The purpose of this document is to outline the ethical and editorial standards expected of our journalism. It provides a set of policies for the day-to-day conduct of our work and to promote excellence. It applies to G/O Media’s New York-based sites.
The accuracy and integrity of all media are under scrutiny and assault. Our reporters, editors, and video producers must uphold the highest editorial standards in their pursuit of truth to ensure that we maintain the special bond of trust we have with our audiences. Our reputation is our most valuable asset.
We hold those who seek power, influence, and attention to a high standard; we must ask no less of ourselves even while we remain uncompromising in tackling the tough stories at which we excel.
The editorial mission of our sites is to tell the truth, beholden to none. We do this through honest and independent journalism that serves engaged and focused audiences who reject sham and pretence and demand truth and authenticity.
Each site represents a unique voice speaking to a distinct audience, but all share a passion for building a trusted relationship with their readers, viewers and listeners through fearless and original journalism about what matters, or should matter to them. We tell our readers what we know, how we know it, and why we believe it matters. And we are open about how we got there.
The desire to help our readers understand their world guides our work. We seek to inform, debunk, challenge, provoke, untangle, and amuse but above all to tell the truth as we see it. We will write honestly, transparently and unsentimentally, with intellect and boldness. But we will treat our readers and those we write about as reasonably as we can and recognize the humanity of those we cover.
To that end:
Our voice is iconic, authentic and passionate. It rejects stereotypes, challenges cant, and unravels spin. It is independent-minded and questioning; irreverent when warranted, sometimes scathing, always pithy, smart and incisive. We believe that the world is better understood when we embrace different perspectives and experiences. We will provide a platform for voices rarely or not heard.
Our impact lies in precise and plain-spoken truth, to inform and empower our readers, viewers and listeners, and in telling stories others cannot or will not. We believe that trust in truth is an inherent good and our audiences’ faith in our work is of prime importance; thus, we shall put a high premium on the accuracy and honesty of all we write and say.
The issues and interests of our audiences are paramount. We build their loyalty and engagement through the quality of our journalism and their experience of it, and by enabling them to share their knowledge and perspectives. As such, we shall be audience- not producer-centric even while serving our audiences in new, innovative, and undiscovered ways.
We seek to be the leader in and for our audiences, leaders in our spaces, and leading-edge in all we write and say. We will be honest with our audiences about what we do and do not know and be open about our perspectives. We will be ambitious and innovative in our work in the service of our audience.
There can never be enough great independent journalism or too broad an audience with whom to share it.
The following sections deal with specific aspects of our work.
Accuracy, updating and error correction
The pursuit of truth requires that we are accurate in all we write and say, from the slightest fact to the broadest context. Writers are responsible for the accuracy of their published output regardless of format and distribution platform, but everyone who touches the copy during editing shares in that responsibility.
Information must be verified before publication, using original sources where possible. Neither the need for fast turnarounds nor format is an excuse for inaccuracy. In reality, we are always up against deadlines, and new information may become available, but errors of omission, partial truths and missing context dent our credibility.
Best practice is to update and, where necessary, correct information throughout the life of a story, and to be clear about which is which.
Post-publication, we must correct our errors, large or small, as soon as we become aware of them. Wording, styling and responsibilities for making corrections, updates and clarifications should follow the most recent guidance in the Style Guide.
As a general rule, we will prefer not to publish information attributed to anonymous sources. Providing clear provenance for facts and quotations builds the trust of readers in the credibility of our reporting.
Anonymous tips and talking confidentially to sources will always be an essential part of reporting, but in published stories, sources will be granted anonymity only for specific and crucial reasons. There are times when anonymous sourcing is unavoidable, notably to prevent an individual from being put in harm’s way or losing their job were they to be identified.
Where the anonymous source is central to the story, those should have the approval of the writer’s editor-in-chief before publication. We should avoid completely anonymously sourced stories, except in the most exceptional cases, where the Editorial Director’s consent is required.
In all cases, the source should be known to the writer, the story’s editor, and legal counsel if necessary, and similarly, the terms on which the writer has granted their source anonymity.
Writers should always weigh sources’ motives before granting anonymity and be in explicit agreement with the source whether that person is talking off-the-record or on background. The risk is ever-present that a source who wants anonymity does so in pursuit of an agenda. We should be watchful that we are not inadvertently used for ill.
We should make every effort to confirm and corroborate information provided anonymously through public records or on-the-record sources. We should also give readers as much information as possible to judge the origin, reliability and motivations of our anonymous sources short of revealing the individual’s identity.
Once we have agreed to anonymity, we honor that commitment. We will also be transparent with readers as to why we made such a decision.
Conflicts of interest
We should pay our way when covering stories to avoid any suspicion of quid pro quo.
The intention of those providing trips and access is to secure favorable coverage. If junkets, press tickets, review or test materials, or travel are necessary for some stories, they must be treated for what they are—a necessary evil when access would otherwise be impossible or we would be disadvantaged in producing timely coverage compared to rivals—and appropriately disclosed to readers.
As a rule of thumb, follow the Society of Professional Journalists’ guideline: “Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment…that may compromise integrity or impartiality or may damage credibility.”
Most of all, apply common sense.
Under no circumstances should staff accept employment, compensation or in-kind gifts from any individual or organization that falls within that staff member’s area of coverage.
Our goal is not to please those on whom we report or to produce stories that create the appearance of faux balance (on the one hand, on the other), but to present the truth as fully as we know it. No story can be true if it omits points of major importance or significance, or if it includes irrelevant information at the expense of significant facts. Fairness includes completeness and relevance.
When we allege wrongdoing or malfeasance or make serious criticisms against the conduct of an individual or an organization, we should make every effort to allow them to respond and to provide ample but reasonable time to do so.
We recognize that private individuals have a greater right to privacy than public figures and others who seek power, influence and attention. The grounds for an investigation that involves significant intrusion into a private individual’s privacy must be very strong.
Before being commissioned, freelance contributors must sign our Independent Contractors Agreement.
They will be expected to comply with the same standards of journalistic best practice as employees when they are doing work for us in line with the Journalistic Integrity provisions of the Independent Contractors Agreement.
Language and tone
Our sites are written in a conversational style, employ a range of rhetorical devices, and use the vernacular of their audiences. That is a vital part of their distinctive voice. Words are most potent when used with precision and incisiveness. Invective, insult and profanity wear thin if overused.
If you have any concern however slight that anything in your work may put the company, other staff or yourself at legal risk, you should consult with your supervisor, editorial management, and our legal counsel well in advance of publication. This includes legal risks arising not only from defamation claims but also claims relating to intellectual property, privacy and other criminal and civil liability arising from news-gathering activities.
You should also be sure that you have the rights to use any images, video, or music that you are considering using and that use of any non-licensed copyrighted material falls within ‘fair-use’ provisions.
If you receive any legal communication from an outside party or their legal representatives during reporting or after the publication of a story, you must inform both your supervisor and our legal counsel, who will respond on your behalf.
You may take advantage of other opportunities — write books and articles, appear on panels and give speeches, teach and lecture — so long as such activities do not interfere or conflict with the work you do for the company. You should seek permission in writing in advance from your supervisor for all outside freelance and journalistic work.
Such activities should be undertaken in your own time. Media and other public appearances on behalf of the company or arranged by the company are on the company’s time. Any public appearance that you make representing G/O Media must be cleared in advance by your supervisor and notified to our PR representatives.
Plagiarism and fabulism
Plagiarism is theft of other people’s work and passing it off as your own. It is lazy journalism and is quickly caught.
If we use information, including facts and quotations, gathered by other media, we should attribute them. When aggregating news reported elsewhere, writers must observe ‘fair-use’ conventions, summarize using multiple sources where possible and acknowledge them, and add value through providing context or commentary. We should make reasonable efforts in the time available to confirm other outlets’ stories and link to primary sources where appropriate.
Heed the fair-use advice in the Legal matters and libel section above.
We will not tolerate plagiarism. Any cases of such behavior are cause for termination.
Nor will we tolerate the knowing provision of false information for publication, such as making up quotes, or the pitching or writing of stories for which a third party is paying the staff member.
Nothing we publish — text, photos, graphics, sound or video — should be fabricated, except clearly identified satire. If you use a manipulated photograph for editorial purposes, it should have the fact that it is a photo illustration acknowledged in the credit.
Reporting on ourselves
As a general practice, we shall not do it. There are occasions when it is necessary, notably when the company is involved in newsworthy events such as lawsuits or actions and statements by others that directly affect us.
In such cases, editorial management must be made aware of the situation immediately and pre-publication approval obtained from an EiC or more senior manager to publish.
What is written will be regarded externally as a part of the company’s public position. Writers and editors have a responsibility to take account of that and to follow the advice of legal counsel.
Any other exceptional circumstances that may arise will be considered case-by-case and will require the prior approval of the Editorial Director to proceed.
Writers and editors have a privileged position in having direct access to publishing. That should not be used in ways that contravene company policies on preventing harassment and discrimination, the creation of a hostile or offensive working environment, or access to confidential and proprietary company information.
We apply the same standards to all of our content on whichever platform we publish it. Please refer to the G/O Media Employee Handbook for our social media policies.
We do not pay for interviews or documents. We do not promise favorable coverage in return for a source’s co-operation. We do not threaten uncooperative sources. We identify ourselves as journalists except in the rare cases where there is a clear public interest justification in failing to do so.
Do not submit questions in advance of an interview, except in the most general way. If notice of more specific questions is required, (this may occasionally be unavoidable in complex legal cases) your EiC’s approval is needed. Do not agree to sources reading stories pre-publication or having the right to quote approval. Our readers should be the first public audiences for our work.
As a general rule, substantive stories should have at least two independent sources.
Do not exaggerate sourcing; a single source is ‘a source,’ not ‘sources’. Similarly, a single study or report is ‘a study’ or ‘a report’, not ‘studies’ or ‘reports’.
Decisions about what we write about and how we undertake the work are made solely by our writers and editors. Advertisers have no sway over coverage. We will disclose any commercial relationships the company has that might appear to influence our coverage.
Readers must never wonder if we are telling them something because we were paid to do so rather than we think they should know. Nor should we be put off asking hard questions because we have created a business relationship with a source.
The company runs an e-commerce business, The Inventory. Its content is produced independently of Editorial; G/O Media may get a commission on any sale made through its e-commerce posts.
Compliance with these policies
Editorial management, editors-in-chief and legal counsel have helped draw up this document. These policies do not anticipate every situation that will arise in work as fast-changing and challenging as ours, nor can they provide infallible rules for the decisions editors and writers have to make hour by hour. But they do provide crucial guidelines for those occasions where we have difficult, sensitive, or uncommon decisions to make.
Wherever there may be differences of view over these policies’ application, the first step in resolving them will be through discussion with a supervisor or, when more appropriate, via other company policies designed to ensure a fair, equitable and co-operative workplace.
We believe that all editorial staff want to produce the best journalism they can for their audiences, and to that end that they will, as routine, exercise professional judgement in their daily work and dealings with readers, subjects, sources and colleagues. However, any lapses of judgement within the areas covered here or willful violation of their intent may be regarded as sufficiently serious to warrant disciplinary action, subject to any applicable terms of the collective bargaining agreement.