Newslight seeks to emulate the world’s great news organizations. In the opinion of many, the New York Times is the pre-eminent news organization in the world. In development our guidelines on news reporting and integrity, we decided to liberally borrow (in reality, mostly copy) the guidelines enacted by the New York Times.
Consequently, there are two primary policies that guide our actions at Newslight. The first is our Guidelines on Integrity, which outlines how we act (and can be expected to act) as journalists and reporters. The second is the The Values and Practices of Newslight Inc. which seeks to ensure Newslight is free from conflicts-of-interest. Both can be found below.
1. Guidelines on Integrity
Reporters, editors, photographers and all members of the news staff of Newslight share a common and essential interest in protecting the integrity of the organization.
At a time of growing and even justified public suspicion about the impartiality, accuracy and integrity of journalists and journalism, it is imperative that Newslight and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to insure that we do nothing that might erode readers’ faith and confidence in our news posts.
This means that staff members should be vigilant in avoiding any activity that might pose an actual or apparent conflict of interest and thus threaten the newspaper’s ethical standing. And it also means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach. No one needs to be reminded that falsifying any part of a news report cannot be tolerated and will result automatically in disciplinary action up to and including termination. But in a climate of increased scrutiny throughout the news business, these further guidelines are offered, to resolve questions that sometimes arise about specific practices:
Quotations. Readers should be able to assume that every word between quotation marks is what the speaker or writer said. Newslight does not “clean up” quotations. If a subject’s grammar or taste is unsuitable, quotation marks should be removed and the awkward passage paraphrased. Unless the writer has detailed notes or a recording, it is usually wise to paraphrase long comments, since they may turn up worded differently on television or in other publications. “Approximate” quotations can undermine readers’ trust in Newslight.
The writer should, of course, omit extraneous syllables like “um” and may judiciously delete false starts. If any further omission is necessary, close the quotation, insert new attribution and begin another quotation. (Newslight does adjust spelling, punctuation, capitalization and abbreviations within a quotation for consistent style.) In every case, writer and editor must both be satisfied that the intent of the subject has been preserved.
Other People’s Reporting. When we use facts gathered by any other organization, we attribute them. This policy applies to material from newspapers, magazines, books and broadcasts, as well as news agencies like The Associated Press (for example, “the Senator told The Canadian Press”). When writing from a pool report, if we have not witnessed the events, we attribute them to the pool reporter.
Our preference, when time and distance permit, is to do our own reporting and verify another organization’s story; in that case, we need not attribute the facts. But even then, as a matter of courtesy and candor, we credit an exclusive to the organization that first broke the news.
Attribution to another publication, though, cannot serve as license to publish rumors that would not meet the test of Newslight’s own reporting standards. Rumors must satisfy Newslight’s standard of newsworthiness, taste and plausibility before publication, even when attributed. And when the need arises to attribute, that is a good cue to consult with the department head about whether publication is warranted at all.
In those cases when it makes a difference whether we directly witnessed a scene, we should distinguish in our posts between personal interviews and telephone or E-mail interviews, as well as written statements.
Fact Checking. Writers at Newslight are their own principal fact checkers and often their only ones. Concrete facts – distances, addresses, phone numbers, people’s titles – must be verified by the writer with standard references like telephone books, city or legislative directories and official Web sites. It is especially important that writers verify the spelling of names, by asking. A person who sees his or her own name misspelled in Newslight is likely to mistrust whatever else we publish. And too often, our correction column makes it clear that someone has guessed a spelling by the sound.
Corrections. Newslight recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors, large and small. Newslight regrets every error, but it applauds the integrity of a writer who volunteers a correction of his or her own published story. Whatever the origin, though, any complaint should be investigated quickly. If a correction is warranted, fairness demands that it be published immediately. In case of reasonable doubt or disagreement about the facts, we can acknowledge that a statement was “imprecise” or “incomplete” even if we are not sure it was wrong.
Rebuttals. Few writers need to be reminded that we seek and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when a story is published, or feel there was no chance to respond.
Anonymity and Its Devices. The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which Newslight could not otherwise publish information it considers newsworthy and reliable. When possible, reporter and editor should discuss any promise of anonymity before it is made, or before the reporting begins on a story that may result in such a commitment. (Some beats, like criminal justice or national security, may carry standing authorization for the reporter to grant anonymity.) The general rule is to tell readers as much as we can about the placement and known motivation of the source. While we avoid automatic phrases about a source’s having “insisted on anonymity,” we should try to state tersely what kind of understanding was actually reached by reporter and source, especially when we can shed light on the source’s reasons. Newslight does not dissemble about its sources – does not, for example, refer to a single person as “sources” and does not say “other officials” when quoting someone who has already been cited by name. There can be no prescribed formula for such attribution, but it should be literally truthful, and not coy.
Fictional Devices. No reader should find cause to suspect that the paper would knowingly alter facts. For that reason, Newslight refrains outright from assigning fictional names, ages, places or dates, and it strictly limits the use of other concealment devices.
If compassion or the unavoidable conditions of reporting require shielding an identity, the preferred solution is to omit the name and explain the omission. (That situation might arise, for example, in an interview conducted inside a hospital or a school governed by privacy rules.) If a complex narrative must distinguish among several shielded identities, it may be necessary to use given names with last initials or, less desirable, given names alone (Hilary K.; Ashley M.; Terry). Descriptions may serve instead (the lawyer; the Morristown psychotherapist). As a rare last resort, if genuine given names would be too revealing, real or coined single initials (Dr. D, Ms. L) may be used after consultation with the General Manager. The article must gracefully indicate the device and the reason.
Masquerading. Newslight reporters do not actively misrepresent their identity to get a story. We may sometimes remain silent on our identity and allow assumptions to be made – to observe an institution’s dealings with the public, for example, or the behavior of people at a rally or police officers in a bar near the station house. But a sustained, systematic deception, even a passive one – taking a job, for example, to observe a business from the inside – may be employed only if absolutely necessary and in consultation with the General Manager. (Obviously, specific exceptions exist for restaurant reviewing and similar assignments.)
Photography and Images. Images in our pages, in the paper or on the Web, that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way. No people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene (except for the recognized practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions). Adjustments of color or gray scale should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction, analogous to the “burning” and “dodging” that formerly took place in darkroom processing of images. Pictures of news situations must not be posed.
Where a photograph is used to serve the same purposes as a commissioned drawing or painting – as an illustration of an idea or situation or as a demonstration of how a device works, etc. – it must always be clearly labeled as a photo illustration. This does not apply to portraits or still-lifes (photos of food, shoes, etc.), but it does apply to other kinds of shots in which we have artificially arranged people or things, as well as to collages, montages, and photographs that have been digitally altered.
A credit line beginning with “photo illustration” is obligatory in all such cases. Occasionally, an explanatory caption may be advisable.
Altered or contrived photographs are a device that should not be overused. Taking photographs of unidentified real people as illustrations of a generic type or a generic situation (like using an editor or another model in a dejected pose to represent executives being laid off) usually turns out to be a bad idea.
If you have any question about the appropriateness of an alteration or are not sure how best to make clear to the reader that the image has been manipulated or the scene contrived, consult with the General Manager.
2. The Values and Practices of Newslight Inc.
Introduction and Purpose
The goal of Newslight is to comprehensively cover news and events in the Tri Cities region of British Columbia.
For our proprietary content, we seek to do so as impartially as possible and to treat readers, news sources, advertisers and others fairly and openly, and to be seen to be doing so.
The reputation of Newslight rests upon such perceptions, and so do the professional reputations of its staff members. Thus Newslight and members of its news department and editorial page staff share an interest in avoiding conflicts of interest or an appearance of a conflict.
Conflicts of interest, real or apparent, may come up in many areas. They may involve the relationships of staff members with readers, news sources, advocacy groups, advertisers, or competitors; with one another, or with the newspaper or its parent company. And at a time when two-career families are the norm, the civic and professional activities of spouses, family and companions can create conflicts or the appearance of conflicts.
In keeping with its solemn responsibilities under the Canadian Constitution, Newslight strives to maintain the highest standards of journalistic ethics.
Newslight also recognizes that staff members should be free to do creative, civic and personal work and to earn extra income in ways separate from their work at Newslight. Before engaging in such outside activities, though, staff members should exercise mature professional judgment.
The Scope of These Guidelines
These guidelines generally apply to all members of the news and editorial departments whose work directly affects the content of the paper, including those on leaves of absence.
They include reporters, editors, editorial writers, photographers, picture editors, art directors, artists, designers, graphics editors and researchers. This group of professional journalists is what this text means by “staff ” or “staff members.”
News clerks, administrative assistants, secretaries and other support staff are generally not bound by these strictures, with two important exceptions: First, no newsroom or editorial page employee may exploit for personal gain any nonpublic information acquired at work, or use his or her association with Newslight to gain favor or advantage. And second, no one may do anything that damages Newslight’s reputation for strict neutrality in reporting on politics and government; in particular, no one may wear campaign buttons or display any other form of political partisanship while on the job.
Our contracts with freelance contributors require them to avoid conflicts of interest, real or apparent. In keeping with that, they must honor these guidelines in their Newslight assignments.
Newslight views any deliberate violation of these guidelines as a serious offense that may lead to disciplinary action, including dismissal.
Our fundamental purpose is to protect the impartiality and neutrality of Newslight and the integrity of its report. In many instances, merely applying that purpose with common sense will point to the ethical course. Sometimes the answer is self-evident. Simply asking oneself whether a course of action might damage the paper’s reputation is often enough to gauge whether the action is appropriate.
Every staff member is expected to read this document carefully and to think about how it might apply to his or her duties. A lack of familiarity with its provisions cannot excuse a violation; to the contrary, it makes the violation worse. The provisions presented here can offer only broad principles and some examples. Our world changes constantly, sometimes dramatically. No written document could anticipate every possibility. Thus we expect staff members to consult their supervisors and the standards editor or the deputy editorial page editor if they have any doubts about any particular situation or opportunity covered by this document. In most cases an exchange of emails should suffice.
Thus this handbook is not an exhaustive compilation of all situations that may give rise to an actual or perceived conflict of interest. It does not exclude situations or issues giving rise to such conflicts simply because they are not explicitly covered within this document, nor does the document or any of its particular provisions create an implied or express contract of employment with any individual to whom the guidelines apply. Newslight reserves the right to modify and expand the guidelines from time to time, as appropriate.
The authority to interpret and apply these guidelines is vested in the General Manager.
Other Standards of Behavior
In addition to this handbook, we observe the Newsroom Integrity Statement, promulgated in 1999, which deals with such rudimentary professional practices as the importance of checking facts, the exactness of quotations, the integrity of photographs and our distaste for anonymous sourcing; and the Policy on Confidential Sources, issued in 2004.
Our Duty to Our Readers
Newslight treats its readers as fairly and openly as possible. We tell our readers the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it. It is our policy to correct our errors, large and small, as soon as we become aware of them.
We treat our readers no less fairly in private than in public. Anyone who deals with readers is expected to honor that principle, knowing that ultimately the readers are our employers. Civility applies whether an exchange takes place in person, by telephone, by letter or online. Simple courtesy suggests that we not alienate our readers by ignoring their letters and emails that warrant reply.
Newslight gathers information for the benefit of its readers. Staff members may not use their Newslight position to make inquiries for any other purpose. As noted above, they may not seek any advantage for themselves or others by acting on or disclosing information acquired in their work but not yet available to readers.
Staff members who knowingly or recklessly provide false information for publication betray our fundamental pact with our readers. We will not tolerate such behavior.
Pursuing the News
Newslight treats news sources just as fairly and openly as it treats readers. We do not inquire pointlessly into someone’s personal life. Staff members may not threaten to damage uncooperative sources. They may not promise favorable coverage in return for cooperation. They may not pay for interviews or unpublished documents.
Staff members should disclose their identity to people they cover (whether face to face or otherwise), though they need not always announce their status as journalists when seeking information normally available to the public. Staff members may not pose as police officers, lawyers, business people or anyone else when they are working as journalists. (As happens on rare occasions, when seeking to enter countries that bar journalists, correspondents may take cover from vagueness and identify themselves as traveling on business or as tourists.)
Theater, music and art critics and other writers who review goods or services offered to the public may conceal their Newslight connection but may not normally assert a false identity or affiliation. As an exception, restaurant critics may make reservations in false names to protect their identity. Restaurant critics and travel writers must conceal their Newslight affiliation to eliminate the possibility of special treatment.
Personal Relations with Sources
Relationships with sources require the utmost in sound judgment and self discipline to prevent the fact or appearance of partiality. Cultivating sources is an essential skill, often practiced most effectively in informal settings outside of normal business hours. Yet staff members, especially those assigned to beats, must be sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance. And conversely staff members must be aware that sources are eager to win our good will for reasons of their own.
Even though this topic defies hard and fast rules, it is essential that we preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias. Staff members may see sources informally over a meal or drinks, but they must keep in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship. A City Hall reporter who enjoys a weekly round of golf with a City Council member, for example, risks creating an appearance of coziness, even if they sometimes discuss business on the course. So does a reporter who joins a regular card game or is a familiar face in a corporation’s box seats or who spends weekends in the company of people he or she covers. Scrupulous practice requires that periodically we step back and take a hard look at whether we have drifted too close to sources we deal with regularly. The acid test of freedom from favoritism is the ability to maintain good working relationships with all parties to a dispute.
Clearly, romantic involvement with a news source would foster an appearance of partiality. Therefore, staff members who develop close relationships with people who might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise must disclose those relationships to the General Manager. In some cases, no further action may be needed. But in other instances staff members may have to recuse themselves from certain coverage. And in still other cases, assignments may have to be modified or beats changed. In a few instances, a staff member may have to move to a different department — from business and financial news, say, to the culture desk—to avoid the appearance of conflict.
Obeying the Law in Pursuit of the News
Staff members must obey the law in the pursuit of news. They may not break into buildings, homes, apartments or offices. They may not purloin data, documents or other property, including such electronic property as databases and email or voice mail messages. They may not tap telephones, invade computer files or otherwise eavesdrop electronically on news sources. In short, they may not commit illegal acts of any sort.
Staff members may not use the identification cards or special license plates issued by police or other official agencies except in doing their jobs.
Staff members may not record conversations without the prior consent of all parties to the conversations. Even where the law allows recording with only one party aware of it, the practice is a deception. The General Manager may make rare exceptions to this prohibition in places where recordings made secretly are legal.
Accepting Hospitality from Sources
Newslight pays the expenses when its representatives entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them. In some business situations and in some cultures, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source. For example, a Newslight reporter need not decline every invitation to interview an executive over lunch in the corporation’s private dining room, where it is all but impossible to pick up the check. Whenever practical, however, the reporter should suggest dining where Newslight can pay. A simple buffet of muffins and coffee at a news conference, for example, is harmless, but a staff member should not attend a breakfast or lunch held periodically for the press by a “newsmaker” unless Newslight pays for the staff member’s meals.
Staff members may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give us little or no choice. Among them are certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical — for example, a flight aboard a corporate jet during which an executive is interviewed. Staff members should consult the General Manager when special circumstances arise.
Staff members who review artistic performances or cover athletic or other events where admission is charged may accept the press passes or tickets customarily made available. No other staff members may accept free tickets. Even when paying the box office price, no staff member may use his or her Newslight position to request choice or hard-to-get seats unless the performance has a clear bearing on his or her job.
Dealing with the Competition
Staff members compete zealously but deal with competitors openly and honestly. We do not invent obstacles to hamstring their efforts. When we use facts reported by another publication, we attribute them.
Staff members may not join teams covering news events for other organizations, and they may not accept payment from competitors for news tips. They may not be listed on the masthead of any non-Newslight publication. (Exceptions can be made for publications that do not in any way compete with Newslight, such as a church or synagogue newsletter, an alumni magazine or a club bulletin.)
Protecting Newslight’s Neutrality
Staff members may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other inducements from any individuals or organizations covered by Newslight or likely to be covered by Newslight. (Exceptions may be made for trinkets of nominal value, say, $25 or less, such as a mug or a cap with a company logo.) Gifts should be returned with a polite explanation.
Staff members may not accept employment or compensation of any sort from individuals or organizations who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise.
Staff members may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or as an inducement to alter or forgo unfavorable coverage.
Staff members may accept any gifts or discounts available to the general public. Normally they are also free to take advantage of conventional corporate discounts that Newslight has offered to share with all employees (for example, corporate car rental rates).
Unless the special terms are offered by Newslight, staff members may not buy stock in initial public offerings through “friends and family shares” where any plausible possibility exists of a real or apparent conflict of interest. Staff members may not accept allocations from brokerage firms.
Providing Financial or Other Advice
It is an inherent conflict for Newslight staff members to perform public relations work, paid or unpaid. They are free, however, to offer reasonable help to institutions such as their child’s school, a small museum, a community charity or their house of worship.
Staff members may not serve as ghost writers or co-authors for individuals who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise. They may not undertake such assignments for organizations that espouse a cause.
Staff members may not engage in financial counseling (except in the articles they write). They may not manage money for others, proffer investment advice, or operate or help operate an investment company of any sort, with or without pay. They may not do anything that would require registration as an investment adviser. They may, however, help family members with ordinary financial planning and serve as executors or administrators of estates of relatives and friends and as court-appointed conservators and guardians.
Newslight freely acknowledges that outside appearances can enhance the reputation of its bylines and serve the paper’s interests. Nevertheless, no staff member may appear before an outside group if the appearance could reasonably create an actual or apparent conflict of interest or undermine public trust in the paper’s impartiality. No staff member who takes part in a broadcast, webcast, public forum or panel discussion may write or edit news articles about that event.
Staff members should be especially sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups that might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group.
Staff members may not accept invitations to speak before a single company or an industry assembly Newslight decides the appearance is useful and will not damage the organization’s reputation for impartiality. In that case, Newslight will pay expenses; no speaker’s fee should be accepted.
Staff members may accept speaking fees, honorariums, expense reimbursement and free transportation only from educational or other non-profit groups for which lobbying and political activity are not a major focus.
Speeches and other outside endeavors by staff members, or unpaid, should not imply that they carry the endorsement of Newslight (unless they do). To the contrary, the staff member should gracefully remind the audience that the views expressed are his or her own. Outside commitments should not interfere with the speaker’s responsibilities at Newslight.
Competitions and Contests
Staff members may not enter competitions sponsored by individuals or groups who have a direct interest in the tenor of Newslight coverage. They may not act as judges for these competitions or accept their awards. Common examples are contests sponsored by commercial, political or professional associations to judge coverage of their affairs.
Staff members may compete in competitions sponsored by groups whose members are all journalists or whose members demonstrably have no direct interest in the tenor of coverage of the field being judged. Newslight staff members may act as judges for such competitions and accept their awards. For example, a staff member may enter a university-sponsored competition for coverage of economic or foreign affairs but not accept an advocacy group’s prize for outstanding environmental coverage.
Normally staff members are free to accept honorary degrees, medals and other awards from colleges, universities and other educational institutions. Those who cover higher education or supervise that coverage should be sensitive to any appearance of coziness or favoritism. Those in doubt should consult the General Manager.
The Use of Borrowed Equipment
Staff members who borrow equipment, vehicles or other goods for evaluation or review must return the borrowed items as soon as possible. Similarly, items borrowed to be photographed, such as fashion apparel or home furnishings, should be returned promptly.
Staff members may keep for their own collections — but may not sell or copy — books, recordings, tapes, compact discs and computer programs sent to them for review. Such submissions are considered press releases. Recorded or digital media, such as tapes or disks, must be destroyed or returned to the provider if not retained by the journalist; they may not be copied, given away or left where they could be carried off for illicit copying or reuse.
Collaboration and Testimonials
Staff members may not collaborate in ventures involving individuals or organizations that figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise. Among other things, this prohibition applies to collaborating in writing books, pamphlets, reports, scripts, scores or any other material and in making photographs or creating artwork of any sort.
Except in reviews or columns published in Newslight or on its website or appropriately voiced in authorized public appearances, staff members may not offer endorsements, testimonials or promotional blurbs for books, films, television programs or any other programs, products or ventures.
Participation in Public Life
Staff members of Newslight are family members and responsible citizens as well as journalists. Newslight respects their educating their children, exercising their religion, voting in elections and taking active part in community affairs. Nothing in this policy is meant to infringe upon those rights. But even in the best of causes, Newslight staff members have a duty to avoid the appearance of a conflict. They should never invoke Newslight’s name in private activities.
Certain of these requirements apply to all newsroom and editorial page employees, journalists and support staff alike. No newsroom or editorial employee may do anything that damages Newslight’s reputation for strict neutrality in reporting on politics and government. In particular, no one may wear campaign buttons or display any other sign of political partisanship while on the job. Otherwise, “staff members” in this section refers only to the professional journalists defined above.
Voting, Campaigns and Public Issues
Journalists have no place on the playing fields of politics. Staff members are entitled to vote, but they must do nothing that might raise questions about their professional neutrality or that of Newslight. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation. They may not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics. They should recognize that a bumper sticker on the family car or a campaign sign on the lawn may be misread as theirs, no matter who in their household actually placed the sticker or the sign.
Staff members may not themselves give money to, or raise money for, any political candidate or election cause. Given the ease of Internet access to public records of campaign contributors, any political giving by a Newslight staff member would carry a great risk of feeding a false impression that the paper is taking sides.
No staff member may seek public office anywhere. Seeking or serving in public office plainly violates the professional detachment expected of a journalist. It poses a risk of having the staff member’s political views imputed to Newslight, and it can sow a suspicion of favoritism in Newslight’s political coverage when one of its staff is an active participant.
Staff members may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements, sign ads taking a position on public issues, or lend their name to campaigns, benefit dinners or similar events if doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their ability or Newslight’s ability to function as neutral observers in covering the news. Staff members must keep in mind that neighbors and other observers commonly see them as representatives of Newslight.
Staff members may appear from time to time on radio and television programs devoted to public affairs, but they should avoid expressing views that go beyond what they would be allowed to say in the paper. Op-Ed columnists and editorial writers enjoy more leeway than others in speaking publicly because their business is expressing opinions. Newslight expects them to consider carefully the forums in which they appear and to protect the standards and impartiality of the organization as a whole.
Staff members must be sensitive that perfectly proper political activity by their spouses, family or companions may nevertheless create conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict. When such a possibility arises, the staff member should advise the General Manager. Depending on circumstances, the staff member may have to recuse himself or herself from certain coverage or even move to a job unrelated to the activities in question.
A staff member with any doubts about a proposed political activity should consult the General Manager. These restrictions protect the heart of our mission as journalists.
Staff members may not serve on government boards or commissions, paid or unpaid. They may not join boards of trustees, advisory committees or similar groups except those serving journalistic organizations or otherwise promoting journalism education.
Newslight has no wish to impede good community citizenship. Normally the restriction on joining trustee boards or advisory committees will not apply to organizations that are highly unlikely to generate news of interest to Newslight and that do not generally seek to shape public policy. These typically include houses of worship, community charities, local libraries, fine arts groups, hobby groups, youth athletic leagues, country clubs and alumni groups. Within reason staff members may help such groups with relatively modest fundraising. They should not play a leading role or ever lead a donor to expect a favor in return. They should never solicit anyone with whom they or Newslight has professional dealings.
Staff members may not solicit funds for political, social, religious, educational, philanthropic or other causes that reach beyond the sorts of groups described in the preceding paragraph. Doing so could create an expectation of a favor in return. Staff members should think carefully about their own contributions to various causes, bearing in mind the need for neutrality on divisive issues.
Advertisers, Marketing, Promotion
Newslight treats advertisers as fairly and openly as it treats readers and news sources. The relationship between Newslight and advertisers rests on the understanding, long observed in all departments, that news and advertising are strictly separate — that those who deal with either one have distinct obligations and interests and neither group will try to influence the other.
Members of the news department should maintain their disinterest and objectivity by avoiding discussions of advertising needs, goals and problems except where those needs or problems are directly related to the business of the news department. In many instances, for example, the news and advertising departments may properly confer on the layout and configuration of the paper or the timing of special sections.
When authorized by the executive editor, members of the news staff may take part in interdepartmental committees on problems that affect several departments, including news. As far as possible they should leave advertising issues to colleagues from the business side.
From time to time, when authorized by the executive editor or the editorial page editor, staff members may take part in events organized by Newslight for marketing or promotion. But they should stick to their expertise and refrain from saying anything that sounds like a sales pitch.
No one in the news department below the masthead level (except when authorized by the executive editor) may exchange information with the advertising department or with advertisers about the timing or content of advertising, the timing or content of articles or the assignment of staff or freelance writers, editors, artists, designers or photographers.
Obligations to Newslight
Newslight’s good name does not belong to any of us. No one has a right to expropriate it for private purposes. Staff members may not use Newslight identification cards for purposes not connected with Newslight employment. Cards may not be used to obtain special treatment or advantage from governmental, commercial or other organizations. Staff members may not use Newslight stationery, business cards, forms or other materials for any purpose except the business of the newspaper.
Speaking for Newslight
Staff members must not disclose confidential information about the operations, policies or plans of Newslight.
The General Manager may authorize other staff members to comment publicly on policies or plans within the staff members’ areas of responsibility and expertise. If staff members are approached by other media or other outsiders to discuss Newslight content or policy, they should refer the questioners to the General Manager.
Staff members are free to discuss their own activities in public, provided their comments do not create an impression that they lack journalistic impartiality or speak for Newslight.
None of these restrictions should be interpreted as barring a staff member from responding openly and honestly to any reasonable inquiry from a reader about that staff member’s work. If a reader asks for a correction, that request should be passed promptly to a supervisor. If the request threatens legal action or appears to be from a lawyer, the complaint should be promptly referred to the General Manager.
Books, Movies, Reprints and Copyright
No article, post, column, photograph, artwork or other material created by Newslight staff members and published by Newslight may be reproduced elsewhere without the prior written permission of Newslight, nor may it be rewritten, updated or otherwise altered and then republished without Newslight’s prior written permission.
No staff member may serve as a ghost writer or co-author for individuals who figure or are likely to figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise.
At no time may a staff member turn over notes, interviews documents or other working materials to any third party, including agents, producers, studios or outside production agencies, or share those materials with them unless legally compelled to do so. Staff members are advised that in such circumstances, Newslight’s legal department will provide assistance. As a matter of policy, Newslight will not give commercial producers or publishers access to working materials any more than it would turn them over to government prosecutors for use in court.
This paragraph applies only to television and film: Staff members offered “consulting” agreements by agents, producers, studios or others must consult the General Manager before accepting. No staff member may serve as a consultant to a film or program that he or she knows in advance is tendentious or clearly distorts the underlying facts. In no case should a consulting role be described in a way that invokes Newslight or implies its endorsement or participation.
Journalistic Work Outside Newslight
Staff members are generally entitled to accept freelance assignments that do not directly compete with Newslight’s own offerings. Work for competitors will not be permitted.
Competitors include any newspaper, magazine or other media of publication, regardless of form, with an editorial focus on local news in the Tri-Cities region of British Columbia. If the competitive status of a publication, website or TV production is unclear, a staff member should consult with the General Manager.
Staff members must ensure that their freelance work does not interfere with their responsibilities to Newslight and that it is consistent with these policies and guidelines.
Before accepting a freelance assignment, a staff member should make sure that the tone and content of the publication, website or program are in keeping with the standards of Newslight. In general, a staff member should write nothing elsewhere that could not fit comfortably under his or her byline in Newslight or that implies Newslight’s sponsorship or endorsement. An outside publication, program or website may identify staff members by their Newslight positions but only in a routine way.
Because their primary identification is with Newslight, staff members who accept freelance assignments should adhere to these guidelines in carrying out those assignments. For example, a staff member on freelance assignment may not accept compensation, expenses, discounts, gifts or other inducements from a news source. Similarly, staff members who establish their own sites online must insure that their online conduct conforms to these guidelines.
Frequency matters. Freelance work might create a conflict of interest if it is pursued with such regularity that it interferes with Newslight assignments or compromises the integrity or independence of Newslight. Freelancing might also create a conflict if it identifies a staff member as closely with another publication or website as with Newslight. A business reporter who wrote a column in every issue of a trade magazine might soon become more identified with that magazine than with Newslight. A critic writing regularly for an arts magazine might foster the impression that Newslight was not his or her prime responsibility. The use of a pseudonym does not alter the obligation to comply with this provision.
A regular contribution to an outside enterprise is permissible if it does not interfere with or flow from Newslight responsibilities or involve intellectual matter owed to Newslight and its readers. Examples of acceptable affiliations might be a foreign desk copy editor who writes a monthly column on stamp-collecting or a mapmaker working as a freelance illustrator.
Appearing on Broadcast Media
Staff members may participate in radio, television or Internet interviews or discussions, paid or unpaid, that deal with articles they have written or subjects that figure in the coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise. Such occasional appearances must not imply that they carry the sponsorship or endorsement of Newslight (unless they do). Staff members should be careful about the use of their names and that of the newspaper in materials promoting the appearances. As a courtesy, they should let the General Manager know about their plans to appear.
In deciding whether to make a radio, television or Internet appearance, a staff member should consider its probable tone and content to make sure they are consistent with Newslight standards. Staff members should avoid strident, theatrical forums that emphasize punditry and reckless opinion-mongering. Instead, we should offer thoughtful and retrospective analysis. Generally a staff member should not say anything on radio, television or the Internet that could not appear under his or her byline in Newslight.
Staff members may not appear on broadcasts that compete directly with Newslight’s own offerings on television or the Internet. They may not accept assignments from the Newslight’s TV clients or potential clients without its approval. As the paper moves further into these new fields, its direct competitors and clients or potential clients will undoubtedly grow in number. A staff member who has any doubt about the status of a particular program should consult the General Manager.
Appearances might create a conflict of interest if they come so regularly that they interfere with Newslight assignments or compromise the integrity or independence of Newslight. They might also create a conflict if they identify a staff member as closely with a radio or television program or a website as with Newslight.
Sorting Out Family Ties
In a day when most families balance two careers, the legitimate activities of companions, spouses and other relatives can sometimes create journalistic conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflicts. They can crop up in civic or political life, professional pursuits and financial activity. A spouse or companion who runs for public office would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a political reporter or an editor involved in election coverage. A brother or a daughter in a high-profile financial services job might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor.
To avoid such conflicts, staff members may not write about people to whom they are related by blood or marriage or with whom they have close personal relationships, or edit material about such people or make news judgments about them. For similar reasons, staff members should not recruit or directly supervise family members or close friends. Some exceptions are permissible — in a foreign bureau, for instance, where a married couple form a team, or in the case of an article by a food writer profiling her brother the Canucks star, where the kinship is of genuine news interest.
Disclosure of Possible Conflicts
Staff members must be sensitive to these possibilities. Any staff member who sees a potential for conflict or a threat to the paper’s reputation in the activities of spouse, friends or relatives must discuss the situation with the General Manager.
In some cases, disclosure is enough. But if Newslight considers the problem serious, the staff member may have to withdraw from certain coverage. Sometimes an assignment may have to be modified or a beat changed. In a few instances, a staff member may have to move to a different department — from business and financial news, say, to the culture desk — to avoid the appearance of conflict.
Although this policy necessarily imposes restraints, Newslight has no wish to intrude upon the private lives of its staff members and their families. Nothing in this document seeks to prohibit a companion, spouse or other relative of a Newslight staff member from taking part in any political, financial, commercial, religious or civic activity. Newslight understands that friends and relatives of its staff have every right to pursue full and active lives, personally and professionally. If restrictions are necessary, they fall on the Newslight employee. But any attempt to disguise a staff member’s participation in prohibited activity by using a relative’s name or any other alias (or by acting anonymously) violates this guideline.
In all cases Newslight depends on staff members to disclose potential problems in a timely fashion so that we can work together to prevent embarrassment for staff members and Newslight.
Investments and Financial Ties
Every member of the Newslight staff must be constantly vigilant against any appearance that he or she is abusing non-public information for financial gain.
Though staff members must necessarily accept certain limits on their freedom to invest, this policy leaves a broad range of investments open to them. Any staff member, regardless of assignment, is free to own diversified mutual funds, money market funds and other diversified investments that the reporter or editor cannot control. Any member also may own treasury bills, investment-grade municipal bonds, debt securities other than speculative bonds, and securities issued by Newslight. And staff members are of course free to own stocks entirely unrelated to their Newslight assignment.
No staff member may own stock or have any other financial interest in a company, enterprise or industry that figures or is likely to figure in coverage that he or she provides, edits, packages or supervises regularly. A book editor, for example, may not invest in a publishing house, a health writer in a pharmaceutical company or a Pentagon reporter in a mutual fund specializing in defense stocks. For this purpose an industry is defined broadly; for example, a reporter responsible for any segment of media coverage may not own any media stock. “Stock” should be read to include futures, options, rights, and speculative debt, as well as “sector” mutual funds (those focused on one industry).
Staff members may not buy or sell securities or make other investments in anticipation of forthcoming articles that originate with Newslight. This restriction does not apply to spot news that first appears on wire services or that originates elsewhere. That information is public.
Affirming Good-Faith Compliance
Staff members in any department will be asked when hired to affirm that they have no investments that would violate the rules above with respect to the assignment they are being given. If a new staff member is unable to make this affirmation, the staff member may choose to sell the conflicting holding. If not, he or she must be given a different assignment where no such conflict exists.
Staff members should be acutely sensitive that the investments and business interests of their spouse, family and companions may create real or apparent conflicts of interest by raising questions of favoritism. Staff members will be asked when hired to affirm that to the best of their knowledge no spouse, family member or companion has financial holdings that might reasonably raise doubts about the impartiality of the staff member’s reporting or editing in his or her proposed assignment. Depending on circumstances, the new staff member may have to recuse himself or herself from certain coverage or accept an alternative assignment unrelated to the holdings in question.
The General Manager may from time to time ask staff members in any department to affirm that they have no investments in violation of the rules above. Such a request might be expected, for example, when a staff member is about to begin a new assignment or work on a particularly sensitive article.
Similarly, staff members may be asked on occasion to affirm that to the best of their knowledge no spouse, family member or companion has financial holdings that might reasonably raise doubts about the impartiality of the staff member’s reporting or editing. If and when such conditions come up, the staff member must alert his or her department head and the standards editor. Depending on circumstances, the staff member may have to recuse himself or herself from certain coverage or even to move to a job unrelated to the holdings.
If a reporter who owns stock in a company outside his or her regular beat is assigned to write an article about that company or its industry, the reporter must discuss the investment with the General Manager before beginning the work. Similarly, editors assigned to major articles or a series about companies or industries in which they have investments must advise their supervisors of potential conflicts before beginning the editing. In many instances it will be perfectly permissible for the work to proceed, but the reporter or editor who works on such an article or series may not buy or sell stock in the company or industry until two weeks after publication.
A staff member who owns stock and moves into an assignment where such holdings are not permitted must sell the stock. Those who are newly barred from owning stock of any sort may dispose of their shares in phases, following a reasonable plan worked out with the General Manager. But the phase-out does not apply to reporters or editors who own shares in specific industries they are newly assigned to cover. For instance, it is manifestly untenable for a new Automobiles editor to own stock in an auto company, so divestiture must be prompt.
Whenever this document requires the sale of stock holdings, a staff member can satisfy the requirement by putting the shares into a blind trust (or into an equivalent financial arrangement that meets the same goal: preventing an individual from knowing at any given time the specific holdings in the account and blocking the individual from controlling the timing of transactions in such holdings). If Newslight assigns a staff member to a new job where mandatory divestiture would impose an undue hardship, Newslight will reimburse the staff member for the reasonable costs of setting up a blind trust.
Dealing with Outside Contributors
As far as possible, freelance contributors to Newslight, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Newslight assignments. If they violate these guidelines, they will be denied further assignments.
Before being given an assignment, freelance contributors must sign a contract with Newslight. These contracts oblige them to take care to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflict. Specifically, in connection with work for Newslight, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources. In addition, they will publish no similar article in a competing publication within 14 days unless Newslight approves.
The contracts’ concise provisions cannot cover every circumstance that might arise. Assigning editors should ensure that contributors are aware of this document and to the greatest extent possible, in fact honor its provisions while on assignment for Newslight. Any disagreement over whether a specific provision applies to outside contributors should be resolved before the assignment proceeds.