The independent student newspaper at the University of Illinois since 1871

The Daily Illini

Ethics Code


Our mission

The Daily Illini considers the integrity of its product above all else. It is in the name of ethical journalism that we strive for accuracy and neutrality, for fairness and impartiality to maintain a media outlet that can truly serve as a voice and watchdog for the University of Illinois community. We exist as means for our audience to be informed but can only do so through honest reporting and objectivity.

The credibility of The Daily Illini’s employees reflects the credibility of The Daily Illini. Employees, no matter their level of involvement, should always seek the truth and do so in the most ethical manner. If there is ever a doubt as to the validity of a fact or the process in which it is obtained, seek guidance. Work the chain of command and through discussion make the appropriate judgment. Time should always be made for practical decision-making, regardless of the situation or the perceived urgency. It is only together that we can ensure The Daily Illini will maintain its watchdog role and leader in collegiate journalism.

The following ethical guidelines exist for all editorial employees of The Daily Illini, regardless of position or division of employment. The term employee refers to any individual who submits content to or contributes in any way to the print, online or on-air divisions of The Daily Illini. Actions defying the code of ethics are considered a violation of the standards of journalism and an infringement of the policies outlined by The Daily Illini. Such acts are considered especially heinous and will be dealt with accordingly. Anything not covered in the following codes should be deferred to the Society of Professional Journalist’s Code of Ethics. These codes are intended to live beyond the first years of their induction but not remain stagnant. The codes should be abridged as new issues arise in journalism; however, the means of the guidelines must remain pure in their intent and should not be changed without proper dialogue.

Accepting freebies

The perception could exist that because The Daily Illini is given something free, we will return the deed by giving favorable coverage. Even if this isn’t true, the fact that the provider of the freebie or an outsider might believe it to be true could lead to a misperception of biased reporting. In most circumstances, avoid accepting any freebies and adhere to the following guidelines.

Free travel

For The Daily Illini to maintain its reputation as a balanced publication free of influence, journalists should avoid accepting free travel or any expenses related to travel when in the pursuit of a story. However, it is recognized that this is not always avoidable. If the situation arises when it is absolutely necessary for a journalist to accept travel, he or she must pay for any accommodations including but not limited to transportation, lodging and food. When traveling with an outside person or company, the journalist must act with complete professionalism. He or she may not interview any sources while traveling unless relevant to the story. For sports, the journalist may not travel with athletes of the sport they are covering, however, he or she may travel with individuals from the Division of Intercollegiate Athletics or other individuals affiliated with but not members of the athletic team. Executive editors, made up of the editor-in-chief and the managing editors, reserve the right to reject any travel arrangements they deem problematic to the integrity of The Daily Illini and must approve any travel arrangements before they are finalized.

Gifts

Without exception, gifts should not be accepted or given. While there is a distinction between what is a gift and what is common courtesy, it is up to the employee to discern what is acceptable. In general, abide by the code that if the courtesy at issue in any way causes concern, do not accept it. This does not include items given to The Daily Illini as promotional giveaways.

Free tickets

It is important for employees covering events to discern the difference between a free pass specifically for members of the media and a free ticket. If an employee is covering an event for The Daily Illini, it is allowable to accept free admittance to the event, as long as it is not in the interest of giving good publicity. Make sure any event being covered on a free pass has news value and is not being covered solely because the The Daily Illini gained access to this event for free. Under no circumstance is a free pass to be distributed to any person not an employee of The Daily Illini. Furthermore, any free pass obtained by an employee must be used in the purpose of covering an event. Employees cannot attend for free events (including sporting events) that they have no intention of covering for The Daily Illini.

Promotional materials

It is understood that from time to time employees of The Daily Illini may receive products, books, records, etc. from various companies as promotional giveaways for media outlets. If an employee is given something of the like for free, that person is not expected, nor should they feel obligated to give coverage to a company because he or she received a free item. If an employee deems the promotional material of no news value, it should be recognized that the Illini Media Company has other entities that can use the promotional material and it should be given to those entities for their use. Promotional material that is unused or is no longer of use must be given to an executive editor to be later donated to charity.

Outside activities

In order to preserve The Daily Illini’s reputation as an objective, thriving media outlet free of infiltration, certain guidelines for community involvement and outside employment must be upheld.

Other employment

An employee’s first obligation is to The Daily Illini, and any subsequent employment should not conflict with The Daily Illini, both in responsibility and interest. The Daily Illini does not wish to keep its student-employees from gaining professional experience, however, guidelines must be in place to ensure the integrity of The Daily Illini and allow it to compete in the media market.

There are two categories that employment with companies outside The Daily Illini is divided into: media work and other work, non-media. Employment in the former will be treated as such: No employee of The Daily Illini can work for another media outlet if there is an overlap in the work being done at both companies. This means if an employee is covering events, issues or people for The Daily Illini, he or she may not work for a rival media outlet in a position that has, will or could at any time overlap with his or her work with The Daily Illini. For sports, employees cannot cover a sport for another media outlet at the same level (high school, collegiate, professional, etc.). If an employee works for another media outlet as a columnist, whether inside Illini Media Company or outside, that person can only work for The Daily Illini as a columnist, and even then, only if an editor deems the conflict of interest would not be too great. Special circumstances are given for experience columns that often appear in special supplements of The Daily Illini. Exceptions can be given to employees that have material published by outside media outlets for a class taken through the University if a senior editor has been made aware of the content to be published and has been given an opportunity to raise concerns.

As to the latter category: Employees cannot work for other companies if the employment creates a clear and present overlap with the interests of The Daily Illini and any coverage that employee may create while working at The Daily Illini. These guidelines are in place to ensure that The Daily Illini’s coverage remains unbiased and that the information obtained by The Daily Illini is not leaked until it feels the public should be informed about it.

It is up to the senior editors to decide whether or not an employment of either category creates a conflict of interest or would interfere with the goals of The Daily Illini. Also, it should be noted that at no time can an employee of The Daily Illini share with another employer information that has become exclusive to those working at The Daily Illini.

Membership in campus organizations

Employees may not cover a campus organization they belong to, nor can they be a source in any coverage by The Daily Illini. They may, however, give information about their organization for someone else to cover but cannot be cited. Employees of The Daily Illini may be officers in campus organizations as long as they are not a spokesperson for that organization. Campus organizations do not include student government positions. Such bodies are addressed separately below.

Political affiliation and participation in politics

While it is not the intention of The Daily Illini to restrain its employees from being active citizens, it is in the interest of maintaining objectivity that under no circumstance is an employee to be part of any policy forming committee or body, whether at the University, local, state or national level. This includes any intention to commit oneself to a race for a political position or apply for a position that would allow them to create policy, or to be an active member in a campaign to put someone in a position to create policy. Also, to again ensure The Daily Illini’s reputation as an objective media outlet, employees should not, in any public forum, endorse or support a candidate, political party or a side on a divisive issue. Columnists and opinions bloggers are excluded from such restrictions. Such public declarations include, but are not limited to Facebook and other social networks, buttons and clothing, bumper stickers, signing a petition, participating in a protest, or donating to a candidate or political party. Senior editors have the right to review any action by an employee that can call the impartiality of the employee or The Daily Illini into question.

Relationships and coverage

Staffers must make known any potential conflicts of interest prior to starting an assignment that can be caused from close relationships with potential sources. Such relationships include, but are not limited to family members, roommates, spouses or significant others, friends and professors, administrators or religious leaders in which an affection exists. Staffers should not interview or be part of any coverage that may include someone with which they have a personal relationship. Sources in which employees may have a financial investment should also be avoided. Furthermore, there may come a time through long-term involvement with certain sources that relationships can develop. Those relationships must remain professional when the objectivity of The Daily Illini can be questioned.

Professionalism

When working for The Daily Illini, employees should act with the utmost professionalism. To be taken seriously as a media outlet, we must first take ourselves seriously. Employees must never conduct illegal activity while at The Daily Illini building or while representing The Daily Illini. Furthermore, employees should recognize they are subject to increased scrutiny because of their involvement with The Daily Illini and should be mindful that their actions are often a direct reflection of The Daily Illini. In this, not only are employee’s actions subject to scrutiny, but also the employee’s social media, including Facebook and Twitter. Because of the nature of social media Web sites, the employee’s portrayal of him or herself must indicate his or her role in The Daily Illini and demonstrate transparency. The following guidelines should be paid special attention to.

Alcohol

Alcohol can create many problems for employees, even those who are of the legal drinking age, and should be avoided when representing The Daily Illini. Staffers should not drink when they are covering events, before they cover events or in a social setting where they are known to be representing The Daily Illini, so as not to create any suspicion of impaired judgment. Along with that, it is inappropriate for a staffer on most occasions to accept free drinks while covering an event. An underage staffer should never drink when on assignment. Informal interviews should not be held in bars and similar settings. When in a bar, whether working for The Daily Illini or not, do not accept alcoholic beverages from a source. Be mindful that at all times, even when not on assignment, your actions are often viewed an extension of The Daily Illini.

Sexual and non-sexual harassment

Sexual harassment is: (verbal) suggestive comments, sexual innuendo, threats, insults, jokes about sex-specific traits, sexual propositions; (nonverbal) vulgar gestures, whistling, leering, suggestive or insulting noises; (physical) touching, pinching, brushing the body, coercing sexual intercourse, assault. This conduct can be called job-related harassment when submission is made implicitly or explicitly a condition of employment, a condition of work-related assignments, compensation and other factors, or if such conduct interferes with the staffer’s performance or creates a hostile, intimidating or offensive work environment. Sexual harassment is prohibited.*

Use of racial, sexist, ethnic, religious, sexual orientation, other group identifiers

Identification of a person as a member of any population group should be limited to situations when that membership is essential for the reader’s complete understanding of the story. In general, follow Associated Press style when determining how to identify a particular group. Avoid imbalance in a story by labeling all groups or no groups (i.e. Don’t make it a point to identify someone as black, gay, Muslim, etc., if you’re not going to do the same for everyone). Employees should avoid sexist labels in all situations. Employees should also be mindful of subtle language that can be perceived as stereotypical or contain wrongful connotations.

Sources and documents

In almost all cases, a story is never too big that it deserves the right to use material obtained illegally or include suspect sources that chose not to go on the record. In cases were such material or sources are available, the Editor in Chief must be included early in the decision-making process before it is used. The following guidelines demonstrate when this is necessary, as well as how to handle sources that won’t respond or will only submit to an e-mail interview.

False identity, stolen documents, concealed recordings, eavesdropping

The Daily Illini strives for complete transparency to remain a trusted community institution. An employee should not contact a source under the pretense that he or she is someone other than an employee of The Daily Illini. If an employee is interviewing a person, he or she must disclose that he or she is a member of The Daily Illini. An employee should not record a person in conversation unless that person knows he or she is being recorded by an employee of The Daily Illini. The Daily Illini strives to be in full compliance with Illinois state laws of recording and phone recording and employees must recognize and comply by such laws as well. Employees should never use a document that was stolen by them or was given to them on the pretense that it was stolen by someone else. Also, if an employee is interviewing a person for something outside The Daily Illini, he or she must not identify themselves as a member of The Daily Illini.

Granting and preserving confidential sources

A reporter should not promise confidentiality to a source without the permission of a senior editor and the Editor in Chief. The editor must know who the confidential source is or that person cannot be used. Furthermore, all information obtained from a confidential source must be confirmed by a non-confidential source before it can be used. Confidential sources should be avoided in most cases unless the person is in danger of physical, emotional or financial harm should his or her named be revealed. Under no circumstance is a reporter expected by a senior editor or Editor in Chief to reveal a confidential source to authorities because, ultimately, they will be the ones who could face penalties. In such cases where authorities are seeking the name of a confidential source, editors will support the decision of the employee.

Anonymous sources

In most cases, anonymous sources should not be used in stories. All standards set by confidential sources apply. Employees and senior editors should understand that, in general, the public does not believe anonymous sources. To preserve credibility, The Daily Illini should never rely solely on the information of anonymous sources.

No response from subject

The weight of words can sway a reader into believing a source made a statement without saying anything. Employees and editors should be careful of the words used to describe a person or organization’s response to inquiry. It is important to note that attempts were made to reach certain people to validate a story, however, acts of malice toward lack of response are not tolerated. If a source does not get back to an employee prior to print, post or broadcast, it is not the same as a refusal to respond and should not be regarded as such. If a source explicitly says they will not respond to an inquiry, report that he or she declined to comment on the issue. If a source does not reply to inquiry, report that he or she could not be reached or was not available for comment. It should be clear to the reader the intent of the source. If it is necessary to the story or of news value, details or procedural specifics of how attempts were made to contact a source may be included.

Sources on the internet

As the technological era progresses, it is of the utmost importance for employees to maintain transparency during interviews. An employee should never contact a person for an interview via the Internet without letting that person know of their employment with The Daily Illini. If a source is interviewed for a story via e-mail, it must be approved by a senior editor before the interview. It also must be stated in the story that the interview was conducted via e-mail and not other means. In general, interviews via e-mail should be avoided unless absolutely insisted by the source, and interviews in chat rooms or through instant messenger services may never be used because it cannot be guaranteed who the person responding is. Information found on Web sites must be cited and verified, including information obtained from social networking sites.

The rights of The Daily Illini

The Daily Illini is a member of Illini Media Company, a not-for-profit organization. The rights to all work published belong to The Daily Illini and Illini Media Company. The Daily Illini is free and generates revenue from advertisements; however, the advertising department is separated from the editorial staff and neither is swayed by the actions of the other. Such is demonstrated by the following ethical guidelines.

Ownership of work

Anything published by The Daily Illini becomes the sole property of The Daily Illini and cannot be reprinted or redistributed without permission. The Daily Illini has the right to republish, redistribute or use the printed, posted or broadcast material in any way it deems appropriate. Executive editors can decide how to handle unpublished but submitted work. Employees may not, under any circumstance, sell any materials produced by The Daily Illini or republish materials for other media organizations or personal Web sites, including, but not limited to, blogs. All decisions concerning copyrights are deferred to the Publisher and General Manager of Illini Media Company. Comments left on any Web site maintained by The Daily Illini are the equivalent of submitted content and may be reused or republished.

Contest and honors

Editors have discretion for deciding what published material may be submitted for contests that represent The Daily Illini. Employees should not try to persuade an editor to submit his or her material and editors cannot use favoritism when choosing work. If an individual employee wins an honor, that person is given the award. If multiple people win and their names are clearly identified on the award, they can decide who receives the award amongst each other. If an award is given to The Daily Illini or multiple people without specified names, the award is the property of The Daily Illini. The Daily Illini will not pay contest fees for individual awards separate from ones already entered.

Separations of reporting from commentary

To help the reader separate fact-based reporting from commentary, in the form of personal columns, editorials, analysis and similar opinion writing, all commentary should be labeled or somehow clearly and consistently identified as opinion, especially when it is outside the editorial or op-ed pages and mixed with fact-based reporting. When an employee switches from column writing to reporting, a senior editor must ensure that the switch does not create a conflict of interest based on the past work of the employee.

Influence of advertisers

Editors should guard against attempts made by advertisers and others in the publication’s business office to influence editorial content of the print, online or on-air divisions. The editorial staff reserves the right to make all decisions about any editorial coverage an advertiser may get in the publication, including advertiser supplements. Readers should not perceive that an advertiser is getting favorable editorial mention simply because the advertiser has bought space in the publication. Editors should be aware of overlap of advertisements and editorial content, especially in terms of placement of stories on pages and Web sites.

Miscellaneous

The Daily Illini chain of command

The Daily Illini is made up entirely of students enrolled at the University of Illinois. Though they may be peers in the classroom, there is a clear and decided hierarchy that must be respected at all times. The Editor in Chief is appointed by the Illini Media Board of Directors and is in charge of all newsroom, employment and budgetary decisions. The Editor in Chief delegates power to his or her Managing Editors, who with the Editor in Chief, make up the executive staff. Senior editors include all section editors, lead night system editors, the newscast editors and head online editors. Assistant editors work directly for the senior editor that oversees that department. All other employees are subject to command of the editors above them. No employee, be it the Editor in Chief or a reporter, is above the policy or codes created by The Daily Illini, including this code of ethics. Final discretion on all policy matters is deferred to the Editor in Chief, unless the discretion includes that person, in which case the decision is deferred to the Board of Directors if it is a major violation of the policy created.

Acceptance of and response to reader feedback

The Daily Illini accepts, and in fact encourages, reader and listener feedback in all forms. The Daily Illini reserves the right to review any feedback before publishing, posting or broadcasting and may also remove comments made to articles on the Web site if they do not meet the standards set by the guidelines on the Web site. Under no circumstance is a non-senior editor to respond to any reader feedback, whether the employee was contacted via a work resource (work telephone and e-mail, fax, in person, etc.) or personal resource (personal telephone and e-mail, in person, etc.). In most cases, only the editor in chief or an executive editor should respond to feedback. Furthermore, employees may not post article comments on the Web site. Columnists may respond to comments made only to their own work and must do so using their name as it appears in print in their byline.

Corrections

The Daily Illini prides itself on the accuracy of its reporting. Every effort should be made by employees to be accurate and seek out accuracy to best inform readers and listeners. When The Daily Illini makes a mistake in its print publication, a correction will run on page A2 as soon as possible. When The Daily Illini makes a mistake in the its online publication, the article will remain posted with a disclaimer listing the mistake and the appropriate changes made to the article. When The Daily Illini makes a mistake in its on-air newscast, the correction will be made during the next possible newscast and the mistake will be noted in the podcast posted on the Web site. When a person calls in question of a fact published or aired, they should never be guaranteed a correction will run. A senior editor must first confirm that the fact in question is an inaccuracy. At that point a person can be guaranteed a correction will run, however, a senior editor should only inform them of this.

We strive for accuracy, so if you see a mistake, please call the Editor-in-Chief at (217) 337-8365 or email [email protected].

Prior review of content

Employees should not be swayed in their reporting because of the wishes of outside individuals. Because of this, employees should never allow a source prior review of content, in its entirety or a fragmentation, before it is printed, posted or aired. A source should never be given the impression that they have the right to prior review before publication or broadcast. Reporters are encouraged to double check facts and statements with sources but are only obliged to alter for factual inaccuracies. Should a source claim a factual inaccuracy, the fact in question must be verified independently. If an employee is concerned about a source’s wish to see or hear material before publication or airing, they should speak to an executive editor before making any decision.

Outside discussion of The Daily Illini

There will be times when a staff member has the opportunity to discuss their role with The Daily Illini, the way The Daily Illini functions or use The Daily Illini to explain the way a news organization operates. However, the newsroom must also maintain confidentiality outside its walls. Comments outside The Daily Illini must adhere to the following policy: No employee (other than columnists and editorial cartoonists through their work or about their work with full transparency) may comment on articles or any other products broadcast, produced or published by The Daily Illini publicly in any way, including any Web site or blog. Employees should not discuss material in any form, public or private, before it has been published. What is confidential to the newsroom must remain confidential. Furthermore, employees may not comment, publicly or privately, on the following: opinions of the editorial board and the discussion to reach vote by the editorial board, newsroom related meetings between employees and other employees or employees and outside individuals, editorial decisions and the process in which specific editorial decisions are made, internal staff issues, or placement of stories within the paper, newscast or Web site. Staff members may discuss or explain the newsgathering process or any other general topic related to journalism based on their experiences at The Daily Illini. They may also comment on the structure of the newsroom or The Daily Illini in general — types of information that would not harm The Daily Illini if they were made public.

*Includes excerpt from The Associated Collegiate Press Model Code of Ethics