Code of Ethics
Associated Collegiate Press
Model Code of Ethics for Collegiate Journalists
by Albert DeLuca and Tom Rolnicki
To remain as free of influence or obligation to report a story, the journalist 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 government. Free travel and accommodations which are non-coverage related may be accepted if the primary purpose is for education or training and is related to the fulfillment of an agreement or contract.
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, such as a desk trinket, small food item or pen, the staff member may retain the gift.
FREE TICKETS, PASSES, DISCOUNTS
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 a staff members assigned to cover an event or by those attending for legitimate news purposes. Press facilities at these events may only be used by staff members assigned to the event. Free tickets or passes may be accepted for personal use only if tickets are available on the same complimentary basis to non-journalists.
BOOKS, RECORDS, PRODUCTS GIVEN FOR REVIEW
Any materials given to the publication for review become the property of the publication and not of any individual staff member.
Other employment must not conflict with the staff members primary responsibilities to the publication. The staffer must report any other employment to the editor to avoid any conflicts of interest with assignments or other staff editorials or business responsibilities or influences.
OTHER CAMPUS MEDIA WORK
To avoid conflict of interest, a staffer may not hold two or more similar positions on two or more campus news, public information or public relations mediums or organizations.
OTHER OFF-CAMPUS OR FREELANCE MEDIA WORK
Approval of work for an off-campus medium and freelance work should be sought in advance of the commitment. It is permissible only in a noncompetitive medium, on a staffer’s own time and should not conflict with the staffers obligations to the publication.
MEMBERSHIP OF 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 editor. To maintain the role of the press as an independent watchdog, a staffer should not be a member of student government.
OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES, INCLUDING POLITICAL
Political involvement, holding public office off-campus and service in community organizations should be considered carefully to avoid compromising personal 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 should not be assigned to cover that involvement. Staffers should contact their personal lives in a manner which will not lead to a conflict of interest.
RELATIONSHIPS AND COVERAGE
Staffers must declare conflicts and avoid involvement in stories dealing with members of their families. Staff members must not cover—in words, photograph or artwork—or make news judgments about family members or persons with whom they have a financial, adversarial or close relationship.
USE OF ALCOHOLIC BEVERAGES WHILE ON ASSIGNMENT
Even though a staffer may be able to drink legally, no 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.
Sexual Harassment is: suggestive comments, sexual innuendo, threats, insults, jokes about sex-specific traits, sexual propositions; vulgar gestures, whistling, leering, suggestive or insulting noises; 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 work related assignments, and if such conduct interferes with the staffer’s performance or creates a hostile, offensive or intimidating work environment. Sexual harassment is prohibited and we follow the college’s procedures for reporting complaints.
PLAGIARISM OF WORK, ART, OTHER
Plagiarism is prohibited and is illegal if the material is copyright protected. For the purpose of this code, plagiarism is defined as word-for-word duplication of another person’s writing and shall be limited to passages that contain distinctively personal thoughts, uniquely stylized phraseology or exclusive facts. 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.
FABRICATION OF ANY KIND
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.
ELECTRONICALLY ALTERED PHOTOS
Electronically altering the content of photos for news and general feature stories or stand-alone news and feature photos is not allowed. Content may be altered as a special effect for a limited number of features if the caption or credit line includes that fact and if an average reader would not mistake the photo for reality. Readers expect photos and stories to be truthful.
Set-ups or poised scenes may be used if the reader will not be misled or if the caption or credit line tells readers that it is a photo illustration.
PHOTOS OF VICTIMS (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.
REPORTING NAMES, ADDRESSES OF CRIME VICTIMS
Staffers need to know the state laws that govern the publication of the names of sexual assault and rape victims. Generally the names of rape victims are not published. Victims of non-sexual crimes may be identified, but the publication has a responsibility to give some protection to the victim such as giving imprecise addresses. With the exception of major crimes, an arrested person is not named until charges are filed.
COOPERATION WITH LAW ENFORCEMENT, GOVERNMENT, COLLEGE ADMINISTRATION
To be an effective watchdog, a publication must remain independent. Cooperation or involvement in the work of these agencies should be restricted to what is required by law. Staffers should know any freedom of information, open meeting and shield laws that apply to their work. If a staffer thinks any public authority is interfering with their work as a journalist, the incident should be reported.
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. Make judgments based on the real news value of the situation, common sense and decency. Do 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 a story that reflect in a significant way upon the person’s public life.
PROFANE, VULGAR WORDS, EXPLICIT 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 writing. During the interview stage of news gathering, staffers will encounter interviewees who use words viewed as vulgar and 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. Profane and vulgar words are not acceptable for opinion writing. 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 more limited way, for sexual crime stories.
Staffers will avoid sexist labels and descriptive language and replace them with neutral terms and descriptions.
Staffers will take care in writing to avoid applying commonly thought but usually erroneous group stereotypes to individuals who are members of a particular group. Generalizations based upon stereotypes can be misleading and inaccurate. In a broader sense, writers and photographers should avoid more subtle stereotyping in their selection of interviewees and subjects of photographs. Some examples of negative stereotypes: unmarried, black, teenage, welfare mothers; unemployed, alcohol using Native Americans; overweight, long-haired, white, biker outlaws; limp-wristed, effeminate gays; inarticulate, dumb, blonde women.
USE OF RADICAL, ETHNIC, OTHER GROUP IDENTIFIERS
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 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.
FALSE IDENTITY, STOLEN DOCUMENTS, CONCEALED RECORDING, EAVESDROPPING.
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 obtained in any other way and the value of that information is of value to the reader, the editor may authorize a misrepresentation. Staffers may not steal or knowingly receive stolen materials. 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 of eavesdropping on a source is not allowed. State laws apply.
GRANTING AND PRESERVING CONFIDENTIALITY TO SOURCES
Do not promise confidentiality to a source without permission of the editor. Confidentiality should only be given if there is a real danger that physical, emotional or financial harm will come to the source if his or her name were revealed. The editor should have all the facts and the source’s name before the decision is made. The editor should know of any laws pertaining to the confidentiality and disclosure before a decision is made. 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 stories.
Generally, anonymous sources are not used. 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 to an agency to give credibility to the information. (See confidentiality.) The danger exists that the reader may not believe the information if sources are not given; the publication’s credibility may suffer; information obtained later from a named source and verified may disprove the information given by the unnamed or unknown source.
If any error is found, the publication is obligated to correct it as soon as possible. A consistent location for the publication of corrections is recommended, generally on page 2. It should be clearly and prominently labeled as a correction. Clarification may also be labeled and published in the same manner.
OWNERSHIP OF WORK
Regardless if a staffer is paid or is a volunteer, the publication “owns” the published and unpublished work done by staffers if the work was done as 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.
The publication has a proprietary interest in the material it publishes. Thus, the publication as a voting group or top editors are entitled to determine which entries will represent it in contests. This will avoid the appearance of a conflict of interest that may 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.
FIVE IMPORTANT QUESTIONS FOR A REPORTER:
- Why am I reporting this story?
- Is the story fair?
- Have I attempted to report all angles?
- Who will the story affect?
- Can I defend my decision to report the story?