Content (Updated July 2006)
- Foreword by Wendy Zomparelli, publisher and president and Mike Riley, editor
- The Duty of Landmark Newspapers by Frank Batten, chairman of the executive committee Landmark Communications
- News And Editorial Mission And Vision
- Participation in Civic Affairs
- Community Service
- Business Interests
- Outside Work
- Freebies, Junkets and Gifts
- Personal Advantage
- Integrity of Our Reporting
- Plagiarism and Giving Credit
- Integrity of Photographs
- Making Deals with Sources
- Diversity of Sources
- Prepublication Review
- Dealing with the Public
- Dealing with Other Media
- Writing About Ourselves
- Foundation Support
- Copyright and Ownership of Materials
- Company Property
- Talk It Through
- Editing, Good Taste and Other Policies
- Editing Photos and Graphics
- Good Taste
- Corrections Policy
- Reporting Cause of Death
- Reporting Suicides
- Identification of Race
- Identification of Victims
- Identifying Places in Police and Fire Stories
- Naming Juveniles in Crime and Court Stories
- Medical hardship funds/ drives/ benefits
- What We Post on the Internet
- Online Ethics and Practices
- Audio Production Guidelines
- Editing Audio
- Good Taste
- Text Posted Online
- Online Use of Photos and Video
- Online Editing Process
- Copyright, Credits and Stock Material
- Online Errors
- Blogs and Internet Postings
In recent years, some people have loudly predicted the demise of newspapers. They point to the explosion of the Internet, a wave of troubling journalistic scandals, and the industry's rapidly changing business model, all factors that fuel an assumption that newspapers like The Roanoke Times will never survive such tumultuous changes.
Clearly, those concerns are legitimate: Will anyone want to read words published on newsprint in the year 2025? Will the Internet become the primary, or perhaps only, news source for most Americans? Will advertisers continue to try to attract customers with mass-market appeals, or will they rely on sharply targeted advertising? Finally, what new digital technologies will emerge to disrupt our world, and what threat to newspapers will they represent?
For The Roanoke Times and roanoke.com, a single question looms above the rest: What must we do well to ensure that our journalistic enterprise survives these changes?
We know two things: First, people are innately curious, and they will always want and need local news. That's part of the human condition. Second, no matter how people want to get their news – in print, online, on a smart phone or via whatever futuristic gadget you might imagine – we are committed to remaining this region's leading local news provider.
We understand that our success in the future depends on the same fundamental principles that have determined our success so far: people must believe in us and trust what we do. Simply put, our future depends on our credibility.
Those who turn to us for news and information need to believe not only in the accuracy of what we print, post or record, but in our commitment to community service, to journalistic excellence and to the highest ethical standards.
Our reputation for fair and complete reporting will distinguish our enterprise amid a growing din of confusing and sometimes contradictory information. Our depth of knowledge of the communities we cover, reflected in accuracy and timeliness, will earn our readers' trust. Our commitment to service, as we document problems and possibilities for this region, will sustain us as an essential resource. Our ability to chronicle clearly the lives and events of this region will constitute the bedrock of our credibility.
We realize that our integrity is our future.
That's what this document is all about. Read it, please, and understand how seriously we take our responsibilities. These professional standards and policies apply to everyone who works for the news department of The Roanoke Times and roanoke.com.
Mike Riley, Editor
Wendy Zomparelli, President & Publisher
The Duty of Landmark Newspapers
By Frank Batten
Chairman of the Executive Committee Landmark Communications
Newspapers live entirely on the bounty of the public. The ability of journalists to report and to comment is based upon a unique grant of freedom from the public. Thus our duty is clear: It is to serve the public with skill and character, and to exercise First Amendment freedoms with vigor and responsibility. Our news reports should never be influenced by the private interests of the owners or of any other group. Our editorials should exhibit vigor and courage, always respectful of contrary opinion, never tailored to the whims of the editor or publisher.
We aim to build a tradition of excellence for our newspapers. We must be aggressive in publishing the news. The independence of our editors, reporters and photographers is not for sale. There are no sacred cows. No territory of legitimate public interest is off limits to fair and competent reporting and comments.
Freedom makes a place for excellence. That place must be filled with professional discipline, with respect for the public we serve, and with a keen sense of fairness to all individuals. We must never pander to passions or forget for a moment the power of the printed word to do wrong as well as to right wrong.
Let us forget old slogans of dead days. Instead of "Get it first and get it right," let our rule be: "First, get it right." When mistakes occur, we should correct them promptly and forthrightly. Excellence cannot flourish without criticism. We need criticism and should seek it. Lacking trust, a newspaper cannot serve or advance any worthy purpose.
The first priority of Landmark newspapers is to present a faithful and accurate picture of the life of their communities. This requires detailed coverage of local events, institutions and people's activities.
Warts and problems are at the core of news, but they are not all of the news. Even against the tide of modern life, people and institutions make progress. We should be generous in coverage of achievement; our pages should reflect the grit, devotion and durability of the human spirit. Let us nourish hope. While exposure of wrongdoing is a proper function and on occasion a required function of newspapers, it is not the main purpose. Problems are shaped more often by circumstance than by venality. Corruption and conflicts of interest, in most communities, have little to do with the important things that are not working. Most of our communities' failures are rooted in complex problems. A truly excellent newspaper will spend most of its investigative skills on explaining those circumstances. We misdirect readers if we concentrate on narrow problems and inflate their significance.
A great newspaper is distinguished by the balance, fairness and authority of its reporting and editing. Such a newspaper searches as hard for strengths and accomplishment as for weakness and failure. Rather than demoralize its community, the great newspaper will, by honest and intelligent journalism, inspire people to do better.
The Roanoke Times News and Editorial Mission and Vision
We must provide people with the news and information they value and need to understand their world, govern themselves effectively and improve their lives.
We believe that an informed public is our society's only guarantee of freedom. We are first and foremost a local news organization, serving as the community's watchdog, conscience and forum.
We believe that the cornerstone of our enterprise is journalistic integrity. We insist on honesty, accuracy and fairness in all our reporting. We will report progress and achievements as well as problems and injustices, offering our readers context and perspective. We will entertain as well as enlighten.
We believe that we are in partnership with readers, who determine our success. We will solicit, hear, respect and act on their ideas. We will maintain standards of excellence and strive to delight customers with innovative content.
We believe that our news and editorial staffs are the heart of our journalistic mission. We will therefore:
Provide an environment that stimulates and values their creativity and rewards them fairly;
Foster an atmosphere of mutual respect that empowers all employees yet acknowledges management's responsibility to lead;
Help people learn, as individuals and as team members, enhancing their productivity in the face of constant change.
Readership is how we measure our importance to readers and our impact on the communities we serve. Therefore, our mission is to create goals and strategies to increase readership. We will work with the rest of our company to establish goals to add new subscribers and retain present ones, and we will seek to build readership in innovative ways.
I. Professional Standards
Participation in Civic Affairs
The credibility of our news report requires fairness and impartiality. It demands the avoidance of conflicts of interest - or even the appearance of such conflicts - that might raise suspicion that the newspaper or its staffers pursue political or other agendas in news stories.
We operate in the public domain, on or off the job. Our private behavior as well as our professional behavior must not bring discredit to our paper or our craft. Staff members should be aware that even seemingly innocuous actions - wearing a political button, signing a petition, displaying a bumper sticker, appearing on a list of contributors to political or quasi-political groups - may create a damaging impression in the public's mind.
Our job is to chronicle the news, not make it. Participation in events such as public demonstrations, where a staff member could be involved unintentionally in making the news, always will be discouraged and must be approved in advance by the editor or managing editor.
News staffers are not expected to give up their rights as citizens, but they must understand that any employee who takes a public position on any significant public issue risks losing his or her reputation for impartiality and will be required to withdraw from stories about the issue. (In some instances, the staffer's job may even be at peril.) Staffers should therefore avoid active involvement in partisan political causes - including participation in primaries or meetings to choose political candidates - community affairs, social actions or demonstrations that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report, edit or photograph fairly.
News staffers must exercise great care before becoming involved in any political activity beyond registering and voting in a general election. Under no circumstance may a staff member run for political office, make political contributions, or work, for pay or as a volunteer, in a political campaign or organization. If a relative - spouse, parent, child, brother or sister, for example - or close friend is involved in a political campaign or organization, the staff member will refrain from covering or making news judgments about such a campaign or organization.
To guard against the appearance of displaying a partisan allegiance, news employees should decline invitations to accept leadership positions or to serve on any board, commission or major committee with governmental, quasi-governmental or communitywide civic sponsorship. Exceptions to this rule should be approved in advance by the managing editor or editor and made known to all news employees. Under no circumstances may any news department employee accept the position of publicity chair for an organization or event.
Staff members who are to write or edit any story about an issue in which they have a personal involvement must advise an editor of the conflict. If a close family member is strongly identified with an organization, cause or issue in the news, the staff member must be prepared to withdraw from coverage decisions in that area. Other potential conflicts could arise from stock ownership, an employee's outside employment, the place of employment of a spouse or dependent child, an overwhelming commitment to a public issue, or any number of other possible circumstances. In any conflict, the staff member will be required to withdraw from the story.
Freelance contributors, while not bound by the same restrictions as regular employees, should abide by the spirit of these standards, since the freelancers also represent The Roanoke Times. To avoid any potential conflict between journalistic impartiality and a freelancer's commercial or political interests, it is the freelancer's responsibility to make any potential conflict known to the newspaper's management. If a conflict exists, the freelancer will be taken off an assignment, or the offer of a story or column will be refused. A freelancer's ties to relevant organizations in an article should be prominently mentioned. These rules and all other guidelines also apply to freelancers employed by roanoke.com.
We are residents of this community. Its civic health matters to us as citizens. Its cultural offerings enrich our lives and the lives of our families. The need to maintain journalistic impartiality doesn't mean that we have to be detached from community life. On the contrary, the more we participate in community activities, the better understanding we will have of the needs, aspirations and lives of the people we portray.
While news department employees should not become involved in policymaking positions or act as spokesmen or spokeswomen for outside organizations, we encourage staff participation in voluntary community organizations that have a limited community impact and do not fall in the normal range of coverage by the staff member. Among the kinds of community service news staffers engage in are teaching English as a Second Language, teaching Sunday school, constructing houses with Habitat for Humanity and helping out in schools and daycare centers. Any questions about appropriate volunteer work should be discussed with the managing editor or editor.
Staff members may not enter into a business relationship with news sources, use inside knowledge about businesses for personal gain or give anyone outside the news department knowledge of any proposed or pending story that could affect the price of securities or contracts.
Financial investments, loans or other outside business activities that could conflict with the newspaper's ability to fairly and impartially report the news, or that would create the impression of such a conflict, must be avoided.
A reporter, editor or photographer who is to cover or edit any story about a company in which he or she has a financial interest must advise the managing editor or editor of the conflict and be prepared to withdraw from the story. Financial interest in this case consists of ownership of more than one share of stock, active or passive participation in an enterprise, or enjoying beneficial interest of investments held by others. Investments held through a mutual fund are exempt from this provision, as long as the staffer is not reporting on the fund itself.
Relatives of news staffers cannot fairly be made subject to the newsroom's rules, but it should be recognized that their employment, financial investments or involvement in causes can at least appear to compromise our integrity. Business and professional ties of family members or close friends thus should be disclosed, on a confidential basis, to a supervising editor.Top
News employees of The Roanoke Times are expected to avoid any type of outside work - paid or unpaid - that may be open to any interpretation that it affects or influences the content of the newspaper. Any outside work, even apparently unrelated to journalism, can cause conflicts. No employee may accept outside employment or engage in outside business activities without first consulting his or her supervisor about possible conflicts of interest. Any questions about what is appropriate should be referred to the managing editor or editor.
These specific prohibitions on outside jobs apply to news personnel:
- No news employee shall accept work with any organization, promoter, business, school, amateur or professional team or agency that depends on news coverage in The Roanoke Times.
- No news employee shall accept work with any agency of the federal, state or local government, political party, advertising agency, or any organization seeking public support for any cause. This prohibition does not apply to service in any reserve unit of the United States armed forces or similar military obligation.
- News employees are prohibited from performing work for any competing medium of communication. A staffer's first loyalty should be to this newspaper. As a general rule, staff members should not work on the same assignment for the newspaper and any other organization. When a staffer seeks permission to string, write or take photographs for national publications, however, it normally will be granted.
- Occasional guest appearances on commercial and noncommercial radio and television stations will be permitted, with prior approval by the managing editor or the editor. When on the air, staff members should demonstrate a high standard of impartiality, just as in our paper's news columns, and refrain from offering personal opinions about issues in the news.
Freebies, Junkets and Gifts
The Roanoke Times pays its own way on all assignments for news coverage. We accept nothing of value - except information - from news sources or others outside the newspaper.
All trips designed to produce news stories for the sponsor - junkets - are to be declined. The rule is: If we can't pay, we don't go. An exception might involve traveling on military aircraft in time of war. Even then, we should make every effort to pay our share of the costs. That decision should be left to the managing editor or editor.
No news employee or freelancer shall accept business-connected gifts valued at $35 or more. Gifts of significant value, such as free lodging, free tickets to events, plane tickets and expensive meals or bottles of liquor are to be refused with a polite explanation that newsroom policy prohibits their acceptance. Where refusal or return is impossible, gifts can be donated to charity. Staffers should report all gifts to the managing editor or editor.
Admission to any event where provision has been made for separate or special seating for journalists must be limited to one admission per working reporter or photographer. Staff members should not seek admission for a family member or friend to a working media area, nor should they use special media seating unless they are covering the event or legitimately gaining background for future coverage. Staff members should accept no free tickets for admission of relatives or friends to any event.
Staff members should pay for meals when on assignment and arrange for later reimbursement by the newspaper. Restaurant critics must never accept free meals at eating establishments. Travel writers, including stringers, should adhere to strict "pay-your-own-way" standards for food, transportation and lodging.
This policy is not to be construed to mean that a staffer cannot accept a low-cost meal, or, in some circumstances, transportation when these things are proffered in the course of a normal assignment and insistence upon paying our way is not practical.
Situations will arise that call for judgment. We need not be reduced to arguing with a news source over who will pay for a cup of coffee or a press briefing over an inexpensive lunch. Occasionally, someone may buy a staff member a drink. This is regarded as a simple courtesy, and the staff member should repay the courtesy at some future time. Use common sense. A ride in a source's car may be acceptable; a $100 gift, never.
Whenever group rates or other discounts are available to the public, staff members may pay those same rates. At any event, we should strive to pay our fair share of a sponsor's costs - whether a staffer is covering a story or developing contacts.
These rules also apply to news stringers. The newspaper expects freelancers to abide by the same rules, since the freelancer on assignment represents The Roanoke Times. Supervising editors should inform freelancers of these rules at the time of assignment.
News personnel should not use their staff positions to seek benefit or advantage in personal business, financial or commercial transactions not generally afforded to the public. For example, staff members should not refer to their newspaper connection while attempting to buy a personal item at a reduced price, to ensure quicker service or make a complaint about a private transaction. The standard is that a staff member should not seek or accept any benefit or advantage not afforded to the general public.
Integrity of Our Reporting
We do not make up anything that appears in our news columns. We do not invent details or embellish facts in our stories.
The use of fictitious quotations, phantom sources or composite people as if they were real people is forbidden.
We do not misrepresent ourselves when gathering and reporting the news. People have a right to know they're talking to a journalist from The Roanoke Times.
We will do our best to make sure that ordinary people understand how what they tell us will be used in our stories. We recognize that many of the people we talk to may never before have been interviewed by a reporter. We'll treat them - and all the other people we come in contact with - respectfully and honorably.
Quotes are sacred. Don't clean them up to hide poor grammar, slang or broken English. If we're afraid that a direct quote will embarrass a speaker - particularly if the speaker is someone not accustomed to talking to the newspaper - paraphrase the information.
Plagiarism and Giving Credit
Plagiarism is unforgivable and will be cause for termination. We will attribute all material we use from other newspapers, other media or any other sources. We will credit other media that develop exclusive stories worthy of our coverage.
Integrity of Photographs
Photojournalism is an integral part of the storytelling process at The Roanoke Times, and it is critical to the paper's credibility.
Our visual report is one of the ways we provide important content to the reader; we must carefully protect its integrity. There is one absolute in picture creation, picture editing and picture use: If the final product misleads or deceives the reader, even if it is an unaltered image, it is wrong to use it.
We do not have specific moratoriums against the publication of any type of accurate news picture. Pictures that show extreme grief, graphic violence, dead people, nudity or other potentially offensive content require careful consideration before publication. In these cases a photo editor, the assistant managing editor, the managing editor or the editor must be consulted before publication. (See Good Taste Policy)
We may wish to use some photo or design technique - such as fade-outs, cutouts or type on a photo - on a news page to create a package, but we should not use this in a way that alters content. Just as traditional dodging and burning, color correction and other techniques require common sense, so does the use of all manual and computer software image processes.When we use a photo illustration or alter a photograph for a valid journalistic purpose, that photo is no longer a news photo. Our style is to use the 'Photo Illustration' credit. A caption explaining the context of the illustration and any techniques used to create it should be considered to avoid misperceptions.
In all situations, good judgment, honesty and common sense are the guidelines. If you have any doubt about whether you should use a photo technique while shooting or during the design process, consult with a photo editor, the assistant managing editor for visuals, the managing editor or the editor.
We rely on sources for information, but we deliver our credibility into their hands if we fail to check the facts and statements they supply, or if we aren't certain that we understand their agendas. Good reporters don't accept anything they're told at face value. When you're dealing with sources, be skeptical of what you're told. Do your best to confirm through other sources or records the truthfulness of what you're told. Remember: our responsibility is to our readers, not our sources.
The Roanoke Times strives to provide its readers with believable and useful information. Readers cannot know whether to believe or disbelieve information attributed to anonymous sources. They cannot use the information because, without knowing the source, they have no means of assessing its value.
To the fullest extent possible, this newspaper will provide readers full information on the sources of news it prints. Sources are to be identified by name, position and other information relevant to the story.
Our business demands that we get as much information as possible on the record and with full attribution. We should make every effort to get sources on the record. Too often, we allow 16 sources to go off the record or tell us something that's not for attribution. Keep interviews on the record as much as possible. Avoid blanket promises of anonymity, particularly at the start of an interview. If a source asks to go off the record, ask what he or she means by that to make sure you share a common definition of the term. Push to find out why the source wants to speak off the record; often a source means they want to talk "not for attribution," which allows us to publish the information.
If a source wants to go off the record, keep that part of the interview as limited as you can. Go back on the record as soon as you can. After you get a piece of information that's either off the record or not for attribution, reason with the source and try to persuade him or her to reconsider whether it really needs to be off the record. Often, you can chip away at the off-the-record comments and get much of it on the record.
On occasion, authoritative reporting requires the use of unnamed sources. Authorization is to be given only when the following conditions have been met:
- The supervising editor determines that there is a need for the public to know the information provided by the source and no on-the-record means of obtaining it exists.
- The supervising editor knows the identity of the unnamed source.
- The reader is told as much as possible about the unnamed source and about the reason for anonymity. In doing this, though, we should always balance our obligation to protect the confidentiality of our sources.
- Extensive efforts have been made to corroborate the accuracy of the information provided by the unnamed source.
- The supervising editor informs the managing editor or editor. The final decision whether to print the material rests with them.
Permitting an unnamed source to demean, attack or vilify a named person or institution is forbidden unless the managing editor or editor, for considered and compelling reasons, expressly approves. And if an anonymous source ever lies to us, our readers will be told as soon as possible.
We will not mislead readers by mischaracterizing an anonymous source. We will not write that "Jane Jones refused to comment" if, in fact, it means that Jane Jones did comment but refused to be identified.
These policies apply to wire stories, though their application is difficult. Generally, we should avoid use of national and international stories based on unnamed sources, unless the article shows that several sources were used and gives some indication of the sources' expertise, or offers other corroboration for the information reported. Anonymous, scurrilous quotes should be removed from wire stories just as they would be from a staff-written story. It may not hurt a public official or movie star to be the subject of an anonymous attack in a wire story in The Roanoke Times, but it can hurt us by diminishing our readers' trust.
Here are some other policies about sources:
- If a source asks to go "off the record," to talk "on background," or to speak "not for attribution," be sure that you and the source agree on what those phrases specifically mean.
- Occasionally a source will try to make parts of an interview "off the record" after the interview has taken place. We should not allow sources who deal with the media on a regular basis to get away with this. If you're interviewing ordinary citizens who are not used to being interviewed, be upfront and clear that the interview is on the record and for publication.
- Talk to your editor in any situation where total and lasting confidentiality is involved. In such situations, the reporter and editor must share the burden of trust that such a promise carries. On potentially sensitive stories, a reporter must talk with an editor before promising anonymity; legal repercussions and other problems may not be clearly seen at the fact-gathering stage.
- Do not use such words as "key officials," "well-placed" or "informed" sources. Provide the fullest possible identification, such as "an official in the city manager's office."
- Anonymous quotes in event and feature coverage - " 'I think it's great,' said a festival-goer who asked not to be identified." - are prohibited. If you interview someone about an event, make sure the person agrees to be identified before you interview him or her. If not, seek someone else.
- No material purporting to be factual should be reported from an online site unless the reporter is confident of and/or verifies its source. For instance, the official Pulitzer Prize Web site can be regarded as a reliable source for the names of past winners. But "inside" information or personal details about third parties posted on Web sites should be regarded as no more than gossip: We check it out independently. Internet-derived information should be attributed, just as we would information from any book, magazine or other publication.
Nothing in this policy is intended to block the occasional need to shield identity for reasons of privacy, compassion or good taste. (Examples include victims of sexual crimes and people whose jobs or personal safety would be endangered by identification.) Even in these cases, a supervising editor must inform the managing editor or editor. The final decision whether to print the material rests with them.
Making Deals with Sources
Sometimes a source will promise exclusive or far more detailed information at a later date if we agree to refrain from publishing a story as soon as we become aware of it. No staffer should agree to such a deal without consulting her or his editor. That's because the deal is made with The Roanoke Times, not with the individual reporter.
We should resist such deal-making efforts forcefully. Our business is to find things out and report them, not to sit on information that the public should know. However, there may be instances in which an agreement to delay publication better serves the public interest than immediate publication would. Any such deals must have clear terms, including a date on which the deal expires. The source also must understand that if the story breaks in another medium, the deal is off.
Diversity of Sources
We are committed to reflecting, in our news stories, the diversity of the communities we serve. To achieve that, we will strive to give voice to people from various segments of our coverage area and work to reflect the diversity of gender, race, ethnic and economic background, sexual orientation, religion and political leanings in our stories and photos. Reporters and photographers will be encouraged to look for these new voices and new faces for their stories in journalistically sound ways.
While a one-source story may occasionally be unavoidable, stories that rely on a single source will be viewed skeptically. Reporters who submit one-source stories will be encouraged to find additional sources before their stories are published.
Reporters generally should not let a source see a story before publication. However, accuracy is our overriding goal. Reading parts of a story to a source can sometimes prevent inaccuracy. Especially when we are dealing with stories of a scientific or highly technical nature, our policy is as follows: If a source asks to see a story before publication, the reporter should check with his or her immediate supervising editor. If the editor agrees, the source will be permitted to check facts and quotes. No nitpicking or arbitrary editing or rewriting will be permitted.
Photographers generally should not show photos to sources before publication, unless it is necessary to get a source's assistance in identifying subjects in a photo. Any exceptions to this policy should be discussed with editors.
Dealing with the Public
Without readers, we don't exist. That simple fact makes good reader relations a matter of necessity. We expect every staff member to respond to every communication from a reader, whether a letter, phone call or e-mail, whether a compliment or a complaint.
Many decisions to file libel suits are made not when a story appears, but only after the complainant feels ill-treated in trying to get a correction or a fair hearing from the newspaper. But our concern is much more fundamental than avoiding litigation. To be trusted in the community, we have to be seen as decent, caring and courteous people. That means listening, acknowledging when we're wrong and taking action to correct our mistakes.
When readers or sources call to complain, listen carefully, not defensively. Try to understand precisely what the caller is upset about and what he or she wants. If the caller isn't satisfied after a conversation of reasonable length, offer to let him or her speak to your supervisor or another senior editor. Any threats of legal action must be reported right away to your supervisor, the managing editor or editor.
We do not, under any circumstances, expect staffers to tolerate abusive language or behavior from readers or sources. Staffers are instructed:
- If a caller's language becomes abusive, politely tell him or her that you want to hear him out but that you can't listen to such language.
- If the language persists, politely ask him to call back when he's calmer, tell him you are going to hang up, and say "goodbye" as you do so.
- Never end a call unannounced, slam a receiver down or use profanity or obscenity in any telephone conversation, no matter what the provocation.
- Get out of the conversation or situation, and inform your supervisor immediately as to what has happened.
Dealing with Other Media
Staff members should exercise discretion in their dealings with other news media. They are our competitors. Employees who are asked for interviews by other media should consult a senior news executive before talking about sensitive matters such as pending business decisions (the creation of a new section, for instance) or news stories that have yet to be published. Discussion of the newspaper's business strategies and internal personnel matters should always be avoided.
In such situations, staff members should also find out the full circumstances of why specific stories have been handled in a particular way, think carefully before they publicly discuss such stories, and always make clear whether they are speaking for themselves or the news department.
Writing About Ourselves
Staffers should avoid quoting, featuring or photographing their own family members and those of other Roanoke Times employees in the newspaper. Our goal is to write about the community, not ourselves.
The yardstick here is news judgment: Is this person an essential part of the story? Could the picture or quote just as logically come from another source?
One exception: Columnists whose work includes autobiographical references.
As a large business and major employer in the region, The Roanoke Times occasionally figures in the news. In making decisions about covering our own enterprise, we should apply the same standards we would use in deciding whether to write about any other business.
The test is: Would we write about this if The Roanoke Times were not involved? As in all our reporting, the goals are accuracy and fairness. We should be as accurate and fair when reporting critically about ourselves as we would be when reporting about any other business.
Articles that include references to subsidiaries, personnel policies, new ventures or business practices of The Roanoke Times' should be reviewed by the editor or managing editor before publication.
Like Landmark's other metro newspapers, The Roanoke Times does not accept foundation money to support news-gathering efforts, readership surveys or special reporting projects. Similarly, we do not allow people who are paid by foundations or other organizations to work as staff writers, editors or special project coordinators.
This policy does not pertain to student or teacher interns, who may receive some outside support, nor does it apply to staff members who win general-education journalism fellowships, which may in part be funded by foundations. Any staff member with questions about whether a particular fellowship program meets these guidelines should consult the editor.
Copyright and Ownership of Materials
The Roanoke Times owns all rights, including the copyrights, to all materials prepared or obtained by its employees while they are working on company time or producing work specifically for the company. Therefore, no employee shall use or otherwise reproduce such materials for use outside the newspaper without having first obtained the approval of the managing editor or editor. Our standard contract with freelancers transfers all rights, title and copyright of purchased material to The Roanoke Times. Exceptions may be negotiated on a case-by-case basis with the managing editor or editor.
Electronic archives, cameras, copiers, computers, fax machines, telephones and other newsroom equipment are provided for authorized use only. News employees must not use newsroom materials or equipment for commercial or charitable work, or for personal use, without permission of a supervisor.
Computers are an integral part of the newspaper's production process; employees should therefore exercise restraint and common sense in their use. Information in an employee's computer file is to be treated with respect, and accessed only for editing and appropriate production reasons; similarly, employees should always refrain from entering material in the computer that would prove embarrassing if inadvertently published or given public exposure.
Computer hacking or trying to access messages or personal computer files is equivalent to opening someone's mail, searching a staff member's files or listening uninvited to someone's phone calls. Such actions are impermissible.
All news employees should familiarize themselves with the company's November 2000 policy on computer use.
The goal of our newspaper is to serve readers - not win contests - and we will keep that in mind when we write and edit stories, take photographs, create graphics and illustrations and design our pages. We will not undertake any effort solely for the purpose of entering a contest. The content of our paper will be initiated because it has intrinsic news value or serves the community's interest, not because it promises the chance of recognition or monetary gain from an outside source.
We understand, though, that the newspaper and the staff, collectively and individually, benefit when the quality of our work is recognized outside our community. Accordingly, we will enter staff-produced work in selected journalism contests. All entries must be reviewed and approved by a supervising editor.
Staff members are encouraged to enter contests sponsored by professional organizations of journalists, such as the Society of Professional Journalists, the Virginia Press Association and the Pulitzer Prize Committee. They shall not enter contests designed to promote the commercial or political interests of businesses, business or professional associations, political organizations or labor groups.
Other contests are to be approached with caution. Entries may be made only with the permission of the managing editor or editor, who have the authority to prohibit articles from being entered in contests that would be detrimental to the newspaper's credibility.
Talk It Through
We can't cover in this document all the ethical decisions and journalistic choices we'll face. If something doesn't feel right, if a question keeps nagging at you, if you're uncertain about how to handle a difficult situation, talk to to your supervisor, a colleague, another editor. Talking through ethical issues with other journalists and sometimes other experts can help all of us make right and honorable decisions.
II. Content Standards
Editing, Good Taste and Other Policies
Reporters and editors must collaborate, cooperate and communicate if we are to give readers the quality they deserve. The goal of everyone who works at The Roanoke Times is to make each edition the best it can be. Reporters can't do it without editors, and editors can't do it without reporters.
We encourage writers to try new styles and story-telling techniques - and we encourage copy editors to speak up when they think a story doesn't work.
Copy editors serve several critical functions: They are the reader's surrogate and advocate; they are the newspaper's final defense against error and libel; they are the designers and headline writers whose presentation skills can make or break a story; and they are the production experts who prepare pages for printing.
It is the duty of the reporter and assigning editor to make sure that a story is complete, accurate, well-written and in accordance with AP style before it is sent to the copy desk. The reporter and assigning editor should thoroughly discuss framing, tone, structure and length before stories are written to ensure that stories are told in ways that are appropriate, compelling and clear to readers.
The assigning editor is responsible for the primary editing of most stories.
The copy desk is responsible for the second editing of local stories. Even though assigning editors or senior editors may have read a story, copy editors should never assume that a story is OK simply because someone else has read it. Copy editors should edit all copy for accuracy, clarity, conciseness, fairness and thoroughness.
If a story is correct, it should not be changed; if the writing style and structure are appropriate to the story, they should not be changed.
When changes need to be made and circumstances permit, the following procedures are to be followed by copy editors:
- Major problems with a story's content or style always should be taken first to the assigning editor. If he or she is unavailable, they should be taken to the night metro editor. Major problems include reorganizing a story to give it a different angle or emphasis, or any other shifting of a story's tone. If those editors can't agree on a solution, the story should be taken to the night editor or managing editor.
- If neither the assigning nor night metro editor can be reached, the copy editor should discuss the story with the night editor. If there is agreement that the story requires substantial change, the change should be discussed with the reporter, if feasible. Reporters should correct or rewrite such stories whenever possible. A story that does not have to run the next day should be held for rewrite by the reporter rather than be rewritten by the desk. If, in the opinion of the night editor, the story must run, and the reporter cannot be reached, the desk should rewrite it as necessary. The night editor should make sure the reasons for the rewrite are promptly communicated to the assigning editor.
- When a story needs rewriting and an early-edition deadline is pressing, a copy editor should consult with a supervising editor, then put the story in shape for use in that edition. If needed, the reporter, metro editor or copy editor should rework the story between editions.
- If the lead of a story is changed, the reporter or supervising editor must be phoned and the new lead read to him or her to ensure its accuracy. If the night metro editor is on duty, he or she should consult the reporter. If not, the copy editor must phone. The only lead changes that can be made without a phone call are to correct the misspelling of a standard word, a clear grammatical mistake or a breach of AP or Roanoke Times style. If the reporter or supervising editor cannot be reached, the night editor should compare the original and changed leads to make sure the lead remains accurate.
- Reporters must adhere to set story lengths unless expressly given permission by the assigning editor, in consultation with the appropriate slot editor, to submit a longer story. The night metro editor should be apprised of a need for trimming; ultimately, however, authority for condensing a story rests with the copy desk.
- Recurring problems with copy, such as spelling and grammar errors, should be reported to a writer's supervising editor, even if the problems are minor. If a story contains several such mistakes, the copy editor should give a printout of the original version to the supervising editor.
- If editing changes do not cause error or distortion, or needlessly violate a reporter's writing style, copy editors will be fully supported in all judgments. There is no excuse for error caused by a copy editor who changes what originally was correct.
- Photographers are responsible for providing accurate and adequate caption information. Copy editors should check this information against that which appears in a story, however, and be sure names and other details agree.
- Bylines signify original reporting and writing. If a story is substantially changed, either by rewriting (by someone other than the reporter), significant trimming, or addition of material from the files or wires, a copy editor should consult with the assigning editor and night editor. The reporter will be granted the privilege of omitting his or her byline unless, in the judgment of the managing editor or editor, the reporter's request is unwarranted.
Editing Photos and Graphics
The goal of each photo assignment should be to provide honest and accurate news photographs that provide information in context, with or without an accompanying story. Photographers and photo editors should work with the assigning editor and reporter to understand the news content of each assignment before going on the assignment, and they should then edit for that content when the shoot is completed. Photo editors and photographers should work with the AME/Visuals and with the page designers on ways to use the photo selection as part of the page design.
The work of news artists must be given the same careful attention that stories and photos receive. Changes to staff-produced graphics and art must be discussed with artists whenever possible. Other changes may be made for compelling reasons only with the approval of the night editor.
Our policy is to exercise good taste in publishing news stories that contain words potentially offensive to our readers. The Roanoke Times is a family newspaper; where possible, we will avoid use of obscene, vulgar, profane or otherwise offensive language.
Gratuitous details should be avoided in describing crime scenes, incidents of rape, attempted rape, sexual deviance, indecent exposure and lewd phone calls or remarks.
Reporters and editors are cautioned to avoid double entendres. They should not occur in stories or headlines.
At times, deleting an expletive will change the context of a paraphrased statement or fail to indicate a person's intended attitude. However, any exception to our general policy of not using expletives must be approved by the managing editor or editor.
We want to avoid demeaning slang, especially racial, ethnic or religious slurs. When it is deemed essential to convey that a person used vulgar language, our style is to print the first letter of the word, followed by hyphens in place of missing letters.
Mild swear words (damn, hell) will be spelled out, but used only when required by the context. Wire stories are subject to the same scrutiny as local ones.Care should also be taken to avoid publication of photos of a salacious nature when they have no news value.
As a general rule, we do not publish photos of dead bodies. Sometimes, though, there is a compelling news justification for publishing a photo in which a dead body appears. Decisions about running such photos will be made only after deliberate discussion among editors. Final decisions to publish or not to publish such photos will be made by the managing editor or editor.
We correct all mistakes. Whenever a possible error is called to our attention, a staff member should handle the matter in as courteous a manner as possible and immediately inform an editor. When we learn about an error, we will publish a correction or clarification that is clear and concise as soon as possible.
The newspaper as a whole accepts responsibility for routine errors of our making, and we do not identify the internal source. Example: Institutional correction: "Bradley Gusler's name was misspelled in a story in Sunday's Business section." When we publish erroneous information provided by others, we will indicate that, as long as the error is not something we could and should have verified. For instance, if we are given an incorrect telephone number and publish it, we should assume institutional responsibility for the error, because it's easy to call and check a number. But if we are dependent on a single state trooper for details of an accident, we would attribute any incorrect information to him or her.
Attributed correction: "Because of incorrect information provided by the Roanoke Police Department, the wrong person was identified as being charged with driving under the influence Monday night, following an accident on Cove Road. Police said Tuesday the correct identity of the person arrested is John Doe of 1234 Main St., Salem."
The anchor position for corrections is on Page A2. This includes corrections for news, sports, features and photos. Zoned sections should publish their corrections in an anchored position.Correction of major errors may appear on A1 or a section front, at the discretion of the managing editor or editor. The night editor should review all corrections before publication. Top
Reporting Cause of Death
Cause of death is an important fact in many stories that we write. Reporters should make every effort to confirm, through official or family sources, the cause of death in news stories and news obituaries. If, for some reason, the cause of death cannot be determined, we should report that it was not disclosed.
Generally, our policy on reporting suicides is intended to protect privacy. If a person takes his or her own life, in a private way and a private place, we normally do not write a story. However, if the person is or has been a public figure - someone who has been in the public eye and whose death would be considered newsworthy and thus warrant a news obituary - we will write the story and report suicide as the cause of death when we confirm it through official or family sources.
We also report suicides that occur in a public setting, whether or not the person was a public figure.
In all cases, we will be sensitive to the family and friends of the dead person, but we will follow our established standards on reporting causes of death.
Identification of Race
We do not identify race or ethnic background unless the information is relevant. It may be so:
- In stories involving politics, social action, social conditions, achievement and other matters where race can be a distinguishing factor;
- Where usage has sanctioned the description: black leader, Irish tenor, etc;
- In reporting an incident that cannot be satisfactorily explained without reference to race. However, the mere fact that an incident involves people of different races does not, of itself, mean that racial tags should be used. When racial identification is used, the races of all involved should be mentioned.
We do not mention a person's race in describing criminal suspects or fugitives unless the rest of the description is detailed enough to be meaningful - e.g., specific details about the person's physical appearance beyond race, identifying details about the person's dress that would help a possible witness identify the person, etc. Sketchy descriptions are often meaningless and may apply to large numbers of innocent people.
Identification of Victims
We do not identify victims in sexual assault cases, unless they wish to be identified. Decisions about identifying sexual assault victims in those cases still must be discussed with and approved by the managing editor or editor.
As a general rule, we want to identify victims of other crimes by name and at least a general description of where they live. In some cases, we may use the name of a street, but we usually do not want to give a specific street address. In some cases, a general description of the victim's place of residence - Rocky Mount, for example, or Southwest Roanoke - may be all that's needed.
We do not normally use the names of clerks or tellers when we give an account of a store robbery or a bank robbery unless there's a specific reason to do, such as quoting the clerk or teller by name.
Identifying Places in Police and Fire Stories
We generally report exact addresses as they are available. Exception is in cases where a house has been damaged by fire, and publishing the exact address may make it a target for vandals. In that case, we publish only the block number. Exceptions should be approved by the managing editor or editor.
When reporting about a crime, it's appropriate to use the name of a business or a prominent institution if it's relevant to the story and useful to readers in locating the scene of a crime. We would say, "John Smith of Roanoke was stabbed to death in the parking lot of the Big Bags grocery store." We would not say, "John Smith was stabbed to death in an alley two blocks from the Big Bags."
Naming Juveniles in Crime and Court Stories
We want to be sensitive and deliberate in deciding when to identify juveniles involved in crime or court stories. Our general policy, however, will be to use names, although there are circumstances in which we will not identify a juvenile. If a juvenile is testifying in a public court hearing, the circumstances of the case will have to be considered before a decision is made on naming the juvenile. If a juvenile is a surviving victim of a crime, the circumstances of that case also must be considered before a decision is made. Reporters should talk to their editor and, if necessary, the managing editor or editor if questions arise.
Virginia law allows the closing of juvenile court proceedings. In some cases, judges will allow us to attend the proceeding if we agree not to identify juveniles accused of crimes. Again, reporters should discuss the situation with their supervising editor before making a commitment for the newspaper.
However, juveniles 14 or older who are charged with murder or aggravated malicious wounding face adult trials automatically, and the newspaper will identify them by name. For other violent felonies - including malicious wounding, rape and abduction - prosecutors have the option of sending juvenile offenders to circuit court. These juveniles will also be identified by name.
In addition, even when the proceeding remains in juvenile court, state law requires that the hearing be open if a juvenile 14 or older is charged with an offense that would be a felony if committed by an adult. When juveniles 14 and older are charged with felonies and their court proceedings are open, we will identify the juveniles by name.
Whether to name juveniles under age 14 who are charged with crimes that, for adults, would be felonies, will be determined on a case-by-case basis by the managing editor or editor.
Medical hardship funds/ drives/ benefits
We are often asked to report on efforts to raise money to help people in our community who have suffered hardships because of medical emergencies, accidents or natural disasters. We consider it part of our community service role to report on these efforts if there is a legitimate and organized fund drive, with proper financial accountability in place. Such stories may be handled as briefs or, after consultation with editors, as longer stories.
III. Online Standards
What We Post on the Internet
All our standards for accuracy, sourcing, taste and avoidance of conflict of interest apply to work posted on roanoke.com. Material gathered for online distribution should be verified and confirmed.
However, the digital medium gives us space to post the complete text of something in the news - a court decision, speech or manifesto, for instance. These are posted as resource materials, not news stories, and will be presented verbatim.
But before we post any document on our Web site, an appropriate staff member must first read it in its entirety. If there are occasional objectionable words in the document, it should be left unchanged, but a note about the offensive language should be posted at the top. If a document contains a great deal of potentially offensive language, it should not be posted without the approval of the managing editor or editor, and a note should be posted at the top.
Staffers should realize that comments they post online, whether on personal Web sites or other non-newspaper sites, about stories they've covered or other newsroom matters can affect perceptions of their credibility and the newspaper's credibility as well, and they should exercise good judgment in making these comments.
Online Ethics and Practices
Our online content has the same ethical goal as our print content. Our core values of journalistic integrity, partnership with our audience and community service will guide our Web work as it has in print.
Understanding the contextual differences, similarities and opportunities between our print and Internet product is important to make the electronic delivery of news and information as effective as possible.
When ethical issues arise concerning our online content and practices, we can primarily rely on our journalistic professionalism and common sense.
Including people with different perspectives and diverse ideas in the decision-making process is a key.
Audio Production Guidelines
Think of sound as observations. A writer wouldn't write about something he or she didn't hear or see and a photographer wouldn't misrepresent a situation by setting up a photograph. The integrity of the sound gathered is as important as the story you're trying to tell.
- Audio is always gathered at the time the story occurs.
- Be fair in pulling sound from opposing or diverse views.
- Don't let an interview subject polish his interview; if something is totally unusable, it can be re-recorded, but if someone just wants to sound "good," don't let it happen. If someone is re-recorded, the nature and intent of the original response must be preserved.
- Don't plan on using canned sound or copyrighted material; work with what you see and hear.
- Get names of everyone interviewed. The story or caption should show who was featured in the presentation.
Sound needs to be edited for the sake of time and quality. The result is a compression or slice of reality, but that slice still needs to be truthful and undistorted.
- Never misrepresent a scene through use of ambient or natural sound. For instance, if only one shot was fired to kill a pig, don't use the same sound to show a second shot if it never happened.
- Don't use an actuality that can't be factually substantiated or is not part of the real situation encountered by the reporter. In other words, don't create the impression of something that didn't occur.
- It is not our job to make those interviewed sound better or worse. Avoid overly doctoring sound bites by cutting out bits such as "ah" and "um."
- Sound bites are the equivalent of direct quotes. As a result, sound bites used in stories will not be taken out of their original context and should be treated the same as quotes are in print. Material will neither be added to nor removed from sound bites.
- Transitions - those in-between sounds between scenes in story telling and story line - must be authentic. They need to be gathered on site by the journalist.
- Narration can be used to help clarify a story, such as when the subject cannot be understood due to foreign accents, physical disabilities, etc. But journalists should not depend on it as an alternative to gathering ambient sound.
- Quality and time limitations (deadlines, download time, listening time, file size) will also play a major role in the decision-making process.
The standards of good taste that guide our print content apply to all online content, including text, audio, photographs and video. Obscene, vulgar, profane and otherwise offensive language (including racial, ethnic and religious slurs) should be avoided where possible, as should gratuitous detail in descriptions of material related to sex or sex crimes, and photos or video of a salacious nature when they have no news value.
Use of audio or video in which a subject uses an expletive should be approved by a senior news executive before posting. In those instances, the questioned language should be masked by "bleeping" it out.
Text Posted Online
All text posted online must be vetted by editors to ensure it meets the same standards for text that appears in the newspaper. This happens naturally with print stories that are simply posted online, though producers of online-only material should be careful the version of a story they are posting is the latest version, and therefore has undergone the full editing process.
Text written specifically for online use should undergo a similar editing process to ensure accuracy, fairness, balance, good taste, avoidance of libel, and compliance with our standards for using anonymous sources, identifying victims of sex crimes, identifying juveniles in crime and court stories, and giving the race or ethnic background of a person in a story.
Online Use of Photos and Video
Still photographs and video should be taken and captured using the same ethics and guidelines that apply to photography in print.
Photographs that appear only online or video should be edited for content and quality in the same manner that still images are edited for the print product. Photographs and video should be dated either by date taken or date published when appearing on the Internet.
If photographs, audio and/or video cannot be dated, the HTML page on which they appear should feature a "Published on" or "Last updated on" line to indicate timeliness and context.
No photographs or video should be manipulated to be misleading from what is truth.
All photos and video should be accompanied by information that provides attribution to the subjects and credit to the photographer in the form of text or sound.
Online Editing Process
Online material should be budgeted in the early stages of story planning in conjunction with the written stories and photographs. Story participants should decide on the appropriate medium for online storytelling and approximate budgeted length for the project. Periodic deadlines should be set for online production to allow for editing and corrections.
All material for web publishing should be viewed and edited in full by an online editor. The editing process should allow time for changes to be made before the scheduled publication date.
Multimedia content cannot be made available online until each component (accompanying text, video, photographs, audio and/or interactive graphics) is reviewed and approved by the designated online editor.
If changes are necessary, the online editor must work with the multimedia producer, reporter, photographer or section editor to ensure that the corrections are made in a timely and satisfactory manner. It is the responsibility of the project's producer to make the suggested changes. All changes made by someone other than the project producer (an online editor, reporter, photographer or section editor) must be approved by the entire production team.Top
Copyright, Credits and Stock Material
All copyrighted material must include the name of the individual or organization that holds the copyright. Such a copyright should clearly appear on or adjacent to the material.
Photographs, video and other graphic illustrations that can be acquired using image search engines are not to be used under any circumstances unless permission has been obtained from the holder of the copyright. Once permission has been granted, the material can be displayed with an accompanying copyright and source credit. The same "fair use" rules for print apply here.
Additional credit for all copyrighted material should be listed if a credits page is included in the overall multimedia presentation.
Credits should include the date of publication in print and online and the names of those who produced, photographed and wrote the piece.
Mistakes in news stories and online productions will be acknowledged on the Web site in the same manner that print errors are posted. Mistakes will be fixed on these Web pages as soon as possible. In the case of significant errors, a time stamp of "Corrected on mm/dd/yyyy" should be posted that will also show the reader what was fixed.
Blogs and Internet postings
Roanoke Times-sponsored blogs are governed by the same standards of accuracy and fairness that apply to other news articles and images.
News employees of The Roanoke Times should exercise caution in maintaining a personal blog or posting to other blogs or message boards on the Web. Personal bloggers who are news employees always must keep in mind the balance between their exercise of creative expression and their responsibility to adhere to our standards of fairness. A blog or message board posting is akin to having a personal conversation in a very public place. As a newsroom employee, everything you say or write or do can and will be viewed in light of your connection with the newspaper. As with our policies on participating in civic life, any personal Internet postings should be crafted with concern for how they might reflect on our news products or our reputation for fairness and professionalism. Personal bloggers should notify their immediate supervisor that they have a blog, and talk through any potential conflicts of interest or complications. In the end, the newspaper's standards will govern all blogs. These specific prohibitions apply to newsroom employees who maintain personal blogs or who post to other blogs or discussion groups:
- No images, audio, video or reporting gathered by news employees for The Roanoke Times or roanoke.com may be posted to personal blogs.
- Postings shall not reveal pending news coverage before it appears on roanoke.com or in The Roanoke Times.
- Postings should not discuss sources and methods of news coverage.
- Postings shall not discuss internal company policies, personnel decisions, financial results or other matters that are confidential in nature and covered by the company confidentiality policy.
- Postings shall not include defamatory personal attacks of any type.
- Particular care should be taken in responding to posts critical of specific news coverage or personal attacks on specific newsroom employees.
- Postings should not be made on company time or using company computers.