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The Dallas Morning News: Ethics code


The news department has guidelines to supplement the company's employee handbook. All staffers are encouraged to discuss them with any of the senior editors at any time. Each newsroom employee is expected to be familiar with these guidelines.

Any newspaper's reputation rests on its credibility and its readers' perception of that credibility. Fairness and accuracy are the cornerstones of credibility.

The following should be kept for reference and may be updated. Violating some guidelines could result in disciplinary action or termination.

1. Fairness

All sides of an issue should be included in every report. Every effort will be made to obtain a prompt, complete rebuttal where any accusations are made against an individual, company or institution. Similar play will be given for initial accusations and acquittal. Include rebuttals in the main or deck portion of a headline as well as in the early paragraphs of a story and definitely before it jumps from the cover page of a section front.

2. Corrections and Clarifications

These will be published promptly after their accuracy is determined. Memos from appropriate staffers will explain how the error occurred. Every staffer is an ombudsman in this sense, and we pursue each complaint vigorously. Every complaining party must get a response, regardless of whether we publish a correction or a clarification. The explanatory memo is not punitive, but seeks to ensure we do not repeat errors and to determine how they happened.

3. Freebies, Integrity, Products for Review

Do not accept freebies from the public or news sources. Gifts should be returned to the sender or given to charity unless they are insignificant items ($10 and under), which can be retained or disposed of as you wish.

Do not use your position with the paper to obtain a better deal on goods and services.

Products (books, recordings, videotapes, software and product samples) should not be sold for personal gain. After review, they should be sent to the appropriate public library, given to charitable organizations or sold by the company for charitable purposes. Products such as computer equipment should be borrowed for review and then returned or disposed of as charitable giving.

4. Plagiarism, Fabrication

This is a firing offense and includes material from Dallas Morning News stories as well as other sources. Plagiarism is lifting identical material without appropriate attribution or citation and does not preclude using specific facts from research. Wire service materials should be attributed in the story text or in the tagline. Fabricating stories that purport to be truthful also is a firing offense.

5. Racial identification

Racial identifications are used only when necessary to the story. Racial identification of suspects is used when the description provides enough information to exclude all but a narrow group of people using specific identifiers (such as but not limited to age, weight, height, clothing, hats, scars, hair color, getaway cars, etc.) Questions should be directed to the ranking editors on duty.

6. Legal Issues

Any attorney raising a question about any material in the newspaper should be referred immediately to the appropriate editor. All legal matters must be brought to the attention of the managing editor or executive editor and should be handled by Belo counsel or the designated attorney. When possible, it is appropriate to attempt to defuse the issue with an offended party other than a legal representative. This may be as simple as a phone call and discussion or a correction or clarification. Offended parties often want someone to listen to them and do not initially intend to carry the issue to the courts. All subpoenas should be referred to Michael J. McCarthy, senior corporate vice president/counsel for A.H. Belo Corp. Do not turn over any unpublished material, including stories, memos, notes, photos, negatives and any graphics, to any person, and immediately advise your supervising editor of any demand for these materials. Challenge any closed public meetings and advise your editor immediately. Familiarize yourself with pertinent Texas law regarding open meetings, open records, and basic libel law. All material in this newspaper is protected by copyright. Advise your editor of any misuse of your material in any other media.

7. Public Relations

Respond promptly to all phone calls, letters, voice mails and e-mails. A reader's contact with you might be his or her only contact with this newspaper, so courtesy is essential. Newspapers must combat the perception of being aloof, arrogant and divorced from the community. Make every possible effort to obtain information for a caller or writer without referring them to yet another desk or person. All requests for corrections should be directed to an editor for discussion.

8. Obscenities

With few exceptions, we don't print them. The editor, executive editor or managing editor must approve any obscenity to be published. Source and context will be considered. Obscenities offend many readers and often divert attention from the story.

9. Nepotism

Relatives or spouses may work in the news department, but no relative or spouse can report directly to that relative or spouse.

10. Freelancing, Outside Work

Freelancing must be approved in advance by your department head. It must be in a non-competitive medium, done on your time and cannot interfere with your Dallas Morning News obligations. Discuss outside employment in advance with your supervisor to assure that no conflict or appearance of conflict exists. The same guidelines apply to freelance work published on Internet websites. Freelance material purchased for use in the DMN may be used on its Internet editions unless other advance arrangements were made with individual freelancers.

11. Education

Each staffer is urged to continue his/her studies, subject to work schedules and approval of appropriate editors. Depending on academic performance, the staffer may be reimbursed by the company. Tuition and books reimbursement is capped at $1,500 per year. Foreign language, business and writing classes are among those that receive tuition reimbursement.

12. Sources

They should be fully identified and anonymous only when absolutely essential to a significant story. Using anonymous sources must be approved by a deputy managing editor or a higher-ranking editor before publication. Stories should have two independent sources when based on anonymous sources unless otherwise approved by the editor or executive editor. Seek to keep sources from going off the record. Unnamed sources must be aware that they could be identified if lawsuits involving coverage were pursued and efforts to keep them confidential were exhausted in legal disputes (known as "Mirandizing" a source). We do not publish ambush or defamatory quotes from anonymous sources. Discuss these issues with your editor.

13. Conflicts of Interest

Avoid investments in companies about which you might be reporting. We also must be selective about organizations we join because any group could be the subject of a newspaper report. Reader perception is as important as reality. This is in no way intended to interfere with the practice of your religion or your participation in neighborhood or youth activities, for example. We distinguish between volunteering for a community group or school and that of occupying a role in which you would supervise budget, policy or personnel decisions made by a board of directors. Confer with your department head when questions arise.

14. Political Activity

Avoid any public political activity, including contributions that would be on public records and could be used in endorsements without your knowledge. Do not run for office, speak, sign political petitions or campaign for any candidate or in behalf of any issue except in connection with professional journalism groups. This is not intended to discourage exercising your right to vote.

15. Obituaries

Be certain that any contacts related to a death are handled with care and sensitivity. We seek the cause of death for news obituaries, but that information can be withheld if the family requests it and our editors approve. Discuss with your editor whether we should report suicides, which we would do normally only if it involved a public figure or public suicide.

16. Photographs, Graphics

Visuals have a tremendous impact on our readers. Follow good taste and good sense. As in many areas of taste, these should be discussed on their individual merits with appropriate Photo and News Art editors. Editorial photographs should never mislead the reader regarding their content, time or place of the information depicted. All environmental portraits or controlled situations should be executed in a manner that makes the context obvious to the reader. Photo illustrations can be misleading and should be used sparingly and only in consultation with the photo editors. They must be clearly labeled as photo illustrations. Photos are information and shouldn't be used as page decor, fillers or graphic devices. The DMN prohibits manipulation of photo images. Enhancement for reproduction purposes, which includes burning, dodging and color correction, can be done only in the Photo department.

17. Television, Radio Appearances

These must be approved in advance by the managing editor or executive editor. Avoid discussions that could compromise your objectivity in the perception of your readers. Benefits of such exposure to the newspaper should be weighed against possible misunderstandings or compromises regarding the reporter or editor.

18. Professional Activities

Staffers are encouraged to participate in media industry groups and activities including panels and seminars, as long as that participation would not compromise the employee in his or her daily activity in the newspaper.

19. Reprints

All reprint permission comes from the managing editor's office. Generally reprints must be in full, credited to the newspaper and not imply any endorsement by this paper. Assistant to the managing editor John Davenport handles such inquiries.

20. Dress

Clothing should be appropriate to the job. Appearances and public perception are important.

21. Smoking, Drinking

Smoking and drinking alcohol is prohibited in the news department. Drinking alcohol is prohibited while working.

22. DMN, Belo References in the Newspaper

Any report on companies or individuals involved in The Dallas Morning News, the A.H. Belo Corp., or any of its subsidiaries will be referred to the managing editor or executive editor prior to publication.

23. Overtime

Overtime should be approved in advance except when covering major spot news such as disasters. Non-salaried people who work more than 40 hours in a week receive pay at time and half. Salaried people receive paid time off as deemed appropriate by their supervisors. Salaried people do not receive paid time off on an hour-per-hour basis.

24. Expenses/Entertainment

Company policy is explicit: we accept no free travel from businesses, governments, political parties or anyone else. Follow instructions on the back of expense forms or check with your supervising editor. Information and receipts are essential for Internal Revenue Service substantiation. All expense reports must be submitted immediately after a trip.

25. Courtesy Titles

Appropriate titles are used in all news sections except in cases involving historical figures (e.g., Lincoln, Churchill, Hitler) or in sports. Mrs., Miss or Ms. is used according to individual preference, if known. If not known, Ms. is the default title. Mr. is the usual courtesy title for males. We have many options, however, in choosing courtesy titles. Don't repeat courtesy titles where skillful writing or editing can reduce their number. See the DMN Stylebook for details.

26. Diversity/Inclusiveness

This newspaper is dedicated to thorough and sensitive coverage of women, blacks, Hispanics, Asians, American Indians and gays and lesbians, among others. We are concerned about minority representation on the staff and coverage of minority issues.

27. Crime Victims, Arrests

Names of rape victims are withheld unless they ask to be identified. Crime victims may be protected by reporting general locations of homes such as blocks rather than specific house addresses. An arrested individual usually is not named until charges are filed or he is arraigned before a judge. Exceptions can include a very prominent person in a highly public offense or "smoking gun" incidents. Supervising editors must be consulted in these cases.

28. Job Postings

Most newsroom positions that are open will be posted. Everything being absolutely equal, preference will be given to internal staff promotions. You are encouraged to discuss your career interest with any supervising editor, department head, appropriate management person, or the managing editor or executive editor. Senior or technical staff positions may be filled by senior editors without posting.

29. Departmental Relations

All staffers are encouraged to cooperate with and become familiar with operations in circulation, production, advertising and other departments of The Dallas Morning News. Any advertiser
request for stories or photos should be routed through the managing editor's office to avoid any appearance or perception of pressure on this staff. However, any person inside or outside of The Dallas Morning News is encouraged to offer story or photo ideas to the news department, and they should be received courteously.

30. Proprietary Information

You may become aware of certain information that must be protected by the company in this competitive media market. Protect it.

31. Safety

No story is worth a staffer's life or safety. Take all possible precautions on your assignment and keep your supervising editor advised immediately of any threats to you or your family. No laws should be broken in pursuit of a story or photograph.

32. Passports, Languages, Other Interests

Staffers often are needed for foreign assignment without much notice. Updated and valid passports and foreign language facility are important factors. Your geographical background (place where you may have lived some time) or interests (law, archaeology, medicine, whatever) could be important to share with an assigning editor.

33. Knight Ridder News Service

We file staff work on this wire at the time of or after publication in The Dallas Morning News. We do not permit reprints of staff work in media competing in markets with Knight Ridder clients. Other papers filing on this wire include the Philadelphia Inquirer, Chicago Tribune and Miami Herald, among others.

34. Car Insurance

Do not take out insurance on cars rented from Avis, Hertz or Budget. We already carry coverage with all three.

35. American Express

Reporters and photographers may obtain American Express Corporate Cards through The Dallas Morning News. These credit cards are used only for business-related travel, meals, entertainment, lodging and automobile rentals, and are surrendered if the staffer leaves the employment of The Morning News. The staffer is responsible for paying all charges promptly, regardless whether she/he has received reimbursement. If the card becomes in excess of 60 days past due, the account will be canceled.

36. Misrepresentation/Deception

No staffer will represent himself or herself as anything other than a Dallas Morning News reporter, editor, photographer, artists, columnist or other occupation. If for security or other reasons you must avoid identification, you must inform your editor as soon as possible. The managing editor and executive editor also must be informed.

37. Public Relations

If you feel any public authority is interfering with your duties as a journalist, notify your editor immediately. Proper press identification is available to the appropriate staffers and should not be abused.

38. Speakers Bureau

The marketing department coordinates speaking engagements available to staffers for a small payment. We should make ourselves available as much as possible to speak to groups such as schools and media professional groups. Any honorarium should be discussed with your editor before making a speaking engagement. This does not include payment of travel costs for speeches to industry groups and colleges.

39. Reference Library Searches

The Reference department will not search for any credit, bank or medical records that are not a matter of public record. Any exception must be approved by the managing editor or executive editor. Also, Reference will not conduct searches for a staffer's personal use.

40. Resignations/Terminations

Employees must surrender all company equipment when they leave their job at the DMN. Equipment including portable computers, cell phones, pagers, calling cards, Internet business accounts and long-distance dialing codes must be returned before the employee's final check will be issued. A list of what must be returned is on file in the managing editor's office.

41. The Dallas Morning News Name

Do not use the name of the DMN, the paper's stationery or your business cards for personal use (for example, when complaining about poor service at a store). The newspaper's name must not be used directly or by implication in your personal activities.

42. Use of the Internet and Personal Computers

The Internet should be used only for company purposes when working on company time. Playing computer games or in fantasy sports leagues while on company is prohibited. The internal e-mail system is not for personal use such as selling tickets, especially by using the $ON and $ALL message groups.

43. Fellowships, Leaves

Staffers must have permission before applying for fellowships, personal leaves and book-writing leaves. Issues of pay and benefits during those leaves must be discussed at the outset.

44. Telephone Use

DMN cellular telephones or cellular phone bills reimbursed by the company should be used for work-related calls. If personal calls are made, the employee will repay those costs. We strongly urge employees traveling on assignment to call the office using the 1-800 number whenever possible and to avoid cellular roaming charges, which are very expensive.

Finally, no guidelines or codes can or should anticipate every situation. Individual cases require individual discussion, so feel free to contact the appropriate editors any time, day or night, if problems arise. In summary, always be guided by fairness, accuracy and good common sense.

Gilbert Bailon
Vice President and Executive Editor

Stuart Wilk
Managing Editor