Code of Ethics
American Independent News Network Fellows are on the forefront of evolving methods of raising public enlightenment in an effort to strengthen democracy and justice. Fellows pursue these goals by maintaining a commitment to transparent, fair, and comprehensive coverage. By serving the public thoroughly and honestly, Fellows provide credible, professional, and truthful accounts of events and issues.
Reporting as an Exercise in Transparency
American Independent News Network Fellows strive to be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information for the public. News-writing is the process of constructing narratives. Narratives on events differ depending on who is writing the narrative. Reporters don’t have a monopoly on the “truth.” No one does. Honesty in news has to do with trying always to make your point of view known partly by listing relevant sources and by trying to work any questions about your interpretation of the facts into the narratives you make, so readers are encouraged to ask their own questions and work to draw their own conclusions.
• Ensure the accuracy of all information, regardless of where it comes from. Review facts and stories. Never knowingly publish false information.
• Give all the public the chance to respond to news stories, particularly those who might be accused of wrongdoing. Keep an open dialogue with the public.
• Identify sources when possible. The public must be able to know how reliable sources are.
• Take special care with anonymous sources, keeping their motives in mind. Do not become beholden to sources; keep agreements with them clear and honest.
• Never misrepresent events in an attempt to oversimplify or take events out of context.
• Maintain the integrity and clarity of visual and audio content in keeping with the standards for written content.
• Only use undercover and surreptitious methods of gathering information in extreme situations when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Do not compromise personal or professional integrity for any reason.
• Never plagiarize.
• Never limit their reporting to information that people want to hear. Write stories regardless of whether a subject is popular or whether people want to read about it.
• Seek to improve the public discourse by never stereotyping based on race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. Avoid imposing cultural values on others and keep in mind the growing diversity of modern society.
• Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
• Use both official and unofficial sources to acknowledge and give voice to those without traditional power.
• Acknowledge the difference between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be understood as such.
• Distinguish news from advertising and never allow the latter to take precedence over the former.
• Recognize their role in maintaining an open society by ensuring that the public’s business and government records are open to inspection.
Fellows must maintain a sense of decency and integrity by treating sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
• Be sensitive to those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use care and courtesy when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
• Recognize the possible negative effects of their news stories, and remain humble in the pursuit of gathering and reporting information.
• Be aware of the differences between private people and public figures, and remember that 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 in the stories they run.
• Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges. Use caution about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes. Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Fellows should inform the public of news stories and issues without letting improper relationships compromise their integrity.
• Always be fair.
• Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and disclose unavoidable conflicts.
• Remain active, interested, and involved members of society without letting their activities unduly influence their duties to their readers and the public.
• Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun employment or engagement in organizations that would compromise professional integrity.
• Hold the powerful accountable without exception.
• Maintain integrity by resisting pressure from advertisers and special interests to influence news coverage.
• Keep a clear-eyed sense of distrust of sources offering information for favors or money.
Fellows are accountable to their readers, critics, advocates and each other as well as to the public at large.
• Keep an open dialogue with the public in an effort to maintain and improve standards.
• Encourage the public to use the information they have to question and analyze news stories on their own, and voice grievances when they feel stories are wrong.
• Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
• Expose unethical practices among each other and wherever they are found to maintain professional standards.
• Keep the same high standards to which they hold others.
The American Independent News Network Code of Ethics was inspired by the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of writers, editors and other news professionals.
The present version of the code was adopted by the 1996 SPJ National Convention, after months of study and debate among the Society’s members. Sigma Delta Chi’s first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984, 1987 and 1996.