• Oracle: Code of Ethics

    Introduction


    We earn credibility through truthful reporting, ethical conduct, honesty and integrity. Without the trust of our readers, we will be unable to adequately perform our mission of providing news, analysis and an open forum for the exchange of ideas and opinions.

    This code of ethics is a statement of our principles and applies to Oracle employees. It may not cover every situation, but will serve as the basis for discussion and final interpretation by the editor and managing editor.

    In the end, the simplest rule of thumb for ethical decision-making is this: Don't do anything that you wouldn't be willing to explain on the front page of the paper.

    Section I: Seek Truth and Report it as Fully as Possible

    Freedom of the Press  

    The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution does not belong exclusively to us; it belongs to all the people. It is, however, our job to defend the First Amendment on their behalf and to resist attempts to weaken it. We uphold the right to speak unpopular opinions and we provide a forum for clashing viewpoints. While we recognize that a student newspaper of our scope and resources is limited, we strive to support the First Amendment within the Hamline-Midway community. We will always remain independent and student-run in order to retain the distance ethical journalism
    requires.

    Anonymous Sources 

    In publishing a story quoting anonymous sources, we vouch for the veracity of what's said; the public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability. Our own credibility is on the line. The Oracle quotes unnamed sources sparingly and only if: (1) The reporter has tried hard to persuade the source to use his or her name and explained that anonymous quotes have less credibility with readers than quotes from named sources. (2) The information from the anonymous source is crucial to the story, and we can't get it any other way. (3) The information is considered unimpeachable or has been verified to the fullest extent practicable. (4) The editor in charge knows the name of the source and OKs using the information without a name.

    When a source must remain anonymous in order for the reporter to obtain or use information that is crucial to reporting the full story, their section editor and editor in chief must be told the name of the source. The latter two will also keep the source confidential. In some situations, however, a court can order us to reveal sources. If the situation is serious enough, we will risk being held in contempt of court rather than reveal the source.

    Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

    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. The Oracle staff will never withhold information from any source pertinent to accurate coverage of an issue without receiving permission to do so from the editor in chief.

    Use of Quotes and Editing of Quotes

    Readers are right to expect that statements contained within quotation marks represent exactly what the person said. As a result, reporters should 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, quotes must not be edited for style or grammar—paraphrase instead. It's 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, but this must still be done accurately and with tact.

    Fairness and Right of Reply

    It's important to get both sides, but even better to get all sides. We should seek out the advocates and the opponents, but also the undecided and the silent. A person or entity being criticized in a news story should have the opportunity to respond—and the response should get fair play in stories. We will make every effort to elicit a response and will consider delaying publication if it seems likely that will allow us to get a response. If the person or a spokesperson cannot be reached for a comment, we will state that in the story and indicate what effort was made to get a comment. In the interest of fairness, 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.

    Diversity and Racial Identification and Stereotyping  

    It's our job to reflect the community. Each week’s newspaper creates a snapshot of Hamline and the Midway neighborhood. The snapshot shouldn't overlook minority residents. Diverse faces and voices should be woven into the everyday fabric of the newspaper, but, unless relevant, we don't identify someone's race or ethnicity in a story. This is particularly important in coverage of crime. We will report suspect descriptions when the information is detailed enough to be useful to people who want to protect themselves or help police find the suspect. We will avoid descriptions that give only the person's race and gender. Describing a suspect as an Asian male in his teens is not enough to distinguish him from plenty of other people in the area. But it may be enough when you can also report height, weight and a clothing description. When in doubt, consult with the editor or managing editor.

    It is also not appropriate to stereotype or characterize suspects or other laypersons solely by gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.

    Misrepresentation

    Under most circumstances, reporters or photographers will identify themselves to news sources through introduction and the presentation of an issued press pass. This is particularly important when interviewing or photographing ordinary citizens, who should be aware they may be quoted or depicted in the newspaper. In the interest of accuracy, double check that names are spelled correctly. Also, if interviewing or photographing a group of people, do not make assumptions about their relationship to one another.

    Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when
    traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods
    should be explained as part of the story. There might be times, however, when circumstances will dictate not identifying ourselves. Only the editor or editor in charge may approve such exceptions

    Paying for News 

    Sources are not paid for news, either in cash or in promises of future coverage or other favors. Such payments would raise serious questions about the validity of the news and the motives of seller and buyer. Only Oracle employees or freelancers are paid for news or news tips. Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news. It is also a reporter’s responsibility to deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

    Photography, New Technology and Alterations  

    In the same way that reporters do not make up quotes, photographers do not create scenes, reconstruct scenes or re-enact events with the purpose of making them appear as if they were "found" moments. Personality portraits and studio illustrations should not be staged in such a way that a typical reader could be confused or take it as a candid moment. Also avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Posed photographs, photo illustrations, computer enhancements, colorized and composite photographs may be used with feature stories—but, if a reader could be confused by the image, it should be clearly labeled as such in the caption, out of regard for the public's trust. When taking a stock photograph to illustrate where a crime or other incident occurred, make sure that no one is included in the image—it may unnecessarily implicate that they were involved or responsible.

    Also use the same consideration when taking photos of minors. That said, most anything that happens in public is photographable, but be sure to keep your journalistic ethics in mind and use appropriate judgment.

    Removing or adding an object in an editorial photograph is not permitted. Nor is flipping a
    photograph to reverse the image.

    Plagiarism

    Presenting another person's work as your own is plagiarism and will not be tolerated. Material from other sources, such as press releases, literary works or other newspapers, must be clearly attributed in the body of the story.

    We encourage teamwork, however, and often use each other as resources. Using material obtained by someone working as an Oracle staff member at the time the information was collected is permissible. Credit may be provided as a byline or at the end of the article. If the information has already been published, no additional credit (other than “The Oracle reported…”) is necessary.

    Internet Sources and Publication 

      Make certain any electronic communication is genuine and verify all material gathered online unless it is known to be from a credible source. Material disseminated online should be solidly confirmed and all normal standards for fairness apply. Before we post any document on our own website, it must first be read in its entirety by an appropriate staff member.

    OTHER GUIDELINES:

    • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent
    error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
    • Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, graphics and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
    • Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when
    it is unpopular to do so.
    • Closely examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
    • Support the open exchange of views, even views you find repugnant.
    • Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally
    valid.
    • Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be
    labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
    • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

    Section II: Act Independently

    Civic or Political Activity

    Oracle employees should be independent but not detached. They retain the rights and duties of citizenship, including the right to vote in campus elections and otherwise. But the newspaper should be impartial and also be perceived as such. If an actual or perceived conflict emerges, declare it.

    Employees are encouraged to be involved in volunteer activities, including churches, clubs, sports, professional and most non-profit groups. Volunteers should be clear that they are not representing the newspaper 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 to the newspaper. Active leadership in any group should be discussed with a supervising editor. Without supervisor consent, an employee or freelancer should not be involved in coverage of any advocacy organization that they or an immediate family member support through membership or direct donation.

    Staff members should avoid advertising or going beyond the stage of healthy discussion in espousing viewpoints on public issues while at work. It casts doubt upon their impartiality. Also, be aware of how a spouse's or immediate family member's involvement in an org 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. All Oracle staffers should decline to report on any organization—campus or otherwise—that they are a member of or in any way close to.

    In general, avoid all conflicts of interest—real or perceived. If you have unavoidable conflicts, disclose them to your editor immediately.

    Use of Connections for Personal Gain 

    Employees shall not use their positions with The Oracle 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 Oracle-branded items to imply threat of retaliation or pressure, to curry favor or to seek personal gain. Under no circumstances should a reporter, photographer or editor have a direct role in covering a story in which they or their families have a personal financial stake. Reassignment or divestment may be necessary to avoid real or perceived conflicts.

    Maintaining a Separation Between News Reporting and Opinion

    Because we are a small paper, many reporters end up writing for multiple sections—including News and Opinion. In the interest of balance and accuracy, no news reporter may write an editorial commentary on a story they have researched/written (regardless of whether it was published) for News. Additionally, all opinion writers should identify themselves as such when conducting research/interviews.

    These measures are not to dissuade opinion writers from chasing accurate stories. They, just like any other reporter, must seek the truth as much as possible and report only fact. The research involved in an opinion column should be the same as that involved in a news story. 

    Coverage of The Oracle

    It may be impossible to avoid conflicts when covering The Oracle or its staff. Employees will be treated the same as any other community member in the event of criminal or civil charges, police calls and printing of public records. When there is any doubt, we will err on the side of publishing the information. Most readers will conclude that we have a conflict on any story involving the Oracle or a fellow employee, so they will weigh that in reading a story.

    Coverage of the University Administration and Student Government

    Oracle reporters should be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Staffers are to remain independent of both Hamline administration and student government. To fail to do so would greatly compromise the ability of The Oracle staff to report truthfully and
    openly on many campus issues.

    Freelancing, Radio and TV Appearances, Personal Appearances and Outside Employment  

    Staff members may take an outside job provided it does not interfere with or compromise Oracle duties. When on an outside job, employees should not pose as a member of The Oracle or use newspaper resources for non-Oracle activities. Outside work includes freelancing for other publications, writing columns and stories for online services, teaching, consulting, and appearances on radio and television shows. While we recognize The Oracle is comprised of student freelance journalists, supervising editors should be made aware of any outside media work.

    Experience outside of The Oracle is encouraged, but caution must be used to ensure that no conflicts exist. 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.

    Information and other material gathered on The Oracle time must be offered to The Oracle first. Such information and material belong to The Oracle and any other use of the information and material must be approved by the editor. Company equipment, including camera gear and computers, may not be used for freelance ventures.

    All information gathered by Oracle staff at the time of their employment shall remain fair use for The Oracle. This holds true even if the staff member is no longer employed with the newspaper. Staff members may not give any other publication permission to use articles written for The Oracle —or a raw article written with sources interviewed by an Oracle member—without first having it cleared by the executive staff.

    Gifts and Freebies 

    The acceptance of gifts or preferential treatment compromises or gives the appearance of compromising the integrity of the newspaper. Oracle staffers generally shall not accept business-connected gifts, sample products or free service—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 the newspaper's 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 or offer it as a prize to readers who contribute to the paper, 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. Books, records and tapes sent to The Oracle for review purposes are accepted as news releases and may be kept by the appropriate staff member with consent of the department editor. Those that are not reviewed or that will not be used for background or as reference material will be given to charity or made available to others in the newsroom. Such items must never be sold for personal profit. 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

    Whenever possible, we pay for our own meals. Use common sense and common courtesy when offered refreshments or food. A slice of pizza or any meal less than $10 value is probably OK, but a prime rib dinner might give the perception that our coverage is being influenced.

    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.

    If an organization sends free tickets to the paper, they should be contacted and informed of Oracle policies. Free tickets can only be accepted if they are considered press passes by the issuing organization.

    Family and Friends

    Unless approved by a supervisor, employees should not write, photograph, illustrate or make news judgments about anyone related to them by blood or marriage, or with whom they have a close personal relationship. This does not apply to first-person stories or stories in which the relationships are clearly spelled out. Nor shall personal relationships within the newsroom affect news judgment.

    Objectivity in Working with Public Agencies

    Assist law enforcement authorities only when there is a clear and compelling public interest at stake— and only with approval of the editor or managing editor. Never let cooperation get in the way of holding officials accountable and telling the truth. Take care when cooperating with government and other institutions on public journalism projects. Often, these efforts are worthwhile and in the readers' interests, but they can also compromise our independence.

    Independence From Other Newspaper Departments

    Never let advertising or business relationships with the newspaper influence our news decisions. We serve the long-range interests of the paper and the Hamline community by being independent. Advertisers attempting to influence coverage deserve only a polite refusal. 

    Protecting the newspaper's interests. Oracle staffers must not purposefully leak to competitors, sources, student government or the administration, information about our news coverage that could harm our efforts. All Oracle employees are also prohibited from divulging information about our advertising before it becomes public information (i.e. sharing inserts or other advertising details before they appear in the paper). Oracle staffers should also refrain from publicly challenging the newspaper's credibility or motives without first directing those complaints to its staff. If an employee has a concern regarding The Oracle's decisions, policies or procedures, they should take those matters up with their immediate supervisor or the editor.

    Section III: Minimize Harm

    Identification of Suspects and Juveniles  

    We generally do not identify suspects until some formal, legal action has been taken, filing or issuing of a search or arrest warrant, filing of charges, an arrest, etc., and we do not do it automatically even then. There may be circumstances in which we would name a suspect, but exceptions must be approved by the editor or managing editor. Remember that the accused person is a suspect and is innocent until proven guilty.

    We generally do not name juveniles who remain in juvenile court. This is by Oracle choice,
    not by law. Exceptions should be approved by the editor or managing editor. If the crime is
    serious and it seems likely the juvenile wi ll be charged as an adult, we generally will name a juvenile at the time some formal, legal action is taken, such as an arrest.

    Respecting People's Privacy

    Oracle staffers should 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 always be justified by legitimate public interest. While our first goal is to gather and report news, we do so with sensitivity and with respect for the privacy of people who find themselves in newsworthy situations, especially people who have little or no experience dealing with the news media. Take care when dealing with potentially offensive photos. We should not withhold sensitive photos just because they might offend, but we should temper our journalistic impulses with questions about how we will affect our readers and subjects.

    The Oracle carefully considers whether to print the name of a crime victim, weighing the news value against the possibility of the person being victimized again. 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 and those involving juvenile victims, we generally will not identify the victim without consent. We generally will withhold exact addresses of residences where crimes have occurred, unless there is a compelling reason to print them.

    Generally, The Oracle does not identify suicide victims except in special circumstances. Those instances should be cleared by the editor or supervising editor.

     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 editor or supervising 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?

    OtHER GUIDELINES:

    • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage.
    • Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
    • Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort.
    Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
    • Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about
    themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention.
    Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
    • Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
    • Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
    • Direct sources or other contacts to file an official grievance or write a letter to the editor
    when they have a complaint.
    • Request advice from a section editor or member of executive staff when faced with a
    situation you aren’t sure how to handle.

    Section IV: Accountability

    Enforcement of the Code 

    Staffers violating this policy may be subject to disciplinary action that, in severe cases, could include dismissal.

    OTHER GUIDELINES:

    • Always make it clear to a source before the interview that you are reporting for the The
    Oracle. Wear your press pass whenever you are reporting or going in-person to request an interview.
    • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic
    conduct.
    • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
    • Follow up with sources to ensure they were quoted accurately and that interviews were
    completed in a professional manner.
    • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
    • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
    • Abide by the same high standards to which you hold others.

    CREDITS:


    The Oracle’s Code of Ethics was adapted primarily from the Society of
    Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics and the Rapid City Journal’s Code of Ethics. It also sources material from other newspaper Codes including: Arizona Republic, Phoenix; Fort Wayne (Ind.) Journal Gazette; The News & Observer, Raleigh, N.C.; San Jose (Calif.) Mercury News; Statesman Journal, Salem, Ore.; Tampa (Fla.) Tribune; and Wisconsin State Journal, Madison. Content has either been paraphrased or taken directly from the aforementioned Codes. The Oracle staff will strive to abide by the regulations set forth in those derivative Codes, while at the same time adhere to our own codes related directly to student journalism.

    Last updated: August 20, 2008