WBEZ Code of Ethics in Journalism
Chicago Public Media is committed to providing a welcoming and safe environment for people of all races, gender identities, gender expressions, sexual orientations, physical abilities, physical appearances, socioeconomic backgrounds, life experiences, nationalities, ages, religions, and beliefs. Discrimination and harassment are expressly prohibited in our employee handbook and will not be tolerated in our workplace, journalism, content creation or business practices.
CPM believes it is our moral responsibility to create a diverse, equitable and inclusive workplace. While employees are held to the highest ethical standards as outlined in this code of ethics, expressions of one’s identity shall not be construed as a willful violation of these standards.
In some instances, this code will raise questions rather than providing answers. Some of those questions we may feel perfectly comfortable answering ourself. Others might give us pause and will benefit from guidance or a discussion with colleagues.
Alongside this code, our two best sources of help in making ethical decisions are (1) a supervisor, and (2) senior leadership. Supervisors and senior leaders can help us make a thoughtful, decision consistent with our values and standards — one that pulls in the appropriate stakeholders.
Finally, as a publicly engaged organization, Chicago Public Media seeks to nourish, curate, and elevate the public conversation. We believe our mission and our work are tied to broad core values, which include: accuracy, fairness, independence, truth, accountability, and creativity. We believe our ability to serve those values, our mission, and ultimately the public good, rests on our credibility and reputation.
Therefore, the foundation for our code of ethics mirrors Chicago Public Media’s core values:
We know that accuracy is the binding agent of our work. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in proper context. In our reporting, we rigorously challenge both the claims we encounter and the assumptions we bring. Our standards for accuracy are consistent in all the work we produce, from news coverage and podcasts to marketing material and financial reports.
We treat those we interview and report on with scrupulous fairness. We make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories. Whenever we quote, edit or otherwise interpret what people tell us, we aim to be faithful to their meaning, so our stories ring true to those we interview.
We are committed to serving the public good — free of commercial interests and a single- minded quest to maximize profit. We are also protective of our independence from outside influence in all forms — be it monetary, political, or relational. We know there are universal values and entities we can and must stand in defense of — human rights, the law, the truth — but we understand different people will express those values differently and we also know our primary role is to illuminate the feelings, thoughts, and ideas of others.
Our commitments to accuracy, fairness, and independence are in service of our pursuit of truth, forcing us to verify information, to consider multiple perspectives, and to challenge biases and assumptions, including our own. While we believe democracy is served by differing views and perspectives — we have a duty to assert truth to power and to level it forcefully against falsehoods. We never sacrifice truth or honesty or allow misinformation for the sake of inclusivity.
To uphold the values articulated above, we must be accountable for our work. Thus, we take responsibility for our work and must be willing to answer for it, especially when it falls short of our highest standards.
Journalistic Code of Conduct: Do’s and Don’ts
While the code of ethics applies to everybody working at CPM, this section includes specific rules and guidelines that apply most directly to journalists and content creators. Including:
- We do not alter audio or present material in ways that change the speaker’s original meaning.
- We independently confirm facts and reporting.
- In cases where we must first rely on the reporting work of peers (e.g., breaking news), we will credit those peers and work to independently verify that information.
- In cases where that peer reporting was incorrect, we will update our audiences about that as soon as we know so that we can correct the record and inform the public accurately.
- We identify our sources and interviewees.
- While we may consider protecting a source or information with anonymity, we avoid doing it frequently because it poses editorial hazards, and because anonymity can be abused and harm public trust. When we do take the exceptional step to grant anonymity, we grant it on the basis of danger and threats to the source, and ultimately, on the basis of serving the public good. Anonymous sources must be approved by a senior manager.
- Off the record: The information cannot be used for publication (or broadcast). The source cannot be identified.
- On background: The information can be published (or broadcast) but only under conditions negotiated with the source. In most cases, the sources will not want their names published (or broadcast) but will agree to a description of their position (e.g. “… a senior administration official”).
- We make every reasonable effort to ensure that the source knows that interviews, quotations, photographs, video footage and other media will be read, heard, or seen by others.
- We take great care to make sure that sources understand what they’ve said — and that they are expressing what they mean.
CPM Social Media Guidance
In crafting our social media guidelines, we consulted multiple resources, including a variety of internal and external stakeholders. Special thanks to our colleagues at WAMU, from whom much of this particular guidance is derived.
Section 1: Purpose
We value editorial independence, transparency, respect, fairness, accuracy and integrity in our journalism and all the work we produce as an organization. We amplify the public conversation by telling the stories that matter; stories that provoke thought, entertain, capture emotion and inspire action. And, we believe that social media can help in all aspects of this work.
Just as social media can pose risks, it can also afford great opportunities. Social media can and should be used as a tool for sourcing stories, broadening our audience and sharing our work. Social media is a powerful engagement tool for communicating with audiences and soliciting diverse viewpoints that can deepen our journalism. Each CPM employee should feel empowered to use social media. We are encouraged to participate in conversations, build new relationships, and leverage the tools these platforms offer.
Outside of work, we may each choose to share some of our own personalities and lived experiences through various platforms. Just as our individual social media presences can reflect ourselves, they can also reflect upon Chicago Public Media. In that way, we are mindful that social media can pose risks to CPM’s credibility as a news organization and/or impact our ability to do our jobs. Be thoughtful in our commentary and critique.
Overall, we are responsible for our personal and professional conduct on social media. As CPM employees, we represent ourselves and our colleagues so we should be mindful of how our posts and interactions may be perceived by the public. We ask ourselves: “Does my use of social media make it easier or harder for my colleagues to fulfill CPM’s mission?”
Social media norms and platforms are constantly changing, and context is often required to understand a given post in full. It is important to follow a fair and consistent process to determine whether an employee’s social media post violates this guidance.
Perhaps above all, social media is dynamic and presents equal parts challenge and opportunity. We recognize that this social media policy cannot encompass the entirety of social media and each employee’s experience there. When in doubt, always speak with a supervisor.
If a concerning social media post or activity is identified, a direct supervisor will address the matter.
This guidance applies to all CPM full-time and part-time employees.
Section 2: Basic Principles
As staff, we must do the following:
1. Be ourselves.
Social media can be a way for us to express our personalities and engage with our audience online. The below is a framework for social media use, but it is not intended to erase one’s personality. Our public social media profiles are a portion of our network and something we bring to CPM and any future employer.
2. Tell the truth.
As a public media organization, we have a duty to inform the public. We should maintain the same high standards in our work and journalism as on social media. That means we need to vet facts and information – whether an original post, a retweet or a link – to ensure our followers are getting the best information from verified sources. CPM employees who spread disinformation or misinformation, whether they are newsroom staff or not, can harm the entire organization and should work to avoid such mistakes, or post a correction if an error is made.
3. Avoid actions that raise questions about our ability to do our work.
As CPM employees, we must neither endorse political candidates nor specific pieces of legislation (at any level of government) because it may interfere with the organization’s credibility and our colleagues’ ability to perform their jobs. We also recognize an employee’s lived experiences shape the way they view the world and how they engage with it. Some employees may feel called to make statements in support of specific human rights issues – including but not limited to racial equality, gender and sexual identity, citizenship status, free speech – though in doing so they should still refrain from making specific candidate or policy endorsements in those cases.
4. Be transparent.
Attribute the information we share to sources when appropriate. If you make a mistake, own up to it and correct it.
5. Be professional, be safe.
It’s natural for social media to also reflect our personalities outside of the workplace.
At the same time, it can be difficult navigating social media when interacting with a public that does not always agree with the substance of our work. Beware of escalation when dealing with unpleasant interactions on social media. However, if a member of the public raises a legitimate question or concern about our work, we should do our due diligence to take it under consideration, provide feedback, or address it.
No abusive language that targets or harms any individual or group will be tolerated, nor will calls for violence.
If activity on social media raises concerns or has an impact on our ability to do our work, we discuss that activity with our direct supervisor. A manager may raise concern about social interactions as well.
If an employee is being trolled or harassed, CPM will provide that employee support to determine the best course of action to provide help to the employee.
Outside of Work
Our experiences and perspectives are valuable assets to the work we do at CPM. We enjoy the right to robust personal lives and personal opinions, but the public deserves accurate information and informed analysis without our opinions influencing what they hear or read. That’s why we strive to create content that transcends our biases and treats all views fairly. We aggressively challenge our own perspectives.
We must ensure that our actions as private individuals do not undermine the credibility of our work and the public’s trust in us.
Therefore, CPM employees should not:
- Advocate for specific policies, positions, candidates, or partisan interests or organizations, especially those related to matters of considerable public debate. We avoid this in our work and journalism and in our conduct outside the newsroom. There may be issues, particularly such as human rights, that will allow exceptions after review.
- Participate in marches, rallies or public demonstrations in favor of or opposed to a cause on issues that CPM covers (such as defunding police).
- Advance specific positions in public settings or in opinion pieces.
Refraining from these actions helps us avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived, and helps ensure staff remain free of associations that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Nevertheless, we also understand that as members of our community, we have a responsibility to participate in civic life, be it through voting, volunteering or the like. The same is true for our organization as a whole. CPM has organized community service days, sponsored floats in the Gay Pride and Bud Billiken Day Parades, and gone to court to protect First Amendment and human rights.
CPM employees are allowed to show support for broad human rights causes with their words and actions. Examples include:
- Displaying signs in support for human rights, Black Lives Matter, Human Rights Campaign, the right to vote, free speech, etc.
- Participating in civic and cultural events (including parades, volunteering or community service) that do not pose conflicts of interest, real or perceived. This includes involvement in boards of religious institutions, non-profit groups, community boards or educational institutions — so long as those groups do not engage in lobbying or other political activity, or would otherwise create a conflict of interest, real or perceived.
- Before taking a seat on a board, CPM employees must get approval from a director level manager and General Counsel.
- CPM employees may not serve on government boards or commissions.
- Participating in religious life. We have the same right to practice religion — or not — as other Americans. But we do not let our religious beliefs influence our coverage of events or other faiths. If a story emerges related to an employee’s church, synagogue or mosque, non-profit, board or school, content providers should have no involvement.
If our involvement in any organization raises a potential conflict of interest with our work, we should discuss the matter with a supervisor.
As a general rule, we draw distinctions between volunteering vs activism; parades vs. protests; voting vs. campaigning; and principles vs. policies. The distinctions between these realms aren’t always clear, so in all cases, we encourage honest reflection, open discussion, and the internal approval of a supervisor before proceeding.
Panels, Speaking Engagements, Outside Appearances
CPM employees may occasionally be asked to appear at events, on panels or as guests in other media. We generally support such appearances as an extension of our journalism, our mission and our community service. However, we avoid participating in shows, forums, or other venues that encourage or imply policy advocacy, as well as punditry and speculation rather than fact-based analysis.
CPM employees should discuss invitations with their supervisors before accepting them.
We should avoid activity that could undermine our integrity and credibility as a fair curator by engaging in opinion and bias.
This part of our ethics policy applies most forcefully to those who have a public-facing role — whether as a content creator, a fundraiser, a member of the community engagement team or station leadership. But, all of us need to be aware of the potential impact of our actions. People who may not consider their roles to be public-facing, could, by association with CPM, undermine the perception and expectation that our space is a fair one.
Therefore, all CPM employees should adhere to the following policies. If there’s a situation that requires judgment, or falls into a gray area, have a discussion with a supervisor.
CPM staff should not:
- Engage in activities that publicly support specific candidates’ causes or campaigns. This includes caucuses, straw polls, protests or displaying political signs.
- Sign petitions for candidates, causes or political movements.
- Engage in campaigns, donate to campaigns, speak on behalf of — or in association with — political causes, or accept gifts from anyone in those sectors.
CPM staff can:
- Vote in situations that do not require public support of specific candidates. That includes voting in primary elections that require party selection, as they do in Illinois.
Politics and family:
- Some of our family members may be involved in politics or advocacy. We inform our supervisor if a family member’s activities might intersect with our work. CPM journalists should recuse themselves from covering stories or events related to a family member’s political activities.
Parental consent to conduct interviews with minors, preferably written, is always the preferred route. If there is no reason not to, we secure that consent by explaining to a parent or guardian what the interview will be about and generally how audio recordings, quotations, photographs, video footage, or other materials gathered during reporting may be used.
- Chicago Public Media maintains full and independent decision making authority over its editorial content.
- When financial support for CPM could raise a perceived conflict of interest, we will proactively and clearly disclose them to the audience. When in doubt, we err on the side of disclosure.
- Chicago Public Media has adopted an Editorial Independence Policy that codifies the existence of a firewall between CPM’s news coverage decisions, its sources of revenue and its Board of Directors. Neither the Board of Directors of Chicago Public Media nor its Donors have any influence over editorial decisions that are made. We do not make editorial decisions with funders or their representatives. We eschew funders who expect editorial influence. Under no circumstances will a donation, whether large or small, influence editorial content or news judgement.
- We acknowledge that, in the course of reporting, Chicago Public Media journalists may come across an organization or major donor that funds the station. To the best of our knowledge and ability, when these relationships raise a perceived conflict of interest we will proactively and clearly disclose them to the audience. When in doubt, we err on the side of disclosure.
Gifts and conflicts
Employees or their immediate family members may not maintain a business or financial interest, or engage in any outside business or financial activity that conflicts with the interests of Chicago Public Media.
We do not accept money, gifts of significant value, meals, etc. from people whom we cover or from whom we should maintain a distance of independence.
We do not pay for interviews or information.
We only accept media access to events as relevant to our work and service, and there should be no expectations of anything in return.
Employees must receive approval from their supervisor before accepting outside employment (whether as an employee, freelancer, speaker or independent contractor)
- This is not to say that we want to grapple with every outside appearance or engagement. If you are receiving an honorarium for speaking at an elementary school on our own time, we do not expect that to be brought up with our supervisor or leadership. If you are planning to, or already are, engaging in significant work — writing or reporting for another organization, teaching a class as an adjunct, serving as a regular contributor — we do expect those situations to be raised with our supervisor and station leadership.
Employees may not request gifts from any customer, vendor, supplier, or other business contact.
Plugola (receiving personal consideration for promoting an outside person/event/service on-air) and Payola (receiving consideration for playing recorded music on air) are strictly prohibited. Both are major violations of federal law, and could cost a broadcaster her/his freedom and career, and Chicago Public Media, its license.
- Employees may be required on an annual basis to sign an affidavit agreeing to comply with the provision of Sections 317 and 508 of the Communications Act of 1934, as amended. Both Federal Communications Commission rules and Chicago Public Media prohibit Plugola, Payola, Personal Gain, and the misappropriation of Chicago Public Media’s property.
Guidelines for handling potential violations and violations
While the Code of Ethics is intended to offer clarity and guidelines around ethical decisions and journalistic practices, there will be questions around the process of handling potential violations or violations. Though many of those instances will be handled case by case, listed below are basic guidelines:
Conversation with the employee regarding a potential violation. This is a preliminary discussion between the employee and his/her immediate supervisor. The manager should ideally make the department head aware of the issue before or after this meeting.
If the issue is deemed valid for further review, a second meeting will take place between the employee, manager, and department head.
Depending on the nature of the potential violation, the code of ethics review committee (which includes the Managing Editor, 2 members of CPM’s COE task force) will review to help determine if a violation has occurred. An employee can request a committee review at any time. HR will be consulted and included in these discussions.
While the review committee may help make a determination as to whether or not there is a violation of the policy, any final disciplinary action will be determined and documented by CPM management in accordance with HR guidelines and communicated to the employee and the immediate supervisor.
Union employees may request representation by a union steward at any point during this process.
The code of ethics inbox is available for employees who want to raise an issue of concern anonymously. The email will be reviewed by the committee. However, anonymous submissions may limit the committee’s ability to follow up. The email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.