Below is a statement of the ethics and coverage policies of The Well News (TWN). It is more than most of you want to know, but, in the age of suspicion of the media, we are laying it all out for you.
This code is designed to provide all TWN employees with guidelines for appropriate professional conduct. It supersedes previous conduct guidelines but also incorporates other long-standing TWN policies. It is intended not as a statement of new beliefs or a codification of new rules of conduct, but as a reaffirmation of enduring values and practices.
The Well News is an independent, American news organization that strives to help our audience connect the dots in an increasingly complex informational landscape by providing unbiased, well-researched and thought-provoking content on multiple platforms. Our fact-based approach provides you a 360˚ view of the political, commercial and social events that are shaping our neighborhoods, our communities and our country, providing you with the tools you need today to create a better tomorrow.
Our mission is to provide readers with impartial, informative reporting, and maintain an outlet for civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of statewide concern across the U.S. This vision and mission drive the values and guidelines set out in this code of ethics, which borrows generously from the policies set by other fine news organizations and compiled by the News Leaders Association in their ethics directory. Exceptional circumstances may require exceptions to these rules but as our industry and the technology surrounding it evolve, we will continue to revise this code.
Our Core Values
- Impartial | We provide you with information based on facts, not favoritism.
- Integrity | We bring you honest coverage of today’s most important issues.
- Informative | We cut through the rhetoric to find the real story.
- Innovative | We shine a light on compelling, common sense solutions to today’s problems put forward by leaders who are getting things done.
- Independent | Our editorial team operates without external interference or input from advertisers.
Editorial Independence & Financing
TWN operates with full independence and has no legal or financial ties to any other organization. TWN is financially supported by a diversified business model that includes advertising sponsorships, event sponsorships and reader donations.
Editorial independence includes but is not limited to the fact that only individuals within TWN’s editorial operations may make any decisions with respect to newsgathering or reporting. TWN journalists are fully insulated from any political or other external pressures or processes that would be inconsistent with the highest standards of professional journalism.
The heads of each department, and everyone else therein, are always required to adhere to the highest professional standards of journalism and must take that into account when carrying out all their responsibilities. The highest professional standards of journalism also require that all elements of newsgathering and reporting are carried out by professional journalists trained in and held to the highest industry standards.
These best practices also preclude any journalist or other covered individuals, including the heads of departments, from engaging in any activity that would call into question their neutrality or impartiality.
TWN employees shall maintain the highest principles of fairness, accuracy, objectivity and responsible independent reporting. Read more in the journalistic ethics policy below.
The central premise of this code is TWN’s reputation for quality products and services, for business integrity, and for the independence and integrity of our publication, services and products is the heart and soul of our operations.
It is an essential prerequisite for success in the news business that the public believes us to be telling them the truth. Our readers must be able to assume:
- Our facts are accurate and fairly presented;
- Our analyses represent our best independent judgments rather than our preferences, or those of our sources, advertisers, marketers, public affairs and relations professionals, or any information provider;
- Our opinions represent our own editorial philosophies as well as presenting views that readers may not find elsewhere; and
- There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.
Furthermore, we adhere to the following guidelines for conduct – paraphrased from Jim Lehrer writing in a 1997 report published by The Aspen Institute:
- Do nothing we cannot defend.
- Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
- Do not falsify facts or make up quotes.
- Cover, write, and present every story with the care we would want if the story were about us.
- Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
- Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and as good a person as we believe ourselves to be.
- Assume the same about all people on whom we report.
- Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
- Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.
- Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.
- Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
- Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
- Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
- Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations will be disciplined by TWN as their employer.
- Our readers have a right to know what principles guide our work and the processes we use.
- We are not in the entertainment business.
The clear implication of these beliefs is that the responsibility of safeguarding and growing a company that lives up to this code lies with each and every one of us. Every TWN employee holds a position of trust. Acceptance of a position at any level or in any part of TWN includes acceptance of individual responsibility to uphold TWN policies governing legal and ethical business practices, as well as the responsibility to stress proper ethical behavior among colleagues and subordinates.
It must be clear to each of us that integrity is necessary in every decision – that it is not just the purview of our journalists, or members of our legal team, but it requires that we make EVERY decision, and approach all questions objectively and realistically, and with the long-term considerations of the best interests of our readers.
We task our leadership team to lead by example, including fostering a working environment that encourages employees to voice concerns or otherwise seek assistance or counsel if faced with a potentially compromising situation. We seek the same in our relationship with our readers, asking them early and often to contact us with any concerns or corrections.
We publish TWN reporter contact information at the bottom of each article so you can reach us immediately should you have a question or concern about our coverage.
In our rapidly evolving world, each of us is challenged with complex environments that often require quick responses under pressure of deadlines. No written policy can definitively set forth the appropriate action for all situations a TWN employee may encounter but we intend for this code to emphasize and clarify a standard for ethical conduct that must govern all of our business dealings and relationships.
Clear Content Labeling
The distinct separation of news coverage from opinions and advocacy is intended to serve the reader, who is entitled to facts in our news coverage and opinions on commentary, “op-ed”, and partner content pages. The labels TWN uses are designed as follows:
- Analysis & Opinions
- COMMENTARY | a column or blog in the Opinions section
- PARTNER CONTENT | content produced in partnership with another organization which may include discussion of news topics with a point of view from a sponsor or an advocacy organization
- WELL DONE | lifetime achievement or career retirement coverage
- WELL FED | food related reviews
- WELL SAID | newsworthy quote highlights
- WELL VERSED | book reviews and author interviews
- News Coverage
- ELECTORATE EMPOWERED | politics & elections news coverage
- FARE WELL | health news coverage
All content not bearing one of the labels above should be assumed to be general news coverage based on fact.
TWN subscribes to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, reprinted here in full:
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.
The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.
Seek Truth and Report It
Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:
- Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
- Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
- Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
- Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
- Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
- Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
- Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
- Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
- Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
- Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
- Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.
- Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.
- Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
- Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
- Label advocacy and commentary.
- Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
- Never plagiarize. Always attribute.
Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:
- Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
- Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
- Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
- Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
- Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
- Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.
The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should:
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.
Be Accountable and Transparent
Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journalists should:
- Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
- Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
- Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
- Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
- Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.
Sigma Delta Chi’s first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984, 1987, 1996 and 2014.
Additional Ethics Guidelines which apply to TWN staff
Journalists employed by TWN take no editorial direction from advertisers whose sponsorships support TWN’s activities. TWN will not hesitate to report on its advertisers when events warrant.
Use of Confidential Sources
TWN generally refrains from basing stories solely on the assertions of confidential sources, except in extraordinary circumstances and after review by the content editor or their approved designee.
Identification of Victims of Sex Crimes and Minors Accused of Crimes
Absent a compelling reason to do so or permission from the person involved, TWN will not identify the alleged victims of sex crimes or minors charged with crimes.
As a general matter, TWN staff will identify themselves and their relationship to TWN when covering a story. TWN staff should not lie about their identities or connection to TWN. However, in rare circumstances, it may be appropriate for TWN staff not to disclose their identity or connection to TWN if doing so would prevent TWN from obtaining information in the public interest. Any exceptions must be approved by the content editor or their designee.
TWN staff wishing to engage in freelance or other outside work must obtain prior approval from the managing director or content editor.
Use of Social Media
As a digital news organization, TWN is committed to using social networking platforms to distribute its work and build an engaged audience. Staff members are mindful that their actions online may be seen as a representation of TWN. They are therefore expected to be polite and avoid any impression of partisanship.
When using networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., for reporting or for our personal lives, we must protect our professional integrity and remember: TWN journalists are always TWN journalists.
Social media accounts maintained by all TWN staff reflect upon the reputation and credibility of the newsroom. Even as we express ourselves in more personal and informal ways to forge better connections, we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of TWN for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence. Every comment or link we share should be considered public information, regardless of privacy settings.
TWN journalists must refrain from writing, tweeting or posting anything — including photographs or video — that could objectively be perceived as reflecting political, racial, sexist, religious or other bias or favoritism.
Conflicts of Interest
Staff employed by TWN are not permitted to participate in stories in which they or any family member or domestic partner have a direct financial or work interest, except in rare instances when approved by the managing director or content editor. If TWN permits a staff member to work on a story despite such a conflict, we will disclose the conflict to our readers in a note attached to the story.
TWN has published all press releases sent to reporters about our business since launch on our About Us page for public review. These releases include references to our owners, Cori Kramer, Kristen Hawn, and Christina Paulos. In instances where TWN has or may cover an organization in which one of TWN’s owners has a direct financial stake, we will disclose to readers on that article the relationship of our owners to that organization.
TWN understands that within any credible news organization, a firewall exists between anybody involved with any aspect of journalism (e.g., the creation, reporting, distributing, etc., of content) and everyone else in the organization. For purposes of TWN, the firewall exists between the newsroom of TWN and every other employee, member, officer, and director of TWN, as described below.
This “firewall” is understood to be violated when any individual outside the newsroom attempts to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with, or otherwise impermissibly influence any of TWN’s newsroom operations, including their leadership, officers, employees, or staff, in the performance of their journalistic duties and activities. It is also violated when someone inside the newsroom acts in furtherance of or pursuant to such impermissible influence. Such impermissible influence would undermine the journalistic and editorial independence, and thus the credibility, of TWN, and their reporters, editors, and other journalists broadly.
The following are not firewall violations:
- The firewall is not meant to discourage TWN journalists from interviewing elected officials or to discourage such officials from participating in TWN reporting.
- The firewall does not prevent TWN owners from engaging with or speaking about TWN as they might with any other news organization. Such interaction could include but is not limited to:
- Publicly or privately commenting on TWN stories;
- Publicly or privately reaching out to journalists in the same manner that they would do with any other journalist;
- Publicly or privately reaching out to TWN staff in the same manner that they would do with any other news organization staff; and
- Otherwise interacting with journalists and other TWN staff in the same manner that they would do with such staffs’ external counterparts.
- The firewall does not prevent TWN’s managing director from undertaking the same type of direction and oversight that those in equivalent leadership positions in an organization overseeing other reputable news organizations may provide, in a manner consistent with the highest standards of professional journalism.
- The firewall does not prohibit TWN’s newsroom from exercising its independence to report on TWN’s owners or any organization they may be involved with should news events warrant and so long as the relationship is disclosed to readers in accordance with the Conflict of Interest section above.
- The firewall does not prohibit the publication of editorials and other opinion pieces by TWN owners, marked clearly as such, even if expressing policy positions so long as the content is labeled in accordance with the Conflict of Interest section above.
This codified firewall is essential to ensuring the continued editorial independence, credibility and therefore effectiveness of the journalism provided by TWN. The firewall ensures that our editorial staff, led by our content editor, continue to make the final decisions on what stories to cover and how they are covered, and that those decisions are ultimately governed by the highest standards of professional journalism.
Compliance with this Code
TWN takes this code of conduct very seriously. All employees of TWN are responsible for compliance with all aspects of this code. All new employees shall be required to read this code at the outset of their employment, and to attest in writing that they have done so; all TWN employees shall be required, at the time this code is first implemented, to read it and so attest. In the case of all members of senior management, and all news and advertising personnel, such written attestations shall be required to be renewed annually.
Any lapse in judgement in the matters addressed above will be treated as serious enough to warrant discipline up to and including dismissal.
Any employee having a question about a possible violation of this code by any person, or in connection with any practice, should discuss it with their supervisor or the Managing Director. Every effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of such discussions.