The HEADLINE Code of Ethics
Table of Contents
Telling the truth
- HEADLINE journalists strive to be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. We do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.
- We provide accurate context for all reporting.
- We seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject you’re writing.
- We ensure that sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, we make clear to our audience who and what our sources are, what motivations our sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving us information. When unsure of information, we leave it out or make clear it has not been corroborated.
- We correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. We make it easy for our audience to bring errors to our attention.
- If a report includes criticism of people or organizations, we give them the opportunity to respond.
- HEADLINE clearly distinguishes fact from opinion in all content.
Conflicts of interest
- We avoid any conflict of interest that undermines our ability to report fairly. We disclose to your audience any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may validly affect their judgment of our credibility.
- We do not allow people to make us dishonestly skew our reporting. We do not offer to skew our reporting under any circumstances.
- We do not allow the interests of advertisers or others funding our work to affect the integrity of our journalism.
- We respect our audience and those we write about. We consider how our work and its permanence may affect the subjects of our reporting, our community and since the Internet knows no boundaries, the larger world.
- We do not plagiarize or violate copyrights.
- We keep promises to sources, readers and the community.
- The HEADLINE news organization gives all staff expectations, support and tools to maintain ethical standards.
Nature of Our 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.
- We want our news coverage to be fact-based, without expression of opinions, but reporters are encouraged to provide commentary in related blog posts or columns, being transparent about their opinions.
- 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.
- Our journalists, salespeople and executives work to ensure that advertisers, sponsors and contributors have no influence over editorial content.
- Our journalists should avoid political involvement such as running for or holding office, joining political parties, volunteering in campaigns, serving on community boards, donating to campaigns or displaying campaign materials on their property or persons.
- 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.
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 permit undercover reporting on a regular basis, as long as editors are informed in advance and have approved the project based on its news value.
- We recognize that many sources cannot talk to us freely. We grant confidentiality if we think the source has a good reason. We will use information and quotes from unnamed sources we consider reliable.
Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews
- Our journalists always obtain a parent’s permission before interviewing or photographing a child.
- 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.
- We will take authorities’ recommendations into account but use our own judgment.
- We believe our primary responsibility in covering hostage situations is to our readers; we will carry any statements and imagery that we consider newsworthy and within our general guidelines (on gory material, etc.), whatever effect it has on the situation.
- Our organization never pays for interviews.
- Our organization will pay for rights to photographs and video in conjunction with an interview.
- Our organization permits interviewees with transcripts to revise their comments to clarify complicated or technical matters.
- Our organization never provides interview subjects with lists of questions in advance.
Sources: Reliability and Attribution
- We may use sources with a conflict of interest in stories, but details that signal the conflict of interest should be included (e.g. a scientist who conducted a study about a drug’s effectiveness when the study was funded by the manufacturer).
- 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.
- We consistently include clear attributions throughout a story, even if something has been established as fact.
- Our staff members must take responsibility for the accuracy of all information that we publish, using an accuracy checklist before publication.
- 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).
- We will be alert to situations where the most accessible spokesmen are at the extremes of issues, but most people are somewhere in the middle.
- We will refrain from presenting multiple points of view if one perspective on an issue has been credibly established as fact. In other words, we will avoid “false balance.”
- 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.
- We review every comment by every commenter.
- We permit comments on all articles.
- We will clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.
- We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by attribution. (“I will go to war,” the president said. “But only if necessary.”)
- Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, we always publish names of people involved in the stories we cover.
- 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 identify kidnap victims unless we have a compelling reason to withhold the name.
- We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.
- 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.
- Our journalists should avoid community involvement in areas that they cover. Journalists should tell their supervisors about their community involvements, including when a story suddenly arises that may present a conflict. When they have to cover an area where they have a personal involvement, we should consider assigning another journalist. If a conflict can’t be avoided, coverage should disclose the conflict.
Gifts, Free Travel and Other Perks
- 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.
Personal Ethics Statements by Staff
- 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.
- Our organization’s policy prevails if personal ethics codes and organizational policy conflict.
- Our journalists focus their personal ethics statements on ethics and do not use statements simply as a place to post their biographies. Biographical details are put in the context of how they will or will not affect our journalism, or to disclose matters that might appear to create potential conflicts.
Plagiarism and Attribution
- We must always attribute all sources by name and, if the source is digital, by linking to the original source.
- 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.
- Attribution should be as specific as possible, including the name of the author and publication or organization of the source we are quoting.
- 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.
- Even when taking basic facts from another source–“World War II ended in Allied victories over Germany and Japan”– we should vary the wording from the phrasing used in source materials.
Political Activities by Staff
- Our journalists should be aware of personal biases that can skew their reporting, even if journalists conduct no public activity indicating a political bias. They will consider publishing personal ethics statements, or making colleagues aware of their beliefs to help backstop the objectivity of their work.
- 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.
- 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.
Awards and Contests
- 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.
- 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.
- We will show all changes that have been made to online stories if they involve corrections or rephrasing to fix unclear material.
Freelance Work by Employees
- We do not allow any freelancing by full-time employees, as we believe it will inevitably compromise our integrity or open us up to ethical challenges.
- We prohibit full-time employees from doing freelance work for a competing media organization as defined by company managers or for a political organization, elected official, government agency, candidate for office, or a non-profit agency with a political agenda, such as an environmental group.
- We allow part-time employees to perform freelance work, but they must notify their 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 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 Our 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.
- We will publish a statement with all automatically produced stories, explaining that they are the work of robot journalism.
- We will identify for the reader the source of data for automatically produced stories and the people or company providing the story-writing automation.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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 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 name criminal suspects if they are arrested.
- 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.
- If we publish a the name of a person arrested or charged with a crime, we will publish a story about the resolution of the case and update the original story and headline, if they are still online, with a link to the new story.
- We will use obscenities, vulgarities or slurs only in direct quotations and only if the quote is essential to the story.
- We will apply the same standards on obscenities, vulgarities and slurs to reader comments on stories that are applied to the story itself.
- 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 do not hold back from interviewing individuals in traumatic situations (i.e., accidents, terror incidents, etc.), because the public’s right to know outweighs private individual’s rights. Also, if a private individual in such situations talks to us, that’s the person’s decision.
- 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 Identify transgender people by the gender they express publicly.
- We will use male pronouns by default.
- We will use female pronouns by default.
- We will run sensitive material that might be offensive to specific members of the audience after internal debate has demonstrated a clear public interest in and value from the publication.
- We will run sensitive material when it reflects reality.
- We will consider the differing impact of sensitive material on differing segments of the population (e.g., effects on minors, vulnerable groups or victims of crime).
- 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 cuts of newsmakers may be edited to remove insignificant stumbles, as long as there’s a disclosure that the audio was edited.
- Cuts and programs may be heavily edited and rearranged as needed, as long as there’s a disclosure the audio was edited, the meaning of statements remains the same after editing, and rearrangements of audio do not affect the original meaning.
- We will fully identify person-in-the-street-type speakers in audio cuts unless there is a compelling reason not to.
- Our journalists may never combine sound from different sources in such a way as to create an audio scene that never happened.
- 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.
- In collaborative projects, we will not insist on shared values, when we believe the outcome would not be otherwise possible to achieve.
- 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 secure data to the best extent possible to prevent hacking.
- 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 over time, including when the story is archived.
- Links among the parts of an interactive will be retained in the archive if the parts are still correct and relevant.
- We will reconstruct or preview events through infographics or animations only if we are sure that every detail we show is correct.
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.
- 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 refrain from using “handout” photos or video unless your own photographers are unavailable to cover the story.
- 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.)
- When using generic photos, we will make sure they are clearly labeled as such.
- If using music in video stories, we will be cognizant of the emotional effect the music may have, and avoid using music if the story is intended to have a neutral voice.
- We will verify photos or videos from social media before using them.
- We will guard against using UGC in situations that might be dangerous to the person who created it or to others in the images. We will stress to possible providers of UGC that they must not take risks to gather information or imagery.
- 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.
Virtual Reality Journalism
- 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.
- 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) will be used as sources in stories they fund if their contributions are specifically relevant and important.
- 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 use metric considerations as one of a number of factors in determining what we cover and how we place stories.
News and Advertising
- 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 require that items that look too much like news stories be accompanied by a clear statement that the article was prepared by the advertiser and did not involve our editorial staff.
- We disclose whether any one advertiser or industry provides a substantial share of our revenue.