October 12, 2005

Ethical Journalism


A newspaper's most important asset is its integrity. Lose it, and the newspaper loses the very power that makes it a community force.

Because of this, every newspaper - and every newspaper person - must take certain safeguards to ensure the paper’s integrity. Because a newspaper and its staff are subject to severe public scrutiny, it becomes necessary for employees to avoid both the fact and appearance of partiality and dishonesty.

In developing these principles, the following is offered:

That an individual's own judgment and integrity are the keystones of this code, because it would be impossible to spell out every single question that might arise.

That our management and employees must remain free of obligation to any special interest. This means avoiding all possible conflicts of interest, or the appearance thereof.

That the public must be assured our writers, photographers and editors are beholden to no one.

That this code of ethics applies to all news and editorial department employees of The Pharos-Tribune.


We will emphasize local coverage and bring relevancy to state, national and world news to the communities we serve. We will strive to be interesting and helpful in our everyday coverage, assisting people to cope.

We will be vigilant in serving everyone in our communities without bias, and courageously report the news our communities need. We will be compassionate in actions and words, respecting people's privacy except when those concerns are outweighed by the greater public good.

We will assume a leadership role as a force for positive change in our communities through coverage, editorials and civic involvement. We can do this by informing, educating, exploring solutions and giving readers information on how they can take action or get involved when appropriate.

We encourage and involve the community in our journalistic efforts, including promoting public contact with staff members, editors and the publisher.

We will provide a regular opinion page with local editorials, plus local and national content reflecting a wide variety of views.

We will pursue diversity in news coverage and hiring practices.

We will defend the First Amendment rights of all citizens, vigorously pursue open meetings, open courts and access to public records. And we will maintain a keen, honest eye on government and other forces that may threaten the individual or the community.


Our newspapers’ reputation rests on credibility. Fairness and accuracy are the foundations of credibility.

Fairness & Accuracy: We will be accurate, fair and timely. At all times, we will set and meet high standards for quality reporting, writing, editing, photos, graphics and design. While we will always strive to be 100% accurate, we are human. When mistakes occur, corrections will be published promptly after their accuracy is determined. Memos from appropriate staffers will explain how the error occurred. This is not a punitive measure but rather seeks to determine how we can avoid repeating the error. Regardless who is at fault, every complaining party must get a response. When an issue involves two or more sides in conflict, all significant interests should be given an opportunity to respond. Fairness in stories requires completeness, relevance, leveling with the reader and straightforwardness ahead of flashiness. Integrity: We will not accept gifts that a reasonable person would perceive to be an enticement to get preferential treatment. For instance, accepting a ballpoint pen from a news sources is significantly different than accepting an expense-paid trip to the Bahamas . Remember, it’s not our intention but public perception that should be the determining factor. Ask if the action could be seen as a public benefit or for personal gain. If it leans toward the latter, avoid it. When in doubt, confer with your supervisor. We accept no free travel from businesses, governments, political parties or anyone else. All expense reports must be submitted immediately after a trip.

Plagiarism, Fabrication This is a firing offense and includes material from The Pharos-Tribune as well as other sources. Plagiarism is lifting identical material without appropriate attribution or citation and does not preclude using specific facts from research. Wire service materials should be attributed in the story text or in the tagline. If a significant portion of wire story is added by a reporter, it should share the byline and declare as such in the tagline. If a small portion is added, that information should be included in the tagline. Fabricating stories that purport to be truthful also is a firing offense.

Racial identification: Racial identifications are used only when necessary to the story. Racial identification of suspects is used when the description provides enough information to exclude all but a narrow group of people using specific identifiers (such as but not limited to age, weight, height, clothing, hats, scars, hair color, getaway cars, etc.) Questions should be directed to the ranking editor on duty.

Obscenities, vulgarities: With few exceptions, we don't print them. The managing editor must approve any obscenity being considered for publication and advise the publisher before publication. Source and context will be considered. Obscenities offend many readers and often divert attention from the story.

Freelancing, Outside Work: Freelancing work is permitted only if work is sold to a non-competitive medium with The Pharos-Tribune media, done on the employee’s own time, not interfere with The Pharos-Tribune obligations and the employee clearly identifies the contractor they are working for. Employees are encouraged to discuss freelance opportunities with their supervisors to assure that no conflict or appearance of conflict exists. The same policy applies to freelance work published on Internet Web sites. Freelance material purchased for use in The Pharos-Tribune may be used on its Internet editions unless other advance arrangements were made with individual freelancers.

Sources: In news reports, sources should be fully identified and anonymous only when absolutely essential to a significant story. Before using an unnamed source, a reporter must be convinced there is no other way to get the essential information on the record. The unnamed source must have verifiable and first-hand knowledge of the story. Even if the source cannot be named, the information must be proven true. If you are unsure the information is true, admit it to the public. Be willing to reveal to the public why the source cannot be named and what, if any, promises were made in order to get the information. Using anonymous sources must be approved by the managing editor before publication. Stories should have two independent sources when based on anonymous sources unless otherwise approved by the managing editor. Make every effort to keep sources from going off the record. We do not publish ambush or defamatory quotes from anonymous sources. Discuss these issues with your editor.

Conflicts of Interest: We encourage our news staff to become involved in community activities. However, avoid direct connections or investments in companies or organizations about which you personally might be reporting. Also, be selective about which organizations you join; any group could be the subject of a newspaper report. In no case should you be a publicist for the organization or report on it. Confer with your department head when questions arise.

Political Activity: Avoid any public political activity, including contributions that would be on public records and could be used in endorsements without your knowledge. Do not run for office, speak, sign political petitions or campaign for any candidate or in behalf of any issue except in connection with professional journalism groups. This is not intended to discourage exercising your right to vote.

Photographs, Graphics: Visuals have a tremendous impact on our readers. Follow good taste and good sense. As in many areas of taste, these should be discussed on their individual merits with the managing editor. Editorial photographs should never mislead the reader regarding their content, time or place of the information depicted. All environmental portraits or controlled situations should be executed in a manner that makes the context obvious to the reader. These must be clearly labeled as photo illustrations. The Pharos-Tribune prohibits misleading manipulation of news photo images.

Professional Activities: Staffers are encouraged to participate in media industry groups and activities including panels and seminars, as long as that participation would not compromise the employee in his or her daily activity in the newspaper.

Reprints All reprint permission comes from the managing editor's office. Generally reprints must be in full, credited to the newspaper and not imply any endorsement by this paper.

Crime Victims, Arrests: Names of rape victims are withheld unless they ask to be identified. Crime victims may be protected by reporting general locations of homes such as blocks rather than specific house addresses. An arrested individual usually is not named until charges are filed, if there is an arraignment before a judge or if a public document, such as an arrest warrant or probable cause affidavit, is filed that names a suspect. Exceptions can include a very prominent person in a highly public offense or "smoking gun" incidents. Supervising editors must be consulted in these cases.

Misrepresentation/Deception: No staffer will represent himself or herself as anything other than a reporter, editor, photographer, artist or other occupation for the newspaper you serve. If for security or other reasons you must avoid identification, you must inform your editor as soon as possible. The managing editor also must be informed.

Finally, no guidelines or codes can or should anticipate every situation. Individual cases require individual discussion, so feel free to contact the appropriate editors any time, day or night, if problems arise. In summary, always be guided by fairness, accuracy and good common sense.

  (This draft is the product of various ASNE newspaper policies.)