USA – The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (1999)

Statement of Policy of The Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, published 29 January 1999.

The Post-Gazette always adhered to the principle that journalists must be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know. We assume that members of the editorial staff are honest and honorable, and that none would show favoritism in exchange for favors or gifts.

The Post-Gazette, like many other news organizations, has become concerned in recent years about the practice that has flourished in many newsrooms of permitting employees to accept favors and gifts, many of which have been sent to home addresses. Today, with the public becoming increasingly critical of newspapers and their credibility, we must be concerned about even the appearance of impropriety. Anybody who thinks he is influencing news play by favors or gifts, even if he is not, is going to convince at least a dozen other persons that journalists can be bought.

After reviewing past practices, the Post-Gazette has decided to issue a statement of professional standards that will apply to all persons who gather, write, or edit news. The sole purpose of this statement is to strengthen the Post-Gazette’s reputation for integrity and high journalistic standards.

Reduced to its simplest form, the Post-Gazette’s belief is that gifts, favors, free travel, special treatment or privileges can compromise the integrity of journalists and their employers. Nothing of value should be accepted by journalists or their employers.

The complete policy statement follows:

Free tickets and passes
Free tickets or passes to sports events, movies, theatrical productions, circuses, ice shows, amusement parks or other entertainments may not be accepted or solicited by staff members.

Working reporters, however, may accept passes to events where there are special facilities such as press boxes or tables – for which tickets are not sold. Reviewers may accept tickets for the purpose of reviewing plays or movies, but they may not solicit such tickets for other staff members or friends. Season passes to movies may not be accepted.

Gifts and gratuities
Gifts of insignificant value – a pencil, pen, calendar, key chain or such – may be accepted if it would be awkward to refuse or return them. All other gifts should be declined.

Staff members may not accept any gifts of liquor, wine or beer. In no instance may a staff member accept cash.

A gift that exceeds token value should be returned promptly with an explanation that it is against Post-Gazette policy. If it is impossible to return the gift, the company will donate it to a charity.

Junkets, free trips and reduced rate or subsidized travel may not be accepted. An exception may be made, however, when free or reduced rate transportation is the only means available to cover an event (such as a military flight or a trip arranged by a foundation or government). Staff members must consult with the managing editor before accepting such arrangements.

Staff members may travel on chartered planes (with a sports team or political candidate, for example) and take advantage of charter rates, hotel bookings or other services offered by a news source. All such trips must be approved by the managing editor.

In every instance, the news value of a trip will be the determining factor in approving or disapproving Post-Gazette participation.

Use of merchandise or products
Staff members should not accept the free use or reduced rate purchase of merchandise or products for personal pleasure when such an offer involves the staff member’s newspaper position. This includes the loan or cut-rate purchase of such things as automobiles, furniture, boats, appliances, clothing and sporting goods.

A staff member may drive or use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it for news or feature articles or for photography. Extended or regular use of products for these purposes is prohibited.

Entertainment – Where possible, Post-Gazette staff members should pay for meals and drinks when on company business. Dinner or cocktail parties are allowed if the event relates to news coverage or if it is valuable for background. “Freeload” affairs that have little or no news value should be avoided. This includes such things as special entertainment and parties for the press and families.

Memberships – Free or reduced rate memberships in private clubs or organizations should not be accepted.

Books, Records – Books and phonograph records that are supplied to designated reviewers may be accepted for that purpose. Staff members should not solicit such items, however.

All staff members should be aware that good judgment is more effective than any rules or regulations. Copies of the Post-Gazette’s policy statement may be obtained from the business office and may be sent to news sources when gifts or favors are declined.

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