Philadelphia Neighborhoods’ Code of Ethics & Guiding Principles was developed to outline our policies and practices as a news-gathering organization. These work in tandem with our mission to serve underrepresented communities and our obligations as educators.
While we consider these principles to provide a solid foundation to navigate our decision-making, they may be periodically updated to reflect changing norms and our code of ethics is viewed as a living document.
– Last updated: May 2021
Telling the truth
- Be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. Do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.
- Provide accurate context for all reporting.
- Seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject you’re writing.
- Ensure that sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, make clear to your audience who and what your sources are, what motivations your sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving you information. When unsure of information, leave it out or make clear it has not been corroborated.
- Correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. Make it easy for your audience to bring errors to your attention.
- If a report includes criticism of people or organizations, give them the opportunity to respond.
- Clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.
Conflicts of Interest
- Avoid any conflict of interest that undermines your ability to report fairly. Disclose to your audience any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may validly affect their judgment of your credibility.
- Do not allow people to make you dishonestly skew your reporting. Do not offer to skew your reporting under any circumstances.
- Do not allow the interests of advertisers or others funding your work to affect the integrity of your journalism.
- Respect your audience and those you write about. Consider how your work and its permanence may affect the subjects of your reporting, your community and since the Internet knows no boundaries the larger world.
- Don’t plagiarize or violate copyrights.
- Keep promises to sources, readers and the community.
- If you belong to a news organization, give all staff expectations, support and tools to maintain ethical standards.
- We have a blanket ban on undercover reporting in the belief that deception is never appropriate in newsgathering, and other ways can always be found to get the story.
- 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 recognize that many sources cannot talk to us freely. We grant confidentiality if we think the source has a good reason. We will use information and quotes from unnamed sources we consider reliable.
- Our decision to grant anonymity is most often based on the safety (physical, legal, economic) of the person with whom we are speaking. We always make every effort to find sources who are willing to use their name but if impossible, we weigh the merits of granting anonymity.
Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews
- Our journalists seek permission from a parent to interview or photograph a child when it relates to all but simple matters (e.g. asking about a favorite video game).
- We consider granting confidentiality if we’re covering a story about a sensitive issue that could cause a child to be stereotyped, judged unfairly or put in harm’s way, even if the child doesn’t request it.
- When children appear in print interviews, reporters strive to conduct those interviews with a parent or adult caretaker present. We may defer to a parent’s judgement if they do not wish to have a child’s full name printed in a story. However, we do seek children’s perspectives in stories where they are a main stakeholder and attempt to interview children in a way to get their full perspective.
- Our organization never pays for interviews.
- Our organization permits interviewees with transcripts to revise their comments to clarify complicated or technical matters.
- Our organization will provide interview subjects with a general idea of our questions in advance.
- Articles and reports must state the method of interviewing (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype or email) if doing so enhances the context of the interview and article.
Sources: Reliability and Attribution
- We may use sources with a conflict of interest in stories, but details that signal the conflict of interest should be included (e.g. a scientist who conducted a study about a drug’s effectiveness when the study was funded by the manufacturer).
- We use links, if available, for source attribution in online stories.
- We include source attribution in online stories themselves as well as links, if available, that provide additional information.
- We encourage reporters to look for sources who have either expertise or experience. Expertise is broadly defined beyond credentials; we search for sources who are truly knowledgeable about the story topic, regardless of education level or socioeconomic background. This means considering a variety of perspectives at multiple levels, i.e. both decision makers and people affected by decisions.
- Our staff members should take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of information that we publish and note our sources.
- If we are unsure of the accuracy of information, we should cite our sources, word stories carefully to avoid spreading false rumors, acknowledge what we don’t know and ask the community’s help in confirming or correcting our information.
- Reporters may read parts of stories to sources in order to check facts or make sure they understand technical points and procedures. But they should not read full stories to sources before publication and should make clear to the sources that they are only checking facts, not providing an opportunity to change the writing or approach to the story.
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 (e.g. in election coverage, mainstream and non-mainstream candidates).
- 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 and update our story as needed.
- We review every comment by every commenter.
- We edit comments to remove potentially libelous language or hate speech, as we define it, but we do not change spelling or grammatical errors.
- We permit comments on all articles.
- 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 attribution. (“I will go to war,” the president said. “But only if necessary.”)
- Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, we always publish names of people involved in the stories we cover.
- We do not publish names of sexual assault victims unless they agree to speak on the record.
- We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.
- Philadelphia Neighborhoods is the capstone class for journalism majors. As our student reporters are not employees, it is difficult to mandate their activities outside of the class. However, conflicts of interest are discussed and addressed prior to any reporting.
Gifts, Free Travel, and Other Perks
- 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.
Plagiarism and Attribution
- We must always attribute all sources by name and, if the source is digital, by linking to the original source.
- We believe a link to a digital source is sometimes sufficient attribution; we need not 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.
- Attribution should be as specific as possible, including the name of the author and publication or organization of the source we are quoting.
- We should always cite news releases if they are our sources, and should quote them if using their exact words.
- 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
- Philadelphia Neighborhoods is the capstone class for journalism majors. As our student reporters are not employees, it is difficult to mandate their activities outside of the class. However, conversations to discuss any conflicts of interest are discussed and addressed prior to any reporting to identify real or perceived conflicts of interest.
- We should edit or delete inaccurate social media posts, so people who haven’t seen the corrections will not spread them on social media. We should note that we have edited or deleted inaccurate posts.
- Philadelphia Neighborhoods is the capstone class for journalism majors. As our student reporters are not employees, it is difficult to mandate their activities outside of the class. Student reporters may maintain personal social media accounts outside of the class, but should be mindful of the way their public persona reflects on their journalistic work.
- If a mistake is made in a social media post, we will delete the original post and publish a corrected version with an indication that the new post is a correction.
- We will show all changes that have been made to online stories.
Removing Archived Work
- We will remove an outdated story from our archives if it is causing problems for someone.
- 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 consider exceptions to our policy in extreme cases, such as abuse or danger to someone’s personal safety.
- We will update a story in our archives, including the headline, if the story would damage someone’s reputation and is outdated.
- We require staffers to include at least one subject or source from an underrepresented group in each story, even if the story does not specify anything about that person’s demographic identity.
- In covering an event or meeting where reporters have little control over who is present, we will encourage reporters to seek out underrepresented perspectives among people in attendance. Philadelphia Neighborhoods directs student reporters toward resources that can increase their competence around diversity and inclusion: https://philadelphianeighborhoods.com/philadelphia-neighborhoods-diversity-style-guide-references/
Mental Health and Suicide
- We will cover mental health and suicide as broad public health issues as consistently as we cover other health matters.
- We will Include contact information for resources for people in mental health crises. (e.g. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.)
- We will not name criminal suspects until charges have been filed.
- We will not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases.
- We will use obscenities, vulgarities or slurs only in direct quotations and only if the quote is essential to the story.
- We consider the standard for publishing material about private individuals who are thrust into the public eye as higher than that for public individuals.
- We will voluntarily withhold information we have gathered when requested if we deem the individual’s request to be valid, based on our news judgment and professional standards.
- 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.
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.
- 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.
- We will fully identify person-in-the-street-type speakers in audio cuts unless there is a compelling reason not to.
- We will put all data in relevant context.
Photo and Video
- When documenting private or traumatic moments, we will not seek permission to shoot, but will be sensitive to subjects’ situation.
- We will not ask subjects to pose or to re-enact an event.
- We do not need to label a photo or video if it is clearly posed (e.g. an award-winner holding up a trophy).
- We will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it.
- We will refrain from doing re-enactments of news events.
- We will refrain from using any photos or video provided by outside organizations (governments, companies, agents, etc.).
- We will refrain from using “handout” photos or video unless your own photographers are unavailable to cover the story.
- We will clearly label the source of all “handout” photos or video.
- We will use generic photos only when viewers would not expect to see a photo specific to the story (e.g. using a photo of a plane from an airline’s fleet to illustrate the kind of plane that was involved in a crash.)
- We will verify photos or videos from social media before using them.
- 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. *During the COVID-19 pandemic, reporters were given permission to use courtesy photos in order to protect their safety and maintain social distancing guidelines.
- We consider UGC an extension of our own journalism. We don’t run such material unless we’re sure it’s authentic.
- 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.
Virtual Reality Journalism
- In re-creating news events in VR, the viewer should get full disclosures about any guesswork or artistic license involved.
- Photos and video may be manipulated if needed to avoid disturbing scenes like dead children.
- While we currently do not have VR stories, their ethics for potential projects should align with our existing ethics for photo and video.
- We will disclose when a specific story has been supported by a funder.
Clickbait and Metrics
- We are encouraged to write clever, creative headlines and social media posts that will entice readers to click on our stories, but headlines will not make promises that our stories don’t deliver.
- We will accurately reflect the content of related stories in headlines and social media posts.
- We will use metric considerations as one of a number of factors in determining what we cover and how we place stories.
This code of ethics was developed through the use of ONA Ethics.