The Herald-Times, Bloomington, Ind.: Newsroom Code
The perception by the public of media impartiality is one of our most important assets, and once lost is difficult to regain. To protect such a vital asset, reporters and editors should avoid all conflicts of interest, and as importantly, the appearance of conflict of interest, in their roles as reporters and editors. If such conflicts or appearances of conflicts develop or are foreseen, reporters and editors should declare them to their immediate managers.
The following guidelines are designed to address specific ethical concerns, but reporters and editors also should be guided by the more general rule that conflicts of interest, and the appearance of such conflicts, are detrimental to the newspaper and to the profession.
1. Tickets - Reporters and editors should not accept for their personal use free tickets to any performance or event from a source or potential source. They should not pass on such tickets to others. Reporters and editors may accept tickets according to management policy for review or preview of an event, so long as it is clear a review will be forthcoming. Review tickets should be limited to one per performance.
2. Gifts, meals, other payments - Reporters and editors should make it a common practice to refuse all gifts. Fewer gifts can only mean fewer ethical questions. Employees should discuss any and all gifts with a supervisor. No payments of restaurant meals with sources should be accepted. Go Dutch or pay for both meals. Group banquets or awards functions would not fall in this category and occasional "coffee-type exchanges" ($1 or less) are okay.
In the case of unsolicited gifts, decisions will be made on a case-by-case basis by the editor or managing editor. Common courses of action will be to send the gift back to the giver, pay for it, or donate it to a charitable organization or other worthy cause and notify the giver of the donation.
3. Politics/activism/campaign contributions - reporters/editors should not give campaign contributions or active support to any political candidates, political parties or organizations with local political objectives. The newspaper has no control over spouses of employees and so cannot limit giving or activism by a spouse. Potential conflicts should be declared.
Reporters and editors should not take an active part in or a public stand regarding any political/public policy debate over which they may report or where they may be editing stories and planning coverage. Reporters and editors should declare to his or her supervisor any active participation being considered before participation.
4. Membership in groups and organizations - Reporters/editors may belong to local groups, associations, etc., so long as they do not cover the activities of that group or make editorial decisions about the group. Reporters/editors should decline leadership positions in any group that acts publicly on issues, and should not be responsible for publicity for the group. Reporters/editors should declare their memberships to their managers and point out potential conflicts as they arise.
(The newspaper already has a policy that employees should not accept board positions for organizations that receive public funding or that have legislative or administrative control over government funds.)
5. Social evenings and friendships - Reporters/editors may engage in occasional social contacts with sources and potential sources outside working hours, but should be cautious about developing friendships outside the newsperson/source relationship. When friendships are present or develop between sources and reporters/editors, the reporters/editors should inform management and can expect possible removal from regular coverage of that source. Similarly, if a story develops on a beat involving a friend of a reporter/editor, the reporter/editor should declare the friendship, with a possible outcome of removal from the story. Reporters should be particularly aware that the reporter/source relationship is fertile ground for growth of friendships and should work to maintain as strictly professional a relationship as possible with regular sources. If such relationships become deeper, the reporter should declare that relationship and expect to change beats.
6. Pay for other assignments - All freelance writing and editing work under-taken by staff outside the newspaper must be declared to management before engaging in such work. Teaching also requires prior approval of management. No work may be undertaken for a direct competitor in any instance, and work for sources also is discouraged.
As a general rule, reporters/editors may sell anything they want to noncompetitors, so long as the newspaper has first refusal rights, and sources for the story understand that the article is being sold.
Any violations will be dealt with through the disciplinary procedure as outlined in The Herald-Times Benefits and Policies Handbook.