The following are the ethical guidelines for TLDR Press that will govern how information is collected and published. These guidelines were initially created and published by the Canadian Association of Journalists but have been modified to be specific to TLDR Press and FrostTek Productions. They have also been edited to clarify particular guidelines or expand upon them for extra clarity.
This document is intended to provide a framework to help us hold ourselves accountable for professionalism in our work. While many specific questions are considered here, it is impossible to capture all potential scenarios. Instead, we seek to provide examples of our general ethical principles and to help apply those principles and use our best judgment when faced with scenarios not covered here.
- We will be diligent in our efforts to verify all facts. Accuracy is the moral imperative of journalists & news organizations. It must never be compromised, even by pressing deadlines of the 24-hour news cycle.
- We will make every effort to verify the identities and backgrounds of our sources.
- Seek documentation to support the reliability of those sources and their stories, and we are careful to distinguish between assertions and facts. The onus is on us to verify all information, even when it emerges on a deadline.
- Make sure to retain the original context of all quotations or clips, conveying the original tone. Our reporting and editing will not change the meaning of a statement or exclude crucial qualifiers.
- There is no copyright on news or ideas once a story is in the public domain, but we will credit the originating source if we can’t match the story.
- While news and ideas are there for the taking, the words used to convey them are not. If we borrow a story or paragraph from another source, we will credit the source or rewrite it before publication or broadcast. Using another’s analysis or interpretation may constitute plagiarism, even if the words are rewritten unless it is attributed.
- When we make a mistake, whether in fact or context and regardless of the platform, we correct it promptly and transparently, acknowledging the error’s nature.
- We publish or broadcast all corrections, clarifications, or apologies consistently.
- Despite public requests or ” source remorse, we will not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests or “source remorse.” Rare exceptions involve matters of public safety, an egregious error, ethical violation, or legal restrictions such as publication bans.
- Respect the rights of people involved in the news.
- Give people, companies, or organizations publicly accused or criticized the presumption of innocence and the opportunity to respond before publishing those criticisms or accusations. We will make a genuine and reasonable effort to contact them, and if they decline to comment, we say so.
- We will not refer to a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification, or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.
- We will avoid stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
- We will take special care when reporting on children or those who are otherwise unable to give consent to be interviewed. While some minors, such as athletes, may be used to being interviewed, others might have little understanding of the implications of talking to the media. So when unsure or dealing with particularly sensitive subjects, we err on the side of seeking parental consent. Likewise, we take special care when using any material posted to social media by minors, as they may not understand the public nature of their postings.
- We will not allow our own biases or ideological beliefs to impede fair and accurate reporting.
- We respect each person’s right to a fair trial.
- We do not pay for information, although we may compensate those who provide material such as photos or videos. At some time in the future, we may employ experts to provide professional expertise and pay for embedded activities. We will make sure to note any such payments in our stories.
- It is becoming common to be asked for payments in foreign countries, whether for guides, connections or help a source travel to meet reporters. It’s essential to question the subject’s motives in such cases and be transparent in telling audiences what occurred.
RIGHT TO PRIVACY
- The public has a right to know about its institutions, elected officials or persons hired to serve its interests. People have a right to privacy, and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial and the presumption of innocence.
- There will be inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy and the rights of all citizens to be informed about matters of public interest. Each situation should be judged by common sense, humanity and relevance.
- We will not manipulate or exploit people thrust into the spotlight because they are victims of crime or are associated with a tragedy. Nor will do we do voyeuristic stories about them. When we contact them, we will be sensitive to their situations and report only information in which the public has a legitimate interest.
- Journalists increasingly use social networking sites to access information about people and organizations. When individuals post and publish information about themselves on these sites, it generally becomes public and can be used. However, we will not use deception to gain access to information intended to be private. In addition, even when such information is public, we must rigorously apply ethical considerations, including independent confirmation and transparency in identifying the source of information.
- We serve democracy and the public interest by reporting the truth. Sometimes this may conflict with public and private interests, including those of sources, governments or advertisers.
- Defending the public’s interest includes promoting the free flow of information, exposing crime or wrongdoing, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled.
- We do not give favoured treatment to advertisers, special interests or government. We will reject their efforts to influence the news.
- We pay our own way whenever possible. However, not all journalists or organizations have the means to do so. So if another organization pays our expenses to an event that we are writing about, we will say so. It may include covering industries such as travel, automotive, the military and foreign trade. (There are some generally understood exceptions; for instance, it is common practice to accept reviewers’ tickets for film previews, concerts, lectures and theatrical performances.)
- We will not solicit gifts or favours for personal use and promptly return unsolicited gifts of more than a nominal value. If it is impractical to return the gift, we will give it to an appropriate charity.
- We do not accept the free or reduced-rate use of valuable goods or services offered because of our position. However, it may be appropriate to use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it. (A common exception is unsolicited books, music, food, or other new products sent for review.)
- We generally do not accept payment for speaking to groups we report on or comment on.
- We will not report about subjects in which we have financial or other interests. We will not use our positions to obtain business or other advantages not available to the general public.
- We will not show our completed reports to sources – especially official ones – before they are published or broadcast unless they wish to verify facts. Doing so might invite censorship and challenge our independence.
- We gather information to produce stories and images for public consumption. We generally do not share unpublished information – such as notes and audio recordings of interviews, documents, emails, digital files, photos and videos – with those outside TLDR Press. However, sometimes such sharing may be necessary to check facts, gain the confidence of sources or solicit more information.
- Columnists and commentators are free to express their views, even when those views conflict with those of TLDR Press (FrostTek Productions), as long as the content meets generally accepted journalistic standards for fairness and accuracy.
CONFLICT OF INTEREST
- As fair and impartial observers, we must be free to comment on the activities of any publicly elected body or special interest group. But we cannot do this without an apparent conflict of interest if we are active members of an organization we are covering, including membership through social media
- We lose our credibility as fair observers by writing opinion pieces about subjects we also cover as reporters.
- Editorial boards and columnists or commentators endorse political candidates or political causes. Reporters do not.
- We must consider our political activities and community involvements, including those online. Refrain from participating in demonstrations, signing petitions, doing public relations work, fundraising or making financial contributions if there is a chance we will be covering the campaign, activity or group involved.
- Suppose a journalist does choose to engage in outside political activity or espouse a particular political viewpoint. In that case, this activity could create a public perception of bias or favouritism that would reflect on the journalist’s work. Any journalist who engages in such activities – including running for office, must publicly declare any real or potential conflicts.
- Our online activities present unique challenges. For example, the only way to subscribe to some publications or social networking groups is to become a member. Having a non-journalist subscribe on our behalf would be one solution, or we could join a wide variety of Facebook groups, so it could not be seen as favouring one particular constituency.
- We will declare ourselves and not conceal our identities, including when seeking information through social media. However, we may go undercover when it is in the public interest, and the information is not obtainable any other way; in such cases, we openly explain this deception to the audience.
- We normally identify sources of information. But we may use unnamed sources when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity. The material gained from the confidential source is of substantial public interest, and there is no other reasonable way to obtain the information. When this happens, we explain the need for anonymity.
- We avoid pseudonyms, but when their use is essential, and we meet the tests above, we tell our readers, listeners or viewers.
- When we use unnamed sources, we will identify them as accurately as possible by affiliation or status. (For example, a “senior military source” must be both senior and in the military.) Any vested interest or potential bias on the part of a source will be disclosed.
- We will independently corroborate facts if we get them from a source we do not name.
- We will not allow anonymous sources to take cheap shots at individuals or organizations.
- If we borrow material from another source, we must credit the original source.
- We will admit when we have made a mistake, and we make every effort to correct our errors immediately.
- We disclose any biases that could be perceived to influence our reporting to our audiences.
- We will inform our audiences when another organization pays our expenses or when we have made payments for information.
PROMISES TO SOURCES
- We will only promise anonymity when the material is of high public interest, and it cannot be obtained any other way. When we make these promises to sources, we will keep them.
- A court or judicial inquiry may order us to divulge confidential sources upon threat of jail, and we should understand what we are promising. These promises and the lengths we’re willing to go to keep them – should be clearly spelled out as part of our promise. The following phrases, if adequately explained, may be helpful:
- Not for attribution: We may quote statements directly, but the source may not be named. However, a general description of their position may be given (“a government official” or “a party insider”). In TV, video or radio, the identity may be shielded by changing the voice or appearance.
- On background: We may use the essence of statements and generally describe the source, but we may not use direct quotes.
- Off the record: We will not report the information, which can be used solely to help our own understanding or perspective. There is not much point in knowing something if it can’t be reported, so this undertaking should be used sparingly, if at all.
- When we are not willing to go to jail to protect a source, we say so before making the promise, and we make it clear that the deal is off if the source lies or misleads us.
- News organizations – including newspapers, websites, magazines, radio and television – provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such, we seek to include views from all population segments.
- We will also make room for the interests of all: minorities and majorities, those with power and those without it, holders of disparate and conflicting views.
- We will avoid stereotypes and not refer to a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.
- We are accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
- We serve the public interest and put the needs of our audience – readers, listeners or viewers – at the forefront of our newsgathering decisions.
- We will clearly identify news and opinion so that the audience knows which is which.
- We will not mislead the public by suggesting a reporter is someplace that they aren’t.
- Photojournalists and videographers will not alter images or sound so that they mislead the public. When we do alter or stage images, we label them clearly (as a photo illustration or a staged video, for example).
- We will use care when reporting on medical studies, polls, and surveys. We are especially suspect of studies commissioned by those with a vested interest, such as drug companies, special interest groups, or politically sponsored think tanks. We make sure we know the context of the results, such as sample size and population, questions asked, and study sponsors, and we include this information in our reports whenever possible.
- If we make a mistake, we correct it promptly and transparently, acknowledging the nature of the error.
DIGITAL MEDIA: SPECIAL ISSUES
- Ethical practise does not change with the medium. We are bound by the above principles no matter where our stories are published or broadcast.
- We consider all online content carefully, including blogging and content posted to social media. We do not re-post, retweet or share rumours.
- The need for speed should never compromise accuracy, credibility or fairness. Online content will be reported and edited as carefully as print content and subjected to complete editing when possible.
- We will inform sources when stories about them will be published across various media, indicating the permanency of digital media.
- When we publish outside links, we will make an effort to ensure the sites are credible; in other words, we think before we link.
- When we correct errors online, we indicate that the content has been altered or updated and what the original error was.
- So long as the content is accurate, we generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests to do so, including cases of “source remorse.” Rare exceptions typically involve matters of public safety, an egregious error, ethical violation or legal restrictions, such as publication bans.
- We will try to obtain permission to use online photos and videos whenever possible. We will always credit the source of the material by naming the author and where the photo or video was previously posted. We will only use these photos and videos for news and public interest purposes and not to serve voyeuristic interests.
- We encourage the use of social networks as it is one way to make connections. However, we keep in mind that any information gathered through online means must be confirmed, verified and properly sourced.
- Personal online activity, including emails and social networking, will be regarded as public and not private. Such activity can impact our professional credibility. We will think carefully before we post, and we take particular caution in declaring our political leanings online.