Handbook of Professional Practice
- General Standards of Conduct
- Ethical Standards
- Subjects and Sources
- Online Corrections & Change Requests
- Online Comment Moderation
- Photos & Video
- Editorial Standards
- Legal Standards
The School educates and trains you to practise journalism. It prepares you to understand the power of a factual story and the engaged role of journalists in society. You will acquire the skills, knowledge and qualities that define professional journalistic practice. We teach you to act ethically in the public interest, to be empathetic, to think critically and to cultivate an independent, open-minded view of the world that is nuanced and based in fact.
We expect that you will carefully read, refer to, and follow the professional standards set out in this guide. Please consult a member of faculty if you have any difficulty understanding any part of this document.
Laziness is the crux of bad journalism. Don’t let overwork, fatigue or other distractions lead you astray. Make that extra phone call, invest the extra hour in yet another rewrite. This is what is needed to tell the whole story as fully as possible, to do excellent work.
Act with Courage
One key ingredient in all great journalism is courage. Journalists stand up to power, search out the nuances of truth and reveal to the audience how and why stories are delivered. This is not easy work and it takes many fine qualities. Among these, do not underestimate courage.
Work hard to overcome the common tendency to regard people of different races, religions, socio-economic classes, ages, sexual orientation, or gender as “other.” To serve the full community it’s best to develop a perspective that is unbiased and fair-minded. Consider your fears and work to move beyond them.
Serving the greater good will at times cause pain to some; this is unavoidable. Know, though, that being a journalist does not give you permission to be haughty, unfeeling or mean. Minimize harm when possible. Bring compassion to your work. Be human.
2. General Standards of Conduct
King’s prides itself on inclusiveness and respect for others. All students, staff and faculty are bound by the university’s Code of Conduct (Yellow Book).
Our classrooms and newsrooms are public spaces in which racist, sexist, homophobic or intolerant comments or humour will not be tolerated. Do not screen such videos, images or webpages on school equipment or in school facilities.
3. Ethical Standards
Working as a journalist can be exciting, challenging, and fun. It is also a great responsibility. Because journalism plays a vital role in society, journalists need to carefully consider what they do and say. No ethics code could cover every complication; this code considers only some major issues. Know that ethical problems can appear suddenly, without warning. If you find yourself in a tricky situation — uncertain what is the best, most ethical action — talk to your instructor.
Plagiarism is unfair and wrong and a cardinal sin of journalism. It is also an academic offence. For information on King’s academic policy, see the university calendar.
Plagiarism will be dealt with severely. Please be smart and self-respecting, and do not present anyone else’s work as your own. Do not present work that is substantially the same as work for which you have already received professional or academic credit. Rewriting is not enough. Quotes, original ideas and researched information (unless common knowledge) must be credited.
If in doubt, credit.
Subjects and Sources
Diversity in Sourcing
Good journalism does not come from comfortable places. It takes courage to speak with people who may look, sound or think differently from you. A diverse range of voices and perspectives strengthens our reporting. Strive for a variety of sources representing race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Include these sources in regular reporting, not just specific stories such as those about multiculturalism.
Here are several useful guides:
- Mindset: Guide to Reporting on Mental Health (Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)
- Use The Right Words: Guide to Reporting on Sexual Assault (femifesto)
- How to Discuss Trans and Gender-Diverse People: Media Guide (Rainbow Health Ontario)
- Reporting in Indigenous Communities (Duncan McCue )
Conflicts of Interest
Please advise your instructor if there may be a conflict of interest — or perceived conflict of interest — between your work as a student journalist and your activities as a private citizen. Volunteer work, serving on a board, or being paid by an organization you are covering may all result in a real and/or perceived conflict of interest. Present or past allegiance to a person or organization may also need to be considered.
Also, as a general rule, avoid interviewing family and friends. News tips and story ideas from family and friends are valuable, but these people should not be quoted or the subject of your story. Ask an instructor to clarify any confusion.
Do not accept remuneration of any kind in exchange for an interview.
Story subjects, P.R. firms, and others sometimes offer journalists free gifts, materials, services, or samples. Know that journalistic independence can be damaged by accepting free stuff. If an unsolicited gift is received, return it immediately. If this is impractical, donate it to a homeless shelter, food bank, or some other recognized charity. (In rare circumstances, a small gift may be accepted if refusing to do so will be perceived as an insult. If you think this situation has arisen, explain it to your instructor.)
Free entrance to sporting events, movies, musical performances, etc. is OK if you are covering the event: it is access, not free stuff. (Access should be accepted only by the working student reporter, not for any other person.) Free transportation to events, and/or hotel accommodation, are more than access and cannot be accepted. Audio-recordings and books may be kept if they are relevant to journalism that will be published or aired – for example, if you are reviewing them.
Food and drink can be tempting. If you are covering an event where a free meal is offered, try to arrange to interview the newsmaker without accepting the free meal. Generally speaking, accept only food or drink of minimal value. (A basic sandwich and coffee at a news conference may be OK; a sit-down dinner is not.)
Conduct in Newsgathering
Never be coercive in your conduct. Be alert to situations in which a source’s consent is in question or when your interviewing causes severe distress. Be particularly mindful of situations in which a source’s behaviour indicates a mental health issue. Show awareness when interviewing people who have experienced past trauma.
Do not lie or mislead about the nature of a story in order to obtain access. (Don’t say your angle is X if you know it is Y, or leave out an important aspect of the story that might, as an example, cast the source in a poor light.))
Do not promise a source anonymity. Talk to your instructor about any storytelling that involves less than full attribution of a source. In rare circumstances, make a reasoned, on-the-spot decision to allow a person to speak on background or provide a document without revealing its source.
If a source accuses a person or organization of wrongdoing, do not just report that. Push them for evidence of their claims, find an additional source, and ask the accused for a response. The audience needs every side to a story.
Keep the name and contact information of all sources used for a story or assignment. You may be required to give these to your instructors and/or the director of the School. You may publish and/or link to publicly available contact information. However, don’t otherwise share source information, or contact information for sources, with anyone outside the School of Journalism, including other media, without the permission of the source and/or the director of the School of Journalism. If asked for information about sources, students should direct the inquiry to the director.
If a source wishes to see your work before it is published or goes to air, politely decline this request or discuss it with your instructor if you believe an exception should be made. (It may be acceptable, in unusual circumstances, to read a source his or her quotes – but a source should never be allowed the power to change or kill copy.) If you seek to clarify technical definitions or a chronology of events, discuss how to proceed with your instructor.
Permission to Record
You don’t need permission to do your job at public and media events. In other circumstances, most people expect reporters to mention that they are recording audio and/or video. As a rule, follow this tradition.
To do otherwise, get prior approval from your instructor. If you do attend an event and record surreptitiously, you must reveal and explain this to the viewing/listening audience. There is no legal requirement for journalists to tell a source he or she is being recorded on the telephone, as long as the recording will not be broadcast. (If the source asks if you are recording, that must be revealed so the source is not misled.)
Do not misrepresent yourself as other than a King’s journalism student. In the rare, extreme case where misrepresentation is allowed, permission must be received – in writing – from both the course instructor and the journalism school director. In this rare case the audience needs to be told why no other means could have uncovered the information, and why this story is of crucial importance.
All complaints and allegations of error need to be responded to, calmly and promptly. If a complaint or allegation is made about a story, the course instructor must be informed. In case information in a report is disputed, keep all material (documents, notes, recordings, etc.) for a minimum of six months from the assignment due date or date of airing or publication, whichever is later.
Online Corrections & Change Requests
The School stands behind the content it publishes and aims to retain it as a historical record. We welcome readers’ efforts to correct factual errors in our stories. Generally, however, we will not “unpublish” stories or change content for any other reason. In rare circumstances, we will consider a request to unpublish if the content of a story profoundly affects a person’s well-being.
Online Comment Moderation
The School welcomes a respectful discussion of student-produced content. Faculty and student editors will not normally alter online comments. However, they will remove ones that are abusive, threatening or potentially libelous. They may also remove ones that are, in their judgment, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive to our audience.
Photos & Video
Staging Photos or Video
Journalists aim to capture telling, specific and true images. Doing this requires advance thought and planning.
Sometimes it’s not possible or appropriate to seize a “moment” as it happens, and you may need to stage activities. This is not the same as fabricating them.
For example, if profiling a duck carver you may ask her to repeat an action so you can choose the best shots and sequences. What’s key is that you capture this action as it would have happened naturally. For example, don’t add elements – power tools, a homey plaque with a quote about ducks – that would not have naturally appeared.
It’s usually ethically OK to stage “wallpaper” – someone talking on the phone, or walking down a hall – that merely establishes location.
Know that there is a difference between features and news. We don’t stage news, period. You may ask a singer to sing for a feature photograph, but don’t pretend he is singing at a concert you didn’t shoot. At a demonstration, you may not prompt a protester to wave a sign, chant, or feign emotion.
Always discuss the staging of any image or activity with your instructor – prior to shooting.
Journalism aims to be true and clear. Cropping a photo is fine, and so is digitally improving technical quality to make an image less blurred. Do not cross the line into distorting reality or misleading the audience. Photo manipulation that alters a subject’s appearance, or that removes or adds an object from the frame, to name just two examples, is unreal and not allowed. Digital enhancement for satirical reasons may be permissible, but only if the vast majority of your audience is certain to understand you are being satirical. This kind of work requires permission of an instructor, and a tag (example: Photo enhancement by Jane Doe).
Photo illustrations may be used to convey the meaning of a news or feature story. Usually they feature a primary object: a gavel, stop sign, microphone, etc.
When people appear in photo illustrations, they must be anonymous and generic. A photo illustration should never be misconstrued to be a news photo, or a picture of a “real” person. If you use a model, ensure that she cannot be misconstrued to be “real”, but only a symbol or idea.
This may be done through framing and/or composition and/or exaggerated processing and filtering (blur, posterizing, pixelating and so on). As a rule, photo illustrations should be captioned as such, perhaps with a creator credit.
Generic images should not be the default option for any story. Consider what relevant and specific images (including contributed images such as archival photos, home movies, etc.) you might use when starting your research.
Always discuss a photo illustration with your instructor – prior to shooting.
Further reference for ethical standards: Principles for Ethical Journalism (Canadian Association of Journalists)
4. Editorial Standards
In general, the School adheres to Canadian Press (CP) style. Ensure you have a copy of both the Canadian Press Stylebook and Caps and Spelling for reference
At King’s we are writing for a general audience. Therefore, avoid coarse or vulgar language. Millions of Canadians have low tolerance for these, and you don’t want to unnecessarily turn off much of your audience.
Coarse or vulgar language may be used if omitting them would seriously compromise the audience’s understanding of the story. In most cases, this means quoting people swearing or speaking roughly. Less often, it allows a reporter to do this. In all cases, avoid doing so gratuitously. Any use of coarse or vulgar language requires your instructor’s permission.
Carefully consider your choice of photos, audio clips, multimedia, and video footage. Just because you possess graphic images or sound is not a good reason to present them to your audience. The public’s sensibilities must also be considered. Not using graphic images and sound is often not censorship, but proof of respect for your audience. For example, court coverage of a pedophile never shows a clip of child pornography. Is this censorship, or honouring a broadly accepted society standard? If you are considering using graphic images or sound, ask yourself: does the graphic material greatly enhance the audience’s understanding? Does showing a dead body, a bloody victim, or a weeping widow increase comprehension, or are they mere voyeurism? Any use of graphic images or sound requires your instructor’s permission.
5. Legal Standards
The law of defamation (or libel, as it is better known) protects individuals and companies from unfair and unjustified attacks on their reputation. The law is not concerned with insults, name-calling or abusive comments – while such statements may be offensive and hurtful, they are not necessarily defamatory. A libel strikes at the heart of someone’s reputation as an honest, law-abiding, decent person. Examples are allegations of misconduct, political corruption, wrongdoing or criminal behaviour, or an attack on someone’s ethics, motives, competence, trustworthiness or morality.
Instances include reporting that a named or identifiable person is a crook, a liar or a racist; accusing someone of corruption, sexual impropriety or professional incompetence; or quoting a source making allegations such as these. Media law scholar Robert Martin suggests a common-sense definition: a defamatory statement is a false or unsubstantiated statement “you would not like to see said in public about yourself.”
Consult your course or workshop instructor before pursuing any story that deals with serious allegations of wrongdoing or that could portray an individual or company in a poor light.
In general, the person who creates an original work owns copyright of it. Our use of copyrighted material must conform to Canadian copyright law. Publishing or broadcasting material created by someone else — articles, books, images, video or social media posts — can be a violation. You can, however, use such material if:
- The creator has given permission for its reuse
- You have confidence it qualifies as fair use under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act — specifically the exception for News Reporting. Generally, this means:
- You are reporting directly on the item you are reproducing. Fair dealing provisions may not apply if you are using copyrighted material to illustrate a broader issue or an unrelated topic
- You use only a reasonable portion (unless it’s an image)
- You mention the source in your story
Being hardworking and creative does not mean putting yourself in potentially unsafe situations. These can range from going to a late-night meeting with someone you don’t know, to climbing rickety ladders, to slipping on an icy sidewalk while you’re concentrating on an interview.
Reducing Risk of Harm
Don’t go anywhere you think may be unsafe. Avoid interviews in hotel rooms (cafes and restaurants are OK), private homes or isolated offices. Don’t get into a car with someone you have known only a short time. Any time you are in the field, make sure that others know where you are headed, when you are expected back and how to reach you. Consider bringing someone with you – even a friend who is not in your class. If no one is available, talk to your instructor.
While Working Online
- Scrub your Internet presence of any phone numbers, addresses or images identifying your home. Someone with an axe to grind might track you down.
- Consider removing your birthday and any other sensitive personal information from public social media profiles. Your birthday combined with your full name is enough to identify you almost uniquely, and could be used by hackers or other malicious users.
- Keep your social media accounts professional and avoid staking out controversial opinions on subjects you might later be asked to cover. As a journalist you are a public figure and you must be professional 24/7.
- Password-protect your cellphone and computer (at the lock screen) to secure your personal data and info about your sources. Remember to always log out of user accounts, when using a shared public computer.
- Use two-step verification systems to better secure your personal accounts (for example, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook).
- Be careful about communicating sensitive personal or incriminating information via open Internet protocols on some email and social services. (Be sure you see “https:” in the URL) Consider using encryption for the most sensitive information, both to protect the information, and your sources.
Reducing Risk of Theft
When using recording or other production equipment, even your phone: watch your back and those of your colleagues. You can be distracted while working – and are carrying equipment that attracts thieves. Never leave your possessions — or the School’s — unattended.
Reducing Risk of Injury
Wear sensible shoes in the field. A slip can damage many important things: your spine, your ankle, a $5,000 camera…
Don’t lift equipment that is too heavy to lift. Ask for help.
If you are in a volatile situation, remain calm. If someone gets angry at you in an interview or in public, do not respond emotionally. Do not engage in argument if someone is threatening. Leave.
While Recording Video
- Dress cables properly and tape them down for safety.
- If you have to shoot from the street, make sure you have a spotter, for oncoming traffic.
- Don’t shoot while you’re driving. Ever.
- Lights can be hot and bulbs can break, even explode. Light stands are not reliable in busy areas. Keep lights out of the way of passersby, and find ways to steady all stands.
If you feel a situation could put your or others’ safety at risk, bail out and track down your instructor immediately, night or day.
Modified: September 3, 2017, 8:36 am AST