News and Editorial Mission and Vision of The Roanoke Times, published 29 January 1999.
We must provide people with the news and information they value and need to understand their world, govern themselves effectively and improve their lives.
WE BELIEVE that an informed public is our society’s only guarantee of freedom. We are first and foremost a local news organization, serving as the community’s watchdog, conscience and forum.
WE BELIEVE that the cornerstone of our enterprise is journalistic integrity. We insist on honesty, accuracy and fairness in all our reporting. We will report progress and achievements as well as problems and injustices, offering our readers context and perspective. We will entertain as well as enlighten.
WE BELIEVE that we are in partnership with readers, who determine our success. We will solicit, hear, respect and act on their ideas. We will maintain standards of excellence and strive to delight customers with innovative content.
WE BELIEVE that our news and editorial staffs are the heart of our journalistic mission. We wiII therefore:
Provide an environment that stimulates and values their creativity and rewards them fairly;
Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect that empowers all employees yet acknowledges management’s responsibility to lead;
Help people learn, as individuals and as team members, enhancing their productivity in the face of constant change.
Circulation is how we measure our importance to readers and our impact on the communities we serve. Therefore: Our mission is to create goals and strategies to increase readership. We will work with the circulation department to establish goals for adding new subscribers and retaining present ones.
The duty of Landmark Newspapers
By Frank Batten, Chairman of the Executive Committee, Landmark Communications
Newspapers live entirely on the bounty of the public. The ability of journalists to report and to comment is based upon a unique grant of freedom from the public. Thus our duty is clear: It is to serve the public with skill and character, and to exercise First Amendment freedoms with vigor and responsibility. Our news reports should never be influenced by the private interests of the owners or of any other group. Our editorials should exhibit vigor and courage, always respectful of contrary opinion, never tailored to the whims of the editor or publisher.
We aim to build a tradition of excellence for our newspapers. We must be aggressive in publishing the news. The independence of our editors, reporters and photographers is not for sale. There are no sacred cows. No territory of legitimate public interest is off limits to fair and competent reporting and comments.
Freedom makes a place for excellence. That place must be filled with professional discipline, with respect for the public we serve, and with a keen sense of fairness to all individuals. We must never pander to passions or forget for a moment the power of the printed word to do wrong as well as to right wrong.
Let us forget old slogans of dead days. Instead of “Get it first and get it right,” let our rule be: “First, get it right.” When mistakes occur, we should correct them promptly and forthrightly. Excellence cannot flourish without criticism. We need criticism and should seek it. Lacking trust, a newspaper cannot serve or advance any worthy purpose.
The first priority of Landmark newspapers is to present a faithful and accurate picture of the life of their communities. This requires detailed coverage of local events, institutions and people’s activities.
Warts and problems are at the core of news, but they are not all of the news. Even against the tide of modern life, people and institutions make progress. We should be generous in coverage of achievement; our pages should reflect the grit, devotion and durability of the human spirit. Let us nourish hope. While exposure of wrongdoing is a proper function and on occasion a required function of newspapers, it is not the main purpose. Problems are shaped more often by circumstance than by venality. Corruption and conflicts of interest, in most communities, have little to do with the important things that are not working. Most of our communities’ failures are rooted in complex problems. A truly excellent newspaper will spend most of its investigative skills on explaining those circumstances. We misdirect readers if we concentrate on narrow problems and inflate their significance.
A great newspaper is distinguished by the balance, fairness and authority of its reporting and editing. Such a newspaper searches as hard for strengths and accomplishment as for weakness and failure. Rather than demoralize its community, the great newspaper will, by honest and intelligent journalism, inspire people to do better.
Safeguarding our credibility
Participation in civic affairs
The credibility of our news report requires fairness and impartiality. It demands the
avoidance of conflicts of interest – or even the appearance of such conflicts – that might raise
suspicion that the newspaper or its staffers pursue political or other agendas in news columns. For that reason, staff members must exercise great care before becoming involved in any political activity beyond registering and voting.
Any employee who takes a public position on any significant issue of controversy loses his or her reputation for impartiality. Staffers should therefore avoid active involvement in any partisan causes in politics, community affairs, social actions or demonstrations that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report, edit or photograph fairly.
Whether on or off the job, we operate in the public domain. Our private behavior as well as our professional behavior must not bring discredit to our paper or our craft. Staff members should be aware that even innocent actions – wearing a political button, signing a petition, displaying a bumper sticker, appearing on a list of contributors to political or quasi-political groups – may create a damaging impression in the public’s mind.
Participation in events such as public demonstrations, where a staff member could be involved unintentionally in making the news, always will be discouraged and must be approved in advance by the editor or managing editor.
In no circumstance may a staff member run for political office or work, for pay or as a volunteer, in a political campaign or organization. If a relative – spouse, parent, child, brother or sister, for example – or close friend is involved in a political campaign or organization, the staff member must refrain from covering or making news judgments about such a campaign or organization.
To guard against the appearance of displaying a partisan allegiance, news employees should decline invitations to accept leadership positions or to serve on any board, commission or major committee with governmental, quasi-governmental or communitywide civic sponsorship. Exceptions to this rule should be approved in advance by the managing editor or editor and made known to all news employees. Under no circumstances may any news department employee accept the position of publicity chair for an organization or event.
Staff members who are to write or edit any story about an issue in which they have a personal involvement must advise an editor of the conflict. If a close family member is strongly identified with an organization, cause or issue in the news, the staff member must be prepared to withdraw from coverage decisions in that area. Other potential conflicts could arise from stock ownership, an employee’s outside employment, the place of employment of a spouse or dependent child, an overwhelming commitment to a public issue, or any number of other possible circumstances. In any conflict, the staff member will be required to withdraw from the story.
Free-lance contributors, while not bound by the same restrictions as regular employees, should abide by the spirit of these standards, since the free-lancers also represent The Roanoke Times. To avoid any potential conflict between journalistic objectivity and a free-lancer’s commercial or political interests, it is the free-lancer’s responsibility to make any potential conflict known to the newspaper’s management. If a conflict exists, the free-lancer will be taken off an assignment, or the offer of a story or column will be refused. A free-lancer’s ties to relevant organizations in an article should be prominently mentioned.
We are residents of this community. Its civic health matters to us as citizens. Its cultural offerings enrich all our lives and the lives of our families. The need to maintain journalistic impartiality doesn’t mean that we have to be detached from community life. On the contrary, the more we participate in community activities, the better understanding we will have of the needs, aspirations and everyday lives of the people we portray.
While news department employees should not become involved in policy-making positions or act as spokesmen or spokeswomen for outside organizations, we encourage staff participation in voluntary community organizations that have a limited community impact and do not fall in the normal range of coverage by the staff member. Among the kinds of community service news staffers engage in are teaching English as a second language to refugees, working at Festival in the Park, teaching Sunday school, constructing houses with Habitat for Humanity and helping out in schools and day-care centers. Any questions about appropriate volunteer work should be discussed with the managing editor or editor.
Staff members may not enter into a business relationship with news sources, use inside knowledge about businesses for personal gain or give anyone outside the news department knowledge of any proposed or pending story that could affect the price of securities or contracts.
Financial investments, loans or other outside business activities that could conflict with the newspaper’s ability to fairly and objectively report the news, or that would create the impression of such a conflict, must be avoided.
A reporter, editor or photographer who is to cover or edit any story about a company in which he or she has a financial interest must advise a senior editor of the conflict and be prepared to withdraw from the story. Financial interest in this case consists of ownership of more than one share of stock, active or passive participation in an enterprise, or enjoying beneficial interest of investments held by others. Investments held through a mutual fund are exempt from this provision, as long as the staffer is not covering the fund itself.
Relatives of news staffers cannot fairly be made subject to the newsroom’s rules, but it should be recognized that their employment, financial investments or involvement in causes can at least appear to compromise our integrity. Business and professional ties of family members or close friends thus should be disclosed, on a confidential basis, to a supervising editor.
News employees of The Roanoke Times are expected to avoid any type of outside work paid or unpaid – that may be open to interpretation that the content of the newspaper may be affected or influenced. Any outside work, even apparently unrelated to journalism, can cause conflicts. Therefore, no employee shall accept outside employment or engage in outside business activities without first consulting with his or her supervisor as to possible conflicts of interest.
These specific prohibitions on outside jobs apply to news personnel:
No news employee shall accept work with any organization, promoter, business, school, amateur or professional team or agency that must depend on news coverage in The Roanoke Times for its viability.
No news employee shall accept work with any agency of the federal, state or local government, political party, advertising agency, or any organization seeking public support for any cause. This prohibition does not apply to service in any reserve unit of the United States armed forces or similar military obligation.
News employees are prohibited from performing work for any competing medium of communication. A staffer’s first loyalty should be to this newspaper. As a general rule, staff members should not work on the same assignment for the newspaper and any other organization. However, when a staffer seeks permission to string, write or take photographs for national publications, it normally will be granted.
Occasional guest appearances on commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations also will be permitted, with prior approval by the editor or the managing editor. When on the air, staff members should demonstrate a high standard of impartiality, just as in our paper’s news columns.
Freebies, junkets and gifts
The Roanoke Times pays its own way on all assignments for news coverage. We accept nothing of value – except information – from news sources or others outside the newspaper.
All trips designed to produce news stories for the sponsor -junkets – are to be declined. The rule is: If we can’t pay, we don’t go. An exception might involve traveling on military aircraft at time of war. Even then, we should make every effort to pay our share of the costs. That decision should be left to the managing editor or editor.
No news employee or free-lancer shall accept business-connected gifts valued at $25 or more. Gifts of significant value, such as free lodging, free tickets to events, plane tickets and expensive meals or bottles of liquor are to be refused with a polite explanation that company policy prohibits their acceptance. Where refusal or return is impossible, gifts can be donated to charity.
Admission to any event where provision has been made for separate or special seating for journalists must be limited to one admission per working reporter or photographer. Staff members should not seek admission for a relative or friend to a working media area, nor should they use special media seating unless they are covering the event or legitimately gaining background for future coverage. Staff members should accept no free tickets for admission of relatives or friends to any event.
Staff members should pay for meals when on assignment and arrange for later reimbursement by the newspaper. Restaurant critics must never accept free meals at eating establishments. Travel writers, including stringers, should adhere to strict “pay-your-own-way” standards for food, transportation and accommodations.
This policy is not to be construed to mean that a staffer cannot accept a low-cost meal, or, in some circumstances, transportation when these things are proffered in the course of a normal assignment and insistence upon paying our way is not practical.
Situations will arise that call for judgment. We need not be reduced to arguing with a news source over who will pay for a cup of coffee or a press briefing over an inexpensive lunch. Occasionally, someone may buy a staff member a drink. This is regarded as a simple courtesy, and the staff member should repay the courtesy at some future time. Use common sense. A short ride in a source’s car may be acceptable; a $100 gift, never.
Whenever group rates or other discounts are available to the public, staff members may pay those same rates. At any event, we should strive to pay our fair share of a sponsor’s costs whether a staffer is covering a story or developing contacts.
These rules also apply to news stringers. The newspaper expects free-lancers to abide by the same rules, since the free-lancer on assignment represents The Roanoke Times. Supervising editors should apprise free-lancers of these rules at the time of assignment.
Staff members should not use their positions on the staff to seek any benefit or advantage in personal business, financial or commercial transactions not generally afforded to the public. For example, staff members should not refer to their newspaper connection while attempting to buy a personal item at a reduced price, to ensure quicker service or make a complaint about a private transaction. The standard is that a staff member should not seek or accept any benefit or advantage not afforded to the general public.
Integrity of photographs
Our visual report is a way for us to expand on and complement the written word, and we must carefully protect its integrity as well. We should strive for the proper marriage of words, photos and graphics that will give readers a fuller and more complete perspective than words or art alone would provide.
New electronic technology enables the content of a photographic image to be manipulated in such a way that the change is virtually undetectable. At The Roanoke Times, we will not alter the editorial content of a photograph in any way that deceives the reader. Our pictures must always tell the truth. Effects that can be achieved with conventional photographic techniques, such as the use of wide-angle lenses or filters, may be used in news photos. But photographs manipulated electronically for art or design purposes must be clearly labeled “photo illustrations.”
We rely on sources for information, but we deliver our credibility into their hands if we fail to check the facts and statements they supply, or if we aren’t certain that we understand their agendas.
The Roanoke Times strives to provide its readers with believable and useful information. Skeptical readers cannot know whether to believe or disbelieve information attributed to anonymous sources. They cannot use the information because, without knowing the source, they have no means of assessing its value.
To the fullest extent possible, this newspaper will provide readers full information on the sources of news it prints. Sources are to be identified by name, position and other information relevant to the story.
Use of fictitious quotations, phantom sources or of composite people as if they were real people is forbidden. When a fictitious name is used to mask the identity of a real person, the fact that the name is fictitious and the reason for the fiction will be set forth.
This policy is not intended to block the occasional need to shield identity for reasons of privacy, compassion, good taste or law. (Examples include rape victims and people whose jobs or personal safety would be endangered by identification.)
In the past, particularly in event and feature coverage, we have used unnamed sources in stories deemed uncontroversial (” ‘I think it’s great,’ said one festival-goer who asked not to be identified”). But such anonymous quotes are prohibited. They add little to a story; without a name, the speaker has no substance. The reader has no ability to connect, to see the name of a friend or co-worker in print. If you stop someone to get a comment about an event, make sure that the person is willing to be identified. If not, seek someone else.
On occasion, authoritative reporting requires the use of unnamed sources. Authorization is to be given only when the following conditions have been met:
The supervising editor determines that there is a need for the public to know the information imparted by the unnamed source and no on-the-record means of obtaining it exists.
The supervising editor knows the identity of the unnamed source.
The reader is told as much as possible about the unnamed source, short of revealing identity, and about the reason for anonymity.
Extensive efforts have been made to corroborate the accuracy of the information imparted by the unnamed source.
The supervising editor informs the editor or managing editor. The final decision whether to print the material rests with them.
Permitting an unnamed source to demean, attack or vilify a named person or institution is forbidden unless the editor or publisher, for considered and compelling reasons, expressly approves. And if an anonymous source ever lies to us, our readers will know it as soon as we do.
These same policies apply to wire stories, though their application is difficult. Generally, we should avoid use of national and international stories based on unnamed sources, unless the article shows that several sources were used and gives some indication of the sources’ expertise, or offers other corroboration for the information reported. Anonymous, scurrilous quotes should be removed from wire stories just as they would be from a staff-written story. It may not hurt a public official or movie star to be the subject of an anonymous attack in a wire story in The Roanoke Times, but it can hurt us by diminishing our readers’ trust.
Here are some other policies about sources:
Make every effort to get sources on the record. If a source asks to go “off the record,” be sure that you and the source are in agreement as to what that phrase means. This is particularly important with private citizens who are inexperienced in dealing with the press.
Talk to your editor in any situation where total and lasting confidentiality is involved. In such situations, the reporter and editor must share the burden of trust that such a promise carries. On potentially sensitive stories, a reporter must talk with an editor before promising anonymity; legal repercussions and other problems may not be clearly seen at the fact-gathering stage.
Do not use such words as “key officials,” “well-placed” or “Informed” sources. Provide the fullest possible identification, such as “an official in the city manager’s office.”
No material purporting to be factual should be reported from an online site unless the reporter is confident of and/or verifies its source. For instance, the official Pulitzer Prize Web site can be regarded as a reliable source for the names of past winners. But “inside” information or personal details about third parties posted on Web sites should be regarded as no more than gossip: We check it out independently. Net-derived information should be attributed, just as we would information from any book, magazine or other publication.
Making deals with sources
Sometimes a source will promise exclusive or far more detailed information at a later date if we agree to refrain from publishing a story as soon as we become aware of it. No staffer should agree to such a deal without consulting her or his editor. That’s because the deal is made with The Roanoke Times, not with the individual reporter.
We should resist such deal-making efforts forcefully. Our business is to find things out and report them, not sit on information that the public has a right to know. However, there may be instances in which an agreement to delay publication better serves the public interest than immediate publication would.
Any such deals must have clear terms, including a date on which the deal expires. The source also must understand that if the story breaks in another medium, the deal is off.
Reporters generally should not let a source see a story before publication. However, accuracy is our overriding goal. Reading parts of a story to a source can sometimes prevent inaccuracy.
Especially when we are dealing with stories of a scientific or highly technical nature, our policy is as follows: If a source asks to see a story before publication, the reporter should check with his or her immediate supervising editor. If the editor agrees, the source will be permitted to check facts and quotes. No nitpicking or arbitrary editing or rewriting will be permitted.
Photographers, similarly, should not show photos to sources prior to publication, unless it is necessary to get a source’s assistance in identifying subjects in a photo.
We correct all mistakes. Whenever a possible error is called to our attention, a staff member should handle the matter in as courteous a manner as possible and immediately apprise an editor. When an error is called to our attention, we want to publish a correction or clarification as soon as possible. Corrections should be clear and concise, and they should not repeat the erroneous information.
On routine errors of our making, the newspaper as a whole accepts responsibility for the error, and we do not identify the internal source. Example:
Institutional correction: “Bradley Gusler’s name was misspelled in a story in Sunday’s Business section.”
When we publish erroneous information provided by others, we will indicate that, as long as the error is not something we could and should have verified. For instance, if we are given an incorrect telephone number and publish it, we should assume institutional responsibility for the error, because it’s easy to call and check a number. But if we are dependent on a single state trooper for details of an accident, we would attribute any incorrect information to him or her. Example:
Attributed correction: “Because of incorrect information provided by the Roanoke Police Department, the wrong person was identified as being charged with driving under the influence Monday night, following an accident on Cove Road. Police said Tuesday the correct identity of the person arrested is John Doe of 1234 Main St., Salem.”
The anchor position for corrections is on Page A2. This includes corrections for news, sports, features and photos. Zoned sections should publish their corrections in an anchored position. Correction of major errors may appear on Al or a section front, at the discretion of the editor or managing editor. The night editor should review all corrections prior to publication.
What we post on the internet
All our standards for accuracy, sourcing, taste and avoidance of conflict of interest apply to work posted on The Roanoke Times Online.
However, the digital medium gives us space to post the complete text of something in the news, a court decision, speech or manifesto, for instance. These are posted as resource materials, not news stories, and will be presented verbatim.
But before we post any document on our Web site, it must first be read in its entirety by an appropriate staff member. If there are occasional objectionable words in the document, it should be left unchanged, but a note about the offensive language should be posted at the top. If a document contains a great deal of potentially offensive language, it should not be posted without the approval of a senior editor, and a note should be posted at the top.
Like Landmark’s other metro newspapers, The Roanoke Times does not accept foundation money to support news-gathering efforts, readership surveys or special reporting projects. Similarly, we do not allow people who are paid by foundations or other organizations to work as staff writers, editors or special project coordinators.
This policy does not pertain to student or teacher interns, who may receive some outside support, nor does it apply to staff members who win general-education journalism fellowships, which may in part be funded by foundations. Any staff member with questions about whether a particular fellowship program meets these guidelines should consult the editor.
Company property and copyrights
Copyright and ownership of materials
The Roanoke Times owns all rights, including the copyrights, to all materials prepared or obtained by its employees while they are working on company time or producing work specifically for the company. Therefore, no employee shall use or otherwise reproduce such materials for use outside the newspaper without having first obtained the approval of the managing editor or editor.
Our standard contract with free-lancers transfers all rights, title and copyright of purchased material to The Roanoke Times. Exceptions may be negotiated on a case basis with the managing editor or editor.
Electronic archives, cameras, copiers, computers, fax machines, telephones and other newsroom equipment are provided for authorized use only. News employees must not use newsroom materials or equipment for commercial or charitable work, or for personal use, without permission of a supervisor.
Computers are an integral part of the newspaper’s production process; employees should therefore exercise restraint and common sense in their use. Information in an employee’s computer file is to be treated with respect, and accessed only for editing and appropriate production reasons; similarly, employees should always refrain from entering material in the computer that would prove embarrassing if inadvertently published or given public exposure.
Computer hacking or trying to access messages or private takes is equivalent to opening someone’s mail, searching a staff member’s files or listening uninvited to someone’s phone calls. Such actions are impermissible.
Public and business relations
Dealing with the public
Without readers, we don’t exist. That simple fact makes good reader relations a matter of necessity.
We expect every staff member to respond to every communication from a reader, whether a letter, phone call or e-mall, whether a compliment or a complaint.
It’s well documented that most decisions to file libel suits are made not when a story appears, but only after the complainant feels ill-treated in trying to get a correction or just a fair hearing from the newspaper. But our concern here is much more fundamental than avoiding litigation.
To be trusted in the community, we have to be seen as decent, caring and courteous people. That means listening, acknowledging when we’re wrong and taking action to correct our mistakes.
When readers or sources call to complain, listen carefully, not defensively. Try to understand precisely what the caller is upset about and what he or she wants. If the caller isn’t satisfied after a conversation of reasonable length, offer to let him or her speak to your supervisor or another senior editor. Any threats of legal action must be reported right away to your supervisor, the editor or managing editor.
We do not, under any circumstances, expect staffers to tolerate abusive language or behavior from readers or sources. If a caller’s language becomes abusive, politely tell him or her that you want to hear him out but that you can’t listen to such language. If the language persists, politely ask him to call back when he’s calmer, tell him you are going to hang up, and say “goodbye” as you do so. Never end a call unannounced, slam a receiver down or use profanity or obscenity in any telephone conversation, no matter what the provocation. Get out of the conversation or situation, and inform your supervisor immediately as to what has happened.
Dealing with other media
Staff members should exercise discretion in their dealings with other news media. They are our competitors. Employees who are asked for interviews by other media should consult a senior news executive before talking about sensitive matters such as pending business decisions (the creation of a new section, for instance) or news stories that have yet to be published.
In such situations, staff members should also find out the full circumstances of why specific stories have been handled in a particular way, think carefully before they publicly discuss such stories, and always make clear whether they are speaking for themselves or the news department.
Writing about ourselves
Staffers should avoid quoting, featuring or photographing their own family members and those of other Times-World employees in the newspaper. Our goal is to write about the community, not ourselves. The yardstick here is news judgment: Is this person an essential part of the story? Could the picture or quote just as logically come from another source?
One exception: Columnists whose work includes autobiographical references.
As a large business and major employer in the region, The Roanoke Times occasionally figures in the news. In making decisions about covering our own enterprise, we should apply the same standards we would use in deciding whether to write about any other business. The test is: Would we write about this if Times-World were not involved?
Generally, we err on the side of not covering our company’s business ventures and of paying greater attention to rival enterprises. As in all our reporting, the goal here is accuracy. If we report on some tiny start-ups and fail to mention the biggest player in a market because it is associated with Times-World, then we have misrepresented the situation to our readers. That hurts our credibility just as much as brazen self-promotion would.
Articles that include references to The Roanoke Times’ subsidiaries, personnel policies, new ventures or business practices should be reviewed by the editor or managing editor before publication.
Editing, Good Taste and Other Policies
Collaboration, cooperation and communication between reporters and editors must take place if we are to give our readers the quality they deserve. The goal of everyone who works at The Roanoke Times is to make each edition the best it can be. Reporters can’t do it without editors, and editors can’t do it without reporters.
We encourage writers to try new styles and story-telling techniques – and we encourage copy editors to speak up when they think a story doesn’t work.
Copy editors serve several critical functions: They are the reader’s surrogate and advocate; they are the newspaper’s final defense against error and libel; they are the designers and headline writers whose presentation skills can make or break a story; and they are the production experts who prepare pages for printing.
It is the duty of the reporter and assigning editor to make sure that a story is complete, accurate, well-written and in accordance with AP style before it is sent to the copy desk. The reporter and assigning editor should thoroughly discuss tone, structure and length before stories are written to ensure that stories are told in ways that are appropriate, compelling and clear to readers. The assigning editor is responsible for the primary editing of most stories.
The copy desk is responsible for the second editing of local stories. Even though assigning editors or senior editors may have read a story, copy editors should never assume that a story is OK simply because someone else has read it. Copy editors should edit all copy for accuracy, clarity, conciseness, fairness and thoroughness.
If a story is correct, it should not be changed; if the writing style and structure are appropriate to the story, they should not be changed.
When changes need to be made and circumstances permit, the following procedures are to be followed by copy editors:
Major problems with a story’s content or style always should be taken first to the assigning editor. If he or she is unavailable, they should be taken to the night metro editor. Major problems include reorganizing a story to give it a different angle or emphasis, or any other shifting of a story’s tone. If those editors can’t agree on a solution, the story is to be taken to the night editor or managing editor.
If neither the assigning nor night metro editor can be reached, the copy editor should discuss the story with the night editor. If there is agreement that the story requires substantial change, the change should be discussed with the reporter, if feasible. Reporters should correct or rewrite such stories whenever possible. A story that does not have to run the next day should be held for rewrite by the reporter rather than be rewritten by the desk. If, in the opinion of the night editor, the story must run, and the reporter cannot be reached, the desk should rewrite it as necessary. The night editor should make sure the reasons for the rewrite are promptly communicated to the assigning editor.
When a story needs rewriting and an early-edition deadline is pressing, a copy editor should consult with a supervising editor, then put the story in shape for use in that edition. If needed, the story should be reworked by the reporter, metro desk or copy desk between editions.
If the lead of a story is changed, the reporter or supervising editor must be phoned and the new lead read to him or her to ensure its accuracy. If the night metro editor is on duty, he or she should consult the reporter. If not, the copy editor must phone. The only lead changes that can be made without a phone call are to correct the misspelling of a standard word, a clear grammatical mistake or a breach of AP or Roanoke Times style. If the reporter or supervising editor cannot be reached, the night editor should compare the original and changed leads to make sure the lead remains accurate.
Near the top of every story, there should be a paragraph explaining why it is important and what it means to readers in our region. Continuing stories should have a brief summary of past action that puts the story in perspective. When these elements are missing, the assigning editor should be advised.
All story lengths should be set by 6:15 p.m. Reporters must adhere to the set length unless expressly given permission by the assigning editor, in consultation with the appropriate slot editor, to submit a longer story. The night metro editor should be apprised of a need for trimming; ultimately, however, authority for condensing a story rests with the copy desk.
Recurring problems with copy, such as spelling and grammar errors, should be reported to a writer’s supervising editor, even if the problems are minor. If a story contains several such mistakes, the copy editor should give a printout of the original version to the supervising editor.
If editing changes do not cause error or distortion, or needlessly violate a reporter’s writing style, copy editors will be fully supported in all judgments. There is no excuse for error caused by a copy editor who changes what originally was correct.
Photographers are responsible for providing accurate and adequate caption information. Copy editors should check this information against that which appears in a story, however, and be sure names and other details agree. In adding to the basic information to write a complete caption, copy editors should talk to photographers to ensure the accuracy of what we are reporting.
Bylines signify original reporting and writing. If a story is substantially changed, either by rewriting (by someone other than the reporter), significant trimming, or addition of material from the files or wires, a copy editor should consult with the assigning editor and night editor. The reporter is to be granted the privilege of byline omission unless, in the judgment of the managing editor or the senior news executive on duty, the reporter’s request is unwarranted.
Editing photos and graphics
Photojournalists should work closely with the photo director or photo editor in the shooting and editing of photos. Layout and design editors should respect the recommendations of photo editors in the selection, cropping and play of pictures, and diverge from those recommendations only for compelling reasons, and only with the approval of the night editor.
The work of news artists must be given the same careful attention that stories and photos receive. Changes to staff-produced graphics and art must be discussed with artists whenever possible. Other changes may be made for compelling reasons only and only with the approval of the night editor.
The goal of our newspaper is to serve readers – not win contests – and we will keep that in mind when we write and edit stories, take photographs, create graphics and illustrations, and design our pages. We will not undertake any effort solely for the purpose of entering a contest. The content of our paper will be initiated because it has intrinsic news value or serves the community’s interest, not because it promises the chance of recognition or monetary gain from an outside source.
Yet the newspaper and the staff, collectively and individually, do benefit when the quality of our work is recognized outside the office. Accordingly, we will enter staff-produced work in selected journalism contests. All entries must be reviewed and approved by a supervising editor.
Staff members are encouraged to enter contests sponsored by professional organizations of journalists, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, the Virginia Press Association and the Pulitzer Prize Committee. They shall not enter contests designed to promote the commercial or political interests of businesses, business or professional associations, political organizations or labor groups.
Other contests are to be approached with caution. Entries may be made only with the permission of the managing editor or editor, who have the authority to prohibit articles from being entered in contests that would be detrimental to the newspaper’s credibility.
Our guiding policy in publication of news containing words potentially offensive to our readers is the exercise of good taste. This is a family newspaper, and, where possible, we want to avoid use of obscene, vulgar, profane or otherwise offensive language.
Gratuitous detail should be avoided in describing incidents of rape, attempted rape, sexual deviance, indecent exposure and lewd phone calls or remarks. Clinical stories about sex research require sharp editing to meet our standards.
Reporters and editors are cautioned to avoid double entendres. They should not occur in stories or headlines.
At times, deletion of an expletive will change the context of a paraphrased statement or fail to indicate a person’s intended attitude. However, any exception to this general policy must be approved by a senior news executive.
We want to avoid demeaning slang, especially racial, ethnic or religious slurs. When it is deemed essential to convey that a person used vulgar language, our style is to print the first letter of the word, followed by hyphens in place of missing letters.
Mild swear words (damn, hell) will be fully spelled out, but used only when required by the context. Wire stories are subject to the same scrutiny as local ones.
Care should also be taken to avoid publication of photos of a salacious nature when they have no news value.
Identification of race
We do not identify race or ethnic background unless the information is relevant. It may be so:
– in stories involving politics, social action, social conditions, achievement and other matters where race can be a distinguishing factor;
– where usage has sanctioned the description: black leader, Irish tenor, Polish wedding;
– in reporting an incident that cannot be satisfactorily explained without reference to race. However, – the mere fact that an incident involves people of different races does not, of itself, mean that racial tags should be used. And when racial identification is used, the races of all involved should be mentioned.
We do not mention a person’s race in describing criminal suspects or fugitives unless the rest of the description is detailed enough to be meaningful. Sketchy descriptions are often meaningless and may apply to large numbers of innocent people.
Naming Juveniles in Crime and Court Stories
We want to be sensitive and deliberate in deciding when to identify juveniles who are involved in crime or court stories. Our general policy, however, will be to use names, although there are circumstances in which we will not identify a juvenile. If a juvenile is testifying in a public court hearing, the circumstances of the case will have to be considered before a decision is made on naming the juvenile. If a juvenile is a surviving victim of a crime, the circumstances of that case also must be considered before a decision is made. Reporters should talk to their editor and, if necessary, the managing editor or editor if questions arise.
Virginia law allows the closing of juvenile court proceedings. In some cases, judges will allow us to attend the proceeding if we agree not to identify juveniles accused of crimes. Again, reporters should discuss the situation with their team leader before making a commitment for the newspaper.
However, juveniles 14 or older who are charged with murder or aggravated malicious wounding face adult trials automatically, and the newspaper will identify them by name. For other violent felonies – including malicious wounding, rape and abduction – prosecutors have the option of sending juvenile offenders to circuit court. These juveniles will also be identified by name.
In addition, even when the proceeding remains in juvenile court, state law requires that the hearing be open if a juvenile 14 or older is charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult. When juveniles 14 and older are charged with felonies and their court proceedings are open, we will identify the juveniles by name.
Whether to name juveniles under age 14 who are charged with crimes that, for adults, would be felonies, will be determined on a case-by-case basis.