Updated: Jan. 31, 2022
The Springfield Daily Citizen is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization that strives to uphold high standards of fairness and accuracy.
The Daily Citizen’s standards include the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, most recently revised in 2014 and endorsed by thousands of journalists around the world. That code is reprinted below, along with supplemental policies adopted by the staff of the Daily Citizen.
In addition, the Daily Citizen’s Board of Directors has adopted:
- A conflict of interest policy for Board members and officers.
- A donor/financial transparency policy regarding public disclosure of individuals and businesses supporting the Daily Citizen.
- A nondiscrimination policy.
The Daily Citizen also will adhere to membership standards of the Institute for Nonprofit News, a consortium of nonprofit news organizations.
Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.
The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.
Seek Truth and Report It
Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
- Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
- Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
- Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
- Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
- Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
- Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
- Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
- Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
- Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.
- Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.
- Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
- Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
- Label advocacy and commentary.
- Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
- Never plagiarize. Always attribute.
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
- Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
- Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
- Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
- Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
- Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.
The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.
Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journalists should:
- Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
- Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
- Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
- Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
- Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.
The SPJ Code of Ethics is a statement of abiding principles supported by additional explanations and position papers that address changing journalistic practices. It is not a set of rules, rather a guide that encourages all who engage in journalism to take responsibility for the information they provide, regardless of medium. The code should be read as a whole; individual principles should not be taken out of context. It is not, nor can it be under the First Amendment, legally enforceable. More information about SPJ and its Code of Ethics is available at www.spj.org.
Additional standards adopted by the Daily Citizen
Anonymous sources — The Daily Citizen uses unnamed sources sparingly, following these guidelines:
- Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability. The reporter should try hard to persuade a source to be identified by name, explaining that anonymous quotes have less credibility with readers than quotes from named sources.
- If an unidentified source must be used, the reason should be stated and the source should be described as fully as possible without identifying him or her so readers can gauge the source’s credibility. When appropriate, explain why an anonymous source is being used.
- The source must clearly be in a position to know the information being shared. The information must be crucial to the story and we must make efforts to get the information in another way.
- Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
- Any use of anonymous sourcing must be specifically approved by a top editor such as the managing editor or chief executive officer. At least one editor must know the specific identity of any anonymous source.
- Direct quotes from anonymous sources should be used rarely, and only when such quotes are pivotal to the story.
The Daily Citizen will seek to ensure sources understand our rules for attribution. Before any interview in which any degree of anonymity is expected, there will be a discussion in which the ground rules are set.
- “On the record” means the source will be quoted and attributed in the story.
- “Not for attribution” means the information can be used but the source can’t be named; reporters and sources will agree on the terminology that will be used in the story to explain the source of the information.
- “On background” means the source cannot be named but the information can be used for further reporting.
- “Off the record” means the information cannot be used for publication.
Altering photos, videos and audio recordings — Photos, videos and audio recordings may be adjusted to improve the technical quality, but the substance may not be changed or altered in a way that is deliberately misleading to the news consumer. All photo illustrations, graphics or animations will be clearly labeled as such.
Credit to other news organizations — Any information taken from other published or broadcast sources should include credit and a link within the body of a story, or where appropriate on related visual journalism such as photos, video or graphical elements. There may be times when a link alone will suffice.
Use of quotes and editing of quotes — Reporters will use direct quotes only when they are certain of the accuracy and only in proper context. While it is acceptable to eliminate a person’s “ums” or stutters, or other minor stumbles, quotes must not be edited for style or grammar — paraphrase instead. It is acceptable to use quotes with poor grammar to reflect the local vernacular or if it is necessary to add flavor or make a point in the story.
Misrepresentation — Under most circumstances, reporters or photographers will identify themselves to news sources. This is particularly important when interviewing or photographing ordinary citizens, who should be aware they may be quoted or depicted in news coverage. When recording interviews, if it is not clear to the subject, we will make an effort to let the subject know they are being recorded, even though this is not required by state law. Only the chief executive officer or managing editor may approve exceptions.
Fairness and right of reply — In the digital news environment, we should update information and add comments and responses as soon as they become available. We will make a good-faith effort to seek appropriate comment from an accused person (or organization) before publication. If the person or a spokesperson cannot be reached for a comment, we will say so and indicate what effort was made to get a comment. We should continue to seek responses and comments and should include them when possible. Other standards of fairness include:
- We will exercise special care when children are involved in a story and consider giving children greater privacy protection than adults.
- We try to report the eventual outcome of any major criminal charges that we report. This is particularly important in cases in which an individual is exonerated.
- Follow-up stories that contradict the main point of a prior story should get equal or better play whenever possible.
Identification of suspects and juveniles — We usually name people accused of crimes or arrested in connection with crimes when allegations are made by law enforcement officials in a public news conference, an official news release or a website the Daily Citizen accepts as an official source of documents or information. We also usually name suspects when they are identified in documents filed with a court or kept as a public record by an official investigative arm of government (usually police or a prosecutor’s office). Other standards of identification include:
- Sex crimes, familial tangles and very high-profile heinous acts can present exceptions that must be discussed with the managing editor or chief executive officer.
- We exercise great care in naming suspects who are identified by official sources but not yet officially charged with crimes. Especially problematic can be someone arrested “in connection” with a crime but not yet charged.
- Similarly, publication of mug shots of those accused of crimes but not charged must be approved by the managing editor or chief executive officer.
- We generally do not name juveniles who remain in juvenile court. This is by choice, not by law. Exceptions must be approved by the managing editor or chief executive officer. If the crime is serious and it seems likely the juvenile will be charged with a felony, we generally will name a juvenile at the time some formal, legal action is taken, such as an arrest.
Respecting privacy, including crime victims — Daily Citizen staffers show respect for the dignity, privacy and rights of people encountered in the course of gathering and presenting the news. Exposure of private aspects of people’s lives should be justified by legitimate public interest. We are especially sensitive with people who have little or no experience dealing with the news media.
The Daily Citizen will carefully consider whether to print the name of a crime victim, weighing the news value against the possibility of revictimizing the person.
- We generally would not name a crime victim if we thought it would jeopardize the person’s safety. In general, we name crime victims when: (1) The victim is dead. (2) The victim is a public figure. (3) It was a mutual fight or shooting. (4) The person was in a traffic accident or fire. (5) The person agrees in an interview to be named. (6) The crime was committed in a public place and the victim was badly hurt.
- In the case of sex crimes, sexual or domestic violence, and cases involving juvenile victims, we will not identify the victim without proper consent.
- We generally will withhold exact addresses of residences where crimes have occurred, unless there is a compelling reason to print them.
We should consider the impact of sensitive photos, for instance of accidents or dead bodies. We should temper our journalistic impulses with questions about how we will affect our readers and subjects.
Suicides: We do not generally report on suicides or attempted suicides unless the person is a public figure or the incident happens in a public place. Exceptions may be approved by the chief executive officer for other newsworthy situations.
Civic or political activity — Daily Citizen employees should be independent but not detached. They retain the rights and duties of citizenship, including the right to vote. Employees are encouraged to be involved in volunteer activities, including religious organizations, clubs, sports, professional and most nonprofit groups. Volunteers should be clear that they are not representing the Daily Citizen and that the group should not expect any special consideration or treatment. Avoid taking publicity or public-relations positions because of the perception that it will result in special access. Active leadership in any group should be discussed with the chief executive officer.
Avoid membership and involvement in political and governmental groups and activities. Serving on a board or commission is dubious, and is unacceptable if the group collects or distributes tax dollars.
Volunteering for a campaign or running for office is unacceptable. Signing petitions, participating in rallies and protests, making political contributions or displaying political material gives the appearance of a conflict of interest. Staff members are strongly discouraged from making comments in online forums or social networking sites on politics, other social “hot topics” and public affairs issues that are subject to coverage by the Daily Citizen. This doesn’t preclude staff from joining in conversations about everyday life (a child’s school, local restaurants, etc.) — and there are exceptions for columnists who sometimes publish opinions on these topics (see specifics below under social media activity). But those involved in coverage of a particular issue should avoid related topics whenever feasible because it may suggest real or perceived biases. Note: this does not apply to including a party affiliation on your voter registration and voting. Be aware of how a spouse’s or immediate family member’s involvement may reflect on your credibility.
Be wary of friendships or romances with sources, particularly public officials or figures. Employees have a right to a life outside the office, but can never totally disassociate themselves from being journalists. Our readers have every right to expect that we make decisions independently of personal relationships. In some cases, reassignment may be necessary to avoid real or perceived conflicts.
Social media activity — In activity on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, staff members should abide by the overall Daily Citizen ethics policies. Some specific guidelines:
- Staff members should always make clear they work for the Daily Citizen. Content posted should meet the same standards as information published for the Daily Citizen and should not undermine credibility with the public or the Daily Citizen’s standing as a fair and impartial source of news.
- Some staff members, primarily columnists, have more license to write opinions on a variety of topics, including some social “hot topics.” In those cases, the writer might logically post or share links to the column in social media, and then interact with readers who both agree or disagree with the writer on the topic. It is critical that the staff member avoid getting into extended back-and-forth arguments, or falling victim to online “trolls” who simply want to provoke an argument for their own amusement. The best advice in those cases is not to respond at all.
- Outside of the context of a current or upcoming column or story, even staff members with more license to write opinions should limit or avoid commenting on politics, other social “hot topics” and public affairs issues that are subject to coverage by the Daily Citizen.
- Properly attribute content and link to the original source if possible. Respect others’ copyrights, trademarks, privacy, financial disclosure, and all other laws. Do not disclose personal information about other individuals that may have been obtained through your work at the Company. Do not post materials of others — such as photographs, articles, or music — without first getting their permission. Be careful about “reposting” information from other sites.
- Employees must not engage in unlawful harassment, discrimination, or retaliation, or violate any other laws or ethical standards; or post or send anything through social media that include ethnic slurs, sexist comments, discriminatory comments, obscenities, threats of violence, or other similar types of remarks
- When engaging in social media activities during work time, staff members should keep personal social media activity distinct from professional social media activity and communications. Staff members are personally responsible for what they post on personal accounts. The Daily Citizen disclaims any responsibility or liability for any errors, omissions, loss, or damages claimed or incurred due to personal postings.
- Employees must not post confidential information of the Daily Citizen, its customers, or any other third party. Employees must not comment on confidential financial information, such as future business performance, business plans, or prospects, to anyone in any forum.
Use of connections for personal gain — Employees shall not use their positions with the Daily Citizen to get any benefit or advantage in commercial transactions or personal business for themselves, their families, friends or acquaintances. Employees shall not use the company name, reputation, phone number or stationery to imply threat of retaliation or pressure, to curry favor or to seek personal gain. Staff members will disclose investments, real estate holdings and business interests whenever there may be a potential conflict. Unless approved by the chief executive officer, staff members must not serve on boards of directors of for-profit corporations or businesses.
Freelancing and other outside employment — Employees may take an outside job provided it does not interfere with or compromise Daily Citizen duties and it is cleared with a supervisor. Employees should be careful to do outside work on their own time. Outside work includes freelancing for other publications, writing columns and stories for online services, teaching, consulting, and appearances on radio and television shows. In such work, employees should remain as neutral and objective as they would in newsgathering, writing and publishing for the Daily Citizen.
Staffers must not work for competitors nor should they work in a paid or volunteer capacity for any organization they cover routinely or may be expected to cover as part of their assigned beat.
Speaking engagements and other personal appearances are allowed and staff members may accept travel reimbursement or honorariums, except in those situations where it would be a clear conflict of interest or give the appearance of such. Any activities and payments must be cleared in advance by either the managing editor or chief executive officer.
Awards — Acceptance of awards from partisan groups or causes, or from organizations or special-interest groups that we may normally cover, may create the appearance of conflict of interest or raise doubt about our ability to report fairly on that group or organization. Check with supervisors before entering a contest or accepting an award.
Gifts and freebies — The acceptance of gifts or preferential treatment compromises or gives the appearance of compromising our integrity. Employees generally shall not accept business-connected gifts, sample products or free services — but consider the intent. If the gift is from a business grateful for favorable publicity and hopeful for more in the future, return it politely with a note explaining our policy. If the gift is small and from a reader delighted we wrote a nice feature about her grandson, accept it and acknowledge it graciously. If you have any doubt, return the gift politely — or if refusal would be awkward, donate the gift to charity, then write to the donor explaining our policy. Gift or sample products that are of token or insignificant value (under $20), such as T-shirts, calendars, pencils or key chains, may be accepted. Bottles of liquor or wine shall be considered of more than token value and may not be kept.
Perishables, by nature, are handled differently. Food may be offered up for newsroom consumption, within reason, though large amounts should be returned or donated to a local food pantry.
Meals — Company reimbursement for meals is limited and, with rare exceptions, requires supervisor approval in advance. We do not accept free meals, but use common sense and common courtesy when offered refreshments or food. A bottle of water, slice of pizza or any meal of less than $10 value is probably OK, but avoid more expensive meals. It is OK to eat in the press box or in similar situations where meals are provided to allow you to continue doing your job, but don’t overindulge or take food home.
When covering a speech or similar event, pay for the meal or just don’t eat. When the cost of a meal includes a sum tacked on to raise funds (for instance, a $300-a-plate political dinner), we will pay only what we estimate to be the price of the meal if it were to be purchased in a restaurant.
Paying our way (tickets, events, travel, etc.) — We will not accept, solicit or use free tickets or passes to public events, such as movies, business or government seminars, plays, fairs, concerts and sports events where admission is being charged for the public. Working press passes or tickets for employees covering or reviewing the events mentioned above may be accepted if that is the generally accepted practice. Employees who are not covering the event but who legitimately need to be there for background purposes also may accept working press passes or tickets. Such passes must never be given away or sold. Normal use of press facilities, such as press rooms, press boxes and press parking areas, is permitted.
Transportation necessary for the performance of professional duties shall be paid for by the Daily Citizen in all possible cases — including travel on a press plane of a political candidate or sports team. The chief executive officer or managing editor may give approval for special travel arrangements that would be the sole way to effectively complete an assignment, such as when traveling with the governor to a news event or when military transit is involved.
Vulgarities and obscenities — Avoid using vulgarities, obscenities or racially offensive remarks, but recognize there are rare cases when printing them is necessary or appropriate. Any such use should be cleared by the chief executive officer or managing editor. A good way to gauge whether a term is vulgar or obscene: would you want your 5-year-old using the word in a conversation with your mother?
Corrections and clarifications — Our policy is to correct stories promptly and openly. If we find an error, we will fix the story and note on the digital story page what has been corrected. We do not disguise corrections or gloss over them in a follow-up story.
As most news outlets do, we distinguish between corrections (for mistakes) and clarifications (for vague or misleading content). A correction should be brief and state the correct information, along with an explanation of how the published information was wrong. We do not repeat the error itself. In rare instances, it may be appropriate to explain how an error occurred. Those would include cases in which incorrect information was provided, or if the error was introduced in the editing process or by someone other than the reporter whose name appears on the story.
In the case of both corrections and clarifications, the original digital story page will be updated to reflect what has been corrected or clarified.
When editors agree a serious error has occurred, a separate correction will be published in a place on the website similar to where the original story appeared, with a link to the corrected story.
When the Daily Citizen disagrees with a news subject about whether a story contained an error, editors will consider offering the subject an opportunity to write a letter to the editor.
CREDITS: These ethical guidelines were crafted by Daily Citizen staff with heavy reliance on codes of ethics adopted by other news organizations, including: the Springfield News-Leader; Missouri Independent; Lincoln (Neb.) Journal Star; Arizona Republic, Phoenix; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette; The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.; San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News; Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.; and Wisconsin State Journal, Madison.