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The Sedona Observer

Journalism Code of Ethics

 

Freedom of expression means the liberty to know, to utter and to argue freely

according to my conscience, above all other liberties. Anything less is censorship. -- John Milton

Public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the press is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media formats and specialties will strive to serve the public with thoroughness, honesty and integrity. As such, journalism becomes a sacred trust in which the public accepts information as the truth and holds journalists responsible for upholding it.

The Sedona Observer has adopted the basic premise of the Journalism Code of Ethics that follows. As an electronic form of media, we believe that the ethics of online journalism are no different than the ethics of printed newspapers. 

However, we also feel that the code of ethics as it stands today needs additional amendments to address the new challenges of today’s media. Just as Cornell's medical school revised the Hippocratic Oath in 2005 to retain timeless principles while reflecting today's concerns, so too The Sedona Observer believes the traditional Journalism Code of Ethics requires updating to address current journalism issues.

The revised Weill Cornell Medical College's Hippocratic Oath states: I now turn to my calling, promising to preserve its finest traditions, with the reward of a long experience in the joy of healing. It emphasizes "personal responsibility" as a guidepost in one's profession

the "duty to serve as advocates" for their patients, "champion social justice" for the sick and "forge strong bonds" throughout the healing process.

The oath also reaffirms a "sacred trust" between doctors and patients, advising physicians to "use their power wisely." It also fosters trust and respect within the profession by including a pledge to help sustain colleagues in their service to humanity. In a culture preoccupied with wealth and power, the oath serves as an antidote to professional arrogance, encouraging doctors to practice humility.

The Sedona Observer believes that journalism, like medicine, is a sacred trust in that the public relies on the media for guidance and truth. The medical ideals to preserve the finest traditions, champion social justice, assume personal responsibility, serve as advocates and sustain colleagues in their service to humanity (see our JUST proposal) reflect our very same tenets. As such, journalists can heal society's injustices with their words.

Therefore, we have added these guidelines for our newspaper in addition to the traditional Code of Ethics version that follows.

Our amendments for a new media Code of Ethics include the following:

  • Shun the elitism and arrogant abuse of the power of the press so common in today's media.
  • Uphold the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to act as a public servant and as a watchdog for the public interest.  
  • Call a cease-fire to the competitive, capitalistic practices and replace it with journalists united for social reform and truth (Click here to review our call for a media alliance: JUST.)
  • Censor all the drug company ads
  • Cross-examine and fact-check all AMA, FDA and other government press releases; do not take their quotes and information at face value
  • Just say NO to the editorial control of advertisers
  • Report the truth about health care and other under-reported social issues and what’s really going on in our cities and communities:  children, workplace, education, seniors, labor, civil liberties, immigration, the homeless, and so forth
  • Restore the lost art of muckraking (or true investigative reporting) with integrity
  • Replace the police blotters (or modern-day public stockades) with accurate crime reports that eliminate names, regarding that as an invasion of privacy and restoring the principle of "innocent before proven guilty."
  • Honor the work of all staff and freelance contributors by replacing all-rights contracts and abysmal flat pay rates with full intellectual property rights and living wages plus respectable per word rates
  • Stop focusing on the foibles of shallow celebrities and superathletes and focus on the working class as everyday heroes  
  • Champion vox populi: Serve as a vehicle for all voices, not just the power brokers
  • Call a cease fire to the competitive, capitalistic practices and replace it with journalists united for social reform and truth

 

The Sedona Observer commits to: 

  • Preserve the original tenets and principles of 18th century journalism: freedom of speech, freedom of the press, truth and social reform

  • Restore the sacred trust vested in media by the public to deliver the truth
  • Question, re-question and cross-examine every shred of information from all news sources, including wire service copy and press releases, fact-check our data and then check it again.
  • Respect its readers and the general public by publishing opposing voices and interfacing with them professionally, employing diplomacy, courtesy and dignity at all times
  • Shun the elitism and arrogant abuse of the power of the press so common in today's media
  • Uphold the responsibility of the Fourth Estate to act as a public servant and as a watchdog for the public interest
  • Excellence in the written word, demonstrated by professional quality writing, editing, proofing and copy editing of all materials including future advertisements

  • Accuracy and reporting the facts with rigorous attention to detail

  • Attribution of sources and other information, including links to Web sites where needed

  • Serve as a vehicle of expression for all voices

  • Question authorities instead of accepting their quotes and press releases as gospel truth

  • Distinguish fact from fiction by reading in between the lines of information provided by government, business and other sources

  • Defend social justice as a moral responsibility of the media

  • Uphold the guidelines of the National Writers Union with regard to contributor policies and practices, including online rights as specified by Tasini vs. The New York Times

  • Honor the intellectual property rights of contributors by refraining from all-rights contracts

  • Respect contributors with a living wage and treat them with dignity and reverence

  • Maintain an online presence as a professional publication for delivering news and information instead of as a billboard for advertising

  • Translate the issues to the best of our ability so that readers can see the “bigger picture”

  • Keep it clean with a front page and Op-Ed page free from ads since these pages represent sanctimonious space

  • Create pure, original editorial content free from control by advertisers

  • Highlight the concerns of the exploited and oppressed people, including the working poor, middle class and the underdog largely neglected by today’s media

  • Report labor news and views for the benefit of the American worker where mainstream media has all but eliminated them

  • Resurrect the lost art of muckraking and true investigative reporting to peel the layers off the façade of today’s political and socioeconomic systems and structures

  • Advocate for the welfare of all humanity

  • Bond with fellow journalists as colleagues instead of competitors
  • Remain humble without abusing the power of the press
  • Serve as a harbinger of change to usher in an era of new thought

In addition to these objectives, we also abide by the adopted standard set by professional media associations:

 

JOURNALISM CODE OF ETHICS

 

  • The public journal is a public trust; acceptance of a lesser service than public service is a betrayal of this trust.

  • Presentation of the facts with accuracy and fairness constitutes the fundamental foundation of an ethical press.

  • Journalists will write only what they hold in their hearts to be the truth.

  • Suppression of the news, for any consideration other than the welfare of society, is a betrayal of public trust.

  • Bribery by one’s own pocketbook will be avoided and that individual responsibility will not be escaped by pleading another’s instructions or another’s dividends.

  • Journalists will engage strictly in the professional conduct worthy of their profession and refrain from abuses of power, as well as threats, intimidation or harassment of their sources, readers and the general public.
  • Journalists will respect readers and the general public by publishing opposing voices and interfacing with them professionally, employing diplomacy, courtesy and dignity at all times.
  • Publishers will refrain from public office and contributing bylined editorial content to their publications.
  • Advertising, like news and editorial columns, will serve the best interests of all readers. A single standard of truth will prevail for all.

  • The press shall fear God and honor man; is stoutly independent and unmoved by greed or power; is indignant at injustice; always respectful of its readers; unswayed by money and privilege or the clamor of the mob; seeks to give every man a chance as far as law and honest wage and recognition of human brotherhood; promotes international good will and cements community comradeship. The press is for the truth of humanity, of and for today’s world.

 

 

Seek Truth and Report It

Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information on behalf of the common good. As such, they must:

  • Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

  • Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

  • Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.

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

  • Make certain that headlines, news teasers, promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

  • Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.

  • Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.

  • 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

  • Never plagiarize.

  • Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

  • Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.

  • Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.

  • Support the open exchange of views, even views they 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.

  • Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect. They should:

  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

  • 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.

  • Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

  • Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

  • Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

  • Maintain respect and courtesy for their readers, sources and publics.

Act Independently

Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know. They should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

  • Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

  • Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

  • Refrain from revealing news stories, sources and other paper information or materials prior to publication. Journalists do not share their work with any member of the public other than editorial staff prior to publication.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

Be Accountable

Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.

Journalists should:

  • Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
  • Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
  • Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
  • Refrain from political office as well as from the offices of religious, community and political organizations to avoid conflicts of interest between ethical reporting and obligations to these organizations. Rather, journalists should serve as the watchdogs of such organizations and report their activities in an unbiased manner.
  • Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
  • Engage strictly in the professional conduct worthy of their profession and refrain from abuses of power, as well as threats, intimidation or harassment of their sources, readers and the general public.
  • Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

 

 

Internet and Digital Technology

Preferred Practices for Electronic Media

The editorial department should control all editorial content on a publication’s Web site, blogs, e-newsletters and other digital materials. Standards such as accuracy, attribution, fairness, and balance applying to printed editorial material also apply to Internet or digital media.

We will avoid placing advertisements in or near editorial content in a way that could compromise editorial integrity or confuse the reader. Furthermore, digital publications can present a special ethical challenge because hyperlinks of various kinds, which promote user involvement, can sometimes blur the separation of editorial and advertising for the average reader. Editors should take steps to avoid possible confusion.

The following guidelines are advised for electronic media:

 

  • The publication's Web site is under the sole control of the editorial staff and the staff approves all content, links and placement of stories and advertisement.
  • All online pages distinguish between editorial and advertising or sponsored content. Non-editorial material is clearly labeled.
  • The publication’s name or logo cannot be used in any way that suggests editorial endorsement of an advertiser.
  • Hypertext links that appear within the editorial content of a site, including those within graphics, is solely at the discretion of the editors. Advertisers do not pay for links within editorial content.
  • Special advertising or advertorial features will conform to the same guidelines that apply to print advertising.
  • There will be a clear distinction between an advertising site and an editorial site. Special advertising sections or features will labeled as such so that users will not confuse them with editorial content.
  • Editors will not permit their content to be used on an advertiser's site without an explanation of the relationship, for example, reprinted with permission clearly stated.
  • Advertisers or e-commerce partners will not receive preferential treatment in search engines, price comparisons, and other applications presented under the content provider's brand unless this is clearly disclosed. The site will not vouch for others' tools that it may offer.
  • Advertisements will not be intentionally placed next to editorial coverage of the specific product advertised.
  • Special advertising will be labeled as such and the publication’s logo may not be used with it or in a special supplement. The editorial staff will not assign, write, edit, design or lay out special advertising sections or supplements. However, editors will review, revise and approve for publication any advertising section or supplement to ensure that editorial standards are followed.

 

Separation of Advertising and Editorial

For publications to be trusted by consumers and to endure as brands, readers must be assured of their editorial integrity and that there is no advertiser influence or pressure on editorial independence.

Editors must make a clear distinction between editorial and advertising, which content has been paid for, which is sponsored and which is independent editorial material. All paid content that may be confused with independent editorial material must be labeled as advertiser-sponsored.

Editorial staff members and freelancers used by editorial will not participate in the preparation of custom publishing or advertising sections, except that the chief editor may review contents of such sections before they appear.

Advertisements will not be placed or sold for placement immediately before or after editorial pages that discuss, show or promote the advertised products. Editorial content will not endorse products.

Editorial will not engage in quid pro quo – trading of advertising for editorial or editorial for advertising.

 

 

Editorial Review

Advertising/marketing staff must make every effort to include all advertising pages, sections and their placement in the layout phase of production to allow the editor to monitor compliance with these guidelines and/or make necessary changes.

While editors or publishers at their discretion may share the general topic matter of upcoming editorial content with advertisers, specific stories, layouts or tables of contents cannot be submitted for advertiser review nor should any internal department staff person alert advertisers of editorial content.

 

 

Standards for Editorial Operations

To ensure editorial integrity all staff, including freelance contributors, must follow these guidelines:

Fact Checking: The editors can at any time check the facts in stories and articles submitted to the newspaper. However, it is also the responsibility of the writers to check and confirm all facts, citations and quotes cited in an article.

Sources: An author must identify all sources cited within a story. A writer can make an exception only when the source could suffer repercussions if name disclosure is made public. If a source is cited anonymously, use the most complete and accurate description of the source as possible.

Freelancers: These guidelines govern freelancers, which is defined as paid or unpaid writers, editors or artists. A violation of any of these guidelines can result in immediate nullification of the contract with the newspaper.

Feedback: It is the goal of The Sedona Observer to make our publication accessible to our readers.  To ensure quality, we encourage our readers to provide feedback.

The following standards are in place to ensure timely feedback:

Contact Information: Readers can contact us by e-mail or mail with complaints, suggestions or general comments.  

Letters to the Editor: Readers can also submit a letter to the editor. Editors will make every effort to verify the authenticity of the authors. Letters will only be edited for grammar, punctuation and case and, if necessary, length.

Corrections: We will print corrections, explanations or retractions in the next issue.  Any correction on the Web site will be posted on the Home page.

Internal Complaints: Complaints and suggestions should be directed to the editor. If the issues are not resolved with the editor, he or she will refer the issue to the publisher.

 

 

Graphics and Photography

Graphic materials will demonstrate the same accuracy, fairness, balance and attribution as the text.

Photographs and Photo Illustration

We will not modify photographic material in ways that might mislead the reader. Proper credits will be published with all photos and artwork.

 

 

Conclusion

The guidelines reflected in this publication represent the standards advocated by various national publishing organizations. Realizing that new ethical challenges are always arising — including those that reflect technological changes — The Sedona Observer retains the right to modify or revise the content of this guide.

Published October 21, 2007