Center for Cooperative Media at Montclair State University
Professional ethics and corrections policy
The following policy was generated thanks to the Online News Association’s ethics code guide, and also informed by the Pulitzer Center’s ethics policy and the Society of Professional Journalists ethics code. This policy is expected to be followed by the Center, its staff, freelancers and grantees in cases where their work is being published, funded or otherwise supported by the Center.
When the Center assigns work to its staff, when it makes awards, stipends or gives fellowships to individuals not employed by the Center, and when it contracts with consultants, it expects that all work products will be original and produced in line with the statements below.
Telling the truth
We strive to be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. We do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data, and we seek to provide accurate context for all reporting.
We will seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives to the story we are telling.
We will do everything we can to ensure that our sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, we will make it clear who and what our sources are, what motivations our sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving us information. When we are unsure of information, we will leave it out or make clear it has not been corroborated.
We aim to correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. Any errors can be brought to the Center’s attention by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
If a report includes criticism of people or organizations, we will give them the opportunity to respond.
We should clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.
Conflicts of interest
We will avoid any conflict of interest that undermines our ability to report or tell a story fairly. We will disclose to our audience any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may validly affect their judgment of our credibility. We will not allow people to dishonestly skew our reporting.
We deeply respect our audience and those we write about. We seek to always 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 seek to always conduct ourselves with integrity and a manner that enhances the reputation of the Center and the University.
We do not plagiarize or violate copyrights.
We seek to keep promises to sources, readers and our community.
We use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one editor.
We will disclose to readers or viewers the reasons for granting confidentiality, such as fear for the source’s safety or job, when we use unnamed sources.
We always assume that government snoops, law enforcement or hackers might access our regular communication channels when we grant confidentiality to a source. We should use technology such as encryption software or “burner” cell phones to protect confidentiality.
Our organization will consider paying a source for an interview under limited circumstances and only with approval of the Center’s director.
Our organization will pay for rights to photographs and video in conjunction with an interview with the approval of the Center’s director.
Our organization permits interviewees with transcripts to revise their comments to clarify complicated or technical matters.
Our organization can provide interview subjects with a general idea of our questions in advance. We never seek to surprise interviewees.
Our articles and reports will state the method of interviewing (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype or email) if doing so enhances the context of the interview and article.
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 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.
The Center’s staff members, freelancers, consultants and grantees should take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of information that we publish and note all sources.
We should not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.
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.”
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.”)
The Center’s staff members, freelancers, consultants and grantees are encouraged to be involved in their communities and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.
Gifts, free travel and other perks
Pursuant to New Jersey state ethic guidelines, no Center members, freelancers, consultants or grantees should accept gifts from subjects or potential subjects of our coverage. All gifts should be reported to the Center director, who will work with the University’s ethics liaison officer should the gift not be able to be returned to the sender.
The Center’s staff members, freelancers, consultants and grantees may accept very small tokens in cases where people are being kind and clearly not trying to influence us; the state ethics policy would allow for such things as pens, for example.
Plagiarism and attribution
We must always attribute all sources by name and, if the source is digital, by linking to the original source.
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.
Involvement in the community, politics and the issues we cover will be disclosed in our coverage.
Our journalists should be aware of personal biases that can skew their reporting, even if journalists conduct no public activity indicating a political bias.
We encourage our team to retweet, reblog, share and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.
Handling and protection of freelancers
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, including when contributing as sources on a story.
We will publicly disclose all funding sources.
The Center takes corrections seriously. If any material in content that the Center produced or support is incorrect or misleading, we ask to be notified immediately so that we can take corrective action. Please email email@example.com. Corrective action will range from issuing a correction or retraction all the way to disassociating ourselves from freelancers, consultants or grantees and their content in cases of egregious errors.
We will show all corrections in the place the incorrect material originally appeared (e.g., put corrections related to a story at the bottom of that same story).
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.