The UAM student media sets high standards for its editorial staff and requires staffers to be especially careful to maintain objectivity and credibility. Our first and only obligation is to our credibility – that is, to the public at large and not to any other person, business or special interest. Staffers should avoid any activity that would impair their integrity or jeopardize readers’ trust in the UAM student media.
By this reasoning, students should be aware that the public expects them to operate by the same code of ethics promoted by the Society of Professional Journalists. This particular code is modeled after the Associated Collegiate Press' Model Code of Ethics for Collegiate Journalists.
It is the responsibility of all staffers and correspondents to be sensitive to real and potential conflicts of interest and other matters of proprietary involving our image, collectively and individually, and to discuss them with the editor-in-chief, who should find a way to resolve them immediately. The guidelines set forth herein will answer most questions about ethics, but certain circumstances may warrant exceptions. Whenever doubt arises in a particular situation, the editor-in-chief and managing editor should be consulted for a decision.
To remain as free of influence or obligation to report a story, the journalist, in pursuit of a story, should not accept free travel, accommodations or meals related to travel. For convenience, sports reporters may travel on team charters, but the publication should pay the cost of the transportation and related expenses. The same pay-as-you-go policy should apply to non-sports reporting as well, including business and governments. Free travel and accommodations that are non-coverage related and provided by a vendor may be accepted if the primary purpose is for education or training and is related to the fulfillment of an agreement or contract.
GIFTS AND GRATUITIES
Gifts should not be accepted. Any gift should be returned to the sender or sent to a charity. If the gift is of no significant value (e.g. a desk trinket, small food item or pen), the staff member may retain the gift. As a guideline, if the value is under $10, the gift may be kept. More than one gift in one year, even if under $10, from the same giver, may not be accepted. Whenever the cost of returning a gift exceeds its value, the gift should be turned over to the editor-in-chief whom will then dispose the gift.
This policy is not intended to prevent a staffer from accepting a cup of coffee or soft drink or an inexpensive lunch/dinner from a source, provided the staffer regularly returns such a favor. A staffer covering a banquet or similar event may accept a free soft drink or appetizer, but should make an attempt to pay for his/her meal. If the request is denied, remember to be courteous.
PASSES, FREE TICKETS, AND DISCOUNTS
If money is available, staffers assigned to cover a sporting event, lecture, play, concert, movie or other entertainment event should pay for admission. Free tickets or passes may be accepted by staff members assigned to cover an event or by those attending for legitimate news purposes, but staffers should never insist on free admission. Press facilities at these events may only be used by staff members assigned to cover the event. Free tickets or passes may be accepted by staff members for personal use only if tickets are available on the same complimentary basis to non-journalists.
OWNERSHIP OF BOOKS, RECORDS, OTHER PRODUCTS FOR REVIEW
Books, recordings and other samples of inexpensive consumer products sent to the UAM student media for review are considered news handouts. Any materials given to the publication for review become the property of the publication and not of any individual staff member. The editor reserves the right to disperse the property in an equitable fashion. Staffers may not accept discounts on merchandise unless such discounts are routinely available to the general public.
Unsolicited samples of expensive products also will be treated as news handouts and may be disposed of at the discretion of the adviser. More expensive product samples should be returned with a letter explaining the newspaper pays for such products when they are subjects of stories.
Other employment should not conflict with the staffer's first responsibility to the publication. The staffer must report any other employment to the editor to avoid any conflicts of interest with assignments or other staff editorial or business responsibilities or influences.
To avoid a conflict of interest, a staffer should not hold similar positions on two or more campus news, public information or public relations media or organizations.
Approval of work for an off-campus news medium and free lance media work should be sought in advance of the commitment. It is permissible only in a non-competitive medium, on a staffer's own time and should not conflict with the staffer's obligations to the publication.
MEMBERSHIP IN CAMPUS ORGANIZATIONS
Staffers may not cover a campus organization they belong to, or participate in any editorial or business decisions regarding that organization. Staffers may provide story leads about the organizations to which they belong to other staffers. Staffers should report their memberships to their supervising editor. To maintain the role of the press as an independent watchdog of government, a staffer should not be an elected or appointed member of student government.
OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES, INCLUDING POLITICAL
Political involvement, holding off-campus public office and service in community organizations should be considered carefully to avoid compromising professional integrity and that of the publication. The notion of the journalist as an independent observer and fact-finder is important to preserve. A staffer involved in specific political action, especially in a leadership role, should not be assigned to cover that involvement.
RELATIONSHIPS AND COVERAGE
Staffers must declare conflicts and avoid involvement in stories dealing with members of their families. Staff members should not cover -- in words, photographs or artwork -- or make news judgments about family members or persons with whom they have a financial, adversarial, or close sexual or platonic relationship. Intra-staff dating is not recommended if one person assigns or evaluates the work of the other person.
ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES, DRUGS
Even though a staffer may be able to drink legally, no or only light drinking in a social setting such as a dinner or reception is recommended to avoid any suspicion by a source or the public that the staffer's judgment, credibility or objectivity is impaired by alcohol. When covering an event where alcoholic beverages are served, staffers should not accept free drinks unless drinks are free to everyone in attendance. Staffers should avoid the appearance that they are being "wined and dined" by any source or group. Any staffer caught taking drugs while working on the publication will be immediately terminated.
Sexual harassment is: (verbal) suggestive comments, sexual innuendo, threats, insults, jokes about sex-specific traits, sexual propositions; (nonverbal) vulgar gestures, whistling, leering, suggestive or insulting noises; (physical) touching, pinching, brushing the body, coercing sexual intercourse, assault. This conduct can be called job-related harassment when submission is made implicitly or explicitly a condition of employment, a condition of work-related assignments, compensation and other factors, or if such conduct interferes with the staffer's performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment is prohibited. The first staff meeting of each publishing term should include a discussion of sexual harassment and working conditions.
PLAGIARISM OF WORDS, ART, OTHER
Plagiarism is prohibited and is illegal if the material is copyright protected. For the purpose of this policy, plagiarism is defined as the word-for-word duplication of another person’s writing and should be limited to passages that contain distinctively personal thoughts, uniquely stylized phraseology or exclusive facts, including information derived from the Internet and electronic mail. A comparable prohibition applies to the use of graphics. Information obtained from a published work must be independently verified before it can be reported as a new, original story. This policy also forbids lifting verbatim paragraphs from a wire service story without attribution or a shirttail pointing out wire services were used in compiling the story.
FABRICATION OF ANY KIND
Fabricated information has no place in journalism. Fictional and satirical writing should be clearly labeled as such if there could be a doubt in the reader’s mind about whether such writing deals with real events and persons. The use of composite characters or imaginary situations or characters will not be allowed in news or feature stories. A columnist may, occasionally, use such an approach in developing a piece, but it must be clear to the reader that the person or situation is fictional and that the column is commentary and not reporting. The growth of narrative story development (storytelling devices) means that reporters and editors should be especially careful not to mix fact and fiction, and not embellish fact with fictional details, regardless of their significance.
Electronic Alteration - Electronically altering the content of photos for news and general feature stories or as stand-alone news and feature photos is not allowed. Exceptions to this would be adjustments to contrast and similar technical enhancements that don't affect the truthfulness of the subject and context of the subject or the scene. Content may be altered for creative purposes as a special effect for a feature story if the caption or creditline includes that fact and if an average reader would not mistake the photo for reality. These photos are usually tagged as photo illustrations. In a news medium, readers expect photos and stories to be truthful.
Illustrations and Re-Enactments - Set-ups or posed scenes may be used if the average reader will not be misled or if the caption or creditline tells readers that it is a photo illustration or re-enactment or re-staging of an event, including award presentations. Recording the original action is always preferred.
Victims of Accidents, Fires, Natural Disasters - Photos have a tremendous impact on readers. The question of privacy versus the public's right to know should be considered. The line between good and bad taste and reality and sensationalism is not always easy to draw. Care should be taken to maintain the dignity of the subject as much as possible without undermining the truth of the event. In making a final decision on a photo of this type, an editor should consider: Do the readers need information from this photo that helps explain the event better than words or another photo? Who is hurt by publication of this photo?
PUBLIC SAFETY REPORTING
Victims - Names of rape victims are not published unless self-identified. Victims of nonsexual crimes may be identified, but the publication has a responsibility to give some protection to the victims such as giving imprecise addresses. The name of an arrested person will be withheld until charges are filed.
Cooperation - To be an effective watchdog on other agencies, a publication must remain independent. The publication should not take over any of the duties of any outside agency; cooperation or involvement in the work of these agencies should be restricted to what is required by law. Staffers should become aware of freedom of information, open meetings and shield laws applicable to their work. If a staffer thinks a public authority is interfering with the staffer's functions as a journalist, the incident should be reported to the editor. The editor should then seek advice from groups such as the Student Press Law Center, American Civil Liberties Union or an editor or media attorney for a nearby, non-student publication.
SCRUTINY OF A PUBLIC PERSON'S LIFE
Conflicts exist between a person's desire for privacy and the public good or the public's right to know about a public person's life. Persons who freely choose to become public celebrities or public servants should expect a greater level of scrutiny of their life than a private person -- even a private person who suddenly is involved in a public situation. Staffers should make judgments based on the real news value of the situation, common sense and decency. Reporters and photographers should not badger a person who has made it clear that he or she does not want to be interviewed or photographed. One exception is those who are involved in criminal activity or in court. Publishing intimate details of a person's life, such as their health or sexual activities, should be done with extreme care and only if the facts are important for the completeness of an article and reflect in a significant way upon the person's public life.
Profanity, Vulgarity and Sexual Language - The primary audience of a college publication is adults. Profane and vulgar words are a part of everyday conversation, but not generally used for scholarly or general audience writing. During the interview stage of news gathering, staffers will encounter interviewees who use words viewed as vulgar or profane. The staff may publish these words if the words are important to the reader's understanding of the situation -- the reality of life -- or if the words help establish the character of the interviewee. The staff may decide to limit references to prevent the vulgar or profane language from overshadowing the other, more important facts of the story. Opinion writers -- columns, editorials and other commentary -- should use profane or vulgar words judiciously. Though they may be vulgar or profane, individual words are not obscene. Explicit language -- but not vulgar, street language -- describing sexual activities and human body parts and functions should be used for accurate reporting of health stories and, in a more limited way, for sexual crime stories.
Sexist Language - Staffers should avoid sexist labels and descriptive language. Replace such language with neutral terms and descriptions.
Negative Stereotyping - Staffers should take care in writing to avoid applying commonly thought but usually erroneous group stereotypes to individuals who are a member of a particular group. Generalizations, often based upon stereotypes, can be misleading and inaccurate. In a broader sense, writers, photographers and artists should avoid more subtle stereotyping in their selection of interviewees and subjects of photographs or illustrations. AP Style provides acceptable alternative wording (see Group Identification). Some examples of negative stereotypes: unmarried, black teen welfare mothers; unemployed, alcohol-abusing Native Americans; overweight, long-haired biker outlaws; effeminate gays; inarticulate, "dumb" blonde women. It is also advisable to avoid sexual stereotyping in choice of subjects of stories, photographs and illustrations on sports or political or social issues such as equal rights.
Group Identification - Identification of a person as a member of any population group should be limited to those cases when that membership is essential for the reader's complete understanding of the story; it should be done with great care so as not to perpetuate negative or positive group stereotyping. When identifiers are used, it is important that the correct one be used. Some examples of identifiers: Hispanic, Jew, lesbian, Italian, person with AIDS (PWA), physically challenged, hearing impaired.
In the ordinary course of reporting, no staffers shall misrepresent themselves as anything other than representatives of the publication. In extraordinary circumstances, when an editor judges that the information cannot be acquired in any other way and the value of that information to the readers is important, the editor may authorize a misrepresentation. Staffers may not steal or knowingly receive stolen materials regardless of their importance to a story. Except in situations judged by an editor as extraordinary, a staffer shall not record an interview or meeting without the interviewee's permission or the obvious placement of a recording device (not hidden) at the start of the interview or meeting in which case the interviewee or newsmakers do not object and are aware of the presence of the recording device. Committing an illegal act to eavesdrop on a source is not allowed.
A reporter should not promise confidentiality to a source without the permission of the editor-in-chief. Confidentiality should only be given if there is a real danger that physical, emotional or financial harm will come to the source f his or her name were revealed. Before a decision is made, the editor should (1) have all the facts and the source's name, and (2) know of any laws pertaining to confidentiality and disclosure. A reporter should make every attempt to get the same information from another source who agrees to be named since the goal is to attribute all information to a specific source for all articles.
Generally, anonymous sources are not used in articles. Information that comes from an unnamed or unknown source should not be used unless it can be verified through another, known source. If two independent sources verify the information and both are unnamed, an editor may decide to publish the information with careful consideration of the need for immediacy and the news value of the information. The source may be identified generally as one associated with an agency to give some degree of credibility to the information. The danger exists that the reader might not believe the information if sources are not given; the publication's credibility might suffer; information obtained later from a named source and verified might disprove the information given by the unnamed or unknown sources.
NO RESPONSE FROM SUBJECT
If the subject of a story does not respond to a reporter's inquiry, the reporter may use the failure to respond in the article. However, use the verb "refused" to respond cautiously because of its connotation. It is often better to use "declined" or "would not respond." If the subject cannot be reached, it is acceptable to say that the subject was not available for comment. The difference between not responding and not available for comment should be clear to the reader.
Reporters who use the Internet and e-mail to interview sources should identify themselves as a reporter immediately, and should verify the source's identity with a follow-up telephone call. The source should be told that the information give is for an article. Information from Internet chat rooms and bulletin boards should not be used except as background, or if it is used, it should be attributed as "from the Internet." Since some information on the Internet may not be accurate, verification of facts through another source is especially important.
An inaccuracy is never knowingly published. If any error is found, the publication is obligated to correct the error as soon as possible, regardless of the source of the error. Corrections will always be published at the bottom of the "Reader's Forum" page and will be prominently labeled as such, with a corrections link off the homepage. Corrections from the yearbook will be published in the same location with reference to the page number in question.
OWNERSHIP OF WORK
The publication "owns" the published and unpublished work done by staffers for a staff assignment. Ownership of unpublished work may revert to the staffer at a certain time if the editor agrees with this arrangement. The publication has unlimited use of the work. The act of voluntarily joining a staff indicates approval of this policy.
CONTESTS AND HONORS
Student publications have a proprietary interest in the material staffers produce. Thus, the editor-in-chief, managing editor and adviser is entitled to determine which entries will represent it in contests. This will avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest that might occur if staffers were to win or accept awards from organizations they are assigned to cover. Awards presented to the staff as a whole or to the publication generally become the property of the publication. Individuals who win awards for work published in the staff publication may accept the award and retain ownership of it. To insure the UAM campus is aware of the success of all staffers, any awards won will be announced in the paper.
SEPARATION OF REPORTING FROM COMMENTARY
To help the reader separate fact-based reporting from commentary, in the form of personal columns, editorials, analysis and similar opinion writing, all commentary should be labeled or somehow clearly and consistently identified as opinion, especially when it outside the editorial or op-ed pages and mixed with fact-based reporting.
ACCEPTANCE OF READER FEEDBACK
Editors and reporters should invite reader feedback and participation in the publication. Reaction by readers to what has been published should be invited through all methods of communication: paper, e-mail, phone, fax and in-person visits. Reader opinions and suggestions can form the basis for future reporting or commentary.
Through all steps in the reporting process, from conceptualizing the story assignment, through information gathering and pre-writing, to writing, editing and final publication, a reporter must answer these questions:
Often, a reporter consults with an editor
regarding those questions, especially if the answers are troublesome.
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©UAM Student Publications 2005-2010
Revised 012110 — http://www.uamont.edu/Organizations/TheVoice/sm/ethics.htm