The Watchdog City Journalists Code of Ethics
No document could answer every question of ethics that a journalist might face, but the Watchdog City Journalism Code of Ethics aims to define as clearly as possible the boundaries within which Watchdog CityTM expects its member journalists to operate.
These rules are based on the ethics guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists, the American Society of News Editors and the requirements of major news organizations. These ethics guidelines are practiced in newsrooms around the globe and taught in journalism schools.
We require that you agree to abide by these standards to become a journalist member of Watchdog City. Please read the Watchdog City Code of Ethics before agreeing to become a member journalist.
If you violate these rules of conduct, Watchdog City at its sole discretion can suspend or terminate your account. Journalists may opt to abide by even stricter guidelines at their choosing, but where personal guidelines
with those of Watchdog City, the rules for Watchdog CityTM must apply.
Watchdog City reserves the right to modify these guidelines as it deems necessary and will notify users via updates on the Watchdog City web site bulletin board of such changes at least ten days prior to those changes becoming effective.
Watchdog City reserves the right to interpret and apply these guidelines as it sees fit and will on occasion consult with journalism industry advisors to insure that the Watchdog City Journalism Code of Ethics is in keeping with the highest industry standards.
SEEK TRUTH AND REPORT IT
To seek truth and report it is the most basic job of journalism. It means that journalists insure they have as many of the facts of a story as it is possible for them to obtain through vigorous reporting and exhaustive fact checking. It also means they convey these facts -- all of them -- to the public in a way that does not color a story nor add nuance beyond what is factual nor unnecessarily harm the subjects of a story.
Watchdog City journalists -- whatever medium they use -- do their utmost to avoid errors but correct errors quickly and completely as soon as they learn of the mistake and in a prominent place on the story page. They do not wait for anyone to ask for the correction.
When they gather news, report it and covey information to their readers, viewers or listeners, Watchdog City journalists must be bold yet honest and fair.
Watchdog City Journalists must:
► Diligently make sure the information they gather is accurate and make every effort to avoid errors. The intentional distortion of information is forbidden.
► Vigorously work to ensure every party to a news story has an opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
► Reveal sources and attribute information consistently and conscientiously so that the source of news and its reliability is as transparent as possible to news consumers.
► Shun the use of anonymous sources unless there is a strong public interest motive in the information and it cannot be obtained by any other means; Recognize that use of anonymous sources degrades the credibility of the journalist and his or her journalism.
► Seek out any underlying motive that a source might have before promising anonymity or accepting information "Off the Record." Never do this lightly.. Ensure that any agreement between the journalist and a source is clear to both and abide by these agreements.
► Disclose their identity to people they cover. They must not pose as someone else, such as a law enforcement official, a government employee or an attorney.
► Not employ hidden cameras nor record interviews and engage in news gathering efforts without the consent of all people taking part, even when doing so is legal. An undercover tactic may be appropriate in an extreme case that is vital to the public good and when traditional news gathering tactics do not work. Journalists who use such methods must say so as part of their work.
► Never present themselves in a theatrical or strident way in public or private meetings, nor should they opinion monger.
► Never use headlines, news teases or promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites or quotations that misrepresent the truth of a story. Oversimplification and out of context highlighting should be avoided.
► Never distort news content, including photos, video and audio content. Editing of images for enhancement and clarity is permissible. Contrived images, such as montages or photo illustrations, must be labeled. Re-enacted or staged news events should be avoided. But if necessary, any staged photos or re-enacted news should be labeled as such.
► Never plagiarize.
► Support freedom of expression under the First Amendment, even when the views expressed are unpopular or distasteful.
► Refrain from engaging in advocacy and instead seek to maintain a level of impartiality that protects credibility. Journalists must distinguish between what is news reporting and what is commentary and analysis and label it accordingly.
► Defend the public's right to know by protecting public access to government records and ensuring that the public's business is conducted in public.
► Give credit due and always attribute facts originally reported by another journalist to that journalist. Work hard to verify information reported by another journalist and get the story on your own. Avoid taking a free ride on the back of another journalist.
► Insure that their reporting boldly takes in the depth and breadth of the human experience, even when it is unpopular to do so.
► Avoid imposing their own cultural, political or religious values on news reports.
► Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
► Seek to acquire information from official and unofficial sources because they can be equally valid.
The foundation of the public's trust in a journalist lies in his or her freedom from bias or affiliation with the parties covered in news stories. Journalists must strive not only to keep themselves free from bias and such affiliations but also from actions that might give the appearance of bias or conflicts of interest. Caution in these areas protects the credibility and neutrality of the journalist's work produced.
The only obligation a journalist should have is the obligation to seek truth and report it.
► Avoid conflicts of interest. Where conflicts may be unavoidable, they must be disclosed in the story description that Watchdog City users see before purchasing content.
► Never use for personal gain any non-public information gathered during reporting.
► Never take part in any political activity, including running for office, wearing campaign buttons, showing bumper stickers, posting yard signs or contributing to a candidate or issue except for voting. These prohibitions include expressing opinions at social events or on social networks such as Facebook and Twitter.
► Never get cozy with sources. That means guarding against cultivating personal relationships with news sources and being especially careful when covering news that involves neighbors, friends or family or giving them undue access to the press. Whenever possible, news stories that involve neighbors, family or friends should be referred to another journalist. Any personal affiliation with a news source must be disclosed in the story description that Watchdog City users see before purchasing content.
► Not become romantically involved with a news source.
► Never accept from individuals or groups that the journalist covers or might cover bribes, gifts, speaking fees, gratuities, special treatment, tickets, discounts that are not available to the general public, reimbursements or other benefits except those of nominal value such as non-alcoholic refreshments.
► Avoid secondary employment that may compromise journalistic integrity. If secondary employment is impossible, Watchdog CityTM journalists must clearly disclose such employment in their online Watchdog City profiles, Watchdog City work history and in story descriptions that Watchdog City users see before purchasing content if the secondary employment might create a perception or question of a conflict of interest related to that story.
► Not accept employment or compensation for any kind of work from individuals or groups the journalist covers or is likely to cover in the future, nor should they do such work for free. Past work history of 10 years must be disclosed as part of Watchdog City's account sign-up for journalists in order to provide transparency to Watchdog City journalists' public audience. Journalists must take care to avoid even the appearance of a conflict of interest and make efforts to ensure that a spouse or close family member's work does not compromise journalistic integrity. Watchdog City Journalists should avoid coverage of issues where family or close friends are involved.
► Not accept free meals or travel except in instances such as covering the military or scientific research, when such a prohibition makes the coverage impossible and alternate travel is not practical.
► Never become financially involved in any way with the individuals or companies they cover or about which they have information not available to the general public. For example, journalists must not own stock in companies they cover or may cover. This prohibition includes initial public offerings through "friends and family" plans or allocations from brokerage firms where a conflict of interest might be construed. Journalists should never buy or sell securities based on upcoming news coverage. These prohibitions also apply to a journalist's close family members as well.
► Not take part in public relations work that conflicts with journalistic coverage. Marketing work and freelance commercial writing, editing, photo or video work must not involve journalistic coverage areas and must not conflict with journalistic work. Such work and a client roster must be disclosed in Watchdog City online profiles or on story description areas.
► Not serve as ghostwriters or co-authors for individuals or organizations that are or could become part of the journalist's beat coverage areas. Journalists should not take part in contests or competitions sponsored by such individuals or organizations that are part of their beat coverage areas, nor judge such contests or competitions.
► Never take part in gambling, especially betting on sports teams, except occasional recreational gambling in places where it is legal to do so.
► Not conduct fundraising for social, political, religious or other philanthropic causes.
► Never speak for or appear to speak for Watchdog City.
► Conceal their identity as journalists when reporting travel stories and restaurant reviews so they receive the same treatment as regular customers.
► When appearing on issue focused Internet, radio, or television programs, limit their participation to relaying the news and analyzing it in ways that could legitimately appear under their bylines. Here again, journalists must avoid becoming advocates.
► Remain mindful of their role in sustaining a vibrant democracy.
► Boldly speak truth to power.
While they are restricted from much public participation because of the nature of the profession, journalists are free to participate in local organizations such as houses of worship, community charities, civic clubs, local libraries, fine arts groups, hobby groups, youth athletic leagues, country clubs and alumni groups. If an organization that a journalist belongs to becomes part of a news story, the journalist should remove him or herself from coverage of the story.
The reason for gathering news and disseminating it to the public is to serve the public good; therefore, when seeking the truth to report it, journalists must act with integrity and draw a line between what information is necessary to telling a complete story and what is specious, self-serving or invasive.
News sources must be treated fairly and in a professional manner.
► Never threaten uncooperative sources with damaging coverage or let a source's lack of cooperation affect the tone of coverage.
► Never promise favorable coverage in return for cooperation.
► Never pay for information, interviews or unpublished documents because doing so would give incentives for providing false information and call into question the credibility of the information.
► Act in a civil manner toward all with whom they come into contact, whether that contact is in person or via telephone, letter or e-mail.
► Deal compassionately with news sources who are grieving or may be the victims of tragedy or who may suffer because of news coverage. This is even more important with those are in inexperienced with facing reporters, especially when they are children.
► Never inquire into the personal matters of a news source that do not pertain to the story.
► Not name the victims of sex crimes without their written consent or except where the victim is deceased. Juvenile suspects should not be named unless they are being tried as adults.
► Remember that arrogance on the part of any journalist hurts journalism.
► Keep in mind that private people have a greater right to privacy. They have more of a right to control the information about them than do those who are in the public eye such as public officials and others who seek positions of power or influence or who call attention to themselves. An intrusion into anyone's privacy is only warranted when it serves the public good.
► Avoid naming criminal suspects until they are formally charged with a crime unless there is a compelling public need to know. Exceptions may be justified if the suspect is a public figure. Seek balance when weighing a suspect's right to a fair trial against the public good.
Journalists are in a unique position in society to hold power accountable and enlighten the public, but with that position comes the responsibility to act in ways that don't call the journalist's motives into question. For that reason, journalists must be accountable to each other, to those they cover and to the public they serve.
► Avoid actions and statements that compromise or appear to compromise journalistic integrity.
► Make themselves available to explain their news coverage and willingly take part in discussions with the public about how they conduct themselves.
► Encourage participation from the public, even if it invites criticism of news coverage or reporting tactics.
► Publicly acknowledge mistakes and correct those mistakes as soon as they are discovered, even if no one complains.
► Expose their fellow journalists if they fail to act ethically.
► Maintain the same high standards to which they hold others.
► Obey the law.
Watchdog City journalists must abide by a strong code of journalism ethics, and earn the public's trust in order to boldly practice journalism that:
Seeks truth and the public good.
Reports with fairness and accuracy.
Respects human dignity.
Discovers and teaches.
Watchdog City journalists swear to (or affirm) that they will uphold the Watchdog City Journalists' Code of Ethics and participate in our creditability rating system as a requirement for participation in the Watchdog City marketplace.
Watchdog City's proprietary marketplace, credibility rating system and standards will allow independent journalists to distinguish themselves as practicing bona fide, standards-based journalism.
Watchdog CityTM allows independent journalists to practice their craft in an environment that only limits them based on their willingness to work hard and earn the trust of their reading, viewing or listening public.
Watchdog City LLC © May 1, 2010
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