CODE OF ETHICS
Revised: February 2014. Drafted: October 2012
The Daily Princetonian holds its staff to the highest levels of ethical conduct and integrity. At the core of this Code of Ethics is the understanding that the most valuable attribute of any news organization is its reputation, and we must work every day to ensure that our reputation is based on integrity and credibility. A reputation of integrity and credibility is hard earned but easily lost. Each member of the staff, regardless of tenure or position, must be vigilant in adhering to ethical principles and making sure that others do as well. As The New York Times code of ethics states, “Whatever else we contribute, our first duty is to make sure the integrity of [the paper] is not blemished during our stewardship.”
Above all, we must be fair, impartial and courageous in all of our conduct across the news organization. The First Amendment and our independent status afford us great power in publishing the news, but it also imparts upon us a great responsibility to conduct ourselves with honesty and accountability.
This document outlines the Code of Ethics of the ‘Prince,’ and every staff member is responsible for reading and understanding all elements of this Code. While this represents the current iteration, changes may be made at any time at the discretion of the Editor-in-Chief. Unless otherwise noted below, this Code applies to all staff members in all sections of the news organization. For the purposes of this document, the term “staff members” includes everyone from the EIC to contributors. This Code of Ethics draws in large part from the ethical codes of The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, National Public Radio, National Press Photographers Association, Businessweek and the Society of Professional Journalists.
We recognize that our dual affiliation as students and journalists creates unique situations that do not exist in other publications, and those issues are dealt with below. This list is not exhaustive, and it is important to consult an editor when in doubt. As the Times’ ethics policy states, “simply asking oneself whether a course of action might damage the paper’s reputation is often enough to gauge whether the action is appropriate.”
Editorial and Business operations
The ‘Prince,’ as an independent and legally constituted publishing company, has an editorial staff, responsible for the paper’s contents, as well as a business staff, responsible for managing and advancing the organization’s finances. It has been the longstanding policy that the Business and Editorial departments are entirely separate. Coordination between Editorial and Business is restricted to strategic discussions by the top editors on both sides (the EIC and Business Manager), with the exception of coordinating advertisement placement with the layout staff. The EIC and the BM report independently to the organization’s Board of Trustees.
News and Opinion
The ‘Prince’ distinguishes clearly between its News and Opinion content. As such, Opinion columns and Editorials are never featured on the same page with content from another section. Online, content is visibly marked to indicate what section it belongs to.
Staff members who have had content published in Opinion may not later work for any other section, the Prox being the only exception. While coverage coordination between Opinion and other sections is important to producing a cohesive publication, Opinion writers may not attempt to influence coverage in other sections in any way. However, Opinion writers are permitted to view content pre-publication in order to better produce their content. In addition, the Opinion section is not privy to the inner workings of the News section, and vice versa. Finally, News reporters are allowed to brief columnists about their coverage, as long as this is done impartially and with the knowledge of the editors.
The News editors and the Opinion editors report independently to the EIC.
Internal ‘Prince’ documents
Staff members are not permitted to circulate documents to people who would otherwise not have access to them, including students who are not on staff, professors, administrators, off-campus organizations and members of the ‘Prince’ for whom the document was not intended. Internal documents include, but are not limited to, any pre-publication files on the content management system and the Production Server, internal memos, interview recordings and notes, as well as the organization’s financial information. Reporters are, however, permitted to show sources their quotes pre-publication (see: “Sources and quotations’’).
Competing media organizations and working for the University
Affiliation with another news or media organization is generally discouraged. It creates inevitable conflicts of interest in coverage, and any work will unavoidably reflect on the ‘Prince.’ In rare cases, staff members are permitted to work for other publications, but only with the written permission of the EIC or Business Manager, pursuant to The Daily Princetonian Publishing Company Operating Rules (Section 15). Editors cannot campaign for positions on the USG.
News reporters are not permitted to work for a publication that directly competes with the ‘Prince.’ That includes, but is not limited to: department newsletters, University Press Club, The Princeton Packet, Town Topics, Princeton Patch, AllPrinceton, Planet Princeton, The Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed.
Staff members are permitted to write for their hometown newspaper or for newsletters of student organizations (e.g. Butler Banter), so long as the staff member does not report in the ‘Prince’ on that organization and it is clear that the writing is not related to the staff member’s duty on the ‘Prince.’
Traditionally, ‘Prince’ staff members have submitted content to Princeton Alumni Weekly either online or in print. This is permitted in limited cases. Members of the news staff, however, are not permitted to submit content to PAW because it creates a conflict of interest in coverage. Any other submissions must be consistent with ‘Prince’ editorial and ethical standards. As The Boston Globe’s ethics policy states, writers “should avoid expressing views that go beyond the news and analysis that could properly appear under their regular bylines” — that is, under their ‘Prince’ bylines.
The ‘Prince’ does not allow freelance submissions because the editors have no direct knowledge of the reporting process. Articles written by non-staff members as part of journalism classes are not reprinted in the ‘Prince.’
Staff members are strongly encouraged to take journalism classes, as the professional advice from practicing journalists can be invaluable to a reporter’s development. Therefore, articles written by staff members as part of journalism classes are permitted for publication in the ‘Prince,’ so long as:
- ‘Prince’ editors were made aware of the arrangement prior to the reporting process;
- during the reporting process, the reporter made it clear to all sources that the story may be published in the ‘Prince,’ and not just as part of a journalism class;
- the professor is aware that the content may appear in the ‘Prince.’
Staff members are allowed to be employed by the University, but they may not use knowledge of internal workings of the ‘Prince’ or upcoming ‘Prince’ stories to benefit their positions or the University.
Speaking with the media
Staff members are not permitted to speak to a media organization on behalf of the ‘Prince’ or about their work at the ‘Prince’ without authorization of the EIC. They must not grant interviews, authorize reprint requests or discuss their work, even off the record. Staff members may speak to the media as private citizens, although this is discouraged.
Staff members are not permitted to consult on public relations issues related to the ‘Prince’ for any student or outside organization.
Staff members may not respond to any critical emails without first talking with their section editors as well as with the EIC. Editors need to know about the situation so they can handle it appropriately to protect the integrity of the ‘Prince.’
Conflicts of interest
Staff members are expected to disclose to their editors any potential conflicts of interest that may arise in their coverage. This is done both to avoid bias as well as to avoid the appearance of bias. While a staffer may feel he can objectively cover a story, any potential for — or appearance of — bias is very damaging to the news organization and must be avoided.
With the exception of Opinion columnists, all staff members must recuse themselves from coverage of any groups or events with which they are involved, or coverage of any groups with which they were once involved. Columnists may only write about groups with which they are involved or were once involved with the approval of the Opinion editor, and the conflict of interest must be fully disclosed in the published column.
In addition, staff members cannot interview friends, roommates or current professors. Reporters are expected to be forthcoming if such a situation should arise and inform their editors so they can be reassigned to a different story. While cultivating sources is essential, reporters should be clear not to befriend their sources.
Moreover, staff members should not seek to influence coverage beyond what any other student would be able to exercise. For example, notifying editors of a coverage-worthy event by a club is appropriate, but they should not communicate with a reporter covering the event out of their own initiative. If requested, however, they may provide contact information for potential sources.
Staff members who are neither editors nor News reporters and who publicly support any candidate (or run as a candidate) or advocacy cause — from a USG election to a national election — must notify editors and recuse themselves from any related coverage. Public support includes signing petitions, declaring support on a campaign website (including Facebook or other social media), monetary donations, wearing campaign insignia and working on a candidate’s campaign. Members of the News section are prohibited from engaging in any campaign-related public support, as are all editors. Please note that these restrictions also apply to activity in partisan clubs or organizations.
In general, erring on the side of caution is preferable and judgment must be exercised in all situations. That being said, the following scenarios may serve as guidelines. Street writers should not review productions that feature their friends or groups they have previously been a part of, or intend to become a part of in the future. Sports reporters should not cover teams that include their roommates. News reporters should not write articles that discuss their eating club.
Identifying yourself as a reporter or columnist
Staff members must identify their affiliation with the ‘Prince’ at the beginning of an interview and when covering news events. However, this rule generally does not apply when the reporter is seeking information generally available to the public, such as attending a public lecture or requesting publicly available information (e.g. requesting public records).
Staff members should never lie about their affiliation with the ‘Prince,’ (an exception is for reviewers — for example, a restaurant reviewer should not identify himself as a reporter, in order to ensure normal treatment) nor should they do anything unethical or dishonest to obtain information.
‘Prince’ staff members may not use their affiliation with the news organization for personal gain, such as to obtain entrance to events while not on assignment. Gifts should be politely declined, with the exception of general promotional materials for the press. If an interview takes place over a meal, the source must not be allowed to pay for the reporter’s share. If necessary and previously agreed with editors, the ‘Prince’ will cover certain meal expenses.
Working for multiple departments
Working for more than one section is generally encouraged, except for certain cases (see: “News and Opinion’’).
Sources and quotations
‘Prince’ interviews must be conducted in person or by phone. As a matter of policy, interviews cannot be conducted over email, except under extraordinary circumstances and with the previous approval of a News editor. We believe that interviews should be open and candid discussions, qualities that are easily lost in an email exchange. Sources who decline to speak to a reporter in normal circumstances will be noted as “declined to be interviewed.”
If a person’s name is mentioned in an article, every reasonable effort should be made to grant him the chance to comment. If someone is criticized in an article, we have an obligation to explain the accusation and allow the person to respond in detail. Being fair to sources is crucial to the organization’s integrity.
Sources must be given adequate time to respond. Sources may not be promised a certain story angle or placement, favorable portrayal or compensation in exchange for agreeing to speak. The organization may, however, pay for access to certain documents pursuant to public records law.
In the rare case that a staff member, ‘Prince’ alumnus (someone who graduated within the past four years or is being interviewed in his capacity as a former staff member) or ‘Prince’ trustee must be interviewed, he should be identified as such.
Upon request, reporters may provide quotes to sources pre-publication and, if applicable, the context of the comment. However, when describing context, reporters may not send sources the exact language that will be used in the story. Providing sources with quotes is a courtesy and reporters should not routinely offer it. Sources may only check for factual accuracy of their statements; they may not reword their quotations. The ‘Prince’ reserves the right to reject any proposed changes. Reporters must always keep their interview notes and/or recordings.
Quotes must accurately reflect the exact language used by a source. Quotes should not be altered in any way except to remove verbal pauses and false starts. Grammatical mistakes or colloquialisms cannot be corrected. For example, “ain’t” cannot be changed in a quote to “isn’t.” Ellipses should not be used to omit substantive portions of a quote, and brackets should only be used to provide adequate context to a quote, not to change its meaning. Information obtained from an email must be indicated as such.
Use of anonymous sources is strictly limited and should only happen in extraordinary cases. An unnamed source must have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and stories should state those reasons when they are relevant. Every effort must be made to ensure the source is not using anonymity to make personal or trivial attacks, and confirmation, when appropriate, should be obtained from additional sources.
Only the EIC can approve the use of anonymous sources and, unless under the most exceptional of circumstances, the source should be identified to the EIC. The use of anonymous sources requires extensive negotiation with the source — including the most specific way to describe the source — and, often, with attorneys. Anonymous sources may be required to sign release forms or sworn affidavits. Sources that act in bad faith, compromising the integrity of the ‘Prince,’ lose a guarantee of anonymity. Editors and reporters are not permitted to fully guarantee anonymity that includes protection from a court order, unless they have consulted with ‘Prince’ attorneys first.
Subjects of criminal investigations who have been charged or arrested may be identified by name, as may people who are “wanted,” “under investigation,” or “persons of interest.” We are not obligated to report all information provided by the police — for example, we do not name the victims of crimes unless under extraordinary circumstances (e.g. the victim is a public figure), even though that information is often available from authorities. We will make an effort to determine if the charges were dropped or the person was acquitted and report that as well.
Before an individual has been convicted of a crime, he is merely a suspect and must be identified as such; descriptions of the crime by the police must be qualified by “allegedly,” “suspected,” “reported” or similar terminology. Reasonable efforts must be made to contact the accused parties, as is the case for every story, but situations beyond control of the ‘Prince’ (such as imprisonment) may be particularly common obstacles when covering crime.
Covering death is an essential responsibility of a news organization, and, out of respect, precise language is always preferred to euphemism.
- For a natural death (e.g. medical): Use “died.” The cause of death, if available, should be noted.
- For an accidental death or homicide: Use “died” or “killed.”
- For a suicide: Use “committed suicide.”
- Note: For accidental deaths, homicides and suicides, typically only the medical examiner can determine absolutely the cause of death after an autopsy. In those cases, you must indicate “apparent” or “suspected,” or similar phrasing.
We do not honor requests to remove names/articles from our online archives, unless under extraordinary circumstances.
On the record
For an interview to be on the record, reporters must identify themselves as ‘Prince’ staff when beginning an interview. Once stated, the entire interview is “on the record” and may be quoted and attributed in a story. A similar principle applies in email: an email is on the record if sent to a reporter by a person who can be reasonably assumed to know the recipient is a journalist. A source may not retroactively change the status of a conversation.
Off the record, etc.
There is no universal definition for “off the record,” “on background” and “not for attribution.” Therefore, it is essential for a reporter to establish ground rules — in plain language — with a source before continuing.
That said, the ‘Prince’ employs the following definitions:
Anonymity: The information can be published, as long as the source is not identified by name. We must balance providing the source’s position and potential biases with the source’s anonymity (see: “Anonymous sources”).
On background: Information obtained on background can be used to inform reporting and can be published, but the source of the information — and the fact that it even came from a source — cannot be identified in any way.
Not for attribution: see: “On background.”
Off the record: This information cannot be used under any circumstance. Off the record information is rarely useful and is only used to inform editorial decisions.
Unsuccessful pursuit of comment
Reporters are obligated to explain to readers efforts made to contact appropriate sources for a story, while at the same time being fair to the sources themselves. The following guidelines govern how to refer in publication to the unsuccessful pursuit of comment:
Did not respond to a request for comment: If the reporter reached out to a source but did not hear back within a reasonable period of time, “did not respond to a request for comment” is used. Depending on the level of attempted contact, “did not respond to requests for comment” is preferred to “did not respond to repeated requests for comment” or “did not respond to multiple requests for comment.” If the source is a primary figure in the story — for example, if the story details allegations against the source — greater explanation of attempts for comment is necessary. For example, “did not respond to phone and email messages seeking comment over the past two days.” If a story is breaking, then the addition of “ … by press time” is applicable, to indicate a short timeline. Also appropriate is “a message left seeking comment was not returned by press time.”
Could not be reached for comment: Sometimes, if a source is overseas, in prison or otherwise very difficult to reach, “could not be reached for comment” is appropriate. If known, the reporter must explain the reasons for not being able to reach a source. Also appropriate is “Efforts to contact … were unsuccessful.”
Declined to comment: It is within a source’s right to decline to comment for publication. A source can be informed that this decision will be indicated in publication. “Declined to comment” is the most appropriate designation. However, using a “declined to comment” to make a value judgment on the source is unacceptable. Therefore, “refused to comment” or any variation thereof, such as “angrily refused to comment,” is inappropriate.
We subscribe to the view articulated by the American Journalism Review: “Anchored, prominent correction boxes have become staples of good newspapers. Rather than something to fear, admitting an error is now seen as a way of enhancing one’s reputation for accuracy and fairness. In short, the new attitude toward corrections is that they are a way to strengthen credibility with an increasingly distrustful readership.”
If we get it wrong, we correct the record. The method in which we correct the record is important: issuing a correction means the ‘Prince’ is admitting fault, which carries with it legal implications. Therefore, all corrections requests should be forwarded to the EIC, who is ultimately responsible for all content published in the ‘Prince’ both in print and online. Staffers are not, under any circumstance, to apologize to sources or readers.
If the EIC, in consultation with the editors and reporters involved, determines that a correction is warranted, then a correction is appended to the online article, the online article is corrected and a correction box is included in print. It is worth noting that we do not wait for a reader to draw attention to a problem if we notice it first. Separately, sometimes a “clarification” will be issued if the complaint discusses language that is unclear but not wrong.
Photographs may not be altered beyond minor color/balance adjustments, cropping and the removal of dust or scratches required to accurately portray the original scene. Photographs may not be “mirrored.” However, photos may be “cut out” in Photoshop. Photographs that are “stitched together” — even if they appear to still portray the original scene — must be identified as alterations.
In photographing news, we do not stage or reenact events. Photographers may direct subjects of portraits or fashion shoots, but not pretend they were taken spontaneously. Artistic or graphical renderings that include altered photographs are permitted only if they are labeled “photo illustration” and with the approval of the photography editor.
These guidelines apply to video production as well.
The ‘Prince’ owns all content produced in the name of the ‘Prince’ or for the organization. Requests for reprints of content or photographs must be referred to an editor. For example, a photographer is not permitted to provide photographs taken with ‘Prince’ equipment or on a ‘Prince’ assignment to any student or student group. An exception is private portfolios: staff members are encouraged to maintain portfolios of their writing, design or photography, and ‘Prince’ content may be a part of that, provided that it is indicated that the materials were used in the ‘Prince.’
Material from other news organizations
The circumstances of a story sometimes require us to use information reported by other news organizations, and in those circumstances, we must credit that news organization. However, the ‘Prince’ prides itself on original reporting, so printing information obtained by other organizations should be avoided whenever possible.
Plagiarism and violations of ethical guidelines
As an outside organization, conduct at the paper does not generally fall under the University Honor Code. But an infraction involving plagiarism, intentional or reckless misrepresentation of facts or violations of these ethical guidelines, as determined by the editors, is considered an even greater violation than that of the Honor Code — it can tarnish the reputation not only of the individual, but also of the news organization. Therefore, any such infraction will not be tolerated, and the conclusions of an investigation into such conduct may be made transparent to our readers.
We do not delay publication of stories at the request of sources without a legitimate journalistic reason and the approval of editors. We abide by embargoes unless, as the NPR code of ethics states, “the circumstances surrounding the embargo make adherence to it inappropriate, such as where the information has already surfaced elsewhere or a strong public interest requires the disclosure to place other news in the proper context.”
Obeying the law
Staff members must obey the law in their official duties. Consent from all parties is normally required in order to record a conversation, even in the cases where the law allows recordings with only one party being aware of it. Staff members must consult with the EIC if coverage has the potential to violate non-criminal University guidelines.
Staff members are not permitted to comment on the website, with the exception of Opinion staff.