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Ethics Policy

Of the most sacred things to our organization is the trust you have in us as readers, listeners, viewers, and social media followers — to tell the truth, to be accurate, and to offer fair and impartial reporting. and to be free of conflicts of interest as much as possible and avoid the perception of conflicts of interest. Any failure to follow these journalistic truths undermine the credibility of our news/media products as an entity, and each of us who work within the organization as individuals and of our own craft.

What follows is a guide — a way of helping our reporters, journalists, and staff determine what they should do as they go about their jobs. It does not foresee every action or situation. It simply gives guidance along the way.  Anytime — every time — one of our staff find themselves wondering… “what is the correct thing to do?”…they are encouraged to check this policy, talk to an editor or the publisher…seek advice.

“Seek truth and report it. Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”

-Society of Professional Journalists

 

SValleyNow.com / Tennessee Valley Broadcasting Ethics Policy

Nature of Your Journalism

  • Our journalists should not express opinions at all and should work to ensure that stories are neutral, not reflecting bias toward any position. Exceptions are made for journalists whose jobs specifically involve expressing opinions, such as editorial writers, columnists, commentators and cartoonists.
  • Our reporters may express personal opinions in their own accounts on social networks.
  • We encourage our journalists to express opinions about journalism matters, advocating for freedom of information and joining the conversation within the profession about important issues.
  • If a family member’s political involvement would call into question the integrity of a journalist’s coverage, the journalist should avoid coverage of that issue or campaign. If avoiding such a family conflict is impossible, the family member’s involvement should be disclosed in related coverage.
  • Our journalists should disclose community and political involvements, particularly those involving topics they might cover, both in general statements we will publish on our website and in stories relating to their involvements.

Bombs and Other Threats

  • We will consult with local officials to determine whether a bomb threat is credible before we publish a story, but we will reserve the right to publish regardless of what officials say.
  • We will not publish bomb threats if a request is made by responsible community officials.
  • We will establish a policy for bomb threat reporting, including the level of threat (high school before graduation, local airport, etc.) and make sure that all editorial personnel are aware of it. We will seek expert advice — whether it’s local police, school officials or other government leaders — before publishing, but we will make these experts aware of our deadline urgencies. We will consider an annual story or report that describes and puts in context the data and trends in such incidents if individual bomb threats are not published.

Concealing Identity

  • We have a blanket ban on undercover reporting in the belief that deception is never appropriate in newsgathering, and other ways can always be found to get the story.

Confidential Sources

  • We do not publish information from sources we cannot name. Reporters may grant confidentiality only in an effort to find named sources for the information.
  • We use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one editor.
  • We will disclose to readers or viewers the reasons for granting confidentiality, such as fear for the source’s safety or job, when we use unnamed sources.
  • We publish information from confidential sources that we consider reliable, but do not publish the opinions of unnamed sources.

Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews

  • We avoid identifying — by name or photo — children who are connected with a crime as perpetrators, victims or witnesses.
  • We identify children who are charged with a crime only if the child is being tried in adult court.
  • Our journalists always obtain a parent’s permission before interviewing or photographing a child.
  • Our journalists seek permission from a parent to interview or photograph a child when it relates to all but simple matters (e.g. asking about a favorite video game).
  • We do not require parental permission to photograph or interview children in breaking news situations.
  • We consider granting confidentiality if we’re covering a story about a sensitive issue that could cause a child to be stereotyped, judged unfairly or put in harm’s way, even if the child doesn’t request it.

Hostage Situations

  • We will cooperate with authorities’ recommendations in covering hostage situations.
  • We will take authorities’ recommendations into account but use our own judgment.
  • We believe our primary responsibility in covering hostage situations is to help bring a peaceful resolution and not to advance the hostage-holders’ cause.

Interviewing

  • Our organization never pays for interviews.

Sources: Reliability and Attribution

  • We refrain from quoting sources who have a conflict of interest relating to the story (e.g. a scientist who conducted a study about a drug’s effectiveness when the study was funded by the manufacturer). These sources may be used for background information, but their voices should not be included in stories.
  • We disclose how sources In “ordinary people” stories were identified (e.g. through Twitter).
  • We use links, if available, for source attribution in online stories.
  • We include source attribution in online stories themselves as well as links, if available, that provide additional information.

Accuracy

  • Our staff members should take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of information that we publish and note our sources.
  • We should not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.
  • If we are unsure of the accuracy of information, we should cite our sources, word stories carefully to avoid spreading false rumors, acknowledge what we don’t know and ask the community’s help in confirming or correcting our information.
  • Reporters may read parts of stories to sources in order to check facts or make sure they understand technical points and procedures. But they should not read full stories to sources before publication and should make clear to the sources that they are only checking facts, not providing an opportunity to change the writing or approach to the story.

Balance and Fairness

  • To ensure fairness, we believe in covering not only the most powerful voices on an issue, but also those who are not normally heard (e.g. in election coverage, mainstream and non-mainstream candidates).
  • If an issue generates debate — even if one perspective on the issue has been credibly established as fact — we will seek out and report dissenting views in a proportionate way.
  • In breaking news situations, we will attempt to gather comments from key sides of an issue; if comments are not immediately available, we will publish or air the story without them, make clear that we were unable to get some comment and update our story as needed.

Online Commenting

  • We review every comment by every commenter.
  • We have a system that permits individuals to “flag” comments for potential problems, and we review those “flagged” comments in a systematic and timely fashion.
  • We edit comments to remove potentially libelous language or hate speech, as we define it, but we do not change spelling or grammatical errors.
  • We do not permit anonymous comments at all.
  • We permit comments on selected articles.

Quotations

  • We will clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.
  • We will correct grammatical errors by sources unless they are people in positions of power (e.g., elected officials or public figures).
  • We will use only full and complete quotes or paraphrase. (“I will go to war, you know, that’s a decision that has to be considered, but only if necessary,” the president said.)
  • We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by ellipsis. (“I will go to war … but only if necessary,” the president said.)
  • We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by attribution. (“I will go to war,” the president said. “But only if necessary.”)

Withholding Names

  • Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, we always publish names of people involved in the stories we cover.
  • We do not publish names of sexual assault victims unless they agree to speak on the record.
  • In breaking news stories, we do not publish the names of dead people until authorities have notified their families and released the names, unless compelling circumstances justify publication as soon as we have verified the names.
  • We should always be careful about identifying kidnap victims if the person may be in danger.
  • We withhold the names of mass killers to deny them the attention they appear to seek. Other than names, we cover other details of these crimes based on their newsworthiness.
  • In covering active police or military operations, we will withhold such details as location or tactics planned, until after the operation, to avoid endangering police, troops or civilians who could be affected.
  • We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.

Financial Interests

  • We will consider a disclosure page on our blog or website that lists our financial interests if we cover business or finance regularly.
  • Our journalists should immediately disclose to a supervisor any interests they have in a company they are asked to cover. Supervisors should consider putting another journalist on the story.
  • Our journalists must disclose their financial interests to their supervisors.
  • Our journalists may invest in equity index-related products and publicly available diversified mutual funds or commodity pools, but should disclose them if they happen to cover a particular fund in which they have an interest.

Community Activities

  • Our journalists should disclose community involvements, particularly those involving topics they might cover, both in general statements we will publish on our website and in stories relating to their involvements.
  • Our journalists are encouraged to be involved in the community and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.
  • We will provide factual coverage in a neutral voice despite our organization’s involvement in the issues we cover. We will disclose our affiliation for transparency reasons, but the affiliation should not be evident from a promotional voice or content.

Gifts, Free Travel and Other Perks

  • Our journalists should not accept gifts with a value greater than $100.
  • Our journalists may accept tickets or press passes to events we are covering or reviewing, but should not accept extra tickets for family or friends.
  • Our journalists should disclose any gifts they receive to their supervisors and discuss whether something needs to be returned, disclosed, paid for, donated to charity or handled in some other way that protects our integrity.
  • Our journalists who travel internationally should use good judgment to determine if upholding our gift policy would be culturally insensitive. If a journalist accepts a gift that normally would violate our ethics, we should disclose the gift and/or donate it to charity.
  • Our journalists should universally follow our policies on gifts even on international assignments when we’re told that refusing gifts can be viewed as offensive.
  • Our journalists may accept a small gift in cases where people are being kind and clearly not trying to influence us. Our gift policy does not require us to be rude; sometimes there’s a common-sense need to accept a small gift.

Personal Ethics Statements by Staff

  • Our journalists should work precisely to our company ethics and standards; personal ethics statements are, therefore, not necessary.
  • Our journalists are encouraged to make personal ethics statements, which provide more information about themselves and their attitudes, even though they must follow our corporate values.

Plagiarism and Attribution

  • We believe a link to a digital source is sometimes sufficient attribution; we need not always name the source in the text if the information is routine.
  • When we are using someone else’s exact words, we should use quotation marks and attribution.
  • We should always cite news releases if they are our sources, and should quote them if using their exact words.
  • When we use substantial material from our archives or from an author’s previous work in a current story, we should note that the material has been published before.
  • Basic facts may be taken from other sources without varying the wording.

Political Activities by Staff

  • Our journalists should avoid coverage of an issue or campaign if a family member’s political involvement would call into question the integrity of a journalist’s coverage. If avoiding such a family conflict is impossible, we will disclose the family member’s involvement in related coverage.
  • We encourage our journalists to be involved in the community, politics and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.
  • Our journalists should disclose community and political involvements, particularly those involving topics they might cover, both in general statements we will publish on our website and in stories relating to their involvement.

Social Networks

  • Our journalists are free to express opinions on social media.
  • We encourage staff members to retweet, reblog, share and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.
  • Staff members should note in their social media profiles that retweets or shares are not endorsements.
  • Staff members should always identify themselves in social media profiles, and, if they are using the profile for professional purposes, they should identify themselves as working for our organization.
  • If staff members want to share unconfirmed information on social media, such as rumor or hearsay, they should explain in the post why they are posting this information, such as seeking community confirmation for the report.
  • Staff members communicating with and about people in dangerous situations, such as war, crime or disaster zones, should consider the safety and security of people depicted or addressed in the social media content.
  • For platforms that don’t allow editing of posts, we should leave original posts untouched, unless they are defamatory or otherwise legally problematic.

Awards and Contests

  • We will accept awards only from journalistic organizations, with judges who are journalists.
  • We will accept awards from advocacy organizations, if we are transparent about favoring that point of view.
  • We will accept awards from corporations if we feel such awards will not skew our reporting.
  • We will assess the nature of the contest and make a decision consistent with our overall contest principles if we win a contest we did not enter.

Censorship

  • We will allow a censor to change our material if we’re convinced there’s a good reason to do so.
  • In military situations, we will be respectful of requests related to security and respect for troops, but reserve the right to make our own decisions.

Corrections

  • If a mistake is made in a social media post, we will delete the original post and publish a corrected version with an indication that the new post is a correction.
  • We will show all changes that have been made to online stories.

Freelance Work by Employees

  • We permit freelancing by full-time employees if it meets our overall criteria, and we do not require advance notice.
  • We allow part-time employees to perform freelance work without prior notice to direct managers.

Handling and protection of freelancers and “fixers”

  • We will publicly credit the work of freelancers, fixers and translators unless doing so poses risk of harm, such as threatening a person’s safety.
  • We will pay reasonable fees to freelancers, fixers and translators for their services but not for contributing as sources on a story.

Removing Archived Work

  • We will update a story in our archives, including the headline, if the story would damage someone’s reputation and is outdated.
  • We will correct any errors we learn of in our archived content and note the corrections.
  • We will consider exceptions to our policy in extreme cases, such as abuse or danger to someone’s personal safety.
  • We will delete inaccurate social media posts but acknowledge the deletions in subsequent posts.

Reporting On Your Organization

  • We will follow the same process we use for covering any other organization when our organization has done something newsworthy. We will assign a reporter, and let that reporter contact sources within our organization. The story will then be edited like any other; senior executives should not see the story before it is published or broadcast.

Robot journalism

  • We won’t label every story, but will publish a general statement about how we use automation to provide some of our copy.
  • We consider our computer processes to be proprietary. We take full responsibility for our content, including automatically produced content; for editorial and competitive reasons, we do not feel a need to publicize our entire process.

Diversity

  • We will set goals in hiring and promotions to increase diversity in our staff and management.
  • We will seek diverse pools of candidates for all jobs, but will always seek to hire the most qualified candidate.
  • We encourage staffers to seek diverse sources, both in specific stories and in routine beat coverage.

Hate Speech

  • We report on hate speech and actions but include original offensive expressions only when specifically necessary for audience understanding of the case.
  • We consider the perspectives of those offended by hateful expression when making publication decisions.
  • We consider the climate for free expression when making publication decisions.
  • We support local, national or international laws to combat hate speech.

Mental Health and Suicide

  • We will cover mental health and suicide as broad public health issues as consistently as we cover other health matters.
  • We will cover individual events of suicide as news stories if they involve prominent figures or public means.
  • We will use obituaries to cover individual events of suicide as appropriate.
  • We will use the phrases “died by suicide” or “killed himself or herself” and avoid the phrases “committed suicide” and “took his or her own life.”
  • We will not use sensational headlines on stories about suicide.
  • We will not use graphic images on stories about suicide.
  • We will opt for everyday images of a person who dies by suicide (such as a school photo) instead of images of people grieving.
  • We will Include contact information for resources for people in mental health crises. (e.g. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.)
  • We will include the method used in a suicide when it is important for audience understanding but not specific details (e.g., noting that a victim shot himself but not covering the type of weapon).

Naming suspects

  • We will name criminal suspects if they are arrested.
  • We will name criminal suspects if we have their identifications confirmed by sources we trust.
  • We will not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases unless extraordinary circumstances justify use of the names.
  • If a criminal suspect is at large and believed to be dangerous, we will identify the suspect, including a photo or sketch.

Obscenities

  • We will use obscenities, vulgarities or slurs only in direct quotations and only if the quote is essential to the story.
  • We will replace obscenities, vulgarities and slurs with something that implies the word rather than stating it directly (e.g. “f—”).
  • Online we will place obscenities, vulgarities and slurs behind a warning.

Privacy

  • We respect individuals’ right to privacy and do not use content we discover online from private individuals without receiving their permission.
  • We consider the standard for publishing material about private individuals who are thrust into the public eye as higher than that for public individuals.
  • We do not believe that everything celebrities and public officials say and do should be made public, even though they cede a great deal of privacy when they enter the public eye. We analyze cases on an individual basis, taking into account the news value of the public figure’s action.
  • We will voluntarily withhold information we have gathered when requested if we deem the individual’s request to be valid, based on our news judgment and professional standards.
  • We reserve the right to publish material that we have voluntarily withheld if we determine that the material has valid public interest or if we feel that the requesting party has deceived us as to his or her motives.
  • We use discretion when it comes to interviewing and publishing material from trauma victims or bystanders because we understand that to do so may cause additional harm to individuals.

Race and Gender

  • We will seek out people in the groups we cover to gain perspective on our coverage and terminology.
  • We will use racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality identifiers when specifically germane to a story but not otherwise.
  • We will use plural references to avoid gender-specific pronouns when possible.

Sensational Material

  • We will run sensitive material when it reflects reality.
  • We will treat all publication decisions based on the standards of the local community.
  • We will refrain from running sensitive material specifically or solely for the revenue purposes, such as increased digital traffic.
  • We will run sensitive material with stories with notes of warning.

Audio

  • Audio cuts of newsmakers may be edited to remove insignificant stumbles.
  • We will fully identify person-in-the-street-type speakers in audio cuts unless there is a compelling reason not to.
  • We need not identify person-in-the-street speakers by name if they are not stating controversial opinions.
  • Our journalists may mix sound from different sources as long as it gives a true picture of what happened (even if it was not all recorded at the same time).

Data Journalism

  • We believe that data is like raw footage and may be purchased if it cannot be obtained through other means.
  • In collaborative projects, we may not be able to insist on shared ethical values with partners, but we will disclose to our readers and viewers that we have separate policies from our partners.
  • We will put all data in relevant context.
  • We will make original data available for download when it is not covered by a usage agreement that bars such public posting. Any usage agreement will be disclosed publicly.
  • We will not use personally identifiable data without specific and valid news value to support disclosure.
  • We will secure data to the best extent possible to prevent hacking.
  • We will pay reasonable technical costs (copying, transmission, etc.) for providing data to us.

Interactives

  • We will organize and internally link our interactives in a way that users entering and navigating in different ways will be able to grasp the essential points of the story.
  • Links among the parts of an interactive will be retained in the archive if the parts are still correct and relevant.
  • We will allow a certain degree of poetic license in reconstructions or previews of events through infographics or animations; not every detail can be knowable for sure.

Photo and Video

  • When documenting private or traumatic moments, we will shoot photos or video first and then seek permission from subjects to publish or air.
  • We will allow the use of drones to capture images, but publish or air those images only if they serve a compelling public interest.
  • We will not ask subjects to pose or to re-enact an event.
  • We will clearly label posed or re-enacted photos/video.
  • We do not need to label a photo or video if it is clearly posed (e.g. an award-winner holding up a trophy).
  • If we believe we can provide help or mitigate harm by actively participating in a situation (rather than only documenting it), do so and then disclose your participation to your viewers.
  • We will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it.
  • We will obscure or pixellate images only when the intent is to protect the identify of someone in the image or to protect viewers from gory or graphic material.
  • We will refrain from doing re-enactments of news events.
  • We will shoot re-enactments of news events only if they add to the understanding of an issue, and then clearly label them as re-enactments.
  • We will refrain from using “handout” photos or video unless your own photographers are unavailable to cover the story.
  • We will clearly label the source of all “handout” photos or video.
  • We will use generic photos only when viewers would not expect to see a photo specific to the story (e.g. using a photo of a plane from an airline’s fleet to illustrate the kind of plane that was involved in a crash.)
  • We will verify photos or videos from social media before using them.

User-Generated Content

  • We consider UGC an extension of our own journalism. We don’t run such material unless we’re sure it’s authentic.
  • We partner with other organizations and the public in attempts to verify what UGC is accurate. This means distributing it with caveats that it hasn’t been verified.
  • We will not distribute UGC content unless we’re certain we have the rights to do so. The only exception might be an urgent situation where a rights-holder cannot be found.
  • If we cannot find the rights-holder in an urgent situation and use the UGC, we will make continued efforts afterward to locate and reach an agreement with the rights-holder.

Virtual Reality Journalism

  • If producers re-creating a news event in VR make every effort to determine how the event actually happened, disclosure to the viewer that it’s only a re-creation isn’t necessary.
  • In re-creating news events in VR, the viewer should get full disclosures about any guesswork or artistic license involved.
  • Producers may stage-manage a VR production if that’s the only way to overcome technical obstacles.
  • Photos and video may be manipulated if needed to avoid disturbing scenes like dead children.

Accepting money

  • Our funder(s) may see our stories before publication, and their comments on stories will be taken into account by the editorial staff.
  • Our funder(s) may influence special topics to be covered but have no say in stories pursued and how they are reported and written.
  • Our funder(s) will be used as sources in stories irrespective of their funding.
  • We will publicly disclose all funding sources.

Clickbait and Metrics

  • We are encouraged to write clever, creative headlines and social media posts that will entice readers to click on our stories, but headlines will not make promises that our stories don’t deliver.
  • We will accurately reflect the content of related stories in headlines and social media posts.
  • We may aggressively court audiences who would be interested in our content, but we will not try to deceive people in headlines, social media posts or marketing.
  • We will not use metric considerations in determining what we cover and how we place stories.

News and Advertising

  • We do not allow advertisements for certain types of products.
  • We do not allow advertisers to have a say in the selection or content of stories and photos.
  • We require news-like content produced by advertisers to be clearly identified as advertising.
  • We have specific, consistent definitions of terms like “Advertisement,” “Sponsored Content” and “Message from …” and disclose them to our readers.
  • We will allow advertising anywhere on our publication or site.
  • We will assist advertisers in creating advertising material.
  • We make it clear when tweets or posts on our social media accounts are linked to advertiser-prepared material.