11 Oct 2011 - 11 Aug 2021
Ethics and Standards Policy The Pulitzer Center is a hybrid organization, producing original journalism for its own website and in tandem with print and broadcast news outlets. We also work with educational institutions and the general public, using the journalism we sponsor to encourage engagement and debate on the big global issues that affect us all. No single document can address all the questions we will encounter about ethics, sources and funding, especially in a setting such as ours with multiple partnerships and relationships. What follows is a list of key principles, applicable to Pulitzer Center employees and to our journalist grantees.
Conduct yourself - on and off the job - in ways that enhance the Pulitzer Center's credibility and character.
Show respect for individual human dignity, with an aim to minimizing the harm that can result from journalism.
Avoid financial arrangements and other activities that will create a conflict of interest or the appearance of a conflict for the Pulitzer Center. Let the audience know any information about yourself or your sources that might affect its understanding of your work.
Raise and discuss potential problems of any kind in advance whenever possible, including questions about ethics, sources and coverage.
Integrity, fairness, independence and transparency are crucial to our work, and should be considered in all that we do. The following standards are drawn in part from the guidelines and experience of other organizations, including the Society for Professional Journalists, St. Louis Beacon, NPR, The Washington Post, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and the Poynter Institute. Exceptions to these standards must be approved by senior management at the Pulitzer Center.
In most cases Pulitzer journalist grantees will also be working with other news outlets. It is incumbent on them to be cognizant of the ethics and standards policies of those outlets, and to operate in compliance with them. It is also incumbent on Pulitzer journalist grantees to inform the Pulitzer Center in advance, however, if any questions arise in the course of reporting as to how such standards apply. The Pulitzer Center will disassociate itself from any reporting project that it determines to be in violation of its standards.
General reporting standards
Never pass off another person's work as your own. Give credit and pay attention to copyright laws when using material from other sources.
Do not create composite characters or invent quotes. When reconstructing narratives, take care to assure the accuracy of recollections and to explain the source of information. Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it. Photos and videos should not be altered or staged to create images that are misleading to readers.
Examine your own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others. Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. Support the open exchange of views, within the context of evidence-based reporting.
Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
Don't mislead people about who you are. Normally, when dealing with individuals, you should make clear that you are working as a journalist and gathering information for publication. However, in public settings or certain large gatherings, you may observe without announcing your role.
The Pulitzer Center does not normally operate undercover, and any activity of this nature must be discussed in advance with senior management.
Social networks are communications media and a part of our everyday lives. They can be valuable tools in gathering and disseminating news and information. They also create some potential hazards we need to recognize. When using social networking tools for reporting we must protect our professional integrity – identifying ourselves as journalists and stating clearly our intentions in terms of how material gathered from such sites will be used before soliciting leads and information. In our use of such tools we should never imply that we are only interested in surfacing individuals with one particular view of a topic or issue. Do not post items on social-media sites without reading them first.
Professional and personal blogs
The journalism on Untold Stories and other Pulitzer Center blogs is often fresh from the field, a combination of print and imagery that is usually less formal than the journalism we present via the print and broadcast news media outlets that feature Pulitzer Center work. These less formal blog posts are nonetheless journalism, subject to all the standards stated herein.
Pulitzer Center staff and journalist grantees should be cognizant that personal blogs and other social-media communications are not private. What you include will potentially reflect on the Pulitzer Center's credibility. The public and the Pulitzer Center will hold you accountable, so discuss any potentially troublesome posting in advance with Pulitzer Center senior management.
Treatment of privacy rights, especially of minors
Pulitzer Center journalist grantees and staff should think carefully about the boundaries between legitimate journalistic pursuit and an individual’s right to privacy. We recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Journalists should strive to minimize harm in their reporting, with compassion and sensitivity for those who may be adversely affected by news coverage. This is especially the case when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief, and in coverage of incidents involving sexual abuse and assault.
Only an overriding public need to know can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy. If there is any question as to the application of this standard journalists or staff should consult with Pulitzer Center senior management in advance of publication or broadcast.
Pulitzer Center journalist grantees and staff should be especially sensitive to the treatment of minors (generally defined as anyone under the age of 18). Interviews with minors on a sensitive subject are subject to approval by parent or legal guardian prior to publication or broadcast. The use of images and quotations that may cause harm or embarrassment to minors should always be discussed with an editor in advance.
Sharing work before publication
We encourage journalist grantees and staff members to re-check material with sources to ensure accuracy in the reports they file. When doing so, journalists and staff members should normally share only relevant parts of the work, not the entire work.
Staff members will hear sensitive information from colleagues and journalist grantees about work in progress and normally should not share it outside the organization.
The Pulitzer Center strives to be as accurate as possible. It is incumbent on our journalist grantees and staff to notify us as soon as possible when mistakes are identified. We will post corrections as soon as confirmed, and make clear on our website when texts have been altered to account for corrections. We will encourage the public to voice grievances about our journalism, and invite dialogue over specific journalistic conduct.
Pulitzer Center journalists and staff should alert senior Pulitzer Center staff when questions are raised as to the accuracy of reporting.
Use of Pulitzer Center affiliation
Pulitzer journalist grantees and staff should take care in accurately identifying their association with the Pulitzer Center. They should never state or imply Pulitzer Center endorsement of work not sponsored by the Center unless there is prior discussion with and approval by Pulitzer Center senior management.
We seek to publish content that is accurate and fair. That responsibility extends beyond quoting sources accurately. We must also strive to determine whether the information itself is correct. And we must be forthright in giving site users the information they need to evaluate the credibility of sources. Here are some ways to achieve these goals:
Do original reporting, use primary sources and rely on multiple sources whenever possible.
Strive to use on-the-record sources and quotes. For use of unnamed sources, see guidelines below.
Use common sense and instinct to help spot unreliable information. When in doubt, check it out or leave it out. Make sure Internet sources are reliable and email communication is genuine.
Be forthright in explaining where information came from. Give credit if it originated with another source. Never imply you were present or interviewed someone if that did not happen.
Require individuals submitting comments on Pulitzer Center journalism to use their real names.
Special arrangements with sources
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
An agreement you make with a source amounts to a contract that may impose obligations on the Pulitzer Center as a whole. Think carefully before you agree to any special arrangement, including one to keep a source's name confidential. When possible, discuss the implications in advance with an editor.
As with on-the-record reporting, use multiple sources and check facts independently whenever possible. Describe the unnamed source as precisely as possible in the story while maintaining confidentiality.
Keep in mind that some sources are used to dealing with journalists and others are not. Make sure there is no confusion about any arrangement you make with a source, including what material is not for attribution.
Publish material from confidential sources only when the following criteria have been met:
The information is important.
It cannot be obtained on the record.
There is a legitimate reason for confidentiality.
An editor must determine whether these criteria have been met. The editor normally will know the name of the source and will be under the same obligation as the reporter to keep it confidential.
The Pulitzer Center does not delete comments on this site based on differences in point of view or disagreements. The Pulitzer Center deletes comments that are abusive, promote products or content not related to our work, or if the commenter continuously publishes similar comments. The Pulitzer Center may choose to ban IP addresses of those who publish comments that require deletion. Comments are moderated on this site after they have been posted.
Normal activities - outside work, investments, political activism - pose special problems for journalists. Often, it's best to avoid activities that might interfere with your ability to function as a journalist. Alternatively, you may be precluded from working on certain topics for the Pulitzer Center if you're personally involved.
A third alternative is public disclosure of any information that a site user might find relevant in understanding the content. Someone who is writing about a relative would need to disclose the relationship. A guest contributor writing about politics would need to disclose if he is associated with a candidate, and any employment or other financial relationship that could be viewed as related to the topic being reported.
Full disclosure of relevant information is standard practice for the Pulitzer Center - a necessary step but not always sufficient when a potential conflict of interest exists.
Avoid financial conflicts of interest with organizations you regularly cover. You should not own stock directly in, work for or receive other economic benefits from a company you regularly report on or make news decisions about.
Do not seek or accept personal favors or preferential treatment from sources and organizations. Do not invoke the Pulitzer Center's name when handling personal business or problems.
Disclose, discuss with senior management and resolve any situations that might raise questions about the Pulitzer Center's integrity and independence. Potentially troublesome areas include outside employment, retainers from interested parties and other entanglements, acceptance of certain awards, paid speaking engagements, donation of your services, freelance work, and participation in ads and endorsements.
Decline gifts of more than token value. Pay for your own meals rather than accepting payment by a source unless circumstances make this impractical. You should not normally accept free travel, with the exception of military embeds and other situations in which travel assistance is essential to the reporting. Pulitzer Center senior management should be informed in advance when reporting projects include the provision of subsidized travel.
You may accept free admission, if offered, to an event related to your work, such as a movie, performance or political gathering. Books, music and other promotional products you receive for review may be used for that purpose and kept, but they may not be sold for personal gain.
Coverage decisions should be made without regard to availability of free admission or materials. Coverage decisions should be based on news considerations, with no preferential treatment for donors, advertisers and others with whom the Pulitzer Center has organizational ties.
Sources will not be paid for interviews or information.
Organizations and politics
You have a right to speak out and join organizations. But if you or a close relative are involved in certain activities – especially controversial ones that attract news coverage -- you will normally be precluded from participating in the Pulitzer Center's coverage or related decisions.
You are strongly urged to avoid activities that will raise questions about the Pulitzer Center's integrity and fairness. Involvement in neighborhood, religious, school and professional organizations rarely leads to problems. Other activities are likely to raise controversy and you are urged to refrain. These include running for office, donating to candidates or political causes, participating in demonstrations, signing petitions, displaying yard signs or bumper stickers and wearing pins or shirts which express political viewpoints.
The Pulitzer Center is a non-profit organization that depends on the contributions of foundations and individuals to sustain our work. Our website includes current information as to donors, with the exception of those who wish to remain anonymous. We do not accept donations that raise the possibility, or the appearance, of a conflict of interest.
The Pulitzer Center conducts some of its work on a fee-for-service basis: arranging for journalist visits to schools and university campuses, conducting workshops, and creating contests and other activities that promote journalism and public engagement with global issues. Corporations and other organizations that enter into such arrangements with the Pulitzer Center do so with the understanding that they do not control in any way the Center’s journalistic activities.
Donors contributing to the Pulitzer Center understand that the Pulitzer Center (and its news media partners) will exercise full autonomy over the journalism we produce. Donors will not dictate in any way the editorial products of the Pulitzer Center.
Donor organizations often have expertise on issues we cover and on occasion will pass along information and contacts of value in our journalistic pursuits. There should be no contact between Pulitzer journalist grantees and donor organizations, however, without prior notice to and discussion with senior Pulitzer Center management.
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"We will illuminate dark places and, with a deep sense of responsibility, interpret these troubled times."
JOSEPH PULITZER III (1913-1993)