Ethics code

The Watch is the University of King’s College newsmagazine – run and written solely by students. As a member of the press, we strive to be balanced and fair in our reporting, accurate and honest in our coverage. We aim to be respectful and determined, to value the feelings and opinions of our sources while making sure that wrongdoing does not go undocumented. We are the watchdog of the university administration and of the student union, and our goal is to help students by informing them.

The only way we can fulfil this role is by acting ethically. Both the executive and our contributors represent the magazine in their actions and work, and are therefore responsible for making ethical decisions. The code below is meant as a guideline for acting ethically. It outlines many of the ethical dilemmas a contributor or executive member may face, and shows what The Watch deems to be the appropriate course of action.

It is important to remember that this ethics code is not comprehensive; not every situation will fit neatly into the examples and categories below. If there are any doubts about whether something is ethical or not, always talk to your editor. It is better to spend longer writing a story than to hurriedly publish a potential lawsuit.

Plagiarism

Plagiarism is a major offense in journalism. Professional journalists have been fired over the appropriation of other’s’ work and the reuse of their own. We hold our writers to the same standard. Never plagiarise your own work or the work of others. This includes not only the written aspects of journalism, but also quotes, original ideas and researched information. When in doubt, attribute.

The Watch occasionally publishes stories student journalists have written for a class. This does not count as self-plagiarism. However, you must follow the standards set out by the journalism school: the article must be finished and graded by the professor before it is published by a newspaper or magazine. Students cannot get class credit for articles they wrote for other publications — the work must be, first and foremost, for class. After it is graded, however, you can publish the article elsewhere.

However, we do not publish articles that have already been published in a non-journalism school publication. If an article has been published in the Dalhousie Gazette, we will not publish it at The Watch. If you wish to write two articles, one for the Gazette and one for The Watch, you cannot merely rewrite your article. There must be a significantly different angle, lead and ending, as well as different quotes and/or sources.

Conflicts of Interest

Journalists occupy a difficult place in society: they must be unbiased and objective in their work, but are also private citizens with opinions and interests. To navigate around this issue, you should be aware of your own biases and potential conflicts of interest.

When pitching a story to The Watch, you must outline all potential and actual conflicts of interest you may have with the story. It is unethical to write an article about an organization or project with which you are directly involved. If we discover that you did not disclose a conflict of interest and we have already published your article, we will remove your article from the website and publish a retraction notice outlining why the article was removed.

Involvement in an organization is not the only kind of conflict of interest. You should avoid interviewing friends and family whenever possible for the same reason.

Despite our best intentions, you may have to write a story with which you do have a perceived conflict of interest. King’s is a small school, and it is impossible to be completely distanced from the subjects you are writing about. In these cases, a note will go either at the bottom or the top of your article outlining the perceived conflict of interest. This will also happen if a member of the executive can be seen to have a conflict of interest with an article a contributor wrote.

Freebies

Contributors and the executive of The Watch are not allowed to accept freebies from sources or organizations. Accepting a freebie can be viewed by readers as creating a conflict of interest; perhaps you would be more likely to write a favourable article about someone who gave you samples from their store.

Freebies include material gifts, as well as services and samples. If an unsolicited gift is received, return it immediately. If this is not possible, it should be donated to a recognized charity. In very rare cases, it would be considered an insult to return or donate a freebie – if you think you are in this situation talk to your editor. If you must keep the gift, a note will be written at the top or bottom of your article telling the readers that you have received a gift from the source.

Some samples, such a book or cd, are acceptable if they are being reviewed for the publication. Access is also acceptable – getting free admission to a concert or sporting event does not make you more likely to write a favourable article, it simply allows you to cover the story. Access is considered a freebie, however, if it is accepted for anyone other than the writer and/or photographer.

Some events, like conferences, come with free food and drink. In general, try to avoid accepting food and drink above a minimal value (coffee and pastries at a reception would be acceptable, a sit down dinner would not). If it is possible to conduct an interview without accepting free food and drink, do so.

Sources

Treat all sources with respect. They are not simply there to feed you information for your story; they have a right to be treated with dignity and compassion. As the journalism school’s ethics code says: Be human.

Never misrepresent yourself or your article’s angle to a source. Always tell them that you are a working journalist for The Watch when you first contact them. Never “go undercover” for a story unless you have discussed it with your editor, and the editors and publisher have decided the story is important enough to deserve this breach of ethics.

If a source asks you what your story is about, tell them. Do not pretend you are writing from one angle when you are really trying to to dupe them into proving another. Give them a fair chance to respond to the questions raised by your story – but also avoid falling for a slick party line. Be fair, but be skeptical.

All sources deserve to respond to accusations against them. If a source accuses someone of wrongdoing, you must make reasonable efforts to contact the accused. This can mean several phone calls over the course of several days, rather than one call the day before the article goes to print. If you cannot get ahold of the accused after reasonable exertions, that must be included in your story. If the accused decides to sue The Watch for damages caused by an accusation in a story, your efforts to reach them must be able to stand up in a court of law.

Because of the potential for a writer or paper to be sued, you should keep all your materials for at least six months. This includes, but isn’t limited to: recordings, transcripts, notes, source contact information and story drafts. If you feel that you cannot hold onto this material for at least six months, then give a copy to your editors.

Never grant a source anonymity without consulting your editors first. Granting anonymity means that not only you, but the entire executive of The Watch must be dedicated to providing anonymity to this source. The source also needs to be made aware of the limitations of anonymity. If the editors decide it is important to grant this source anonymity, you may promise to not name the source in your story and not willingly make it known beyond The Watch executive. However, you cannot promise to protect them from damages if their name becomes known. A court can order a reporter to reveal a source, and The Watch will not advise a reporter to disobey a court order.

Also talk to your editors if a source says that they want their interview to be off the record. When you hear those words come up in an interview, deal with them immediately. Explain that you cannot speak to them off the record until you consult with your editors. Give them the option of continuing the interview by talking about what they are comfortable saying on the record, or ceasing the interview until you and your editors have come up with a solution.

If an interview has already taken place, a source cannot retroactively make it off the record. If they attempt to, explain that since you identified yourself as a journalist and they freely answered your questions during an interview setting, you will be using some or all of their quotations in your story. If you feel uncomfortable doing this, just say that you cannot make the interview off the record, and they should talk to your editor or publisher.

Often, you can avoid serious difficulties by asking why a source wants their interview off the record. Commonly, sources do not fully understand what off the record means. There are different types of interviews with different limitations that the average person will label as “off the record”. There are “background” or “deep background” interviews which only give the reporter information that they can start an investigation on – nothing from this interview can be used in the story. Some sources that want an off the record interview may be okay with you taking direct quotes from the interview if they are attributed to an unnamed source. Others will only want the content of their interview paraphrased.

By identifying what they mean when they say off the record – and figuring out why they want it off the record – you can possibly work towards making them more comfortable with the idea of conducting an interview on the record. It will also give your editors a better chance at making an ethical decision when deciding whether to have an off the record interview.

Interviews

Always maintain control of the interview. Although an interview is about a source’s opinion or insight, the interview is guided by your questions and the angle of your story. Do not let someone run away with the interview and only tell you what they want you to hear. The Watch does not allow the use of email interviews for this reason. Not only do email interviews give the source too much control over the interview, but it also loses the important visual and vocal cues that a source is uncomfortable or hiding information. In person interviews are preferred whenever possible, although phone interviews are permitted when necessary.

For the same reason you should never allow an interview subject or source to see a story before it is published. If you require clarification you may contact them with your question, but do not allow them access to the copy. A source does not have the power to review, change or kill their quotations or the story. If someone asks to see the copy, politely tell them no. If they persist, talk to your editors.

For The Watch Executive

As members of The Watch, the executive members are held to the same ethical standards their contributors are held to. However, they are also held to additional ethical standards because of their position of influence at the paper.

The executive of The Watch will not attempt to use The Watch to promote their own interests or portray their own beliefs. Potential conflicts of interest will be disclosed to the rest of the executive so the management of articles can be distributed accordingly. Opinion articles and/or letters to the editors should not be rejected simply because they do not coincide with the beliefs of the editors, publisher or treasurer.

The Watch executive will not force a writer to cover a story if the writer feels uncomfortable or unsafe. The pursuit of a story will never be more important than the safety of our contributors.

The publisher will look over articles for libel, slander and other ethical issues. However, it is the responsibility of all editorially-based executive members to watch for ethical issues arising in stories.

The Watch’s social media accounts will be subject to the same ethical standards and considerations that are held to The Watch’s other activities.

Ethical dilemmas should be discussed widely among the executive. No one executive member should decide on a course of action without first consulting with at least one other executive member, and editors should always consult the publisher.

The Watch executive must be ready to defend a writer in the event that they are persecuted for a story they wrote. The executive must also take responsibility for the actions of their journalists as represented in their work for the paper. If a correction, retraction, or public apology needs to be made, the executive must write it and publish it through the appropriate channels. A correction, retraction, or public apology should be noted in the same prominence that the original mistake occurred.

A correction can include writing a note to be published over social media and/or writing a note to be included in the following print issue. In all cases, the online version article should be fixed and a correction added to the top or bottom of the article outlining the mistake and the correction. A retraction notice will be published over the same avenues the original article was promoted, and should include the reasons why the article was retracted. The way a public apology is published is dependent on the situation. A public apology to The Watch’s audience, for example, would most likely be published over social media, on the website and/or in the print magazine.

If the executive are unsure about the right course of action – talk to a professor, working journalist or media lawyer. The Watch does not exist in a vacuum, and ethical dilemmas are not happening for the first time. Use the resources available to you!

Guidelines for writers

Pitches

  • Please give the editors a clear idea of what you have in mind. It is not enough to say you want to do a story on bagels. Instead, tell us about the new bagel supplier at the Galley and who you might talk to, what your angle is etc.

  • The Watch does publish stories you have done for a journalism class. These stories must be fully graded before they are published in the Watch, in accordance with the Journalism School’s academic policy. Please consider the subject, angle and tone of your class assignment before pitching to ensure that it is right for the magazine.

Interviews

  • We expect all stories to have quotations from at least one interview. It must have been conducted by the author and it cannot be one that you have previously used for another project.

  • The Watch does not allow the use of email interviews. In person is preferred whenever possible but phone interviews are permitted when necessary.

  • The writer must inform the interview subject that they are conducting an interview to be used in a story for the Watch and that anything they say may be published.

  • Never allow an interview subject to review their quotations once the interview has been done. If you require clarification you may contact them with your question, but do not allow them access to the copy.

  • Your safety is of greatest importance when going into an interview situation. Always let someone know where you are going and if you feel unsure in advance, we will arrange for someone to go with you. Listen to your gut and never do something that doesn’t feel right in the name of an interview.

Writing

  • Never plagiarize your own work or the work of others. When in doubt, attribute.

  • We follow the Canadian Press stylebook. Please keep a copy handy and review your own work before submitting it. If you do not have a copy of your own, please contact the editors.

  • Go for clarity over length.

  • If your story isn’t lining up with your assigned word count, please contact the editors. This will allow them to either make adjustments to the layout, or suggest a new way to focus the story.

  • Please submit your story with a suggested headline, the word count, and any relevant hyperlinks.

  • If applicable please include your Twitter username for use when promoting the published story.

Photographs and Multimedia

  • Think about how your piece can be complemented by photos or multimedia. Let the editors know whether you are interested in working on these aspects or if they should assign another contributor to cover them.

  • Photographs should be given to the editors via Dropbox, either in a shared folder or through a Dropbox link.

Opinions

  • Rein yourself in. Opinion pieces based in passion can sound unhinged. Opinion pieces that aim to convince the reader through facts and anecdotes will be much better received.

  • It is not sufficient to rant at length about something. Good opinion pieces should include a proposed solution.

  • Although by nature opinion pieces take a stance, be sure to consider all sides of an issue when writing.

  • It is helpful to include other voices to support your opinion. This will give your piece more weight.

Deadlines

  • Deadlines are especially crucial for a student-run publication. None of us can treat the Watch like a full-time job, so in order to produce a magazine and a website the editors must be able to depend on contributors to submit their work in a timely and reliable manner.

  • That said, as students themselves they are also sympathetic to the struggle to balance time commitments. Please stay in touch! The sooner the editors know you’re having difficulty making a deadline, the easier it will be for them to accommodate you.

Conflicts of Interest

  • It is unethical to write an article about an organization or project with which you are directly involved. Please consider any potential conflicts before pitching and disclose them if you still think you could go ahead with the story.

  • Avoid interviewing friends and family whenever possible. King’s is a small school, but that’s no excuse to make your best friend the main voice in your story.

Ethics

  • Please refer to and abide by our ethics code.

  • If you have any questions about the ethics of your work – ask your editors!

Online material

  • What we publish on our website stays on our website. Don’t do/write/record anything that you wouldn’t want employers to see in five years — or your children– to see later.