Editorial Ethics and Guidelines
The Wise Publishing Editorial Ethics and Guidelines are adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ) Code of Ethics and the Canadian Association of Journalists ethics guidelines. This document serves as a guide for Wise Publishing contributors, staff writers and editors. We are making this document public to keep Wise Publishing contributors, staff writers and editors accountable to our readers.
- We are disciplined in our efforts to verify all facts. Accuracy is the moral imperative of journalists and news organizations, and should not be compromised, even by the pressing deadlines of the 24-hour news cycle.
- We make every effort to verify the identities and backgrounds of our sources.
- We make sure to retain the original context of all quotations, striving to convey the original tone. Our reporting and editing will not change the meaning of a statement or exclude important qualifiers.
- There is no copyright on news or ideas once a story is in the public domain, but if we can’t match the story, we credit the originating source.
- While news and ideas are there for the taking, the words used to convey them are not. If we borrow a story or even a paragraph from another source, we either credit the source or rewrite it before publication. We do not plagiarize.
- We admit openly when we have made a mistake, and we make every effort to correct our errors immediately.
- We generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests, or “source remorse.” Rare exceptions generally involve matters of public safety, an egregious error or ethical violation, or legal restrictions such as publication bans.
- We respect the rights of people involved in the news.
- We give people, companies or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized opportunity to respond before we publish those criticisms or accusations. We make a genuine and reasonable effort to contact them, and if they decline to comment, we say so.
- We do not refer to a person’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.
- We avoid stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
- We do not allow our own biases to impede fair and accurate reporting.
- We do not pay for information, although we may compensate those who provide material such as photos or videos. We sometimes also employ experts to provide professional expertise, and pay for embedded activities. We are careful to note any such payments in our stories.
- We serve democracy and the public interest by reporting the truth. This sometimes conflicts with various public and private interests, including those of sources, governments and advertisers.
- Defending the public’s interest includes promoting the free flow of information, exposing crime or wrongdoing, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled.
- We do not give favored treatment to advertisers and special interests. We resist their efforts to influence the news.
- We do not solicit gifts or favors for personal use, and should promptly return unsolicited gifts of more than nominal value. If it is impractical to return the gift, we will give it to an appropriate charity.
- We do not accept the free or reduced-rate use of valuable goods or services offered because of our position. However, it may be appropriate to use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it. (A common exception is unsolicited books, music, food or other new products sent for review.)
- We do not report about subjects in which we have financial or other interests, and we do not use our positions to obtain business or other advantages not available to the general public.
- We do not show our completed reports to sources — especially official sources — before they are published, unless the practice is intended to verify facts. Doing so might invite prior restraint and challenge our independence as reports.
- We gather information with the intent of producing stories and images for public consumption. We generally do not share unpublished information — such as notes and audio tapes of interviews, documents, emails, digital files, photos and videos — with those outside our organization. However, sometimes such sharing may be necessary to check facts, gain the confidence of sources or solicit more information.
- Columnists and commentators should be free to express their views, even when those views conflict with those of our organization, as long as the content meets generally accepted journalistic standards for fairness and accuracy.
Conflicts of interest
- As fair and impartial observers, we must be free to comment on the activities of any publicly elected body or special interest group. But we cannot do this without an apparent conflict of interest if we are active members of an organization we are covering, and that includes membership through social media.
- We lose our credibility as fair observers if we write opinion pieces about subjects we also cover as reporters.
- We carefully consider our political activities and community involvements — including those online — and refrain from taking part in demonstrations, signing petitions, doing public relations work, fundraising or making financial contributions if there is a chance we will be covering the campaign, activity or group involved.
- If a journalist does choose to engage in outside political activity or espouse a particular political viewpoint, this activity could create a public perception of bias, or favoritism that would reflect on the journalist’s work. Any journalist who engages in such activities should declare any real or potential conflicts.
- Our private lives online present special challenges. For example, the only way to subscribe to some publications or social networking groups is to become a member. Having a nonjournalist subscribe on your behalf would be one solution, as would be joining a wide variety of Facebook groups so you would not be seen as favoring one particular constituency.
- We generally declare ourselves as journalists and do not conceal our identities, including when seeking information through social media. However, journalists may go undercover when it is in the public interest and the information is not obtainable any other way; in such cases, we openly explain this deception to the audience.
- We normally identify sources of information. But we may use unnamed sources when: there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity; the material gained from the confidential source is of strong public interest: and there is no other reasonable way to obtain the information. When this happens, we explain the need for anonymity.
- We avoid pseudonyms, but when their use is essential, and we meet the tests above, we tell our readers.
- When we do use unnamed sources, we identify them as accurately as possible by affiliation or status. (For example, “a senior executive at the company” must be both senior and an executive at the company.) Any vested interest or potential bias on the part of a source must be revealed.
- We seek to include views from all segments of the population.
- We also encourage our contributors to make room for the interests of all: minorities and majorities, those with power and those without it, holders of disparate and conflicting views.
- We avoid stereotypes, and do not refer to a person’s race, color, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.
- We are accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
- We serve the public interest, and put the needs of our audience at the forefront of our newsgathering decisions.
- We clearly identify news and opinion so that the audience knows which is which.
- Photojournalists and videographers do not alter images or sound in a way that would mislead the public. When we do alter or stage images, we label them clearly (as a photo illustration or a staged video, for example).
- We use care when reporting on polls and surveys, and we are especially suspect of studies commissioned by those with vested interests, such as special interest groups or politically sponsored think tanks. We make sure we know the context of the results, such as sample size and population, questions asked, and study sponsors, and we include this information in our reports whenever possible.
- When we make a mistake, we correct it promptly and transparently, acknowledging the nature of the error.
Digital media: Special issues
- Ethical practice does not change with the medium. We are bound by the above principles no matter where our stories are published.
- We consider all online content carefully, including blogging, and content posted to social media. We do not repost rumors.
- The need for speed should never compromise accuracy, credibility or fairness. Online content should be reported carefully.
- We clearly inform sources when stories about them will be published across various media, and we indicate the permanency of digital media.
- When we publish outside links, we make an effort to ensure the sites are credible — in other words, we think before we link.
- When we correct errors online, we indicate that the content has been altered or updated, and what the original error was.
- So long as the content is accurate, we generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests to do so, including cases of “source remorse.” Rare exceptions generally involve matters of public safety, an egregious error or ethical violation, or legal restrictions such as publication bans.
- We try to obtain permission whenever possible to use online photos and videos, and we always credit the source of the material, by naming the author and where the photo or video was previously posted. We use these photos and videos for news and public interest purposes only, and not to serve voyeuristic interests.
- We encourage the use of social networks, as that is one way to make connections, which is part of our core work as journalists. However, we keep in mind that any information gathered through online means must be confirmed, verified and properly sourced.
- Personal online activity, including emails and social networking, should generally be regarded as public and not private. Such activity can impact our professional credibility. As such, we think carefully before we post, and we take special caution in declaring our political leanings online.