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Star-Telegram Newsroom Code of Ethics

Ethical conduct on the part of the organization and the individual is at the heart of the Star-Telegram’s credibility with its readers.

All Editorial Department employees must strive continually to report with accuracy and fairness and, in all of their functions, meet their professional responsibilities with an absence of conflict of interest and with honesty, common sense and good judgment. They should remember that the appearance of conflict of interest and unethical conduct can be just as damaging to the newspaper’s credibility as actual conflict and unethical behavior.

No ethics code can address all possible situations. The guidelines outlined in this code deal with obvious potential problems and may be used to develop approaches to situations not covered and unforeseeable.

The responsibility for ethical behavior rests with the individual staff member. It is his or her duty to call to the attention of supervising editors actual and potential conflicts and violations of this code.

The standards of conduct, performance and professionalism outlined in this code apply to all full-time Star-Telegram newsroom employees and to part-time employees as they relate to their work for the newspaper. Stringers and correspondents are expected to follow standards that will uphold the credibility of the newspaper.

OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST

1. In their roles as employees of the Star-Telegram, staff members should not accept anything of value without paying for it at the price available to the general public. This includes tickets to movies, plays, concerts, club shows, and sports events, meals, books, and musical recordings, any kind of merchandise or discounts on the merchandise.

A. Star-Telegram employees may accept admission to staged performances or exhibitions for purposes of reporting or reviewing if such admission is customarily offered, but only for specific purposes of reporting or reviewing.

The Star-Telegram as an entity may accept copies of books and recordings specifically for review or reporting, and will return, store or dispose of these items appropriately. Permanent equipment, clothing, furnishings or appliances should in no case be accepted, but should be purchased and paid for by the Star-Telegram when deemed necessary for reporting.

If there is any question of prejudice of coverage when admission or items such as books or recordings are received without charge, or any indication that the presenters, publishers, publicists or producers expect input or influence of coverage because of the items or admission, the Star-Telegram will pay for the admission or items involved at full price, or reimburse employees or other writers for the expense of admission or purchase.

Because of the special nature of restaurant reviewing, restaurant reviewers will in all cases retain their anonymity as much as possible when reviewing and will in all instances pay for all meals, to be reimbursed by the Star-Telegram in full.

B. Staff members should accept no free tickets for admission of friends or relatives.

C. Writers and reporters should politely decline offers of free meals. This rule includes sports writers who may cover games or events where meals are provided. If, however, circumstances make it necessary to eat at the press box, the reporter should make some arrangements to pay for the meal. In the coverage of benefits where, for example, banquet admission may be $100 a plate, staff members should pay the hotel or restaurant’s menu charge for the meal. In the coverage of benefits where, for example, banquet admission may be $100 a plate, staff members should pay the hotel or restaurant’s menu charge for the meal.

D. The Star-Telegram will reimburse staff members for any personal outlay of cash for events they must attend.

E. All gifts offered to an employee should be reported by sending a note to the managing editor or editorial director as soon as possible. Token gifts may be accepted if it would be awkward to send them back. Such gifts might include a pencil, keychain, calendar or similar item. Those other gifts offered because of connections with the Star-Telegram should either be returned to the donor, or turned over to charity. If a gift is donated to charity, write the sender a note telling where the gift was sent and why it could not be accepted.

2. The first employment loyalty of staff members should be to the Star-Telegram. The Star-Telegram should have first access to all news and commentary material. For example, a staff member who is to appear on a radio or television show and learns of a news development prior to the start of the show must notify his or her editor immediately. When possible, and with the prior written approval of the editor, the editorial director or a managing editor, staff members may work as free-lancers for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, news services, photo agencies or similar organizations. Staff members may do professional work, such as writing, editing, design, illustrating or photography, for pay for other organizations or individuals only with the prior written approval of a managing editor, the editor or the editorial director. These written approvals are to be retained in the employee’s personnel file. The approval can be withdrawn at any time upon reasonable notification to the employee.

3. Appearances may be made on radio or television. The editor, editorial director or managing editor should be advised in advance.

4. No staff member may do professional work such as writing, editing, design, illustrating or photography for pay for any organization or individual who receives or expects to receive attention in the newspapers. Excluded from restriction is professional work for an outside individual’s private use, such as wedding photographs or portraits or drawings.

5. Staff members should refrain from involvement in public controversies that could raise questions about the newspaper’s independence in coverage or commentary or on the credibility of their colleagues. Neither should they become involved in public advocacy. If outside interests should be deemed by the editor or managing editor to represent a conflict with an assignment, the staff member could expect to be transferred to another area of responsibility. A member of the News Department should not write personal opinion columns on controversial matters that he/she may be covering. If this should occur, the staff member will no longer be allowed to report on that matter. A member of the News Department must notify his/her supervisor before submitting a personal opinion piece for publication.

6. Staff members, as private citizens, may support churches, schools, the arts and other non-profit organizations. They may also do volunteer work for religious, cultural, civic and social organizations so long as that work is not in the nature of public relations, the preparation of press releases or service on committees or task forces concerned with efforts to influence newspaper coverage. Because those organizations may, at times, be subjects of news coverage or commentary, staff members should not accept appointments as directors of such organizations without the express permission of the editor, managing editor or editorial director.

SOCIAL MEDIA:

We encourage employees to start their own blogs, Facebook pages, Twitter accounts and Web sites. Simply remember that all newsroom employees are bound by our code of conduct. In particular, see No. 5 under "OUTSIDE ACTIVITIES AND CONFLICT OF INTEREST." Please make sure your editor or supervisor knows if you are posting material related to the Star-Telegram or your position with the newspaper. When in doubt, err on the side of disclosure.

RELATIONSHIPS:

To maintain fairness and public confidence in the credibility of the paper, it is expected that reporters, photographers and editors will be independent of their news sources.

It is the responsibility of members of the News/Editorial staff to err on the side of full disclosure to their supervisor of any relationships with news sources that could create the appearance of bias. In addition, a staff member should not write or photograph or participate in news decisions about any individual related to him/her by blood or marriage or about anyone with whom the staff member has had a close relationship. When circumstances dictate exceptions to this rule, mention of the relationship should be made in the news story or column. A staff member should advise his or her editor of the circumstances involving such a relationship.

TRAVEL:

When travel is required as part of an assignment, the Star-Telegram will pay for travel, entertainment, food and lodging and other reasonable and legitimate expenses incurred in connection with the department.

SPORTS:

Sports staff members should not accept free tickets or passes, except for working press credentials that give assigned reporters and photographers access to the press box or sideline areas. These should be used only when the staff member is on assignment.

CONTESTS:

Staff members should not enter contests without approval of managing editors or the editorial director. With approval, they may enter contests sponsored and judged by selected journalistic and professional organizations. Entry fees for a select number of contests will be provided by the Star-Telegram.

REPORTING STANDARDS

PLAGIARISM:

Passing off another’s words or ideas as one’s own is unacceptable at the Star-Telegram. Staff members should not copy the work of others unless credit is given. Using the words or the illustrations of others is plagiarism. Because journalists often cover the same events, similarity in subject matter, and even in story ideas, is inevitable. The reporting, the treatment, the language must be original – or they must be attributed. Violation of this standard may be cause for termination.

QUOTATIONS:

In the interest of fairness and credibility, words that appear between quotation marks shall be precisely what a person has said. However, it is never appropriate to use quotations to humiliate a speaker, or to make the speaker look foolish or unschooled. A problem with a speaker’s language – such as dialect, gross mispronunciation, lack of clarity, poor grammar or poor syntax – can usually be overcome by using indirect or partial quotes, or by paraphrasing. Poor use of language should be repeated in copy only when there is a good journalistic purpose. For example, such quotes might be used in a story about an educator or governmental official who consistently uses poor English. There could be an instance in which the language adds emphasis or style to an article. But here again, remember the warning against making a speaker look foolish. In most cases, quotes used in the Star-Telegram shall be full sentences and paragraphs. In all cases, quotes must be accurate and in context that is proper and honest. Twisting a person’s words, or distorting the speaker’s intended meaning, is never permitted. If someone obviously misspeaks, the writer should seek to clarify that person’s intended meaning.

ATTRIBUTION:

Attribution for quotes used and information contained in copy should be full, complete and honest. Generally, including unattributed material in copy is permitted only when it is unquestionably factual and essentially undisputed.

Acceptable: George Bush’s term of office ended in 1993. Lyndon Johnson, the nation’s 36th president, was a Texan.

Not Acceptable: George Bush was a good, hard-working president.

The use of anonymous sources in news reports and opinion columns is strongly discouraged. Reporters and columnists who grant anonymity to news sources should do so sparingly and judiciously. An agreement by a reporter or columnist to allow a source to remain anonymous, or to impart information on background or off-the-record status, should be a last resort. Whenever possible, reporters and columnists should seek guidance from their supervising editor before making such an agreement. In addition, reporters and columnists who grant anonymity must be prepared to identify the source to at least one supervising or senior editor. This will help determine how responsible the source is and will ensure that someone else knows his or her identity should something happen to the reporter or columnist. The editor informed of the identity of a source is bound equally by reporters’ rules of confidentiality.

Use of an anonymous source in a news report or opinion column requires prior approval of a news executive at the managing editor level or higher. In addition, such use requires at least one independent corroborating source. The news executive who approves use of the source may waive this requirement. The news report or column should also say why the source has been granted anonymity. Example: "said the witness, who asked not to be identified because he feared he might lose his job."

NEWS SERVICE COPY:

Editors must be particularly careful in assembling roundups with staff bylines. For example, a Washington bureau staff member may cover a presidential news conference and write a story focusing on an angle of particular relevance to Star-Telegram readers. But the editor may wish to include other material from the news conference.

Often, this can be done by including a section of material taken from a news service such as The Associated Press. That material may be introduced in a story this way:

The president also said, If the material simply covers the highlights of the news conference, a line at the bottom of the story saying that it contains material from The Associated Press should be sufficient. Such a credit line also would cover reasonable amounts of background from the news service. Editors should be very careful; however, to attribute any material that might be exclusive to the news service. For example, if the AP quotes a presidential aide as saying something to an AP reporter after a news conference, then that material should be attributed to the AP. This should be done in the body of the story. Example: A White House official quoted by The Associated Press said, Frequently, a national/foreign or state desk staffer will pull together a roundup on a major news event from a variety of news services. Sometimes this can be done by using one particular story, say from the New York Times, with that paper’s credit and byline remaining atop the story. Each insert should be attributed to the news service it comes from so that there will be no confusion about who reported what. At other times, the editor or rewrite person may wish to pull together a roundup with a lead and structure quite different from that of any of the available services. If this is done, then we should use the credit line: From Star-Telegram Wire Services. And we should be careful to attribute material within the body of the story. If there is a question on where attribution is appropriate, we should err on the side of giving full credit within the copy. The electronic media are no different. We should give broadcast full credit where credit is due.

FAIRNESS:

1. Staffers are expected to be truthful and fair in all their dealings with readers, news sources and other Star-Telegram staff members. Deception can be a firing offense.

2. Staff members should never use their positions with the Star-Telegram for personal advantage. Company letterheads should not be used for purely personal activities outside company business. Nor should staffers use positions with the newspaper to obtain preferential treatment in personal matters associated with their roles as parents from business, industry or governmental organizations.

3. If a staffer concludes he or she cannot be fair to all parties involved in a story, he or she should explain the situation to an editor and have the story reassigned. There should be no fear or penalty if such action is taken.

4. Because of the inherent conflict of interest, it is expected that no member of the News/Editorial staff will (a) seek election to public office; (b) accept appointment to a public board, commission or panel that makes or carries out policy or that advises elected or appointed officials; or (c) work for a politician or a political organization, either as a volunteer or for pay.

5. News source should be disclosed unless there is clear reason not to do so. Every effort should be made to verify information from an anonymous source through at least one other source. The reporter may be expected to reveal the identity of an anonymous source to at least one supervising or senior editor. Editors informed of the identity of a source are bound equally by reporters’ rule of confidentiality.

6. News stories should represent all sides of an issue. The Star-Telegram should not communicate charges or accusations affecting reputation or moral character without attempting to give the accused an opportunity to comment. If the accused chooses not to reply, or is not available for comment, the story should always state clearly why the comment was not included.

7. Star-Telegram newsroom personnel are urged to frequently ask themselves if our news stories are:

-- Complete and relevant, with care taken to include significant facts and omit irrelevant information.

-- On the level, with nothing that could consciously or unconsciously mislead or deceive the reader.

-- Straightforward, free of pejorative words that might mask a reporter’s biases or emotions.

8. Star-Telegram staff members should not allow their judgments or coverage decisions to be unduly swayed by members of the community – such as advertisers, influential citizens or others – who have easier access to the Star-Telegram than do other people.

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE (profanity, vulgarity, contemptuous racial or ethnic labels, obscenity):

Do not use it. If a reporter and his immediate editor feel they have a good journalistic purpose for an exception to this policy, they should get approval of the editor, editorial director or managing editor before publishing.

IMPERSONATIONS:

Impersonations and other covert forms of gathering information are not allowed at the Star-Telegram. In other words, reporters may not pose as prisoners, mental patients, waiters, sales persons or public employees.

INTERVIEWS AND THE USE OF TAPE RECORDERS:

Although it is LEGAL to record phone calls in Texas, reporters should ALWAYS let sources know they are being taped (and turn off the recorder if they object).

If a reporter wants to tape WITHOUT letting the caller know, the reporter must first get clearance from the Executive Editor.

PHOTOGRAPHY

1. Photos and captions must capture events and subjects truthfully, honestly and objectively.

2. Photo illustrations must be labeled as such in credit lines.

3. Never use digital, cropping or other darkroom techniques to alter, misrepresent or distort the contents of news photographs.

CORRECTIONS:

Star-Telegram policy is in concert with the highest standards of newspaper ethics outlined in the Canons of Journalism of the American Society of Newspaper Editors.

1. "It is the privilege, as it is the duty, of a newspaper to make prompt and complete correction of its own mistakes of fact or opinion whatever their origin."

2. Generally, it is our policy to print a correction regarding erroneous information as soon as it is practicable. Corrections and clarifications are usually published on Page Two of the newspaper. They should be displayed more prominently if the situation warrants.

3. Any staff member who notices or is made aware by another person of a possible error or an item in need of clarification in his/her work will call the matter to the attention of a supervising editor as quickly as possible. Failure to do so may result in disciplinary action. If any staff member becomes aware of an error in need of correction or an item in need of clarification in the work of another, the staff member will call that matter to the attention of a supervising editor as quickly as possible.

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The purpose of these guidelines is to assist employees and agents of the Star-Telegram in carrying out their duties and assignments associated with the Star-Telegram, and the provisions of the guidelines shall not create nor confer any rights or benefits on any party or parties other than the Star-Telegram, nor be the basis for any claim against the Star-Telegram, its officers, agents or employees.

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