Journalism ethical standards and guidelines for editorial staff members at Stars and Stripes
Following are the standards that all editorial staffers should seek to follow while performing their daily duties.
AccuracyThe newspaper strives to uphold the highest standards of accuracy. The best available fact source, reference book, directory, dictionary or research publication or pertinent Web site should be used to check facts. When possible, reference assistance should be used from the Stars and Stripes Central Library staff.
To ensure accuracy reporters and editors should use the following checklist:
Go over all factual portions of a story a second, third or more times. If something doesn’t seem quite right, it probably is not.
Review headlines to ensure the information in the story supports the headline. Ensuring that a reader can find the headline in the story is a popular way of being right in putting a headline on a complicated, fact-filled story.
Ensure that previous clips of long-running or continuing stories have all corrections included. Check with library staff to find corrections and avoid perpetuating errors made by a previous story.
Community awareness, sensitivityIn covering the U.S. military Stars and Stripes reporters work daily with an extremely diverse group of individuals in a multicultural, multi-ethnic, multi-religious environment. In addition, reporters are usually working outside the United States where host nation sensitivities can be a factor in working stories and dealing with interview subjects. Staff members should avoid stereotyping of any group. Stories and headlines should reflect a sensitivity to phrases, wording or tone which might offend any group within the newspaper audience.
Staff members should seek minority voices in stories and constantly reexamine content to ensure that every effort is being made to provide balanced material which does not unfairly leave out minority views and representation.
Staff members should be open to criticism from news sources and readers and demonstrate a willingness to listen to those with a minority view.
The use of racial, national or ethnic humor or metaphors and slang words – either in quotations or by the writer – that might be offensive should be carefully reviewed for appropriateness, relevance, fairness and news value. When in doubt, the best rule is not to use material which will knowingly offend our readers, whatever their group affiliation.
Take great care in using military jargon. Some words may be used because of tradition but care must be taken to avoid those which can be offensive and insensitive. Avoid words and jargon which mask insensitivity to racial, national and ethnic heritages or to differences in gender, age and sexual orientation.
Conflicts of interestStaff members will strive to carry out their journalistic responsibilities with fairness, honesty and objectivity. To ensure this, staffers will avoid any activity which could detract from their commitment to meet the highest principles of journalism. Staff members are expected to clear with supervisors any outside employment. That employment should not conflict in any way with the mission of the newspaper.
Staff members should generally not accept free gifts or freebies from outside organizations or individuals. When in doubt on the issue of gifts, advice should be sought from a Stripes legal counsel. Staff members should also avoid the acceptance of preferential treatment from an organization or individual in connection with newspaper activities. When in doubt on this issue, advice should be sought from a Stripes legal counsel.
Staff members should disclose to a supervisor any potential conflict of interest involving a friendship, affiliation, financial investment or involvement with activities which might come under scrutiny from the newspaper.
Deception and misrepresentationIn most circumstances staff members should immediately identify themselves to news sources. This is most important in interviews when writing about or photographing ordinary readers. Those readers are sometimes unaware they may be quoted in the newspaper. Staffers should not mislead or lie about their connection to the newspaper. There may be occasions, for reasons of personal safety, when staff members will not immediately identify themselves as journalists. Such occasions are rare and should be brought to the attention of editors.
A decision for a reporter not to identify herself/himself for purposes of interviewing sources would be reached only after consultation with the newspaper’s top editors. Such a decision is rare. Clandestine taping of an interviewee is prohibited.
Diversity and racial identificationNewspapers strive to reflect their community and Stars and Stripes seeks each day to present the diversity of the U.S. military community around the world. The stories and photographs in the newspaper are, in essence, a daily snapshot of the military community. That snapshot should be one of diversity, representing as well as reasonably possible the diverse makeup of the U.S. Armed Forces. Minority opinions must be actively sought to achieve balance in stories and pictures show be taken and chosen with great care to present the same balance shown in stories.
Unless relevant, an individual’s ethnicity should not be identified in a story. If it is identified, the reason for doing so should be discussed with an editor. In general, there is no need for race or ethnic identification, particularly in the coverage of crime.
FairnessThe newspaper believes in getting all important sides of a story. To do less leaves some group in the audience with the conviction the newspaper was unfair. Organizations and individuals being criticized in a story should have a right to reply. The newspaper should go out of its way to get comment from command officials, soldiers and others who are mentioned in stories and to note unsuccessful efforts if comments are not obtained. The newspaper depends upon the perception of the readership that it pursues news and information in a fair manner without taking sides.
Invasion of privacy and sensitivity to victimsThe newspaper is respectful of the privacy and rights of our readers. They often serve in high profile positions and on assignments which attract world attention. We measure the need to provide information on individuals and their actions with their right to privacy. A legitimate public interest must be shown. Additionally, many of our readers have little or no experience in dealing with the media and have a natural bond with this newspaper because of its long military tradition. That makes it extremely important for reporters and photographers to be aware of the potential impact of stories and photographs from these readers.
Injury, personal tragedy and sometimes death are a not infrequent part of the daily experience of the U.S. military community overseas. Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine units plus the U.S. government military community abroad must deal with painful experiences while Stars and Stripes and other media look on. Staff members must strive to be highly sensitive to the plight of families and unit members in time of tragedy. Every effort must be made to record these stories but never at the price of insensitivity to the men and women of the U.S. military and their families.
Military issuesThe position of Stars and Stripes covering the U.S. military is unique. Most of the newspaper’s offices are on military bases around the world. No other publication has that access. The newspaper has a mandate from Congress to be a daily newspaper dedicated to the free flow of information to U.S. government personnel overseas. The newspaper seeks to emulate the best practices of daily newspapers in the United States using First Amendment guarantees on freedom of the press.
Despite its special status as a tradition-rich newspaper Stars and Stripes is a non-appropriated fund government agency with rules and regulations set out in Department of Defense Directive 5122.11. Several key provisions are listed here. The summary:
The component commands and their public affairs staffs will provide Stars and Stripes the same help provided to commercial newspapers.
Editorial policies and practices of Stars and Stripes will follow standards used by the best U.S. daily commercial newspapers of the highest quality, with emphasis on matters of interest to Stripes readership.
The newspaper is not allowed to publish classified material that is not in the public domain. It is free to run such material from other news organizations and news agencies.
The newspaper may determine on its own not to run material which might threaten the lives of U.S. personnel on the ground in some area or activity where personal security is an issue.
The calculated withholding of news material unfavorable to the Department of Defense, the military services, or the U.S. government is prohibited.
Obscenities, vulgaritiesIt is rare that a vulgarity or obscenity will appear in the newspaper. The newspaper avoids using vulgarities, obscenities or racially offensive remarks. There are rare circumstances when the power of a story and the context make it necessary to include a vulgarity or obscenity. But these occasions are extremely rare and such words are used only with the agreement of the top editor in theater.
Photography, use and processing of imagesPhotographers and graphic artists should not manipulate or alter news, features or sports photographs to distort or to add or remove objects or individuals from a scene. No news or sports photographs should be altered to sanitize or censor content. Only standard picture enhancements, which equate to techniques used in darkroom processing such as dodging, burning, color balancing and spot removing, should be used on photographs.
Pictures which are considered offensive to the audience should be reviewed by editors and a decision made on whether the value of the photograph outweighs the negative impact.
Photographs may sometimes be used for composite images but the product must be labeled as an illustration.
PlagiarismTaking someone else’s written or graphic material and claiming it as your own is prohibited and is grounds for dismissal. Use of wire service material in a story without credit to the appropriate wire service is prohibited. Material from press releases and from web sites to include Defense web sites should be noted as such. Every effort should be made to rewrite needed information from press releases and not to use such information verbatim unless credited to the source. Essentially, if the words don’t represent your own thinking put into writing then tell the reader where the information came from. The use of material from graphic illustrations without appropriate credit and permission is prohibited. Reporters are not allowed to embellish or substantially alter an interviewee’s words.
Sources and relationshipsThe use of anonymous sources in stories is discouraged. The use of anonymous sources has a general negative impact on credibility with readers. Whenever possible the full name and affiliation of all sources should be included in the story. The newspaper recognizes, however, that in the military community, in particular, there is great reluctance for sources to be on the record and have their names appear in Stars and Stripes. Retribution to include damage to military careers can be a result of talking to the newspaper. Thus, anonymous sources will sometimes appear in stories in the newspaper. The name of the source must be known to the top editor in theater. Editor and reporter must determine that the anonymous source is necessary to the article, that the information cannot be obtained elsewhere on the record, that there is a legitimate reason for concealing the source’s identity and that we can explain to readers why the source should not be identified.
The highest-ranking available editor must approve use of unnamed sources. When using such sources, more than one is needed to corroborate information. An unnamed source – and usually a named source also – is not permitted to gratuitously attack another individual or group.