Columbus (OH) Ledger-Inquirer


CODE OF ETHICS

Responsibility

The Columbus newspapers seek always to be fair, accurate, honest, responsible, independent and decent. Truth is our guiding principle.

The newspapers and all staff members avoid any practices that would conflict with our ability to report and present news fairly.

We disclose news sources unless there is a clear and compelling reason not to do so. The same principle applies to use of names of writers of letters to the editor. When it is necessary to protect the confidentiality of a source, we clearly explain why. And we honor that confidentiality until and unless we are released from it by the source.

In any situation where a person or an institution is accused by a news source, we determine that the charge has validity -- through documentation or a second source -- before we publish it. We also give the person accused a chance to respond in the earliest possible publication.

The Ledger-Enquirer seeks to serve as both a mirror and a conscience of the area we serve. It is our aim to expose wrongdoing or misuse of power, public or private. Editorially, we advocate needed reforms and innovations in the public interest.

We uphold the right of free speech and freedom of the press but also respect the individual's right of privacy. We fight vigorously for public access to news of government through open meetings and open records.

Accuracy

These newspapers make every reasonable effort to guard against inaccuracies, carelessness, bias or distortion, by commission or omission.

When substantive errors or distortions do appear in our papers, we admit and correct them voluntarily, promptly and with a prominence comparable to that given the inaccurate statement or statements.

Integrity

Our newspapers strive for impartial treatment of issues and dispassionate handling of controversial subjects. We provide forums for exchange of comment and criticism, especially when such comment is opposed to our editorial positions. Editorials and other expressions of the writer's opinion and judgment are clearly labeled or identified as such for the reader.

When reporters write personal columns or news analyses, they refrain from expressing opinions about persons and issues they cover in news stories.

Our newspapers report the news without regard for our own interest. We do not give favored news treatment to advertisers or special-interest groups. We report matters regarding ourselves and our staff and families with the same standards we apply to other institutions and individuals. We do not use the paper to push our personal agendas or solve personal problems. Nor do we use our special access to the newspaper to benefit friends, relatives or associates.

We identify ourselves and our organization to those from whom we are gathering information for publication. We do not plagiarize.

Conflicts of interest

Our newspapers and each staff member must be free of obligations to news sources and special interests. Equally important, we must be free of any appearance of obligation or conflict of interest.

As a general guide, we accept nothing of substantial value for which we do not pay. We do accept admission to sports and entertainment events, etc., for the person covering or reviewing the event. But we do not accept complimentary tickets from sponsors of such events. That includes season passes, movie passes, circus and fair tickets, free memberships, press cut-rates and the like.

We do not accept gifts of any substantial value from news sources or special interests. What constitutes "substantial value"depends upon the situation, but a general guideline is anything worth more than $5.

Meals bought by news sources are permissible, so long as they are infrequent and the invitation is easily repayable by the staff member. Meals at civic clubs and other meetings being covered by staffers fall into the same category as tickets to sports and entertainment events; if they are offered free to on-duty reporters, we may accept.

We accept for review books, records and movie and theater tickets offered voluntarily by the publisher or theater (for reviewer and one guest only). Where they are not offered, the newspaper pays for those considered appropriate for review. Reviewers keep books and records. Books and records received but not reviewed become the property of the newspapers, for distribution as the editors decide. Staffers and editors who receive those materials should make them available to other departments.

We do not accept free out-of-town travel, except where other transportation is not available or appropriate, as in the case of a military trip; we then pay our pro-rata share of expenses where feasible.

In declining tickets, gifts and other favors, Ledger-Enquirer staff members should avoid rudeness and self-righteousness. We should express our appreciation and politely decline, explaining that the policy is as much in the would-be giver's interests as our own.

Staffers should never profit in any way, beyond salaries, from what they cause to be published in our newspapers.

Outside employment

Ledger and Enquirer staff members avoid any business arrangement, outside commitment or honorary position that may result in a conflict of interest.

Full or part-time employment by any other news organization is discouraged and must be approved in advance in writing by management. Similarly, staff members' employment by news sources or potential news sources is avoided, and staffers refrain from lending their names to commercial enterprises with no promotional value to our papers. Business interests that could conflict with a staff member's ability to report the news, or that would create the impression of such conflict, are avoided.

Professional work as stringers or free-lancers for newspapers, magazines, book publishers, news services, photo agencies and similar organizations headquartered and circulated principally outside our circulation area is usually acceptable. So is part-time teaching in local colleges and other professional or para-professional areas, so long as it does not interfere with newspaper duties. All arrangements of this kind, however, are discussed in advance with management.

Written material, art work, photos and negatives produced on company time and/or with company materials are company property. Any material or information developed by staff members for publication must be offered first to The Ledger-Enquirer before it is offered for sale or publication elsewhere.

As members of AP and Knight-Ridder, we make available to AP and the KRN wire stories and photos we have published.

Causes and organizations

We exercise discretion in all relationships with causes and organizations. We encourage staff members to join and to perform voluntary services for local religious, cultural, social and civic organizations. We also believe that newspapers have the same community responsibility as other businesses in donating editors' and employees' time to civic undertakings. Staffers should let their supervisors know what groups they're involved with.

However, we recognize that our involvement as citizens may sometimes compromise or inhibit our professional responsibilities, and we judge each situation with that in mind. We are particularly conscious of the necessity to avoid personal involvement on either side of an issue about which we would be writing or editing stories for the newspapers. In that connection, we avoid paid or unpaid work for a politician or political organization, and we do not hold public office or accept political appointment to any position for which there is remuneration other than expenses. We also are aware of the possibility that our personal involvement with organizations might create an appearance of newspaper bias or favoritism for the organizations. So we do not prepare publicity or serve on publicity committees for any groups, and we request that all businesses and organizations go through normal newspaper channels in seeking news coverage.

Staffers must discuss any doubts on ethical questions with a supervising editor. The burden to do so rests affirmatively on the journalist.

--- March 19, 1987