Delivering American University's news and views since 1925. | Saturday, November 18, 2017

The Eagle’s Ethics Code


Written in July 2017 by Lydia Calitri, Emily Martin, Anthony Holten, Sarah Dolezal and Courtney Rozen

The Eagle is American University’s award-winning, student-run newspaper that publishes daily content online and two special print editions per semester. We are editorially independent of the University.

“Staff members” refers to all members of The Eagle’s hired staff who work in any of the paper’s six departments. “Reporters” refers to members of the news, life, sports, online and multimedia sections, with the exception of reviewers in the life section, or outside writers that contribute content to those sections. “Opinion writers” refers to those who write for the opinion section. “Contributors” refers to anyone that writes or otherwise contributes content to The Eagle but is not a member of the hired staff and does not attend editorial board meetings.


I. Basic principles

We follow the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics.

Telling the Truth

  • All staff members will be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. Do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.

  • Reporters and editors will provide accurate context for all reporting.

  • All staff members and contributors will seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject you’re writing.

  • All staff members and contributors will ensure that sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, all staff members will make clear to our audience who and what our sources are, what motivations our sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving us information. When unsure of information, all staff members should leave it out or make clear it has not been independently corroborated.

  • Reporters will give an individual the opportunity to respond if a report includes criticism of that person or his or her organization.

  • Editors will clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.

  • Editors will correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. The editor-in-chief is the only individual who can issue a clarification or correction on a story. The Eagle will make it easy for our audience to bring errors to our attention by making the editor-in-chief’s email address, editor@theeagleonline.com, publicly available. 

Conflicts of Interest

  • Reporters should avoid any conflict of interest that undermines their ability to report fairly.

  • Reporters should not allow people to make them dishonestly skew their reporting. Reporters should not offer to skew reporting under any circumstances.

  • Reporters may not cover a campus organization that they belong to, or participate in any editorial or business decisions regarding that organization. Reporters may provide story leads about the organizations to which they belong to other staffers. Reporters should report their memberships to their supervising editor.

  • Opinion writers are not permitted to write for the news department, and opinion writers do not participate in staff editorials.

Community

  • All staff members and contributors should respect our audience and those we write about. All staff members should consider how their work and its permanence may affect the subjects of their work, the community and, ­­since the Internet knows no boundaries, ­­the larger world.

  • Editors and reporters should invite reader feedback and participation in the publication. Feedback should be invited through email, social media, phone and in-person visits. The Managing Editor for Opinion will accept letters to the editor and op-Eds as feedback.

Professional Conduct

  • All staff members and contributors should not plagiarize or violate copyright.

  • All staff members and contributors should keep promises to sources, readers and the community. Do not promise anyone something you cannot guarantee.

  • Even though a staff member may be able to drink legally, no staff member may drink alcoholic beverages while on assignment or while representing The Eagle.

II. Reporting issues

Concealing Identity

  • The Eagle generally does not publish undercover reporting because deception isn’t appropriate in newsgathering, and other ways can always be found to get the story. It is permissible only when the newsworthy subject matter is of extraordinary informational value to the public and there is no other way to obtain that information credibly. Only The Eagle management can determine when undercover reporting may be employed. Such undercover reporting must be prominently and publicly disclosed and justified upon publication.

Confidential Sources

  • Reporters and editors will use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources or public records.

  • Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, The Eagle will always publish names of people involved in the stories we cover. The Eagle will only publish information from unnamed sources that we consider reliable. Using unnamed sources is permissible only when the newsworthy subject matter is of extraordinary informational value to the public and there is no other way to obtain that information credibly. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to the editor-in-chief before agreeing not to name the individual in the piece. Only The Eagle management can determine when information from confidential sources may be published. Each usage of a confidential source must be prominently publicly disclosed and justified upon publication.

  • Reporters will disclose to readers or viewers the reasons for granting confidentiality, such as fear for the source’s safety or current job, when we use unnamed sources.

  • We will consider potential harm to sources who are facing intolerance before naming them in stories.

Interviewing

  • Reporters may summarize parts of stories for sources in order to check facts or make sure they understand technical points and procedures. But they should not read full stories to sources before publication and should make clear to the sources that they are only checking facts, not providing an opportunity to change the writing, quotations or approach to the story. When an interviewee makes a statement on the record that a reporter deems is reasonably likely to be controversial, the reporter will allow the interviewee to explain the statement, but the reporter is not obligated to withhold or revise the controversial statement.

  • The Eagle aims not to provide interview subjects with lists of specific questions in advance. However, we accept that this goal is unavoidable in some situations. Reporters will consult with their managing editor and/or the editor-in-chief before giving a list of questions in advance.

  • Reporters can provide interview subjects with a general idea (topics) of our questions in advance.

  • Articles and reports must 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.

  • If a University official or other public official agrees to an interview with The Eagle, it is on the record unless the subject being interviewed says otherwise. If a private individual agrees to interview with The Eagle, the reporter must make it clear to the individual that the interview is on the record.

  • Reporters should get permission from a subject before recording an interview.

  • The Eagle prefers in-person interviews whenever possible. Phone interviews are an acceptable substitute if a person cannot meet in person.

  • Reporters should not agree to email interviews unless a phone interview is not possible and the interview is essential to the story. They should discuss this with their managing editor before proceeding.

  • If a source does not respond to a reporter’s inquiry, the reporter may write that the source failed to respond in the story. They should only do so after making considerable effort to get in contact with the source. Specific wording such as “declined,” “was unavailable for comment” or “would not respond” should be used depending on the situation. The difference between not responding and not available for comment should be made clear to the reader. 

III. Writing and editing

Accuracy

  • The Eagle will have staff fact-check information before publication.

  • All staff members should take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of information that we publish and note our sources.

  • The Eagle will not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.

  • If reporters are unsure of the accuracy of information, they should cite sources, word stories carefully to avoid spreading false rumors, acknowledge what they don’t know and ask for the University community’s help in confirming or correcting their information.

Balance and Fairness

  • To ensure fairness, The Eagle believes in covering not only the most powerful voices on an issue, but also those who are not normally heard.

  • Reporters 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.”

  • In breaking news situations, reporters will attempt to gather comments from key sides of an issue; if comments are not immediately available, editors will publish the story without them, making clear that we were unable to get some comment. Reporters and editors will update our story as needed.

Commenting

  • The Eagle’s website does not include a comment section, with the exception of blog posts.

Quotations

  • Reporters will clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.

  • Reporters will correct grammatical errors by all sources, unless the source’s failure to apply grammar properly is directly relevant to the news article.

  • Reporters will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by attribution. (“I will go to war,” the president said. “But only if necessary.”)

IV. Social media

The Eagle’s accounts

  • Retweets or status shares from The Eagle’s accounts are not endorsements.

  • The online team (managing editors for online and any other staff members who work on The Eagle’s social media) should edit or delete inaccurate social media posts, so people who haven’t seen the corrections will not spread them on social media. They should note that we have edited or deleted inaccurate posts.

  • The managing editor for online and/or the editor-in-chief will make the call to remove a comment that is made on The Eagle’s Facebook page.

Staff members’ accounts

  • All staff members should always treat posting on social media as a public activity. No matter the privacy settings, anything we post can easily be found by a wider audience. We remember that we always represent The Eagle online.

  • All staff members and contributors should identify themselves as working for The Eagle when using any social media profile for a professional purpose.

    • Covering events: Reporters are encouraged to cover an event via social media. This needs to first be cleared by your managing editor so they can alert the managing editor for online, who may share your coverage on The Eagle’s social platforms.

    • Attribution: Reporters must explain to those who provide information via social media how they intend the use the information. Reporters should attribute the information using the name of the person or account where the information was gathered.

    • Debate: All staff members should not respond to criticism a reader may post in relation to The Eagle’s coverage, whether it is a comment on an article post or on a reader’s personal page. The point of news content is to bring up discussion, even if it gets heated. If we feel someone is misunderstanding information from an article or otherwise would like help navigating criticism online, we alert the editor-in-chief or web editor, who will decide whether to respond to the reader.

    • Friending: Reporters may “friend” sources, but must do so evenly. Reporters shouldn’t only “friend” sources who represent one side of a debate or issue.

    • Sources contacting reporters: If a source contacts a reporter directly via social media regarding a piece, that reporter should direct the message to the editor-in-chief or managing editor for online. Staff members who see a comment on their account (such as with a post regarding The Eagle) or The Eagle’s account that is concerning should alert the editor-in-chief and managing editor for online. This includes comments that appear to incite violence or threaten the safety of an individual.

  • Reporters should not create or otherwise share status updates that promote or criticize a particular point of view on issues that The Eagle is covering, regardless of whether a reporter covers that issue personally. If a reporter would not express that view in a news article (this does not include reviews, columns, op-Eds or letters to the editor), they should not post them online. For example, it is acceptable to post about voting for a presidential candidate in a national election but not acceptable to post about voting for a student government candidate.

    • This does not apply to members of the opinion team, whose role is to share their personal opinions with readers. Opinions may be posted online by members of our Opinion section.

    • Staff members are encouraged to retweet, reblog, share and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.

  • Staff members do not criticize the work of a student media colleague online, whether they write for The Eagle or another publication. The Eagle aims to promote and support all AU student media.

  • Staff members should edit or delete inaccurate social media posts, so people who haven’t seen the corrections will not spread them on social media. Staff members should note that we have edited or deleted inaccurate posts.

  • Staff members should respect the privacy of our newsroom. They should not post about staff deliberations and disagreements online. Our newsroom is a safe space for open discussion, and it remains so because we respect the privacy of staff members.

    • This also pertains to conversations staff members may overhear in the office from other student media groups. Our office is a shared space, we respect the privacy of all student media staffs.

  • Reporters may share a link to staff editorials on their personal or professional accounts.

V. Social concerns in and out of the newsroom

Hate Speech

  • Reporters should report on hate speech and actions but include original offensive expressions only when specifically necessary for audience understanding of the case. Editors and reporters will discuss and define the specific public value of publishing the material.

  • All staff members will consider the perspectives of those offended by hateful expression when making publication decisions.

Obscenities

  • Reporters may include obscenities, vulgarities and slurs in news stories only when its use advances the story in some way.

  • Reporters and editors will replace obscenities, vulgarities and slurs with something that implies the word rather than stating it directly (e.g. “f---”) if use of that obscenity could harm a particular group on our campus.

  • The managing editors and editor-in-chief will regularly review policies on obscenities, vulgarities and slurs to consider the changing sensitivities of our readers.

VI. Multimedia 

  • When documenting private or traumatic moments, reporters will seek permission from subjects before shooting photos or video.

  • Reporters will refrain from doing re-enactments of news events. Reporters will clearly label posed photos/video.

  • Reporters will refrain from intentionally becoming an active participant in a news story (e.g. taking part in a protest or using our camera to influence a situation).

  • Reporters will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it. Any manipulation must be disclosed with specificity.

  • Reporters and editors will clearly label the source of all “handout” photos or video.

  • Reporters will verify photos or videos from social media before using them.


Note: This ethics code was drafted in part using the Online News Association’s “Build Your Own Ethics Code” tool. Some of the writing in this code directly copies their words.