Chicago Tribune: Editorial Ethics Policy
PREAMBLE TO ETHICS POLICY: This policy, applicable to all Chicago Tribune Company and Chicago Interactive Inc. editorial staff members, is in addition to the Tribune Company Code of Business Conduct, which applies to all employees.
Credibility is an indispensable asset of the Chicago Tribune Company ("Tribune"), as it is of any serious newspaper. To insure that our credibility is not damaged, editorial staff members have a special responsibility to avoid conflicts of interest or any activity that would compromise their journalistic integrity. Full and timely disclosure by employees of their outside activities is a key to making this policy work. Employee compliance will guarantee the professional behavior to which the Tribune is entitled and will maintain the organization's reputation for fairness and honesty.
1. Outside Organization/Financial Matters. Involvement in one's local community is encouraged for all editorial staff members. Participation in public activities and groups helps connect and explain the newspaper to the community, and demonstrates our commitment to public concerns. But participation can lead to real or perceived compromise of journalistic integrity. At issue is whether the public could believe Tribune news coverage is influenced by a staff member's outside activities.
The proper stance is firmly on the side of credibility and integrity, but dividing lines often can be unclear. To determine what levels and areas of participation are acceptable and what activities should be avoided, editorial staff must disclose to their supervisors any ongoing or proposed activities, relationships, dealings or investments that could damage the credibility of the Tribune or conflict with its interests. If an actual or potential conflict arises, the staff member must discuss it immediately with the supervisor, and should recuse himself or herself from editorial decisions that may involve the issue in conflict.
Staff members may not serve on government bodies or become involved with partisan political organizations. Staff at Grade 18 or above should not sit on policy-making bodies of outside institutions without specific permission from the editor or a division editor. Other staff members should avoid leadership roles if:
- A person is involved in the news coverage of the organization or the organization's field of activity.
- The organization's activities make it the likely subject of news coverage by the Tribune. Exception: Leadership roles in professional journalism groups generally are not considered a conflict.
Reporters and editors who hold stocks or other investments whose performance might be affected by articles they write or the way stories are played in the newspaper should report the conflict to a supervisor and offer to recuse themselves from any involvement with the story. Buying or selling stocks or other securities with knowledge of a story that might affect their price or while in possession of other non-public information also could subject the employee and the company to criminal and civil liability under the federal securities laws.
By the same token, it would seem apparent that theater critics should not be investing in plays they may be reviewing or restaurant critics in restaurants. Certainly any such conflicts should be reported. But not all potential conflicts are so clear-cut. In all cases, it is wise to avoid any investment or relationship you would not like to read about on Page One of a newspaper, your own or someone else's.
To further avoid conflicts, staffers should not use their position or the name of the newspaper to gain advantage in personal activities. (In applying for a loan for a house, car, business or anything of that nature, you will, of course, be expected to say where you work, what you do and how much you get paid. That is normal, acceptable practice, and should not be a conflict. But if you're worried about some aspect of such a transaction, discuss it with your supervisor.) Your Tribune business card or stationery should only be used for company business. Staffers should not refer to their newspaper connections to try to resolve consumer grievances, to get quicker service or to seek discounts or deals.
Neither should staff members write about, photograph, edit or make news judgments about any individual related by blood or marriage or others with whom they have a close personal or financial relationship unless they have made the relationship known and received a ruling from a supervisor that there is no cause for concern about a conflict or the perception of one.
Fundraising for any organization or cause, no matter how worthy, has the potential to create a conflict of interest or the appearance of one. The rule of thumb is that no staff members should engage in or lend their names to fundraising efforts, even if their Tribune connection is not explicitly mentioned. Certainly, editorial employees must never solicit people, companies or foundations covered by the newspaper for cash contributions or any other kind of assistance. (The Tribune's annual holiday-fund appeal is made to the readership in general, not to specific individuals or companies.) This prohibition on fundraising is not meant to exclude such things as taking the collection at church or selling cookies or candy. Anything much beyond that requires specific approval from the Managing Editor, Associate Editor or Editor.
2. Outside Endeavors. Outside employment, endeavors or compensation are only permitted when editorial supervisors determine they do not constitute a conflict of interest or otherwise interfere with the performance of a staff member's job. All staff members must disclose each such arrangement: (a) to the editor hiring the staffer upon receipt of an offer of employment; (b) in the attached form on an annual basis; and (c) to a deputy managing editor or above before undertaking any project involving the provision of any written, oral, graphical, photographic, broadcast, digital or other creative materials or performances to any company or endeavor other than those owned or controlled by Tribune Company.
Generally speaking, staff members will not receive permission to write, edit, illustrate, perform or provide pictures for any competing print, online or digital publication or broadcast, including the following: local newspapers in the Chicago market; national newspapers which circulate in this market - eg., The New York Times, the Wall Street Journal and USA Today; wire services or syndicates that sell their content to local competitors; regional periodicals, such as Chicago Magazine and Crain's Chicago Business; competitive local news broadcasts; and any Internet or online news or information services which provide content that is directly competitive with the Tribune's Internet or online offerings. The editors may determine that other activities present a conflict of interest for staffers as well. The editors reserve the right to withdraw approval for any activity as circumstances change.
All companies that publish news and information on the Internet, the World Wide Web, and other online or interactive services are by definition in competition with the Tribune for readers and advertising dollars. In those cases where the editors approve of a free-lance arrangement that will result in work that appears in any of these media, approval will be conditioned upon agreement between Chicago Tribune Digital Publishing and the other interactive publisher regarding promotional and other considerations - eg., in the case of an article, prominent identification of the author as a Chicago Tribune writer, with the words "Chicago Tribune" linked to www.chicago.tribune.com. In no case may any material that originally appeared in the Chicago Tribune or any of its affiliated print or electronic publications be placed within another Internet, online, or electronic site.
Staff members are forbidden to use any Tribune supplies, materials, equipment, content (including outtakes) or other materials in the course of any outside employment or endeavor.
3. Breaking News and Unpublished Information. If an employee obtains news, information or other material that might be published, distributed or broadcast by the Tribune or one of its affiliated Tribune companies, the staff member should notify her supervisor, whether the information directly relates to the staffer's regular beat or duties or not. Staff members are forbidden from providing such material to any company or endeavor other than the Tribune without approval from a division editor.
4. Endorsements. Under no circumstances should staff members make endorsements or participate in broadcast commercials, digital promotions or print advertisements for products or enterprises other than those owned or controlled by Tribune Company. Special care should be taken not to permit even a hint of an implied endorsement in a situation where a staff member may be perceived to have been influenced by a favor of any sort.
5. Additional Work for the Tribune. Editorial supervisors cannot offer supplemental pay for work by a staffer it the work is part of that person's job description. When appropriate, a staffer may be reimbursed for expenses or paid overtime. An exception is the fee paid for a book or record review. Editors at Grade 18 or above and critics are not eligible for supplemental pay for any assignment, including reviews.
6. Seminars, Honoraria and Complimentary Tickets. The Tribune will pay the legitimate expenses of editorial staff on assignment. Staff members invited to make speeches or participate in seminars may accept free travel, lodging expenses and honoraria if the trip and honorarium are cleared by the Editor, Associate Editor or the Managing Editor, and the sponsoring organization is not a governmental or other tax-supported entity or a private or special-interest group with a publicity interest. In an exception to the rule banning such payments by a tax-supported institution, staffers may accept expenses and honorariums for appearances at legitimate educational events at public schools and colleges. Appearances at journalistic or private academic convocations also are acceptable. Common sense should be the guideline. For instance, staff members should not accept expense money or fees from business or labor groups.
Complimentary tickets or free admission to an event such as a concert, political fundraiser or charity benefit may be accepted by a staff member who is covering that event or whose attendance is authorized because of job responsibilities. The Tribune also may pay for other staff to attend.
Staff should not accept free tickets to an event for personal enjoyment, nor "special offers" aimed at members of the news media.
Staff should avoid public-relations events for the news media unless they are assigned to cover the events or their attendance is authorized because of job responsibilities. Such events include junkets and receptions, especially those to which the public is not admitted. When practical, the Tribune will pay the expenses of a staff member authorized to attend.
7. Awards and Prizes. The Tribune is careful in submitting staff entries for recognition and awards to limit participation to those contests whose central interest is recognition of journalistic excellence. It makes every effort to avoid those that exist primarily to publicize or further the cause of the organization sponsoring the contest. For that reason, those who would like their work entered in a contest should consult with supervisors.
By the same token, any staff member offered an award, monetary or otherwise, from any person, company, organization, government body, college or any other source, including such professional groups as journalism, medical or bar associations, should notify supervisors and get their approval before accepting. There are scores, or hundreds, maybe thousands, of groups out there who think they will win great favor with the media if they can just pass out enough awards each year to members of the press. If that is their primary motive, and many make small effort to conceal it, we surely don't want to play along.
8. Gifts, Merchandise and Review Copies. No merchandise, cash, services or anything else of value should be solicited. Unsolicited merchandise whose value exceeds that of a key chain will be donated to charity by the newspaper. Staff members will be notified of the donation.
Merchandise used for a story or its illustration should be purchased by the Tribune or returned to its source immediately. If return is not practical, the merchandise should be disposed of by the newspaper. Merchandise should not be kept for a staffer's personal enjoyment. Exception: A staff member may keep a book or recording that was reviewed in the Tribune. Staffers may also keep unsolicited books sent to them as individuals by publishers or authors seeking attention for the work. In either case, such items may not be sold.
Books or recordings sent to staffers strictly as gifts must be dealt with like any other gifts of significant value.
9. Implementation. The purpose of this policy statement on ethics is to illuminate a set of professional standards that should help us all in our efforts to protect the credibility of the Chicago Tribune. Any editorial staff member who violates any provision of this policy statement will be subject to disciplinary action, including reprimand, suspension and/or termination. Any employee who has a question concerning this policy statement or becomes aware of a possible violation of this policy statement should promptly contact their supervisor or the Tribune's legal counsel.