Freelance Print Journalist
Code of Practice and Ethics

Who, What, Where & When
leaving the WHY to the pundits

A code of practice and ethics formulates a standard of excellence, a path towards which to aim. The Code of Practice and Ethics written below pertains to print journalism. It does not specifically apply to broadcast journalism (including television journalism), or Internet journalism, but many principles apply.

As a professional free lance print journalist, I operate within a framework of belief in fundamental rights of freedom; namely, freedom of the press as laid down under the concepts of the 1st Amendment to the US Constitution.

Such freedom includes the right to access information from a free flow of information with public records open to public inspection, to write my story in the manner I see fit, and to see it through to publication.

Media, and more specifically print journalism, enables the people's right to know what is happening in their world. I shall make it my aim to work towards transparency related to public business, news, policy and politics. By operating within these parameters I contribute to maintaining the continuance of the bond of mutual trust and respect between journalists and their readership; a mark of a democratic society.

I am aware of the power of the word and the breadth of its distribution in print. My duty is to the readers of the articles printed under my authorship whether the article holds a by-line or not.

I am also fully cognizant the statement of Ramesh Deosaran in "The Grenada File: the Media, Law and Politics":

A newspaper . . . becomes an economic commodity with a political function, albeit one obligated to perform within legal limits.

The above is a counter reality, often, to the aims of keeping within the concept of free speech. Nevertheless, the newspaper consists of editorial columns and news columns, and I, as a professional journalist, aim to keep the two separate. I realize I play a socially useful role in my aim towards objectivity

As a freelance professional journalist, I am committed to the word and the spirit of attempting to reporting the essential 'truth' of a story. I will act on the principle that I can write the truth as best as it can be verified and I include all the truth or truths I can gather. My loyalty to the truth takes precedence over loyalty to any formed body, and I am prepared to take the consequence of charges of disloyalty to some body. I will be honest, accurate, assertive, fair, thorough and responsible in my pursuit for the truth. I shall approach those I interview and all those involved with courtesy, respect and humility, and actively listen to their story.

An example—suppose a person states

In March of 1979 a Coup by Communist Revolutionaries took place on the island of Grenada, but no one in the media bothered to cover it.

The statement above can be fairly and objectively refuted by looking back at the newspaper and magazine articles published in the days following 13 March 1979 by major United States publications: the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Miami Herald and TIME magazine. Who, what, where and when are the key points in fair reportage.

Note that the statement contains code words - "coup" and "Communist" - denoting a judgment or value or matter of opinion. Some of those articles described the regime change as a "coup," but none of the evaluation the People's Revolutionary Government as "Communist." None of the articles were editorials where value judgments are often found.

I am committed to fairness. I will aim the words of my story to include facts of major importance, significance and relevance, being as complete and descriptive as I can, attempting to look at all the facts. I shall attempt to steer away from stereotypes and generalities by focusing upon details.

I shall make clear in my mind the difference between comment, rumor, conjecture and fact. I shall work with facts and quotation, backed up by identifiable and specific attributable sources of information. I shall attempt to write with simplicity and clearness, avoiding tricky wordsmithing and coded meanings.

I pledge to disclose the source of all information when at all possible. I will do my best to verify facts from multiple sources in my story. I shall refrain from engaging in self-censorship by suppressing essential information. My special obligation as a journalist is to write with accurate and detailed referrals to sources upon which I base my story. I shall include all relevant facts. I will not report on any unsubstantiated information.

In exceptional, rare, and non-routine cases, and upon agreement with my editor, if I should report on a matter without full attribution, I will make every reasonable effort to get it on the record. If that is not possible, I will consider seeking the information elsewhere and/or request an on-the-record reason for concealing the source's identity and include the reason in the story. I shall attempt to use summary identification of the source, if the specific source identity is to remain concealed.

I have a moral obligation to protect confidential sources of information, even if criminal in nature.

I will not write under a pseudonym. I will not use pseudonyms in my story, unless the source is well-known and identified as such.

I pledge to write upon all aspects of the situation with an open mind, with objectivity, without prior judgment, without showing favor to anyone, showing fairness in balance of viewpoints. My aim is to present a multi-faceted view of an event, as best I am able, regardless of my point-of-view of the event. My search for opposing views must be routine. My innate sense of curiosity will rise to the occasion by wanting to discover the whys of my topic. I will examine the motives of those who attempt to persuade me of their story.

I shall do my work in a manner as to minimize potential error. If it is discovered that I have written material that is misleading, distorted or inaccurate, I shall make a maximum attempt to have a fair and timely correction printed promptly and prominently. If there is a disagreement following a complaint, I shall agree to be a party to the mediation process.

If I am to write an opinion, I will see that my piece is placed on an editorial page and signed with my name; in other words, facts belong in news columns and opinion, analysis and commentary in editorial columns. If I write an editorial or commentary under my name, I shall attempt to offer truthful, informed analysis that includes thoughtful consideration of issues. When I write a news atory, I shall be aware that people do not care how I feel about what is happening or happened; they want to know what happened - information and content rule.

In order to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, I shall accept no monetary offers, free travel, gifts, favors, and shall pay my own way, tolerate no preferential, special or privileged treatment and be under no obligation to news sources and special interests. I will accept nothing of value in the course of my work, except for compensation for the work and its expenses as stated in my freelance contract. I shall have no obligations to anyone other than the public's right to know the truth and my responsibility to write a factual story.

If I, or my editor, believes information that comes at a price ought to be purchased, we will do so, and publish the information, in the public interest, or use the information as background to the story.

I shall give credit where credit is due, especially when other publications develop exclusive stories. I shall not plagiarize from other sources. By plagiarism I mean I will not take the words or ideas written by another person and use them as my own, without proper attribution.

I shall not be involved in any partisan association or activity such as politics, demonstrations, secondary employment, governmental office, community affairs, a conflicting financial interest, or social causes, which could be perceived to be a conflict or interest or is in fact a conflict of interest. I will not use any information I gain before its general publication for my financial profit. These activities would compromise or seem to compromise my ability to fairly report a story.

I shall not make offensive and unnecessary references to and discriminate against an individual on the basis of race, colour, sex, sexual orientation, nationality, religion, physical or mental illness or disability, or ideology. I shall respect dignity, privacy, rights and the well-being of those I interview.

I shall be respectful of the region's cultural and political institutions.

I shall attempt to maintain the norms of decency and taste when writing my stories. I shall avoid profanities and obscenities.

I shall not interview or be a party to photographing children under the age of 18 on subjects involving his or her welfare or any other child in the absence of or without the consent of the parent or guardian. I shall not report on the private life of a child under the age of 18 without the consent of the parent or guardian.

I shall not identify victims of sexual assault or their family or publish material likely to lead to such identification. I pledge not to intrude upon a person's private life either through clandestine means or through interviews.

I shall not harass grieving victims for a story. I will refrain from describing morbid and gory details surrounding crime or tragedy, and see that my article is not accompanied by disturbing photographs of a similar nature.

I shall be vigilant about the newspaper headlines that accompany my article, and attempt to monitor the headline before publication.

I will write on the assumption that my writing is to be read by the young, as well as the old.

I shall dress and conduct myself in a manner that reflects beneficially on the profession of journalism. I shall not drink on the job or use illegal drugs. I understand that my private behaviour, as well as my professional behaviour, reflect upon the profession of journalism, which I will not discredit. I make every effort to stay in the background; to report the news, not to make the news.

I will not identify myself as anything else other than a journalist. I shall uphold respect for the work of my professional colleagues. I pledge to keep abreast of the latest training and research and commentary on the profession of journalism.

I accept freelance assignments based upon a written contract that limits the rights of publication to one occasion only. I do not accept an all-rights or work-made-for-hire agreement, except in very special cases. All uses beyond first print publication must be separately licensed and separately compensated. There are no resale rights.

The contract states the parties and their location; the assignment is described; a delivery date is posted; the fee payable within 14 days of delivery date is printed; the copyright terms itemized; the area of publication/usage is stated; a notation is made of how the writer credit line will appear and the witnessed signature of publisher and journalist is required. If the story is not used, it is stated in the contract that payment is 1/2 the fee.

In the contract, my journalist expenses are paid by the publisher, either a pre-set allotment, or written acceptance of an allowable expense report - travel, accommodations, research time per hour, and other expenses. The publisher is responsible for damages and/or court costs which may be imposed as a result of any court action in relation to defamation or any other legal action undertaken by a third party.

The above code of practice and ethics is not strict rule. It is a structure, a guideline, a compendium of boundaries and principles.

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