Ethics Guidelines for Poynter Publishing

The Poynter Institute is a school for journalists that also practices journalism. These guidelines describe the values, standards and practices we pursue in the journalism we do.  We’ve assembled them not as a list of answers, but as a path we follow in the course of our work. We see this as more of a decision-making process than a set of rules.

Below, you’ll find a list of seven core values guiding our publishing: accuracy, independence, interdependence, fairness, transparency, professional responsibility, and helpfulness. Based on each of those values, we list corresponding standards and practices. We also include a Frequently Asked Questions section designed to highlight pressure points, some of which we’ve already encountered and some of which await us down the road.

Over time, we hope these guidelines will describe the way we work routinely, day-to-day, as well as the way we respond in times of conflict or crisis.

We do not intend these guidelines as a statement of industry standards, or to suggest proposing a legal burden on any publisher, including Poynter, that would go beyond the normal standards required by law.  We’ve drafted this as a dynamic document aimed at providing guidance in a constantly changing environment.

Kick-Start the Process via Ethicsalert@poynter.org

We regard various Poynter constituents — seminar participants, readers of our publications and websites, etc. — as important stakeholders in our ethics process. We post the guidelines here as an invitation to hold Poynter accountable and to help us measure up when and where we fall short. We’ve set up a simple system to make that happen — an e-mail address that will get the process started quickly: ethicsalert@poynter.org. Simply alert us with a note to that address, we’ll consider the issue promptly, and respond with an update — usually within several hours of receipt.

As publishers of Poynter Online, “Best Newspaper Writing,” and other material distributed in various media, we recognize our unusual situation as a multimedia publishing enterprise that’s part of a school.  Our various roles create some interesting tensions and challenges. So do the different circumstances of our different media. Not all of the issues that emerge from these circumstances will be resolved with a quick check of these guidelines.

Internally, Poynter faculty check with the appropriate editor when a question arises about how best to address various issues in the context of these guidelines. Because of faculty members’ dual roles in publishing and teaching, it is often appropriate to include the president, the dean or a group leader in the discussion as well.

Fully Engage the Process via poynter.org/ethics

We recommend the ASNE/Poynter Ethics Tool (www.poynter.org/ethics) as a means of generating multiple options for ethics questions involving publishing at Poynter as well in newsrooms around the world. We encourage you to use the tool to explore issues you encounter in Poynter publications and websites and for any other questions you encounter in the area of journalism ethics.

At Poynter, we plan to use these guidelines as the centerpiece for an annual discussion, led by Poynter President Karen Dunlap, about ethical decision-making at Poynter. We invite news organizations to use the guidelines as a discussion starter to craft or revise their own policies and guidelines. If Poynter can help in that process, just let us know via ethicsalert@poynter.org.

VALUES

The values supporting these guidelines are rooted in Poynter’s dedication to teaching and inspiring journalists and media leaders. Poynter is a school that promotes excellence and integrity in the practices of craft and the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for a journalism that informs citizens, builds community, and enlightens public discourse. In our publishing, we strive to practice the kind of journalism we preach. This includes journalism is all its forms — print, TV, radio, visual, online, and other forms of new media on the horizon.

Accuracy. We do our best to make sure that everything we publish is true. This ranges from the relatively easily-confirmed, e.g. the spelling of names, to the nuanced and more debatable, e.g., characterizations of various political initiatives.  Our commitment means we value journalistic accuracy above creative impact in all forms of the journalism we practice — in photographs and design and sound and video clips as well as in articles. We do our best to be inclusive in our coverage to reflect a wide range of perspectives and experiences.

Independence.  We do our best to avoid conflicts of interest and to remain free of influences that might interfere with publishing that is accurate, fair, transparent, professional, and helpful.

Interdependence. We acknowledge our interdependence with various entities and individuals for such resources as money (details in the FAQ), participation in our courses and programs, and material for our print and online publications. We embrace interdependence as a value because we believe these relationships encourage greater interactivity, responsiveness, and usefulness in our publishing.

Fairness. We do our best to act justly, to respect people, to respect privacy, to minimize harm, and to keep our promises. We do our best to present different points of view in ways that adherents of various perspectives judge to be accurate. These guidelines serve as checks and balances on the perspectives and personal biases that each of us brings to decisions we make in the course of Poynter publishing.

Transparency. We do our best to shed light on our own journalistic processes, explaining how and why we make sometimes controversial publishing decisions. We do our best to disclose relevant information that may have influenced or affected our publishing decisions.

Professional Responsibility. We do our best to reflect the professional standards of high quality, good taste, and genuine regard for others that we teach in Poynter seminars. We ask our readers to share the burden of this responsibility by holding Poynter accountable to the values we profess. We also ask our audience – made up mostly of working journalists – to help us create an interactive community characterized by civil, respectful discussion in feedback online and other venues.

Helpfulness. We do our best to help professional journalists and, to the extent possible and appropriate, consumers of journalism. We help journalists and news media leaders create and sustain strong businesses as well as high quality journalism. We do our best to encourage dialogue, believing that the ends of journalism and democracy are best served when adherents of opposing points of view discover means of effective communication.

STANDARDS AND PRACTICES

Accuracy.

Standard: We maintain high standards of reporting, writing, and editing in order to produce work that is as error-free as possible.

Practice: We create and edit our journalism in ways aimed at anticipating problem areas, reducing mistakes, and correcting them as quickly and transparently as we can. We maintain an online corrections page that makes it easy for the audience to report errors. We provide timely response, clear corrections, and prominent acknowledgement that a mistake was made and addressed. We credit the authors and creators of the various forms of journalism we publish. We apply appropriate scrutiny to work by staff and contributing writers to prevent plagiarism, intentional or otherwise. We do not intentionally mislead with words or images. We do not deliberately deceive as we gather information.

Independence.

Standard: Poynter avoids placing itself in relationships or circumstances that would jeopardize its independence.

Practice: Poynter faculty and staff do not enter into relationships that compromise the work of the Institution in its publishing or its teaching. With the exception of such inexpensive, promotional items as hats, mugs, etc., Poynter faculty and staff do not accept gifts from individuals or organizations that are the focus of coverage in Poynter publications (or may be in the future). This practice also applies to individuals and vendors who do business with Poynter or may do so in the future. Poynter faculty and staff perform work for hire for newsrooms around the world, and are paid directly by those news organizations. When Poynter faculty and staff write about or discuss organizations where they have done consulting work, they disclose the relationship. (See discussion of consulting in FAQ).

Interdependence.

Standard: Poynter relies on its relationships with a variety of organizations and individuals to help sustain its programs and to ensure responsiveness, interactivity, and usefulness in its publishing. Because much of what Poynter publishes is drawn from its teaching, it’s appropriate to acknowledge the extent to which we rely on news organizations to send us (and pay tuition for) participants in our seminars. We also rely on foundations to help us pay for some of our programs. We rely on individuals to take part in our seminars, to help us teach as visiting faculty, and to serve as unpaid contributors to various Poynter publications. We also rely on our National Advisory Board to provide counsel from the worlds of print, online, broadcast, academe, and finance.

Practice: By consulting regularly with our collaborators – and the constituents we serve — we do our best to avoid confusing independent behavior with autonomous or arrogant behavior.

Fairness.

Standard: We strive to be fair in what we publish and in the ways in which we interact with subjects and consumers of our coverage. We do our best to acknowledge relevant points of view and represent them in an even-handed way, especially when they conflict with our own.

Practice: We invite scrutiny of our coverage and behavior in the context of these guidelines. We provide accessible ways to challenge us (a note to ethicsalert@poynter.org is the quickest), and we respond promptly and meaningfully.

Transparency.

Standard: We go out of our way to disclose information that our constituents and critics may find relevant, useful, and helpful about the way we do business – and publish – at Poynter.

Practice: We provide readers with sufficient information about who we are, how we work, how Poynter is financed, etc. to provide meaningful context for them to assess and judge the material we publish. This ranges from the simple, e.g. disclosing Poynter’s ownership of the St. Petersburg Times when the newspaper is mentioned in our publications, to the less visible, e.g., consulting arrangements between a Poynter faculty member and a news organization that he or she might be discussing on Poynter Online.

Professional Responsibility.

Standard: We stand for high quality journalism, good taste, and genuine regard for the subjects and consumers of what we publish.

Practice: We produce high quality journalism that reflects our best assessment of what constitutes meaningful information for our constituents and colleagues. We demonstrate genuine regard for the subjects and consumers of our publishing, treating them with respect. We strive to create a community of journalists marked by civil and respectful exchange – even in the midst of sharp disagreement. In the Feedback area of Poynter Online, we do our best to balance the tension between a free-wheeling discussion and tighter restrictions on language. You’ll find a discussion of that tension in the accompanying FAQ.

Helpfulness.

Standard: Poynter exists to help journalists get better at what they do.

Practice: We regularly measure ourselves against this standard – and invite the same challenge from our colleagues and constituents.

Also contributing to the preparation of the guidelines: Karen Dunlap, Jill Geisler, Kenny Irby, Pam Johnson, Vicki Krueger, Larry Larsen, Julie Moos, Leslie Pelley, Paul Pohlman, Jim Romenesko, Sreenath Sreenivasan, Ola Seifert, Bob Steele, and Keith Woods.

Go to FAQ about Ethics Guidelines.

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