At Brownwood News we strive to present relevant articles to our community with the highest dedication to ethics. We seek to be unbiased, but also compassionate. We are not just reporting on events in the community, we are also members of this community. We work and live here. These articles are about our fellow community members, our friends and neighbors. That fact cannot be ignored entirely.
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Our journalists should balance the public’s need for information against potential harm and show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage.
We have drafted a general list of ethical policies for our news coverage to reflect our desire to report the news in a truthful way that uplifts and educates the community whenever possible. These policies may be updated in the future as needed.
Bombs and Other Threats
- We will consult with local officials to determine whether a bomb threat is credible before we publish a story, but we will reserve the right to publish if deemed appropriate by our news team.
Active Shooter/Mass Shooter Events
- We will work to avoid naming active shooters or perpetrators of mass shootings whenever possible. Media coverage should focus on the victims and the heroes. Some shooters are motivated by a desire for fame, notoriety, and/or recognition. We will not allow the shooter to accomplish that goal.
- 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 use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one editor.
- We will disclose to readers or viewers the reasons for granting confidentiality, such as fear for the source’s safety or job, when we use unnamed sources.
- We 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.
Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews
- We avoid identifying — by name or photo — children who are connected with a crime as perpetrators, victims or witnesses.
- We refrain from featuring photos of children who are connected with a crime as perpetrators, victims or witnesses.
- We identify children who are charged with a crime only if the child is being tried in adult court.
- 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.
- We will cooperate with authorities’ recommendations in covering hostage situations.
- We believe our primary responsibility in covering hostage situations is to help bring a peaceful resolution and not to advance the hostage-holders’ cause.
- We will not allow our news coverage attempts to interfere with police activities. Their jobs in those situations are far more important than ours at that moment.
- Our organization never pays for interviews.
- Our organization will pay for rights to photographs and video in conjunction with an interview.
- 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 when possible if we deem it is appropriate.
- When reporting on an interview, we do not always require our staff to state the type of interview (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype or email.)
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 disclose how sources in “ordinary people” stories were identified (e.g. through Twitter).
- 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 report things that have clearly been established as fact at the top of the story and put the attribution in later.
- Our staff members should take reasonable steps to ensure the accuracy of information that we publish and note our sources.
- We should not publish rumors or other information we have not verified.
- 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.
- When possible, reporters should read stories to sources before publication to ensure accuracy. The reporters should make clear to sources that this is only a fact-checking call, not an opportunity to change the writing or approach to the story.
Balance and Fairness
- If an issue generates debate — even if one perspective on the issue has been credibly established as fact — we will seek out and report dissenting views in a proportionate way.
- 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 edit comments to remove potentially libelous language or hate speech, as we define it, but we do not change spelling or grammatical errors.
- We do not permit anonymous comments at all.
- We allow commenting only with a verified identity, such as a Facebook login.
- We do not allow comments containing vulgar language from readers on our social media accounts.
- We will clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.
- We will correct grammatical errors by all sources.
- We will allow separate phrases of a quote separated by ellipsis. (“I will go to war … but only if necessary,” the president said.)
- 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.
- In rare cases, such as when a sexual assault allegation has been proven to be false and malicious, we will identify a sexual assault accuser.
- In breaking news stories, we do not publish the names of dead people until authorities have notified their families and released the names.
- We should always be careful about identifying kidnap victims if the person may be in danger.
- We withhold the names of mass killers to deny them the attention they appear to seek. Other than names, we cover other details of these crimes based on their newsworthiness.
- In covering active police or military operations, we will withhold such details as location or tactics planned, until after the operation, to avoid endangering police, troops or civilians who could be affected.
- We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.
- Our journalists are encouraged to be involved in the community and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.
- We will provide factual coverage in a neutral voice despite our organization’s involvement in the issues we cover. We will disclose our affiliation for transparency reasons, but the affiliation should not be evident from a promotional voice or content.
Gifts, Free Travel and Other Perks
- Our journalists may accept free travel and other gifts if they are financially essential, but we should disclose those gifts in our reporting.
- Our journalists should disclose any gifts they receive to their supervisors and discuss whether something needs to be returned, disclosed, paid for, donated to charity or handled in some other way that protects our integrity.
- Our journalists may accept a small gift in cases where people are being kind and clearly not trying to influence us. Our gift policy does not require us to be rude; sometimes there’s a common-sense need to accept a small gift.
Personal Ethics Statements by Staff
- Our journalists are encouraged to make personal ethics statements, which provide more information about themselves and their attitudes, even though they must follow our corporate values.
Plagiarism and Attribution
- 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
- Our journalists should avoid coverage of an issue or campaign if a family member’s political involvement would call into question the integrity of a journalist’s coverage. If avoiding such a family conflict is impossible, we will disclose the family member’s involvement in related coverage.
- We encourage our journalists to be involved in the community, politics and the issues we cover, but we will disclose these involvements in our coverage.
- Our journalists should be aware of personal biases that can skew their reporting, even if journalists conduct no public activity indicating a political bias. They will consider publishing personal ethics statements, or making colleagues aware of their beliefs to help backstop the objectivity of their work.
- Our journalists should not express opinions on social media accounts directly connected to their work at Brownwood News about politics, but are free to express opinions on cultural areas such as sports, entertainment or technology if they do not cover those areas and are not likely to cover them.
- We encourage staff members to retweet, reblog, share and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.
- Staff members should always identify themselves in social media profiles, and, if they are using the profile for professional purposes, they should identify themselves as working for our organization.
- Staff members communicating with and about people in dangerous situations, such as war, crime or disaster zones, should consider the safety and security of people depicted or addressed in the social media content.
- 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.
- We should note who has retweeted, liked or otherwise shared inaccurate social media posts that we are correcting, and attempt to message them directly to call attention to our corrections.
- 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 if they involve corrections or rephrasing to fix unclear material.
Removing Archived Work
- 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.
- If charges are dismissed or the accused is found not guilty, people listed in crime related articles and blotters can contact our news site and provide us with documentation. The person’s name and mug shot then will be removed from our site within 3-5 business days.
- We will seek diverse pools of candidates for all jobs, but will always seek to hire the most qualified candidate.
- We encourage staffers to seek diverse sources, both in specific stories and in routine beat coverage.
- We report on hate speech and actions but include original offensive expressions only when specifically necessary for audience understanding of the case.
- We consider the perspectives of those offended by hateful expression when making publication decisions.
- We support local, national or international laws to combat hate speech.
Mental Health and Suicide
- We will not describe a suicide attempt as “successful” or “unsuccessful.”
- We will not detail specific means of suicide in news stories or obituaries.
- We will not use sensational headlines on stories about suicide.
- We will not use graphic images on stories about suicide.
- We will opt for everyday images of a person who dies by suicide (such as a school photo) instead of images of people grieving.
- We will Include contact information for resources for people in mental health crises. (e.g. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.)
- We will not include the method used in a suicide.
- We will refrain from publishing news stories about individual suicide incidents unless there is an extremely compelling reason for the community to be informed.
- We will name criminal suspects if they are arrested.
- We will not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases unless they are charged with serious violent crimes, such as armed robbery, aggravated sexual assault, attempted homicide or homicide.
- If a criminal suspect is at large and believed to be dangerous, we will identify the suspect, including a photo or sketch.
- We will replace obscenities, vulgarities and slurs with a descriptor (e.g. “an anti-gay slur”).
- We will not allow readers to use obscenities in their comments.
- We use discretion when it comes to interviewing and publishing material from trauma victims or bystanders because we understand that to do so may cause additional harm to individuals.
- We believe interviewing bystanders of traumatic events is voyeurism and unlikely to add relevant material to articles or programs. We generally will not conduct interviews
- We reserve the right to publish whatever we find online or from public sources and social media, if it has been shared publicly.
Race and Gender
- We will seek out people in the groups we cover to gain perspective on our coverage and terminology.
- We will Identify transgender people by the gender they express publicly.
- We will use plural references to avoid gender-specific pronouns when possible.
- We will alternate between male and female pronouns.
- We will run sensitive material that might be offensive to specific members of the audience after internal debate has demonstrated a clear public interest in and value from the publication.
- We will treat all publication decisions based on the standards of the local community.
- We will refrain from running sensitive material specifically or solely for the revenue purposes, such as increased digital traffic.
- We will run sensitive material with stories with notes of warning.
- Audio cuts of newsmakers that we broadcast must be completely faithful to the original. Verbal stumbles by the speaker may not be edited out.
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 allow the use of drones to capture images, but publish or air those images only if they serve a compelling public interest.
- If we believe we can provide help or mitigate harm by actively participating in a situation (rather than only documenting it), do so and then disclose your participation to your viewers.
- We will edit or manipulate images only if doing so doesn’t affect the news content of the image or the meaning viewers will make from it.
- We will obscure or pixellate images only when the intent is to protect the identify of someone in the image or to protect viewers from gory or graphic material.
- 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 use photos or videos from social media even if we cannot fully verify them, pointing out that they could not be verified.
- We consider UGC an extension of our own journalism. We don’t run such material unless we’re sure it’s authentic.
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.