Ethics Policy

Integrity, fairness, independence, thoughtfulness and transparency are the foundation of the Welles Park Bulldog. Everything we do should reflect these bedrock values. This document can’t possibly answer all questions we will encounter about ethics, sources and other difficult issues. But it does identify key principles to apply when deciding what to do. These include:

  1. Conduct yourself in ways that enhance the Bulldog’s credibility and character. Avoid financial arrangements and other activities that will create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict for the Bulldog.
    1. The United States Federal Trade Commission summed this up with these words: “The fundamental question is whether, viewed objectively, the relationship between the advertiser and the speaker is such that the speaker’s statement can be considered “sponsored” by the advertiser and therefore an “advertising message.”’
    2. Clearly disclose conflicts of interest including personal relationships, financial considerations or anything else that might influence or appear to influence your independence and integrity. For example, if you have an interest in real estate that will be effected by a zoning change that you are covering, disclose your financial interest to readers.
  2. Journalist have no place on the playing fields of politics.
    1. Employees and owners preparing news stories must do nothing that might raise questions about their neutrality or that of the Bulldog. In particular, they may not campaign for, demonstrate for, or endorse candidates, ballot causes or efforts to enact legislation.
    2. They should not wear campaign buttons or themselves display any other insignia of partisan politics.
    3. They should not themselves give money to or raise money for any political candidate or election cause.
    4. No employee or owner writing for the Bulldog may seek public office anywhere.
    5. Employees and owners writing for the Bulldog may not march or rally in support of public causes or movements, sign ads taking a position on public issues or lend their names to campaigns, benefit dinners or similar events if doing so might reasonably raise doubts about their ability to function as neutral observers.
  3. The Bulldog wants to promote good community citizenship among contributors to the site. The Bulldog believes that Bulldog writers should be free to do creative, civic and personal work. Before engaging in such outside activities, though, writers should exercise mature professional judgment and consider the stake we all have in the irreplaceable good name of the Bulldog.
    1. Clearly disclose conflicts of interest including personal relationships, financial considerations or anything else that might influence or appear to influence your independence and integrity. For example, if you are working for a particular political cause disclose this to your readers.
  4. Raise and discuss potential problems of any kind in advance whenever possible, including questions about ethics, sources and coverage. Gather facts and think through issues and options from many points of view before deciding what course is wisest.

CONFLICTS OF INTEREST

Normal activities – outside work, investments, political activism – pose special problems for journalists. Often, it’s best to avoid activities that might interfere with your ability to function as a journalist. Alternatively, you may be precluded from working on certain topics for the Bulldog if you’re personally involved.

A third alternative is public disclosure of any information that a site user might find relevant in understanding the content. For example, someone who is writing about a relative would need to disclose the relationship. A guest contributor writing about politics would need to disclose if he is associated with a candidate.

Full disclosure of relevant information is standard practice – a necessary step but not always sufficient when a potential conflict of interest exists.

Effective Date: This Terms Of Service is effective and was last updated on March 18, 2010.

v 1.01

15 July 2010

From the editor,

Scott Rosenberg at PBS.org issued a call to on-line publications regarding corrections. He charges that corrections, errors and omissions are not being well handled by most on-line publications and makes four suggestions:

  • Append a note to any article that’s been corrected, explaining the change;
  • Keep a list of these changes, linking to the corrected articles, at a fixed location on the site;
  • Post a brief corrections policy, with information about how readers can report errors they find;
  • Make sure that your corrections listing page and your corrections policy (whether they’re on the same or different pages) are part of your site navigation — they should be accessible by one click from any page on your site.

There hasn’t been a corrections policy yet at the Bulldog. We address this issue with this note in the Terms of Service:

We will publish easy to locate errors and corrections with an explanation, if necessary.

Is that enough? Maybe we need more discussion. The article points to a brief corrections policy at SFGate.com:

It is the policy of The Chronicle and SFGate.com to promptly correct errors of fact and to promptly clarify potentially confusing statements. The policy applies to all newsroom employees.

Errors, whether brought to our attention by readers or staff members, will be corrected quickly and in a straightforward manner.

It will be considered unprofessional conduct and a breach of duty if employees are notified of possible errors but fail to respond. Correcting errors and clarifying ambiguous information is a virtue and an admirable practice.

Significant corrections are noted on the archived copy of the article. Recent corrections of Chronicle and Associated Press articles may be found here. Please send requests for corrections tofeedback@sfgate.com.

The survey of Bay Area on-line publications includes other policies, including this from the well regarded Mercurynews.com:

CORRECTIONS

The Mercury News strives to guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortion through either emphasis or omission.

Errors, whether made by the reporter, editor or source, shall be acknowledged. This includes all matters of fact, including the misspelling of proper names. When an error has been made, it shall be acknowledged in a straightforward correction, not disguised or glossed over in a follow-up story. Corrections and clarifications shall appear in a consistent location under the heading “Setting the Record Straight.”

While the Bay Citizen features this policy:

Corrections

The Bay Citizen is committed to accuracy and will correct factual errors, noting them on the corrections page and on the original article. Minor spelling or punctuation errors will be corrected without notice.

We welcome reader comments about substantive errors sent to corrections@baycitizen.org.

The first step at the Bulldog in creating a policy that impacts editorial decisions is to run it through our advisory board and the contributors for comment. I started that procedure this morning. We’ll be testing the new policy out starting immediately. As always, we are open to your thoughts on this.

To start, I’ll be establishing a direct link on the main page where you can find a list of our recent amplifications, corrections and acknowledgments.

Patrick