Guidelines For Professional Conduct adopted by The Richmond (Va.) Times-Dispatch on 28 June 1994.
Integrity and credibility are essential for a newspaper to retain public trust.
The Richmond Times-Dispatch expects all news employees to hold themselves to the highest professional standards. The following guidelines are designed to help employees avoid the personal embarrassment and serious injury to the Times-Dispatch’s reputation which could arise through a lapse of judgment. These guidelines cannot cover every situation that might arise. Nor can they substitute for common sense and good manners. When in doubt, err on the side of careful adherence and consult with the managing editor.
These standards apply to all news employees, including the managing editor and the executive editor, and are intended to augment, not supersede, existing newsroom and corporate policies. Assigning editors should direct stringers and free-lancers to adhere to these standards.
(1) When conducting interviews, news employees should identify themselves as representatives of the newspaper. In the rare circumstance when identification might impede news gathering, news employees should seek approval from the managing editor to proceed without identification.
(2) Pledges of anonymity to news sources should be made sparingly with the utmost caution and ideally after consultation between reporter and editor. Sources should be identified in all cases if at all possible; In cases in which the use of unidentified/anonymous sources is essential, the names of those sources must be disclosed to at least one senior editor. A pledge of anonymity by a reporter or editor will be honored by The Times-Dispatch. If a dispute arises as to the pledge’s validity, the decision will involve whether a story based on the information from the anonymous source will be published.
Unless referring to an anonymous source, the source for quoted material must be attributed in the news columns, including whether the quoted material is from another publication or printed source. Material that is paraphrased at length also should be attributed to its source.
(3) News employees should make no promises to sources or contacts about placement, timing, use, extent of use or non-use of information or photographs. Entire articles should not be sent to sources and contacts for review, but a reporter may check quotes or passages with a source to ensure accuracy or update information. Graphics also may be reviewed with sources for accuracy.
(4) Reporters and editors should clarify with sources and contacts what is meant by such phrases as “off the record” or “just between you and me” if they are used in the course of collecting information.
Reporters and news sources should be clear on some common phrases that are often confused during interviews. The phrase ‘”off the record” literally means that the information should not be used in any way.
Usually, when laymen say information is “off the record,” what they mean is “not for attribution,” that their name should not be attached to the information. These phrases should be clarified as soon as they come up.
(5) News employees must not participate in or knowingly permit the publication of false information.
(6) News photographs should accurately represent the situations they portray. Nothing re-created, staged or posed should be represented as a spontaneous or candid situation.
Documentary photographs should not be manipulated, changed or altered to any degree, by any method or medium, including electronic manipulation. This excludes traditionally accepted cropping, dust and scratch cleanup, color balancing and contrast control.
However, photographers are often called upon to make environmental portraits or photographic illustrations. Both should be readily apparent to the reader as such and should be clearly labeled.
(7) Quotations should be precise. Problems arising from errors in grammar and syntax can be addressed by paraphrasing to convey precise meaning.
(8) All news employees should avoid conflicts of interest and the appearance of conflicts. Newsroom employees should also be on guard against activities or exhibitions that could compromise the newspaper’s independent and neutral approach to covering the community. It is up to news employees to recognize the potential for conflicts and to approach supervisors when their outside activities or those of their family members may have an impact or the appearance of an impact on news coverage or public perception of news coverage.
(9) News employees should not be active in politics and generally should guard against public activities or exhibitions in areas of controversy.
(10) News employees involved in community activities or groups should be alert to the potential for conflicts of interest, especially if they advance into leadership positions in those organizations. Employees should not cover, make news decisions about or in any way seek to influence coverage of groups, events or individuals with whom they or their immediate family members are personally involved. This is not intended to restrict personal news columns or first-person accounts.
All organizations and individuals seeking news coverage should be sent through normal newspaper channels.
(11) News employees should be alert to potential conflicts arising from their financial dealings. Reporters should not hold stock or otherwise invest in areas they routinely cover. Editors also should disqualify themselves from handling stories on matters about which they or a family member has or may be viewed as having a personal or pecuniary interest.
News employees should not have business relationships with news sources.
Employees should inform their editors of any potential conflicts of interest regarding their investments or business activities, and those of their immediate family members. Employees also should be aware of potential conflicts inherent in active trading.
News employees should not take advantage in their personal investing of any information before it is widely disseminated.
(12) News employees should not use the newspaper or information gained through their employment to push their personal agendas, solve their personal problems or benefit their friends, relatives or associates. For example, a news employee should not write a letter of complaint to a merchant on Times-Dispatch stationery.
(13) The Times-Dispatch will pay all travel expenses incurred by news employees related to news gathering. In rare cases in which private transportation is used and reimbursement is not possible or practical, an exception to this policy is possible if approved in advance.
(14) News employees may not accept gifts or services of more than nominal value from news sources and contacts, public relations and advertising firms, or event sponsors. Employees may exercise discretion on how to inform a donor to avoid public embarrassment to either party or insult to an unsuspecting donor, but it should be done without delay. Gifts that cannot be returned to the donor will be distributed to charitable or non-profit groups, organizations or institutions.
(15) News employees may accept occasional business meals from sources and contacts, and also may buy occasional meals for sources and contacts in accordance with newspaper policies. Employees should reciprocate in “picking up the tab” in periodic meal meetings with sources and contacts, and such expenses may be added to expense accounts. The company will pay the cost of a political or charitable fund-raising dinner or event being covered, but will not pay any additional amount as a donation to the sponsoring organization, unless an exception is approved by the managing editor or executive editor. News employees may accept a sponsoring organization’s meal while covering an event.
(16) News employees may accept tokens of appreciation for serving, with approval, as speakers at civic or business group meetings or for serving on panel discussions, if the sponsors present gifts to all speakers. Employees should not ask for payment other than personal expenses (such as travel or out-of-town lodging) for making speeches or participating in panel discussions. Speaking fees or honoraria may be accepted if offered, but only after discussion with the news employee’s department head and the managing editor. Payment from groups or organizations in subject areas the news employee covers should be avoided.
(17) The Times-Dispatch will pay for tickets to cultural arts, sports and other spectator events being reviewed or covered whenever possible or practical. If a sponsoring organization routinely provides press passes, tickets or free admission for purposes of review or news coverage, news employees assigned to cover the event may accept such passes or tickets. If a question arises at the gate over whether to pay, the employee should pay for the ticket and add the cost to an expense account. News employees and regularly retained free lancers (“special correspondents”) may not accept free tickets or press credentials for recreational purposes.
(18) The newspaper will permit acceptance of printed or recorded materials (such as books, periodicals and newsletters, audio and video recordings and computer software) for review and for professional-reference use. Such materials that are no longer needed should be distributed to libraries, or to Charitable/nonprofit groups, organizations or institutions. Review materials no longer needed may not be sold for personal profit.
(19) News employees should not accept outside employment that might pose a conflict, or the appearance of a conflict, with their duties at The Times-Dispatch.
News employees engaged in stringing or free-lance work for other approved publications should identify themselves during interviews as working for those publications, or on free-lance projects – not as employees of The Times-Dispatch.
(20) Employees should not disseminate to anyone confidential information obtained in connection with their employment at the Times-Dispatch until such information has been made available to the public. Access to computer systems used by The Times-Dispatch to produce, process and/or store news, images, archives and other newspaper information ALSO should be closely guarded. So should details about internal news gathering practices and upcoming stories. Any requests for information about computer access should be reported to a supervisor.
How to proceed
(21) If you believe you may have inadvertently violated any of these guidelines or a family member’s activities may have put you in a difficult position or created a conflict or the appearance of a conflict for you, notify your supervisor as quickly as possible.