Newsroom Policies and Guidelines of the The Seattle Times, published 29 January 1999, last updated 17 February 1999.
The following are standards of professional conduct for a Seattle Times staff that already conforms to high standards of journalistic integrity.
These standards set forth guidelines of honorable conduct. They cannot cover every circumstance or answer every question involving professional conduct. But the guidelines set the tone for what’s expected of everyone in the News and Editorial Departments. Editors should make sure that free-lancers whose work appears in The Times are not in violation of our policies.
Staff members covered by the Guild Agreement are not to engage in outside activities which
(1) consist of or include services performed for any medium in competition with The Times,
(2) exploit their connection with The Times, or
(3) are performed for any noncompetitive employer to the embarrassment of The Times businesswise. These guidelines are intended to clarify the provisions of that Agreement. Should there be any conflict between application of these guidelines and the Guild Agreement, the Guild Agreement shall prevail. Any dispute as to application of these guidelines to staff members covered by that Agreement shall be resolved pursuant to the Guild Agreement.
Fundamental for staff members of The Times is the obligation to perform their duties as the professionals they are. Interpretation of what conduct is appropriate in any particular situation is based upon professional responsibility. In no instance shall individual interests conflict with or appear to conflict with staff members’ professional duties at The Times. The integrity of this newspaper evolves from the integrity of each member of the staff.
Each of us is to avoid impropriety, conflicts of interest or the appearance of impropriety or conflicts of interest.
Misuse of employee status
Staff members should not use their connections with The Times to receive any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or for other personal gain.
Example: it is improper to use The Times stationery to write a personal complaint to a merchant or public agency. In a personal complaint situation or business transaction, avoid any implication that you are acting for The Times or threatening to use your newspaper connections for personal gain.
Employment and outside interests
The first obligation of staff members is to perform the duties for which they are employed by The Times.
Any outside employment should not put the staff member in a possible conflict of interest. In any such other employment, a staff member’s title or assignment at The Times is not to be exploited.
There is a risk of conflict of interest or the appearance of such conflict of interest in work in publicity or public relations, whether paid or unpaid, in involvement in boards of directors, committees, etc., even of charitable and/or social-welfare organizations, or in accepting appointments to boards and commissions having to do with public policy. Therefore, staff members should advise an editor of any involvement or affiliation which might result in a conflict of interests. Staff members should not serve as official scorers or contest judges or have other official involvement in an event the newspaper is covering. Staff members faced with such invitations or personal interests should advise, as appropriate, the editor, managing editor or editorial-page editor.
(Please see Addendum for Seattle Times policy concerning outside activity involving competing media and ownership of work product.)
Free-lancing for publications not in direct competition with The Times usually is permissible. Staff members writing or photographing on a continuing basis for a noncompetitive newspaper or magazine should advise the editor or managing editor for the News Department staff and the editorial-page editor for the Editorial Department staff of such continuing relationships.
Staff members may not enter articles or photographs published in The Times in contests that are not sponsored by professional journalistic organizations. An exception would be a contest of journalistic excellence sponsored by a foundation deemed by the appropriate editors previously listed to be free of commercial or self-serving interests. No awards of significant value may be accepted from any organizations other than those just described.
A staff member could embarrass The Times businesswise and exploit his or her connection with The Times by having a business relationship with a news source or by making news decisions that involve businesses in which he or she has a personal investment. Staff members with investments or stock holdings in corporations should avoid making news decisions that involve those corporations.
Staff members should advise an editor if they are uncertain about the possibility of conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest in business relations or personal investments.
Example: If a reporter were assigned to cover a Utility Commission hearing on an electric company’s rate increase and that reporter owned stock in the utility, the reporter should let his or her editor know of the investment.
Our profession demands impartiality. If a staff member is a candidate for public office, whether the office is nonpartisan or unpaid, or is working, for pay or as a volunteer, in a political campaign or organization or has a close relative (spouse, parent, child, brother or sister) in a political campaign or organization, the staff member should not report on or make news judgments about such a campaign or organization. A staff member should advise his or her editor before reporting on or making news judgments about campaigns or organizations if there is a possibility of a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest.
A staff member should not display in the News or Editorial Departments candidate posters or placards supporting or denouncing a candidate, political party or public issue. To do so could give the impression, intended or not, of partiality.
A member of The Times staff should not write or photograph or make news judgment about any individual related to him or her (spouse, parent, child, sibling or in-laws), or with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship.
Free trips are prohibited except in the rarest of circumstances, and then only with the approval, as appropriate, of the editor, managing editor or editorial-page editor. All expenses – transportation, lodging, meals and incidentals – involved in travel for news coverage or background information will be paid by The Times.
If airlines or cruise firms won’t accept payment for inaugural flights or maiden voyages, such trips will not be taken.
Staff members may not use their Times connections to solicit trips or special press rates or press fares from airlines or other transport or from travel organizations, hotels, agencies and domestic or foreign governments.
Some possible exceptions that would require the approval, as appropriate, of the editor, managing editor or editorial-page editor:
If an airline or cruise firm is under the control of a totalitarian government or any other government which refuses to allow payment and if the inaugural flight or maiden voyage is of compelling news value, the appropriate editor previously mentioned would waive the rule.
Either of the three editors may, as appropriate, approve a reduced-fare trip or special travel arrangement if it is the only way to complete an assignment, such as when military transport is involved or when a staff member needs to be aboard a press plane of an athletic team or political candidate.
In case of the team or candidate plane, the newspaper would ask to be billed for the shared cost involved.
Staff members are to use common sense and discretion in emergency situations.
Example: If there is a shipping disaster off the Coast and a military helicopter is the only transportation available, the staff members covering the story could accept the ride if there’s no time to communicate for approval from an editor. However, an editor should be informed of the circumstances as soon as possible after return to the office.
Another example: if a Boeing plane is on its first flight and a Times reporter and photographer are offered places on a chase plane – the only plane allowed in the area by the Federal Aviation Administration – we could accept the invitation with the approval of the editor or managing editor. This is another example of altering the rule when the news value is of compelling significance.
We pay our own expenses to cover the news.
Reporters, photographers and editors assigned to cover sports, other spectator events or political events for spot news or future use of information may use press boxes, review seats, press rooms and other special facilities. However, The Times wants to pay for its share of such accommodations and will wherever possible.
When possible, staff members should pay for tickets and food and refreshments served at such events.
It is improper for staff members who are not on assignment to attend events as nonpaying spectators or to accept free meals provided by sports, political or other newssource organizations.
Free tickets or passes to sports events, movies, theatrical productions, fairs, circuses, ice shows and other events for which the public pays shall not be accepted by staff members and their families. When tickets to such events are delivered to a Times editor, the tickets should be returned with a letter courteously declining them and with an explanation of our policy.
Staff members who attend the events for professional reasons will pay for tickets and will be reimbursed by The Times.
Nightclub admission or cover charges and costs of meals and other refreshments incurred in professional work will be paid by The Times.
When it is socially awkward or even impossible to pay for a meal, refreshments or entertainment, a staff member should use good judgment in how far to go in insisting on paying. When someone insists on buying a staff member a meal or a drink, the staff member should try to reciprocate at a later date.
We accept no work-connected gifts or gratuities of significant value. We don’t accept free lodging, sample merchandise, special press rates or any other reduced rate or no-pay arrangements not available to the general public.
Gifts of insignificant value – key chain, pencil holder, calendar, etc. – may be kept if it’s awkward to return them.
Gifts of significant value will be returned to the donor with an explanation of our policy. Where it is impractical to return a gift, it will be given to a charity.
Gifts of liquor, wine and beer are considered of more than token value and may not be kept.
Books and records
Books and records sent to The Times for review are considered to be news handouts or releases. They are not to be sold.
A book, a record or a tape may be kept by the person to whom it is assigned for review. Books and recordings not reviewed are to go to departmental editors, then to the editor’s secretary. Staff members may then check out the material from the newsroom lending library. Periodically, the accumulated books and recordings will be sent to charity organizations.
Books of reference value (arts, sciences, architecture, medicine, etc.) that would be helpful to a reporter or editor dealing with such subjects may be kept in such specialists’ files at The Times.
Staff members may not accept free or reduced-rate memberships in private clubs or other organizations when such memberships involve or appear to involve a staff member’s position at The Times. The Times will pay the costs when such memberships are considered by The Times to be necessary for news or editorial purposes.
Use of products
Because of their Times status, staff members sometimes are offered free or reduced-rate purchase of products, merchandise or services not available to the general public. Staff members should not take advantage of such offers. If there is felt to be a need for clarification, staff members should review the policy with an appropriate editor. Examples of such products include cameras or other photographic equipment and supplies, automobiles, boats, furniture, sporting goods, appliances and clothing. With the permission, as appropriate, of the editor, managing editor, or editorial-page editor, a staff member may use for a short time a product to test or evaluate it for news or feature articles or for photography.
Performing services for competing medium
1. No staff member, except when acting in the capacity of a member or officer of the Guild. may appear on a competing broadcasting medium or supply material to a competing print medium without prior approval from his or her department head. Approval normally will not be given if the appearance or material constitutes performing services for the competing medium unless it serves the interests of The Seattle Times.
2. Examples of such normally prohibited work include:
a) Performing services as a panelist on a television or radio program.
b) Performing services as a professional specialist (e.g., politics, religion. science. medicine. drama, visual arts, films, sports, etc.), including interviews before, during, or after sporting events.
3. Approval normally will be given for:
a) Appearance on any broadcast medium which would, in the opinion of the management, serve or promote the interests of The Seattle Times. If approval is given, time spent on such appearances shall be considered working time and The Seattle Times will compensate staff members accordingly. Any compensation received by staff members from outside sources for such appearances will normally be deducted from, and offset against, any compensation payable by The Seattle Times for such appearances.
b) Appearances on any broadcasting medium to respond to questions involving newsworthy events involving The Seattle Times, such as a labor dispute, demonstration, lawsuit, award, comic selection, circulation growth, new technology, etc.
c) Appearing on any public-broadcasting medium or submitting material to nonadvertising publications such as church periodicals, university publications, and scholarly journals.
Ownership of work product
Under the federal Copyright Act, any material produced by a Seattle Times employee that is within the scope of his or her employment is considered “work for hire,” whether or not published in The Seattle Times, and copyright belongs to The Seattle Times. Such material may not be sold, licensed, or otherwise authorized for republication except by permission of The Seattle Times and on such terms as it may specify as copyright owner.