'claimed' or 'only.'
- not manufacturing conflict where none exists.
- ensuring stories and photographs represent both the facts and the overall spirit of the events covered.
- not misleading the reader by inclusion of irrelevant material or exclusion of crucial facts (paraphrased from The Washington Post).
A. Manipulation of photos
- Do not alter 'live' images in a way that would make the reader question whether it is a real or fake situation.
- If the alterations are done to benefit a photographer, copy editor or editor they should not be done.
- Techniques that were once utilized in traditional darkrooms such as dodging and burning can be used judiciously, but may not alter the content of the photograph.
B. Posed photos
- No photographs shall be submitted for publication which project the impression they are a documentation of reality when they are not because the photographer interjected himself/herself into the shoot. The reader should clearly and quickly be able to discern between a candid photo and a situation that was managed by the photographer.
C. Cutouts, including cutouts of live news photos
- Any 'livenews' photos taken for news or sports should not be cut out. There may be rare exceptions, but the designer must first consult with the photo editor (Kansas City Star, Washington Post).
- If the cutout will be used anywhere in the Aye section, the editor or managing editor must always approve the cutout, with the exceptions being skyboxes and cutouts used in graphics.
- Although it is not encouraged, cutouts of sports file photos are acceptable if approved by the photo editor.
- In the case the photo editor is unavailable, approval must be obtained from the graphics editor.
- If given approval, the photo should then be given to the graphics department to be cut out.
- Designers should not take it upon themselves to cut out file, live news or sports photos except for skyboxes. They should be performed by the Graphics Department.
D. Photo illustrations and crediting of same
- If there is reason to alter the content of a photograph, that photo is no longer a news photo, and no longer appropriate in a context where it will look like one. It should also be clearly labeled as a 'photo illustration'.
- We should not use photo illustrations whose effects are so subtle that they can't be quickly discerned.
- Photo illustrations should be developed with the input of photographers and with great care to ensure that they do not mislead readers.
E. Photo graphic sensitivity issues
- In recognition of news photographs' ability to evoke a strong emotional response from readers and the desire to maintain a positive relationship with them, the ethics of photographing and publishing scenes of violence, suffering and perceived invasion of privacy must be closely examined.
- Staff photographers' behavior in the field is the first line of defense of ethical infractions.
- To minimize harm, photographers should be sensitive to the subjects and bystanders when in the field while striving to balance their interests with the readers'.
- Photographs with potentially offensive or alarming attributes must stimulate a newsroom discussion among senior editors before their publication to weigh the potential benefit and harm from their use.
F. Unflattering photos
- Concerning unflattering photos or photos of vulgar gestures, people in dangerous acts, racial stereotypes: There should be discussion with the editor to weigh the merits of their publication against the harm that could be caused.
G. Use of unpublished photos
- Previously unused photos are occasionally selected for publication in The Forum. However, this should never mislead the reader about the what, when and where of that photo.
- Cutlines must clearly convey the circumstances involving the previously unpublished news photo.
- Feature photos, or photos held to run with stories for later publication, should never mislead the public. However, rules that apply to specificity in identify news photos, aren't necessarily as strictly held.
A. Forum writers should apply the same standards for the Internet as we do for traditional journalism in how we evaluate, gather and disseminate information.
B. All information used from the Internet should be verified when it comes from a lessthanofficial source.
- Likewise, whether using the Internet or email for newsgathering, journalists should verify the source by phone or in person to assure the communication is genuine. This includes taking information from InForum chats or the Real People Bank.
- All Web sites should be reviewed before they are listed in articles or on the InForum Web site. A top editor should be consulted before using any links with questionable or inappropriate information.
C. Attribute information you get from the Web as you would from any other source. The Forum's prohibition against plagiarism applies.
D. Always review Web sites listed in stories to be sure the links are active and do not include inappropriate content.
E. The most trustworthy information on the Web can generally be found on government Web sites. That is followed by university studies and Web sites, special interest group Web sites, and then the broad category of 'other,' which includes business, organization or individual home pages.
- Information from the final group must be weighed carefully, but the sites can include valuable contact information.
F. Generally, credit photos and graphics downloaded from the Internet. Usually, generic mug shots and icons do not need credits.
G. Forum writers should use email conducted interviews only as a last resort when no other means are possible. Use the same standards of representation as you would when using the telephone or in person.
H. Remember that email can be subpoenaed in court proceedings.
I. Forum news staff members should consult with their supervisor when their search for information lands them in gray areas.
J. When using the Internet, employ the same standards of representation you would use on the telephone or in person.
- Using deceptive methods to gain information, including not revealing one's identity as a journalist while using a computer or using false identification to obtain access to computer systems, damages our integrity.
A. Editing of chat room content on the Inforum Web site should follow many of the same guidelines used for editing letters to the editor. The aim is to encourage robust discussions on topics that interest the community.
- Chats are not edited for spelling or grammar.
- Posts to chats will be deleted if they include strong profanity, language hateful to other groups, or threats to others taking part in the chat. A good guideline is to listen to comedian George Carlin's seven words not to be used on radio or television and don't let those words fly on the Web.
- When monitoring a chat, bulletin board or restricted Web site simply for background, identify yourself as a journalist if asked.
- If you wish to use quotes from chats or bulletin board postings, ask permission.
- This is especially important for comments that are deeply personal or those made by minors.
- Exceptions to these guidelines should only be made for stories that have an overriding public interest and only after consultation with senior editors.
B. If you wish to use information from chats or bulletin boards, be sure to authenticate the source of information.
A. Weblogs, or 'blogs,' are used by Forum writers and editors as a means to inform and entertain readers with uptotheminute information and, depending on the writer, to offer an analytical or editorial perspective on a subject.
B. While blogs may carry a more casual tone than articles published in The Forum, they must adhere to the same values of accuracy and fairness upheld by the newspaper.
C. All blogs posted on The Forum's Web site will be attributed to the author to provide a measure of accountability.
D. Reporters who maintain personal blogs should take the utmost care to ensure their postings do not create a conflict of interest with their coverage beats and the newspaper's efforts to portray an unbiased, accurate account of the news.
A. Introductory statement
- The overriding thrust of this section of the ethics code should not hinder The Forum's ability to collect news that its readers should be informed about. It should also acknowledge the financial restraints of paying for every possible expense.
Each situation needs to be examined on a casebycase basis to determine the newsworthiness of an event visavis the expense involved and whether in the pursuit of news it might be ethically permissible to accept something of value from a source, such as the military or a concert promoter.
In all cases, when an ethical dilemma arises, it is best to air our laundry before the readers so they know the decisionmaking process that went into a news report.
The Forum requires that its employees not become beholden to news sources, advertisers, suppliers or any group, person or organization by accepting gifts or favors.
That being said, the newspaper realizes that everyday situations will arise that call for a splitsecond judgment on the part of an employee. This policy does not want the issue of 'gifts' to be reduced to arguing over who will pay for an inconsequential item, such as a cup of coffee, or whether a reporter can accept cookies and a soft drink from a source who welcomes them into their home and attempts to be hospitable.
B. Favors received: meetings and meals
- In all cases, a reporter should know that he or she will be reimbursed for necessary expenditures incurred in good faith. However, the following rules apply in all situations:
- We do not accept free trips or expensive dinners or gifts.
- At meetings, is what you are accepting available to members of the public? If anyone can get a cup of coffee, it is all right for you to do so as well. If it is limited to a select few, you should decline so that members of the audience don't think you are receiving favorable treatment.
- In the case of a sports reporter covering multiple events who does not have time for a food break, it is acceptable to eat food provided for media personnel. However, if the reporter does have time to break for a meal, he or she should buy their own food and get reimbursed. Common sense should prevail.
- It is recognized staff members dispatched to outoftown assignments sometimes come within close proximity of family or friends and may want to lodge with them. That is the staff member's choice and up to the staff member to make those wishes known. Otherwise, cost of lodging will be paid out of the newsroom's budget.
C. Use of press passes
- Press passes, which include review tickets to concerts, are limited to those assigned to cover an event and other staff members, such as photographers, with a clear journalistic purpose for attending.
- Editors will determine appropriate staffing.
- Passes, or tickets, should not be given to friends or family.
D. Reviews of national touring acts
- In the case of national touring acts, The Forum recognizes that review tickets are often set aside for media to use.
- These tickets should be considered press passes, akin to what sport reporters receive when covering a game.
- Whenever possible, reporters should attempt to sit in a press section or press box, ensuring they are not taking a seat that would have otherwise been available to a member of the public.
E. Reviews of locally produced performances
- In cases of local theater, opera, classical music, dance groups, etc., The Forum should pay its way for all seats.
- This is done not only to support local arts groups, but to keep from taking a seat from a payingmember of the public and to retain its local independence.
F. Attendance at 'media day' events
- Staff members can attend mediaday events only if they are involved in news coverage.
- To attend just for free food or other handouts is unethical. There is probably little justification for a sports reporter to attend the opera's open house, for example
G. Receipt of items on the job
- Items delivered to staff members should be returned, donated to charity or sold through company events that benefit charity.
- In the case of food, it should be donated to a local food bank. If the food is imminently perishable, it is permissible to put it out on the counter for staff members to consume. Wasting it seems a far more egregious sin.
H. Special privileges
- Under no circumstances should newsroom employees of The Forum try to use their position to garner special treatment for personal purposes, to gain admission to an event, solicit favors or avoid enforcement of the law.
- For example, it would be OK to identify yourself as an employee of The Forum should someone call you at work about installing carpet in your home. You should not call the same person, seeking their services, and identify yourself as an employee of the newspaper.
- Forum employees should not use their news sources to obtain tickets to entertainment events or parking passes for personal use.
- We do not accept free travel.
- We might accept a 'press rate' if it is deemed that the rate was close enough to the regular fee to make accepting it ethical.
- We do accept discounted trips, such as joining a military trip to a war zone, when it is the only way to gain access and supervising editors determine that the newsworthiness of the story warrants acceptance. In those situations, The Forum will either reimburse the provider or make a like donation to a local charity. Supervising editors should inform the public when such circumstances occur and assure money is donated to charity.
- We do not accept freelance travel stories that were written on a free trip. Whenever possible, The Forum pays its own way.
- We agree with the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics that journalists should 'act independently' and 'be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. It is useful to apply these basic considerations, taken from the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics, when confronted by a possible external conflict. Does the situation keep you from:
- avoiding conflicts of interest, real or perceived?
- refusing gifts, fees, favors, special treatment?
- shunning secondary employment?
- political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromising journalistic integrity.
- disclosing unavoidable conflict?
- being vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable?
- denying favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resisting their pressure to influence news coverage?
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should refrain from active political involvement.
- This means they should not seek public office, work on or advise political campaigns for candidates or advocacy groups, make donations to political parties, sign petitions for candidates or actively take part in political events or demonstrations.
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should not display bumper stickers, lawn signs, buttons or other advertisements for political candidates or parties.
- We acknowledge that spouses have individual rights concerning the choices they make regarding political and civiic involvement. We don't seek to infringe on those rights. However, we ask newsroom employees to be conscious of the appearances that can come from a spouses public statements or actions, suce as the display of year signs or bumper stickers, and ask employees to seek ways to avoid the appearance of bias or conflicts of interest. To maintain our credibility, it's important to avoid even the appearance of bias or favoritism.
- If, however, a spouse or close family member decides to seek public office, or take a visible role in a political campaign or public cause, the news staff person should inform his or her supervisor, and refrain from any involvement in the reporting, editing or layout of news articles involving that issue or campaign.
- We acknowledge that journalists are members of their community and many have a desire to contribute to their community. But reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should be careful to avoid conflicts of interest when considering involvement in civic groups. They should avoid groups that The Forum covers with any regularity. They should avoid serving on boards or publicity committees or taking other highprofile roles. To avoid conflicts, we urge staffers to check with their supervisor if they have any questions.
- Staff members should avoid serving on boards or publicity committees or taking other highprofile roles; they should refrain from involvement in reporting, editing, assigning or laying out news articles involving the organization.
- Staff member should inform their supervising editor of any possible conflicts due to memberships in organizations.
D. Serving on boards
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should not be members of boards covered by the newspaper.
- If a spouse or close family member is a member of such a board, the newsroom employee should notify his or her supervisor and refrain from any involvement in reporting, editing or layout of news articles involving that board.
- The restriction on joining boards or advisory committees does not apply to organizations that are unlikely to generate news of interest to The Forum and that don't generally seek to shape public policy churches, charities, libraries, fine arts or hobby groups, youth athletic programs, country clubs and alumni groups.
- A Forum newsroom employee should not play a leading role or ever lead a donor to expect a favor in return, nor should they ever solicit anyone with whom they or The Forum has professional dealings.
E. Paid or volunteer public relations work
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should not do paid or volunteer public relations work for organizations covered by the newspaper.
- If a spouse or close family member does such work, the newsroom employee should notify his or her supervisor and refrain from any involvement in reporting, editing or layout of news articles involving that organization.
F. Serving as spokesperson or being highprofile person in organizations
- Taking a public stand on controversial social, religious or political issues is prohibited.
- This would include signing petitions, either on paper or online, making contributions to any organization or becoming a member of an organization where your name could show up on a list and perhaps be seen as a conflict of interest or give the impression that the paper is taking sides.
G. Joining political or social marches or rallies
- Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements or lend their name to campaigns, benefit dinners or similar events if doing so might raise doubts about their ability or The Forums ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news. Keep in mind that neighbors and others commonly see you as a representative of The Forum.
H. Covering events or organizations involving relatives or close friends
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should not be involved in reporting, editing or laying out news articles on events or organizations involving relatives or close friends. Newsroom employees also should notify their supervisor of the conflict.
I. Accepting freelance work, outside media appearances, etc.
- Accepting such assignments should be cleared by your supervisor.
- There are times when a columnist may be asked to speak about his or her column or area of expertise. The supervisor should decide if the venue is OK.
- The guidelines would be tighter for a reporter or editor, though speaking in an educational environment about the job would probably be OKd by the supervisor.
- Reporters, editors and other newsroom employees should not do freelance work for anyone who could be considered a competitor of the newspaper, either for news or advertising. Generally, consider a competitor a publication or news outlet that competes with The Forum, in circulation or advertising, in a 200mile radius.
- Freelance work may not interfere with an employee's responsibilities to The Forum.
- Freelance work should not involve any entity that could receive coverage from The Forum, unless such work is approved in advance by the editor.
- When stringing for regional or national publications, avoid 'scooping' The Forum on newsworthy events or developments.
J. Ownership of stocks
- Since nearly any business in the area would be a potential news story, this would be hard to forbid; however, controlling interest would be different than a small percentage of stock.
- Reporters and editors should refrain from being involved in stories about companies in which they have a financial interest. The potential exists for news reports to influence stock prices, or for journalists to benefit from 'insider information.' When a reporter or editor owns stock in a company The Forum covers, the possibility exists for a conflict or the appearance of a conflict for 'boosterish' coverage.
- Examples of companies that pose potential conflicts include Great Plains, now Microsoft Business, and Community First, soon to be Bank of the West.
- This does not include an employees presence in a mutual fund as part of the company 401(k) plan or similar mutual funds accounts. Here, the ownership is so diffuse and broad that the potential for a conflict is minute.
- Newsroom staffers should divulge to the editor any potential coverage or editing conflicts resulting from ownership of a stock or stocks.
- For example, a few years ago the editor and his wife bought some shares of Granite City restaurant stock. The editor should disclose this ownership during discussion of any story about Granite City and defer involvement with Granite City stories to the managing editor.
K. Change in personal circumstances
- Notification of supervisor of personal circumstances (a DUI arrest, e.g.) that could potentially embarrass the newspaper.
- There are issues that could arise in any family which the employee cannot control. Discussing this with the supervisor so there are no surprises would be expected.
L. Personal relationships
- Reporters and editors should refrain from very close friendships or intimate relationships involving sources they cover.
- If a relationship develops with a source on a reporter's beat, the reporter should notify his or her supervising editors, so arrangements can be made to avoid conflicts of interest.
M. Company ID cards
- These are not to be used for personal purposes to gain admission to an event, to solicit favors or to avoid enforcement of a law.
A. Introductory Statement
- Any news organization must work to maintain its credibility and integrity.
As the Associated Press Managing Editors' Code of Ethics advises:
'The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources and newsmakers. Even the appearance of obligation or conflict of interest should be avoided.'
The standard we all should strive for is to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest that would compromise The Forums perceived fairness and objectivity in covering the news.
We urge newsroom staff to exercise common sense judgments in avoiding conflicts, or doing anything that could create a perceived conflict of interest.
If a staff member has any questions about whether an activity or association is improper, we urge that person to contact his or her supervisor. Disclosure of possible conflicts is one of the best means of avoiding conflicts.
B. Use ethical checkpoints to work through situations that could compromise your integrity
- Ask yourself: Could your action, comments, donation or display cause people to reasonably doubt your objectivity or The Forum's objectivity?
- Ask yourself: If an organization identifies you as a supporter, volunteer or staff member and as an employee of The Forum would it appear as if the group has a connection with the paper?
- Ask yourself: Could someone infer that The Forum and its staff are giving favorable treatment to the organization?
- Ask yourself: Does your public role overlap with your work? If so, does your supervisor know about the potential conflict?
- ~Adapted from the VirginianPilot
C. Consider Poynter selfhelp drill if confronted with ethical dilemma:
- What do I know? What do I need to know?
- What is my journalistic purpose?
- What are my ethical concerns?
- What organizational policies and professional guidelines should I consider?
- How can I include other people, with different perspectives and diverse ideas, in the decision0making process?
- Who are the stakeholders those affected by the decision? What are their motivations? Which are legitimate?
- What if the roles were reversed? How would I feel if I were in the shoes of one of the stakeholders?
- What are the possible consequences of my actions? Short term? Long term?
- What are my alternatives to maximize my truthtelling responsibility and minimize harm?
- Can I clearly and fully justify my thinking and my decision? To my colleagues? To the stakeholders? To the public?
- ~Adopted from the Poynter Institute