The Universal News is committed to the highest ethical standards. Fairness and accuracy are among our core values. But nothing stands above the need to maintain our integrity. The public’s trust — our most important asset — depends on it.
This document provides general guidance to BANG staffers on the many difficult ethical questions that arise in the course of doing our jobs. But because not every situation can be anticipated, it is useful to keep two particular guidelines in mind.
1.) None of us should act in ways that could damage the news organization’s credibility. Many complicated issues – from political involvement to attribution to freelance policy – can be navigated easily with that principle in mind.
2.) Any situation that raises questions of credibility must be discussed with a senior editor (department head, assistant managing editor, managing editor or executive editor). None of us should decide such issues alone.
We are all collectively responsible for ethical standards. Any employee who is aware that a fellow staff member has committed ethical violations should immediately bring the matter to the attention of a senior editor.
Professional Activities and Standards
FAIRNESS AND ACCURACY
The Universal News strives to operate with fairness, accuracy and independence. To that end:
- Whenever possible, we seek opposing views and solicit responses from those whose conduct is questioned in news stories.
- Errors, whether made by the reporter, editor or source, are acknowledged promptly in a straightforward correction, not disguised or glossed over in a follow-up story. Corrections explain, to the extent possible, how the errors happened.
- Reporters or photographers identify themselves to news sources. In the rare instance when circumstances suggest not identifying ourselves, a senior editor must be consulted for approval.
- We do not plagiarize, whether it is the wholesale lifting of someone else’s writing or the publication of a press release as news without attribution.
We attribute information to unnamed sources only when news value warrants and it cannot be obtained any other way.
When forced to rely on unnamed sources, we avoid letting them be the sole basis for a story. We do not allow unnamed sources to make personal attacks.
We describe the unnamed source in as much detail as possible to indicate the source’s credibility. Simply attributing a comment to “a source” is inadequate.
Additionally, whenever possible readers are told the reason the source requested or was given anonymity.
A reporter must identify any unnamed source to his or her editor, and the editor must bring the story to a senior editor for discussion and approval.
To the extent possible, we apply our own standards regarding unnamed sources when we publish stories produced by other news organizations, wire services, blogs or independent journalists. If these stories conflict with our policy on unattributed sources, we try to contact the originating news agency for more information. When we rely on information distributed via social media, we verify the identity of the poster.
QUOTATIONS AND ATTRIBUTION
Quotations are always the exact words that someone spoke, with the exception of minor corrections in grammar and syntax. Parentheses and ellipses within quotations are rarely appropriate and can almost always be avoided.
We generally explain when a quote was received in a manner other than an interview: via e-mail, in a prepared statement, in a televised press conference. If we conduct an interview through a translator, we identify quotes received in that manner.
We do not make it sound as if a source made a statement to our reporter if it came to us through a third party.
BYLINES, DATELINES AND CREDIT LINES
Bylines, datelines and credit lines accurately convey to readers the source of our reporting.
In multiple bylines, the first name is generally that of the reporter who wrote the article or contributed the largest portion of it. We treat material from other news organizations the same way.
When a reporter writes an article based in part on wire service reports, the article carries the reporter’s byline and credits the wire service in a tagline. If the reporter independently reports the facts of the story, the byline can stand alone. If the reporter simply inserts local material, the byline should be the originating source with a reporter’s credit in a tagline.
When adding a quote from another news organization, particularly if it is exclusive information or an anonymous quote, indicate the source: “Bush isn’t going to run for re-election,” a senior administration official told the Washington Post.
MEALS, TICKETS, TRAVEL POLICY
As a general rule, we pay our own way.
We pay for meals and drinks shared with news sources and for meals that are covered as news events. When the cost of a meal includes a sum tacked on to raise funds, we will pay only what we estimate to be the price of the meal.
When complimentary meals are supplied at press events, staff members calculate how much their portions cost and attempt to reimburse the coordinator of the event.
Staff members accept free admission to plays, concerts and other performances and sporting events only for the purpose of reviewing or covering them for our publications.
We pay for transportation and other expenses necessary for the performance of professional duties when possible, including travel on the plane of a political candidate or sports team. In cases where this policy may interfere with our ability to gather news, consult a senior editor.
GIFTS AND SAMPLE PRODUCTS
Employees may not accept or solicit business-connected gifts or free services. Items received whose value is greater than $25 should be returned or donated to a charity. Items of token or insignificant value (under $25), such as calendars, pencils or key chains, may be accepted if returning them would be awkward. Books, compact discs, sample food products, software or other items sent to us for review purposes are accepted as news releases. These items may never be sold for personal profit.
Online and Outside Activities
CREDIBILITY AND CONFLICTS
Staff members should avoid online and real-world activities that could conflict with their jobs.
In an age when everyone shares everything — particularly on social media — staff members must be mindful that espousing viewpoints on public issues in public forums casts doubt on their impartiality and the news organization’s credibility. To our audience, what we post online — even on an ostensibly private social network — is the equivalent of news reporting, and should follow the same rules. Whether it’s a tweet, a response to a reader comment, or an in-depth story, online content must be fair and balanced, and it ought to avoid overt expressions of opinion, unless offering opinion is an explicit part of a staffer’s job.
In some common-sense circumstances, staffers may post opinions about topics that are sufficiently distinct from their job duties (a housing reporter could do movie reviews on her blog, for instance). The Universal News understands that many employees share opinions intended only for a small group of friends, and that occasionally those opinions may inadvertently find a wider audience. The point of these guidelines is not to curtail expression, but rather to protect the credibility of this news organization. Good judgment and an appreciation of the organization’s prerogatives will generally keep employees on the right side of the guidelines.
Credibility concerns also drive our policies regarding a variety of real world activities. In almost all cases, it would be a clear conflict to work on a political campaign, make appearances for an advocacy organization, or speak on a controversial issue in a public meeting. Freelance public-relations work or other outside jobs can also raise concerns. Any employee considering such endeavors should talk to a senior editor.
Employees should not have a financial connection to anything they cover, whether it be owning stock or other form of investment, holding an outside job, or receiving a fee for service or preferential treatment that has an economic value. Conflicts involving the financial interests of spouses or close family members should also be avoided. Any situation that might pose a conflict of interest must be discussed in advance with a senior editor.
Freelancing by staff members is permissible, with some restrictions. Staffers may not work for media that are in direct competition with our products. Direct competition is defined as news publications or sites that originate in eleven counties adjoining our service area: Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, Monterey, San Benito, Alameda, San Mateo, San Francisco, Marin, Solano, Contra Costa and San Joaquin. The Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Los Angeles Times are also considered direct competitors, as are Web sites that are focused on communities within BANG’s distribution footprint or primary areas of coverage, including Silicon Valley, technology and Universal News sports. The same is true of local radio and television programs that target our core content. Any questions as to what constitutes “media in direct competition” should be addressed with a senior editor; exceptions can be authorized only by a managing editor or the executive editor.
Freelance work must be performed outside of regular work hours. For reporters who cover news beats during the day, that might mean reporting and writing at night or on days off. For a sports or arts writer, it might mean working before a game or event, or after it has ended and all coverage has been filed.
Our staffers must not scoop our news organization. Breaking news, enterprise stories and noteworthy items about the people and organizations we cover must be reserved for this organization.
Information published by Universal News may be recast to appear in a national publication. The writer should be identified as a BANG staffer and a senior editor must be notified when staffers use the news organization for identification purposes in freelance work, even for a publication that is not a direct competitor.
When freelancing for a print publication, it is important not to allow the publisher to automatically claim online rights. There are cases where a print publication does not compete with the paper, but the publication’s online site does. Check with a senior editor before granting online rights.
USE OF COMPANY PROPERTY WHILE FREELANCING
Staffers may make reasonable use of company equipment or resources while freelancing for outside publications.
What is “reasonable”? Using a computer after work hours; doing a limited number of searches on Lexis-Nexis.
What is “not reasonable”? Using photo department resources to process and deliver images shot for a freelance assignment. Using a news librarian to do research for a freelance assignment.
RADIO AND TELEVISION
Staffers asked to appear on shows where the appearance is related to the staffer’s area of expertise should obtain the approval of a senior editor. The guest must be clearly identified as a staffer at the Universal News, East Bay Times or The Mercury News.
When invited, Universal News staff members are permitted to speak before trade groups, community organizations, etc., but should not accept speaking fees. Instances where a staff member will be permitted to accept expenses or fees as part of a speaking engagement will be decided on a case-by-case basis in consultation with a managing editor or the executive editor, using ethics — not economics — as the overriding factor.
If the presentation is a professional seminar before a group of peers, staff members are permitted to accept expenses for travel.
Employees shall not use their positions with Universal News to get any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or personal business for themselves, their families, friends or acquaintances.
Employees shall not use the company name, reputation, phone number or stationery to imply a threat of retaliation or pressure, to curry favor or to seek personal gain.
Employees shall not write, photograph, illustrate or make news judgments about anyone related to them by blood or marriage, or with whom they have a close personal relationship or a business relationship. This does not apply to first-person stories or stories in which the relationships are clearly spelled out.
Senior editors will take a constructive rather than punitive approach to potential violations whenever appropriate. All incidents, however, will need to be considered on a case-by-case basis.