The Poynter Institute Code of Ethics

The Poynter Institute is a nonprofit school for journalists and a publisher of original journalism. Since 1975, Poynter has hosted seminars on news media ethics, written about ethical controversies and provided news organizations with advice on ethical decision-making — often on deadline.

These guidelines describe the values, standards and practices we pursue in our journalism, our teaching and our fundraising to support our mission. It is a living document that we expect will mature and evolve with our work. It is broken into three sections: core values, business practices and privacy.

Core Values

Five core values guide our work: accuracy, independence, collaboration, fairness and transparency. All Poynter employees are responsible for ensuring our work lives up to these ideals.

We regard various Poynter constituents — seminar participants, readers of our publications, listeners to our podcasts or viewers of our videos, etc. — as important stakeholders in our ethics process. We post the guidelines here to share the aspirations that guide our work and to issue an invitation to others to hold Poynter accountable. If you have questions or concerns, please write to info@poynter.org, and we’ll respond.

The values cited in this document 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 practice of craft and the practical leadership of successful businesses. It stands for journalism that informs citizens, builds community and enlightens public discourse. In our teaching and in our publishing, we strive to practice the kind of journalism we preach. This includes journalism in all its forms — print, digital, TV, video, audio and any other forms of new media that might come into use.

Accuracy. We do our best to make sure that everything we publish is accurate and true to the facts. This ranges from the easily confirmed, e.g. the spelling of names, to the nuanced and more debatable, e.g. characterizations of political initiatives. We strive to be inclusive in our coverage so that we reflect a wide range of perspectives and experiences. While we encourage creativity and experimentation in work, we must remain steadfast in our commitment to accuracy.

In practice: We maintain high standards of reporting, writing and editing to produce work that is as error-free as possible. 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 provide timely responses, clear corrections and prominent acknowledgments 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. We encourage the best possible work within the limits of our resources. While we value timeliness, particularly in service to our constituents on deadline, we value accuracy more.

Independence. We are an independent, 501(c)(3), nonpartisan, nonprofit journalism education and research institute. We manage our conflicts of interest and seek to remain free of influences that might interfere with journalism or teaching that is accurate, fair, transparent, professional and helpful.

In practice: When we write about our teaching, a Poynter event or a topic that’s funded by a grant or other contribution, we retain editorial control over what we write, and we disclose the relationship. And when we create content on a subject supported by funders, we retain independence over that content. Poynter editorial content is created for our audience of journalists and citizens who value journalism. Because many of us at Poynter have worked in many newsrooms as both journalists and trainers, we occasionally find ourselves writing about organizations and newsrooms we have established relationships with. (See transparency, below.) Poynter faculty and staff do not enter into relationships that compromise the work of the Institute. Poynter faculty and staff do not allow gifts from sources, students, or vendors to influence our coverage or our teaching. We return any gift worth more than $50. Gifts that cannot be returned are donated to an appropriate charity. Poynter has business partnerships with newsrooms around the world. Those relationships do not influence our news coverage of those organizations.

Collaboration. In order to fulfill its mission, Poynter must cultivate and nourish relationships throughout the broader journalism and technology community. These relationships make us smarter, more relevant and more capable of supporting journalism and democracy. We encourage these ties to entities and individuals, whom we rely on for advice about what journalists need from us. They provide a variety of resources, including participation in our courses and programs, material for our publications and productions, teaching expertise and financial support. We embrace collaboration as a value because we believe these relationships encourage greater interactivity, responsiveness and utility.

In practice: Poynter relies on its relationships with a variety of organizations and individuals to help sustain its programs and to ensure that we remain connected to journalism as it is practiced. We also work with foundations, corporations and other supporters to help us pay for some of our programs. We depend on individual journalists who take part in our seminars, serve as visiting faculty and sometimes contribute to various Poynter publications. We rely on our National Advisory Board to provide counsel from the worlds of print, online, broadcast, academe and finance. By consulting regularly with our collaborators we improve the teaching and the content we create for our audience. While we retain independent control over all our editorial content, we frequently turn to our partners for their expertise.

Fairness. We strive to act justly, to respect people and their privacy, to present different points of view and to minimize harm. These guidelines serve as checks and balances on the perspectives and personal biases that each of us brings to our journalism.

In practice: 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. We reach out to the subjects we cover for comment. We provide accessible ways to challenge us (a note to webstaff@poynter.org is the quickest), and we respond promptly and with a purpose.

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

In practice: 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. 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 and teach.

This ranges from the simple, e.g. disclosing Poynter’s ownership of The Tampa Bay Times when the newspaper is mentioned in our publications, to the less visible, e.g., custom training arrangements between Poynter and news organizations we serve. We disclose our relevant business relationships when we write about individuals who, for example, are a member of one of our boards. In addition to publishing news, we also publish information about Poynter training and events and native advertisements. All non-news content is clearly labeled in a different color type, to delineate the distinction. When a funder underwrites a content area on Poynter.org, that page or content is appropriately labeled.

Business practices

We prize our reputation for teaching excellence, developed over more than four decades. To preserve that reputation, we retain independence and control over our teaching whether it is funded by tuition or a donor, such as a foundation or corporation. Here’s how:

As a nonprofit organization, Poynter accepts contributions from outside sources, ranging from foundation and government grants to individual donations and corporate sponsorships. We recognize that funding sources may appear to affect a journalism organization’s independence, particularly in situations where support raises the possibility or perception of a conflict of interest.

When working with a donor, granting organization or corporate sponsor, Poynter’s development staff and administration will research the funder’s mission, values and history of giving. When determining whether to accept support from specific corporations, individuals or foundations, Poynter will review the type of support offered and the teaching and outcomes expected. We commit to doing our due diligence to ensure that all Poynter teaching reflects Poynter’s values and that the work carries out Poynter’s mission. Employees responsible for carrying out funded teaching are consulted throughout the vetting process and, even after an agreement with a funder has been reached, expected to alert Poynter administration if a funder’s requests or demands do not serve Poynter’s mission.

Poynter routinely grants the following privileges to funders:

  • Logo on marketing and teaching collateral including advertising and syllabi.
  • An invitation for representatives to attend teaching events.
  • A small amount of time, in proportion to the event, to welcome and address the audience. This is clearly labeled as a message from the sponsor.

Some funders have subject-matter expertise. In those cases, Poynter may share draft agendas and tentative speaker lists with the intent of producing the best possible teaching. Representatives of funding organizations sometimes teach if they’re experts in the topic. Poynter faculty will coach them to ensure their teaching is relevant and useful to our audience, not a product endorsement. Poynter will make the final determination of all teaching content.

We recognize that many journalists consider it a conflict of interest to attend training or to accept travel stipends from organizations they might cover. We pledge transparency and will prominently list in promotional materials and on the teaching agenda the funders who support a teaching event, in person and online. When an industry group or for-profit company sponsors teaching, we disclose it and sign an agreement giving Poynter independence and control over the teaching. In some cases, funders will pay travel and lodging for participants. We understand that workshop participants may decline travel or lodging support from a funder, and we will make a reasonable effort to help participants make alternate arrangements.

Poynter understands that many funders, both private and public, wish to capitalize on Poynter’s reputation among journalists.

Certain funders require an extra level of vigilance. When a funder with a history of anti-democratic activities approaches (e.g. a government that has jailed journalists, or a foundation associated with an industry that has actively deceived the public), Poynter’s president or vice president will personally review the proposed program, asking the following the questions:

  • How does the program directly support the development of journalists or democratic systems?
  • Does the potential outcome of the work outweigh validating an organization whose past actions undermine the core values of journalism in democracy?
  • What will the recipients do with the training?
  • What other options are available for training journalists under the influence of the funder in question?
  • What additional guarantees does Poynter have that our teachers will proceed without interference?
  • What will happen if teachers and speakers criticize the funder during the training?
  • How will Poynter’s brand be used by the funder?

For a list of Poynter’s funders and our largest partners, click here.

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