The Seattle Times: Newsroom Policies and Guidelines
CODE OF ETHICS
A newspaper is no ordinary business. Our special role in society rises on the pillars of the First Amendment. We inform and protect the public without fear or favor, and must guard against the appearance of fear or favor. Our reputation, and our very existence, relies on public trust.
Given that, our standards of conduct must be above reproach. This Code of Ethics helps to guard that precious commodity of trust, in setting clear and consistent standards for the conduct of the News and Editorial staffs of The Seattle Times and Seattletimes.com.
This edition of the Code is a 2004 update of the original Code, which was written by lawyers for The Times and The Pacific Northwest Newspaper Guild in 1984. This update arose from newsroom initiatives to protect and improve our credibility as a news source. It is the product of an open, collaborative and thorough process that involved representatives at various levels of the News and Editorial departments, including both affiliated and unaffiliated staff members.
Standards for news coverage, corrections, plagiarism, fairness and other professional issues are covered elsewhere in Seattle Times newsroom policy. This Code is directed to personal standards for individual staff members.
The Code emphasizes prevention rather than punishment; openness, discussion and collaboration rather than dictated rules; a balance of personal freedoms with professional credibility. We share the values of impartiality, fairness, openness and professionalism. Therefore, any differences of view over applying the Code to protect those values should be resolved amiably through discussion.
This document does not preempt any rights or responsibilities employees have under existing laws, including the National Labor Relations Act. For staff members covered by the Guild Agreement, these guidelines are intended to clarify the provisions of that document. Any dispute as to application of these guidelines to staff members covered by the Guild Agreement shall be resolved pursuant to the Agreement.
• Ethical guidelines cannot cover every circumstance or answer every question. They rely on open discussion and mature judgment. These guidelines set the tone for what's expected of everyone in the News and Editorial departments, including those who work on Seattletimes.com.
The integrity of this newspaper evolves from the integrity of each member of the staff. The newspaper and its staff should be free of obligations to news sources and newsmakers.
Because our reputation relies on public trust, our standards for conflicts of interest or perceived conflicts of interest are higher than in many other businesses. Even the appearance of obligation or conflict of interest should be avoided.
Interpretation of what conduct is appropriate in any particular situation is based upon professional responsibility. In no instance shall individual interests conflict with or appear to conflict with staff members' professional duties at The Times.
The first principles of this Code are disclosure and discussion. You should advise your supervisor of any situation that might result in even a perception of bias or conflict of interest. If you are not sure, apply the light-of-day test: If readers who knew you only as an employee of The Seattle Times learned of a certain situation, how might it look? When in doubt, disclose and discuss.
Editors should make their best attempt to assure that freelancers whose work appears in The Times know of and comply with our standards and expectations of disclosing possible conflicts of interest.
Misuse of employee status
• Staff members should not use their connections with The Times to receive any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or for other personal gain.
Example: It is improper to use company stationery or e-mail to write a personal complaint to a merchant or public agency. In a personal-complaint situation or business transaction, avoid any implication that you are acting for The Times or threatening to use your newspaper connections for personal gain.
Outside activities, employment and speaking
• Staff members are free to engage in activities outside of working hours unless those activities create a conflict of interest, are an embarrassment to or in competition with The Seattle Times Company or exploit the staff member's connection with the company without approval.
The first professional obligation of staff members is to perform the duties for which they are employed by The Times. Staff members are encouraged to be good citizens and to participate in civic, charitable, educational, religious and social institutions if they choose, so long as those activities do not present a conflict of interest or involve institutions or issues they cover or edit.
Examples: A medical writer may be involved in a school parent group; a sports editor may be a Big Brother or Big Sister; a national editor may join a neighborhood association.
Some outside activities and employment might cause the perception of bias or conflict of interest. To avoid that, disclose and discuss those with your supervisor.
Staff members should not work for groups or engage in partisan activity in any area in which they are likely to make news or editorial judgments. The concern is with possible perceptions of conflicts of interest or partiality by the newspaper.
Of particular risk:
- Publicity or public-relations work, whether paid or unpaid, in any area, even unrelated to your beat. Such work makes it appear you may be in a position to get some special treatment for interest groups from The Times.
- Work on boards and commissions having to do with public policy.
- Participating in partisan or political activity in any group you join. (For further guidance, see the section on political activity.)
- Serving as official scorers, contest judges or other official involvement in an event the newspaper is covering. (If The Times covers events that it also sponsors, the sponsorship should be clearly disclosed to readers.)
Staff members should advise an editor of any involvement or affiliation that might result in a conflict of interest or appearance of partiality. As a general guideline, staff members should limit outside speaking appearances to events or forums sponsored by educational or not-for-profit groups whose focus does not include political activity.
Staff members should take care during appearances to avoid remarks that could compromise their objectivity in the perception of their readers. Avoid making statements of opinion unless that is your job. Staffers should think twice before accepting a speaking engagement in an area they are covering. The benefits of such exposure should be weighed against possible misunderstandings or appearances of bias or favoritism.
Generally, if approved in advance, such appearances will be considered working time and The Times will compensate staff members accordingly. For example, The Times encourages staff members to speak about journalism at schools and will generally count that as work time.
Staff members who make approved, work-connected outside appearances on their own time may accept reimbursement of travel expenses and a fee or honorarium if offered, but then cannot charge the newspaper for the same time.
Staff members should be aware that ethical issues might be raised in some circumstances by even nominal payments from outside sources for appearances arising directly from their work at The Times. If in doubt, staff members should talk with their supervisor about any offer of compensation or honorarium before making an appearance.
Freelancing and competing media
• Staff members are free to engage in activities outside of working hours, unless they (1) consist of or include services performed for any medium in competition with The Seattle Times Company, unless approved; (2) without permission, exploit the staff member's connection with The Times; or (3) are performed for any noncompetitive employer to the embarrassment of The Seattle Times Company.
Freelancing for publications not in direct competition with The Seattle Times Company usually is permissible. Staff members writing or photographing on a continuing basis for a noncompetitive newspaper or magazine should advise the editor or managing editor (for the News Department staff) or the editorial-page editor (for the Editorial Department staff) of such continuing relationships.
No staff member, except when acting in the capacity of a member or officer of the Guild, may appear on a competing broadcasting medium or supply material to a competing print medium without prior approval from his or her supervisor. Approval normally will be given if the appearance or material serves the interests of The Seattle Times Company.
Examples of involvement with other media that may be approved include:
- Appearing on a non-commercial, public-broadcasting medium.
- broadcast medium that would, in the opinion of the management, serve or promote the interests of The Seattle Times Company.
- Appearing on a broadcasting medium to respond to questions involving newsworthy events involving The Times, such as a lawsuit, labor dispute, demonstration, award, comic selection, circulation growth, new technology, etc.
- Submitting material to nonpartisan, non-advertising publications such as church periodicals, university publications, and scholarly journals.
• Often, family members and personal friends have appropriate ties to businesses, groups or activities that are in the news. Times staff members should talk about these ties with their supervisors to avoid appearances of bias.
Staff members generally should not write or photograph or make news judgment about any relative (spouse, domestic partner, parent, child, sibling or in-laws) or person with whom the staff member has a close personal relationship. The obvious exception is when the personal connection — clearly disclosed to readers — is part of the story.
• Our profession demands impartiality as well as the appearance of impartiality. Public political activity puts that at risk, and is discouraged.
If a staff member runs for public office (whether the office is nonpartisan or unpaid), works in a political campaign or organization (for pay or as a volunteer) or has a close relative in a political campaign or organization, the staff member should not make news or editorial judgments about such a campaign or organization. Staff members should talk with their editors about any such possibility to avoid a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict of interest. If a conflict occurs, the staff member may need to be reassigned to different duties.
Staff members should not display in the News or Editorial departments candidate posters or placards supporting or denouncing a candidate, political party or public issue. To do so could give the impression, intended or not, of partiality.
Staff members should avoid active involvement in any partisan causes that compromise the reader's trust in the newspaper's ability to report and edit fairly. Public political activities that may raise concerns include contributing money, signing petitions, wearing political buttons, displaying bumper stickers, publicly espousing a cause, or participating in demonstrations. Staff members should be aware that political contributions or displays by their immediate family members and domestic partners might also reflect on the staff member.
Investments and business ties
• Staff members and their families are free to hold stock or have private business dealings, but these may need to be taken into account on assignments for the newspaper. Before assignments or re-assignments, all news and editorial staff members should disclose and discuss all financial interests that might pose a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict. Supervisors should open these discussions, and staff members should update their supervisors as changes warrant.
Staff members should advise their supervisors if they are uncertain about the possibility of conflict in business relations or personal investments. Financial interests of a spouse, domestic partner, or, in some cases, other close family members can create real or apparent conflicts of interest by raising questions of favoritism. To prevent such problems, news and editorial workers and managers should talk about these financial interests with their supervisor. No staff member may cover, edit, package or supervise regular coverage of an industry, company, venture or person in which the staff member, spouse or domestic partner has any investment, or immediate family members have significant investment, financial or business ties. Such ties pose the appearance of a conflict of interest and may harm The Times and staff member's reputations.
Generally, broad mutual funds are a safe way to avoid conflicts of interest, but they, too, must be monitored for potential conflicts. Local or regional investments, such as Microsoft or Boeing stock, pose the most potential for conflict of interest.
If you own stock in a company you are not routinely assigned to cover and one day you are chosen to write or edit a story about it, you should discuss the matter with the assigning editor before taking on the assignment.
Staff members must not use inside information as an investing tool for themselves, friends or family.
• Free trips are prohibited except in the most rare of circumstances, and then only with the approval, as appropriate, of the editor, managing editor or editorial-page editor. The Times will pay all expenses — transportation, lodging, meals and incidentals — involved in travel for news coverage or background information.
If airlines or cruise firms won't accept payment, such trips will not be taken. Possible exceptions, requiring approval, include when a reduced-fare trip or special travel arrangement is the only way to complete an assignment, such as when military transport is involved; when a staff member needs to be aboard a press plane of an athletic team or political candidate, or when an airline or cruise firm is under the control of a government that refuses to allow payment and if the inaugural flight or maiden voyage is of compelling news value. In case of the athletic team or candidate travel, the newspaper would ask to be billed for the shared cost involved.
Staff members may not use their Times connections to solicit trips or special press rates or press fares from airlines or other transport or from travel organizations, hotels, agencies and domestic or foreign governments.
Staff members will use common sense and discretion in emergency situations. For example, if there is a shipping disaster off the coast and a military helicopter is the only transportation available, a staff member covering the story could accept a ride if there is no time to communicate for approval from an editor. However, an editor should be informed of the circumstances as soon as possible after return to the office.
Another example: If a Boeing plane is on its first flight and a Times reporter and photographer are offered places on a chase plane — the only plane allowed in the area by the Federal Aviation Administration — the staffers could accept the invitation with editor approval.
Tickets and refreshments
• Paying our own expenses to cover the news protects the reputation of The Seattle Times Company as an independent newsgathering operation. We also need maximum access to events and information of importance to our readers; sometimes this requires free press access in accordance with industry standards.
Reporters, photographers and editors assigned to cover sports, art, political or professional events may accept free access to these events for the sole purpose of covering a story or writing a review. In some cases, an art reviewer may take a companion, as is customary and beneficial to the newspaper. The second ticket is generally intended for another reviewer or editor whose work will benefit, or an authority in the subject matter whose opinion will add to the quality of the article. It may also be used for reasons of personal safety. All such free passes must be approved by a supervising editor. None may ever be sold.
Staff members who attend the events for professional reasons other than immediate coverage will pay for tickets whenever possible and will be reimbursed. We will strive to minimize acceptance of complimentary press tickets and to pay costs of admission and refreshments incurred in professional work.
Staff members should pay for food and refreshments or not take them. The Seattle Times Company will reimburse costs of meals or refreshments incurred in professional work. When it is socially awkward or even impossible to pay, a staff member should use good judgment in how far to go in insisting on paying. When someone insists on buying a staff member a drink, for instance, the staff member should try to reciprocate. Better yet, be the first to pay.
It is improper for staff members who are not on assignment to attend events as nonpaying spectators or to accept free meals provided by sports, political, arts or other news source organizations. It is also improper for staff members or their families to accept free tickets to sports events, movies, art events, fairs, circuses, ice shows and other events for which the public pays. If tickets to such events are delivered to The Times, an editor should return them with a letter courteously declining them and explaining our policy.
Any exceptions to this policy must be OK'd by the attendee's editor or supervisor. The Seattle Times policy regarding press access should be disclosed periodically in relevant sections of the newspaper (e.g., arts, sports, news).
• Staff members may not accept free or reduced-rate memberships in private clubs or other organizations when such memberships involve or appear to involve a staff member's position at The Seattle Times Company. The company will pay the costs when such memberships are considered by supervisors to be necessary for news or editorial purposes.
Contests and awards
• Staff members may enter work published in The Seattle Times or on Seattletimes.com in contests that are sponsored by professional journalistic organizations or other groups deemed by the appropriate editors to be free of commercial or self-serving interests. No awards of significant value may be accepted from any organizations other than those just described.
Because the newspaper should not be perceived as favoring a group or cause in its news coverage, staff members should not accept unsolicited awards from groups they cover. They may express their appreciation for the recognition, but should decline with an explanation that they are not allowed to accept such awards. If there is any doubt about a particular award, a senior editor should be consulted.
• We accept no work-connected gifts or gratuities of significant value. We do not accept free lodging, special press rates or any other reduced rate or no-pay arrangements not available to the general public.
Gifts of insignificant value — key chains, pens, calendars, etc. — may be kept if it is impractical or awkward to return them. Gifts of significant value will be returned to the donor with an explanation of our policy. Where it is impractical to return a gift, it will be given to a charity. Gifts of flowers should be, in order of preference, a) declined; b) donated to a school, hospital or charity; or c) put in the general newsroom.
Gifts of liquor, wine and beer are considered of more than token value and must be returned.
Because of their Seattle Times Company status, staff members sometimes are offered free or reduced-rate purchase of products, merchandise or services not available to the general public. Staff members should not take advantage of such offers except where sanctioned by the company. If in doubt, staff members should review the policy with an appropriate editor.
Examples of such products include cameras or other photographic equipment and supplies, automobiles, boats, furniture, sporting goods, appliances and clothing: With the permission, as appropriate, of the editor, managing editor, or editorial-page editor, a staff member may use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it for news or feature articles or for photography.
Staff members may accept gifts or discounts available to the general public or discounts available to all Seattle Times Company employees, such as corporate deals for computers or cellular telephones.
• Sample merchandise may be accepted if it is used as part of research for a story or review, but should not be converted to personal use. Items of significant value not used for a story or review should be returned to the sender or donated to charity. When in doubt, consult the appropriate supervisor.
When some organizations provide press passes or sample merchandise and others do not, staff members and supervisors must guard against any preferential treatment or appearance of preferential treatment in the selection of topics to cover.
Books, music, DVDs and computer programs
• Books, records, tapes, CDs, DVDs, computer programs and other material sent to The Times for review are considered to be news handouts or releases sent to the newspaper for their potential news value. They are not to be sold by staffers.
Items assigned to staffers for review consideration may be kept by the person to whom those items are assigned. Books of reference value may be kept by specialists in a specific area, such as beat reporters, critics or editors. Unused copies of books should be donated to area libraries or schools or sold to staffers to benefit the Times Fund for the Needy.
Staff reviewers should abide by these guidelines:
- Do not review anything by an author or artist with whom you have a close professional, personal or social relationship. “Social” is the hardest of these categories to sort out, and should be considered case by case.
- If you are a published author, do not review any authors published by your own publishing house or represented by your agent.
- For the most part, review assignments should come from the editor or critic. Occasionally, reviewers will suggest items for review. Other than the previous restrictions, we ask them to declare whether a publicist or sales person has approached them about reviewing the item.
CODE OF ETHICS ADDENDUM
Performing services for competing medium
1. No staff member, except when acting in the capacity of a member or officer of the Guild, may appear on a competing broadcasting medium or supply material to a competing print medium without prior approval from his or her department head. Approval normally will not be given if the appearance or material constitutes performing services for the competing medium unless it serves the interests of The Seattle Times.
2. Examples of such normally prohibited work include:
a. Performing services as a panelist on a television or radio program.
b. Performing services as a professional specialist (e.g., politics, religion, science, medicine, drama, visual arts, films, sports, etc.). including interviews before, during, or after sporting events.
3. Approval normally will be given for:
a. Appearance on any broadcast medium which would, in the opinion of the management, serve or promote the interests of The Seattle Times. If approval is given, time spent on such appearances shall be considered working time and The Seattle Times will compensate staff members accordingly. Any compensation received by staff members from outside sources for such appearances will normally be deducted from, and offset against, any compensation payable by The Seattle Times for such appearances.
b. Appearances on any broadcasting medium to respond to questions involving newsworthy events involving The Seattle Times, such as a labor dispute, demonstration, lawsuit, award, comic selection, circulation growth, new technology, etc.
c. Appearing on any public-broadcasting medium or submitting material to non-advertising publications such as church periodicals, university publications, and scholarly journals.
Ownership of work product
• Under the federal Copyright Act, any material produced by a Seattle Times employee that is within the scope of his or her employment is considered “work for hire,” whether or not published in The Seattle Times, and copyright belongs to The Seattle Times. Such material may not be sold, licensed or otherwise authorized for republication except by permission of The Seattle Times and on such terms as it may specify as copyright owner.