1. We Are Not Special People; We Are Regular People With a Special Job
Because journalists subject people and institutions to intense and constant scrutiny, we must maintain the highest principles in our conduct. Our integrity is our most valuable asset. Without it, we lose the public trust invested in us by the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.
This Sauk Valley Media Statement of Principles offers guidelines to help editors, reporters, photographers and other newsroom personnel to conduct themselves ethically. It is intended as an aid to common sense and individual conscience – not a substitute for them. Associates of Sauk Valley Media are accountable for their actions in areas not covered specifically in this statement of principles.
2. Truth and Fairness Must Underscore What We Publish, How We Behave
We are committed to the highest standards of truth and honesty; accuracy and fairness; accessibility, accountability and independence. We will diligently pursue truth in the public interest, without regard to special or personal interest.
We will acknowledge errors of fact and correct them promptly.
We will seek opposing views and pursue responses from those whose conduct or views are questioned in published articles and personal columns. If we are unable to reach a source for reaction, or if the source declines to comment, that will be reported.
We will clearly label editorials, analysis, commentary and opinion.
We will never plagiarize.
We will never knowingly mislead readers by publishing known falsehood as unquestioned truth. That includes implying that a source made a statement to us when, in fact, that statement was obtained from a wire service or other source. Nor will we write about an event that we did not attend in such a way as to suggest we did attend.
We will fully attribute Information to appropriate sources. And when the means of communication with the source might be relevant, we will tell readers how that information was obtained (e.g., phone interview, e-mail interview).
We will specifically identify people by race, religion, sex or sexual orientation only when readers need that information to understand the context of a story or to aid authorities in the apprehension of criminal suspects.
We will exercise caution in the use of “set-up” photographs, and captions that accompany "staged" photos should not imply they depict candid moments. For the same reason a reporter may not invent quotes, photographers may not reconstruct scenes or events to make them appear as if they were spontaneous occurrences. Nor may they manipulate a photograph to distort its accuracy unless it is part of a prominently labeled illustration.
We will never pretend to be someone we are not for the purpose of gathering news or information.
We will clearly label as advertising any advertising whose format might cause it to be mistaken for news.
3. Personal Interest Cannot Interfere With Our Acting in the Public Interest
We will not use our newspaper positions to gain benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or personal business for our families, our acquaintances or ourselves. For example, we will not use our influence as journalists to:
• Obtain information for purposes other than those of our publications.
• Expedite personal business with, or seek special consideration from, public officials, including law enforcement.
• Obtain information or free consideration not available to the general public – such as tickets, travel and memberships – for purposes unrelated to serving the public through our publications.
We will exercise news judgment independent of personal relationships, connections, or activities of employees from any department of our company.
We will not use the company name, reputation, phone number, or stationery to threaten, to curry favor, or to seek personal benefit.
We will neither seek nor hold government office and will avoid political activity, which includes contributing time or money, signing political petitions, and campaigning for a candidate or on behalf of a political issue. This is not intended to discourage exercising the right to vote.
We may, as private citizens, support churches, schools, the arts, and other nonprofit organizations with our time and money, so long as that does not include writing or editing articles for publications of Sauk Valley Media about those institutions or organizations. We may also do volunteer work for religious, cultural, civic, and social organizations, so long as that work is not concerned with efforts to influence newspaper coverage. Because those organizations might be subjects of news coverage or commentary, we will accept no appointment as directors of such organizations – or take positions that involve public relations or preparing press releases – without the written permission of the executive editor or managing editor.
There is no intent to unduly restrict staff members' exercise of the rights and duties of citizenship. But our independence and the reputation of our publications are important to us all and could be compromised by our involvement in community activities and political campaigns. A full discussion of possible conflicts of interests is essential to avoiding public embarrassment.
4. Outside Work Must Not Conflict With Our Primary Job
We may free-lance for publications that are not in direct competition with properties of Sauk Valley Media. We are primary employees of the newspapers for which we work, and these newspapers compete on a local and regional level. All free-lance assignments must be approved, in advance, by an appropriate supervisor. Under no circumstances will we use, for free-lance purposes, the unpublished stories, notes or other work in progress for publications of Sauk Valley Media. Nor will we misrepresent ourselves as working for the newspapers while on a free-lance assignment.
Nor should our editorial independence be compromised by the appearance of conflict through association with a public agency or private business. To that end, we will neither share nor sell unpublished notes and photographs, and we will resist efforts to compel their disclosure.
5. TV and Radio Appearances Extend Our Brand as the Local News Leader
We may appear as invited guests on radio and TV broadcasts, but such appearances will be reported, in advance, to appropriate supervisors. While appearing on TV or radio, we should be identified as representatives of our newspapers. During such an appearance, we should meet the same high standard of fairness and impartiality as is expected in our jobs.
6. Personal Relationships Will Not Affect Our Editorial Judgment
No staff member should write about, photograph, illustrate, or affect news judgments about anyone related by blood or by marriage, or anyone with whom s/he has a personal relationship. This does not apply to first-person stories and personal columns, or stories and columns in which the relationships are clearly identified. Nor will relationships within the newspaper affect our news judgment.
7. Confidential Sourcing Is Allowed Only in Special Circumstances
We will seek to disclose to readers the name of the source of any information we gather for publication. Such transparency is important to lend credibility to sources and our publications. When we agree to withhold a name, that source will not be made known to anyone outside Sauk Valley Media.
Before information is accepted for publication without full attribution, we must make every reasonable effort to get the source on the record. If that is not possible, we will seek the information from another source whom we can identify publicly. If we do withhold a source's name from publication, we will ask for an on-the-record reason for concealing the identity and will include that reason in the story in such a way that the source is not revealed.
Use of a confidential source must be approved by the executive editor or managing editor, and the name of that source must be revealed to the editor.
8. Obscenities and Profanities Generally Should Be Avoided
With few exceptions, we will not print obscene or profane language. The editor or managing editor must approve any such publication. Source and context will be considered. Obscenities and profanities offend many readers and often divert attention from a story. Casual vulgarities, such as sucks, screwed, damn or crap, will not appear in copy unless approved by the executive editor or managing editor. An ellipsis or bracketed synonym can usually avoid the use of such words.
9. People With Whom We Deal Deserve Our Respect
We will seek to protect victims and witnesses of crime, especially when their lives or safety might be endangered by publication of their names or addresses. That includes victims of rape, child molestation, and sexual abuse, and those protected by a restraining order. Names of victims of such crimes might be published, but only if approved by the executive editor or managing editor.
We consider consent to publish to be implied if a reporter or photographer approaches a subject, indicates s/he is a Sauk Valley Media employee, and asks for names and other facts. We will comply when appropriate agencies (orphanages, mental health facilities, etc.) ask for written releases to photograph subjects on their grounds.
10. Violators Could Face Discipline
A knowing violation of this code will subject an employee to disciplinary action, up to and including termination.
Sources include: CNHI, Dallas Morning News, Gannett, New York Times, Northwest News Group of Greater Chicago, San Jose Mercury News, Society of Professional Journalists, The Star Press, and Washington Post.