AWOL

AWOL Ethics Code

Reporting Issues

 

Natures of our journalism 

AWOL reporters are people humans first and we will prioritize reporters’ wellbeing above AWOL commitments and obligations.

Reporters should keep opinions and reporting as separate as possible and should use good judgment on whether they are able to cover a topic without bias. Reporters should have good judgment about their public opinions.

Journalists can provide a statement of their beliefs on their own platforms outside of their professional capacity with a disclosure of their ability to report objectively if they feel it will add to their transparency and credibility. 

Journalists may participate in community and political involvements, excluding campus political involvements, outside of topics they cover. In the unlikely chance that a reporter has to cover a topic related to a community or political involvement, the reporter must include a disclaimer.

 

Bombs and Other Threats

We will consult with local officials to determine whether a bomb threat is credible before we publish a story, but we will reserve the right to publish regardless of what officials say.

 

Concealing Identity

We permit undercover reporting only when we feel a story is important enough to justify doing so, have exhausted all other reasonable methods and have the method approved the EICs.

 

Confidential Sources

We use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one editor.

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

We publish information from confidential sources that we consider reliable but do not publish the opinions of unnamed sources.

We do not attend “background briefings” where officials try to spoon-feed information to the media without speaking for the record.

We are more open to granting confidentiality to sources we approach for interviews than to sources approaching us with tips or with dirt about political opponents or business rivals.

We should try to use encrypted software when handling sensitive information that may harm a source.

 

Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews

We avoid identifying — by name or photo — children who are connected with a crime as perpetrators, victims or witnesses.

We do not require parental permission to photograph or interview children in breaking news situations but will use reasonable judgment in each circumstance.

 

Hostage Situations

We will take authorities’ recommendations into account but use our own judgment.

 

Interviewing

Our organization never pays for interviews nor video nor photos in conjunction with an interview.

Our organization never permits interview subjects to review or revise their comments. 

Our organization never provides interview subjects with lists of questions in advance but may give interview subjects a general idea of interview topics in advance.

Articles and reports must state if a source’s comment/interview came in a written format (i.e. email, statements).

AWOL reporters must record interviews and take notes as back-up. If a source refuses to be recorded, reporters should inform the source that recording is primarily for ensuring accuracy and if a source wants to go off the record, the recording can be stopped. If the source still refuses to be interviewed, reporters do not need to record the interview and can use only notes. 

Reporters should explain off the record, on the record, on background, etc. to sources who are not familiar with them.

 

Sources: Reliability and attributions

We will only use reliable, vetted sources who have relevant knowledge or experience in the topic of the story. 

We use links, if available, for source attribution in online stories and include additional information about the source if necessary.

We report things that have clearly been established as fact at the top of the story and put the attribution in later. I.e. We will not provide attribution in the nut graf but will attribute information later. 

Our reporters will not interview individuals with whom they have a personal or professional relationship. Examples: 

  • Professors they are currently taking a class with, are registered to take a class with, or professors they have a personal or mentor relationship with.
  • Friends, but they may talk to friends of a friend as a form of sourcing.
  • If they have been in a club and are no longer a member, use their best judgment to determine whether they will be able to use sources from that club without bias. However, if they have been specifically identified publicly as a member of this group then they should not report on them.
  • For current classmates, reach out to at least one editor and one senior editor.
  • If reporters have any questions about which sources are and are not appropriate, they should reach out to their editors.

Reporters may have personal relationships with sources after they finished reporting the story.

Reporters should avoid providing material help to sources because then the interview may be conditional or contingent on the material help, which will affect the information provided from the interview.

 

Writing and Editing

 

Accuracy

Our staff members must take responsibility for the accuracy of all information that we publish, using an accuracy checklist before publication.

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

We should not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.

Reporters can check with sources after the story is written but sources should not read from the story directly.

 

Balance and Fairness

To ensure fairness, we believe in covering not only the most powerful voices on an issue, but also those who are not normally heard (i.e. in election coverage, mainstream and non-mainstream candidates).

We 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, we will attempt to gather comments from key sides of an issue; if comments are not immediately available, we will publish or air the story without them, make clear that we were unable to get some comment (i.e. x source did not immediately respond to a request for comment) and update our story as needed. 

 

Online Commenting

We have a system that permits individuals to “flag” comments for potential problems, and we review those “flagged” comments in a systematic and timely fashion.

We do not permit anonymous comments at all.

 

Quotations

If a person is speaking a second language, don’t change grammatical errors unless the quote is not understandable, but if it’s not understandable try not to use the quote in the first place.

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

We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by ellipsis as long as the meaning of the quote is not altered or manipulated. (“I will go to war … but only if necessary,” the president said.) However, reporters are encouraged to try to avoid using the ellipsis and use it as sparingly as possible.

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

 

Withholding Names

We should always be careful about identifying kidnap victims if the person may be in danger.

We should always identify kidnap victims unless we have a compelling reason to withhold the name.

We withhold the names of mass killers to deny them the attention they appear to seek. Other than names, we cover other details of these crimes based on their newsworthiness.

In covering active police or military operations, we will withhold such details as location or tactics planned, until after the operation, to avoid endangering police, troops or civilians who could be affected.

We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.

 

Professional Conduct

 

Community Involvement

Our journalists should avoid covering community events in which they are personally involved in. Journalists should tell their supervisors about their community involvements, including when a story suddenly arises that may present a conflict. When they have to cover an area where they have a personal involvement, we should consider assigning another journalist. If a conflict can’t be avoided, coverage should disclose the conflict.

Our journalists may not serve in publicity roles for community organizations, with “publicity role” defined as  1. A person who actively engages in PR/Social media for the org. 2. A person in a top leadership position in the organization, which implies an inherent publicity role in the organization.

We will provide factual coverage in a neutral voice despite our organization’s involvement in the issues we cover. We will disclose our affiliation for transparency reasons, but the affiliation should not be evident from a promotional voice or content.

 

Gifts

Our journalists should accept no gifts from subjects or potential subjects of our coverage. If gifts sent to journalists cannot be returned, we should donate them to charity.

Our journalists must always pay their own way, including admission to events we are covering or reviewing and have not been offered a press pass or ticket.

Our journalists may accept tickets or press passes to events we are covering or reviewing, but should not accept extra tickets for family or friends.

Our journalists who travel internationally should use good judgment to determine if upholding our gift policy would be culturally insensitive. If a journalist accepts a gift that normally would violate our ethics, we should disclose the gift and/or donate it to charity.

 

Personal Ethics Statements by Staff

Our organization’s policy prevails if personal ethics codes and organizational policy conflict.

 

Plagiarism and Attributions

Naming sources is sometimes dependent on context, but we try to name when at all possible.

We will link to a source when possible if it’s digital. If it’s print, we will be as specific as possible with attribution

We believe a link to a digital source is sometimes sufficient attribution; we do not need to always name the source in the text if the information is routine.

When we are using someone else’s exact words, we should use quotation marks and attribution.

We should always cite news releases if they are our sources and should quote them if using their exact words.

When we use substantial material from our archives or from an author’s previous work in a current story, we should note that the material has been published before.

Even when taking basic facts from another source — “World War II ended in Allied victories over Germany and Japan” —  we should vary the wording from the phrasing used in source materials.

 

Political Activities by staff

Students may not engage in campus political activities, including AUSG offices or campaigns, and be on the AWOL staff.

 

Social Networks

Reporters should keep opinions and reporting as separate as possible and should use good judgment on whether they are able to cover a topic without bias. Reporters should have good judgment about their social media presence as journalists. For example, Reporters who wish to share a certain stance on a topic may consider indirectly sharing their opinion by sharing relevant facts, and reporters should not express opinions directly related topics they are currently reporting or have recently published in their capacity as an AWOL journalist. If a reporter has a question about a specific topic or post, they should bring it to their editor. 

AWOL will not engage in checking our journalists’ online history to check for opinions on social media but will address specific issues as they are made known to us.

There is a distinction between AUSG and national government: national government is okay to provide opinions about on socials. AUSG is not.

Reporters do not spread misinformation and the best practice is acknowledge if they did so.

If there is an error in a social media post, on Twitter: take a screenshot of the original tweet and include it in the correct, updated tweet. On Instagram and Facebook: Edit original post and add correction and update, but include the original version below in the post.

 

Organizational Policies 

 

Awards and Contests

We will assess the nature of the contest and make a decision consistent with our overall contest principles if we win a contest we did not enter.

Censorship

We will refuse any attempt to censor our material, accepting delay as the price for putting out exactly what we want.

Corrections

If there is an error in a social media post, on Twitter: take a screenshot of original tweet and include it in the correct, updated tweet. On Instagram and Facebook: Edit original post and add correction and update, but include the original version below in the post.

We will show all changes that have been made to online stories if they involve corrections or rephrasing to fix unclear material.

We will show all corrections in the place the incorrect material originally appeared (i.e. put corrections related to a story at the bottom of that same story).

Freelance Work by Employees

We permit freelancing by full-time employees if it meets our overall criteria, and we do not require advance notice.

Handling and Protection of Freelancers and “Fixers”

We will publicly credit the work of freelancers, fixers and translators unless doing so poses a risk of harm, such as threatening a person’s safety.

Removing Archived Work

We will never remove material from our archives.

We will note when the post was updated.

We will correct any errors we learn of in our archived content and note the corrections.

We will delete inaccurate social media posts but acknowledge the deletions in subsequent posts.

Reporting on our Organization

We will avoid all potential conflicts of loyalty by refraining from covering the story when our organization has done something newsworthy. We will let others cover our organization. If an issue is particularly newsworthy, we will limit ourselves to publishing official company statements.

 

Social Concerns

 

Diversity

We will seek diverse pools of candidates for all jobs but will always seek to hire the most qualified candidate.

We encourage staffers to seek diverse sources, both in specific stories and in routine beat coverage.

We want to do the work of reaching out to different groups on campus during recruiting season, keeping in mind that we don’t want to set a quota.

 

Hate Speech

We consider the perspectives of those offended by hateful expression when making publication decisions.

We do not align ourselves with the University or District laws on hate speech, but as an organization support efforts to combat hate speech.

We do not include original offensive expressions, but will partially censor the expression for informational purposes.

We will refer to our style guide on formatting slurs and will then explain what group that expression is targeting.

 

Mental Health Suicide

We will cover mental health and suicide as broad public health issues as consistently as we cover other health matters. Like a death, we wouldn’t report a suicide itself as news unless it was related to another newsworthy event or irresponsible not to.

We will use the phrases “died by suicide” only.

We will not describe a suicide attempt as “successful” or “unsuccessful.”

We will not detail specific means of suicide in news stories or obituaries.

We will not use sensational headlines on stories about suicide.

We will not use graphic images on stories about suicide.

We will opt for everyday images of a person who dies by suicide (such as a school photo) instead of images of people grieving.

We will include contact information for resources for people in mental health crises. (i.e. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.)

We will not include the method used in a suicide unless the method itself is explicitly newsworthy.

 

Naming suspects

We will not name criminal suspects until charges have been filed.

We will name criminal suspects if we have their identifications confirmed by sources we trust.

We will not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases unless they are charged with serious violent crimes, such as armed robbery, aggravated sexual assault, attempted homicide or homicide.

If we publish the name of a person arrested or charged with a crime, we will publish a story about the resolution of the case and update the original story and headline, if they are still online, with a link to the new story.

 

Obscenities

N-word will always be “n-word.”

Swear words are okay to spell out unless context could be harmful.

Slurs are not okay to spell out. We will refer to our style guide on formatting slurs and will then explain what group that expression is targeting.

For words that are both determine which way it’s being used and act accordingly.

 

Privacy

We do not believe that everything celebrities and public officials say and do should be made public, even though they cede a great deal of privacy when they enter the public eye. We analyze cases on an individual basis, taking into account the news value of the public figure’s action.

We reserve the right to publish material that we have voluntarily withheld if we determine that the material has valid public interest or if we feel that the requesting party has deceived us as to his or her motives.

We use discretion when it comes to interviewing and publishing material from trauma victims or bystanders because we understand that to do so may cause additional harm to individuals.

We contact private accounts, asking if it is okay for us to publish their content, unless there is a ligament reason not to contact, (i.e. something they wouldn’t want to be published but the public needs to know) 

University officials are public officials.

 

Race and Gender

We will seek out people in the groups we cover to gain perspective on our coverage and terminology.

We will use racial, ethnic, gender and sexuality identifiers when specifically germane to a story but not otherwise.

We will Identify transgender people by the gender they express publicly.

We will use plural references to avoid gender-specific pronouns when possible.

 

Sensational material

For media of traumatic events, we only publish to expose perpetrators after asking victims if it’s okay to do so. 

We will run sensitive material that might be offensive to specific members of the audience after internal debate has demonstrated a clear public interest in and value from the publication.

We will consider the differing impact of sensitive material on differing segments of the population (e.g., effects on minors, vulnerable groups or victims of crime).

We will run sensitive material with stories with notes of warning.

In most cases, we refrain from disclosing material to police unless necessary for public safety. We will use discretion and knowledge of person/material in question.

 

Multimedia and Data

 

Audio

We only make edits if it does not take away from the integrity of the original quote.

Reporters do not need to identify vox pop sources if not they are being used as a source to give a general idea of public opinion or to give “color” rather than as a source of information.

Audio cuts of newsmakers may be edited to remove insignificant stumbles.

Our journalists may never combine sound from different sources in such a way as to create an audio scene that never happened.

 

Data Journalism

We won’t pay for data outside of subscription services and covering costs of data collection.

In collaborative projects, we may not be able to insist on shared ethical values with partners, but we will disclose to our readers and viewers that we have separate policies from our partners.

We will put all data in relevant context.

We will make original data available for download in all cases when it’s possible.

We will not use personally identifiable data without specific and valid news value to support disclosure.

We will secure data to the best extent possible to prevent hacking.

 

Interactives

If information is no longer correct or relevant, we will note that in the story.

We will structure our interactives so there is only one way in, to give all users a consistent experience.

Links among the parts of an interactive will be retained over time, including when the story is archived.

We will reconstruct or preview events through infographics or animations only if we are sure that every detail we show is correct.

 

Photo and Video

When documenting private or traumatic moments, we will not seek permission to shoot, but will be sensitive to subjects’ situation.

If we believe we can provide help or mitigate harm by actively participating in a situation (rather than only documenting it), do so and then disclose your participation to your viewers. 

We will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the integrity and news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it.

Acceptable tools in Photoshop are the crop tool, light tool and tool to reduce and increase image size. 

We will refrain from using “handout” photos or video unless our own photographers are unavailable to cover the story.

We will clearly label the source of all “handout” photos or video.

We will refer to our style guide on formatting slurs and will then explain what group that expression is targeting.

We will pixelate for faces only if having face shown would be harmful to them like in particular protests and if the decision has been approved by an editor. 

We will refrain from doing re-enactments of news events. We will not ask subjects to pose or to re-enact an event.

If using music in video stories, we will be cognizant of the emotional effect the music may have, and avoid using music if the story is intended to have a neutral voice. 

We will refrain from using any generic photos or video to illustrate a specific story.

We will make reasonable and good faith efforts to verify photos or videos from social media before using them.

 

User-generated content

We will guard against using UGC in situations that might be dangerous to the person who created it or to others in the images. We will stress to possible providers of UGC that they must not take risks to gather information or imagery.

We consider UGC an extension of our own journalism. We will make reasonable and good faith efforts to verify any UGC prior to publication and will partner with partner with other organizations and the public in attempts to verify what UGC is accurate.

We will not distribute UGC content unless we’re certain we have the rights to do so. The only exception might be an urgent situation where a rights-holder cannot be found.

If we cannot find the rights-holder in an urgent situation and use the UGC, we will make continued efforts afterward to locate and reach an agreement with the rights-holder.

 

Click Bait and Metrics

We are encouraged to write clever, creative headlines and social media posts that will entice readers to click on our stories but will ensure they accurately reflect the content.