Ethics and Editorial Standards
About The Western Journal
Content Creator Ethics
General Ethical Considerations
Security and Other Considerations
Legal and Other Considerations
The Western Journal holds its journalists, reporters, content curators, video producers, commentators, editors and all other employees, contributors or contractors (hereafter referred to as content creators) to the highest standards of ethics and professionalism. These ethical and editorial standards have been created to guide content creators to create an extremely trustworthy news product for our audience. In addition, we are publishing these standards so that the public can know them and hold us accountable to them.
If our audience can’t trust the content we produce, they won’t consume our content for very long. And if the content we produce is not truthful, useful, instructive or wholesome, our existence as a media company cannot be justified. Therefore, The Western Journal expects its content creators to not only keep, but also build trust with our readers and viewers by producing content that conforms to the standards laid out in this document.
Telling the Truth
- Our first value as a company is truth. We should be honest, accurate, truthful and fair. We should not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, sound or data.
- We should provide accurate context for all reporting.
- In our news coverage, we should seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject about which we’re reporting.
- We should ensure that sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, we should make clear to our audience who and what our sources are, what motivations our sources may have and any conditions people have set for giving us information. When unsure of information, we should leave it out or make clear it has not been corroborated.
- We should correct errors quickly, completely and visibly. We should make it easy for our audience to bring errors to our attention.
- If a report includes criticism of people or organizations, we should make a reasonable effort to reach out and give them the opportunity to respond.
- We should clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.
- The Western Journal focuses on topics designed to resonate with people across different educational and socioeconomic backgrounds. We should strive to write clearly, in a way that communicates truth to the most people.
Nature of Our Journalism
- As a values-based news organization, we believe that it is vitally important that we are transparent about our beliefs and how they may affect our coverage priorities. We believe that we should be open about values we hold, rather than hiding behind a veneer of “unbiased” coverage.
- Founded in the context of an establishment media that in general reflects a politically liberal worldview, The Western Journal may make editorial choices to tell stories that fill a gap in coverage priorities at establishment media outlets.
- Editorially, The Western Journal upholds traditional Christian values as articulated in the Bible. These values include beliefs in original sin, the fallen nature of man, the exclusivity of Christ, the need for government to restrain men from injuring each other, the fundamental value of every human life — including the unborn, a rejection of racism in all forms, and the definition of marriage as between one man and one woman. Politically, The Western Journal advocates for broadly conservative positions on most issues, including abortion, national defense, small government, same-sex marriage, tax policy and individual freedom.
- We want our news coverage to be fact-based, without expression of opinions, but content creators are encouraged to provide their thoughtful opinions in commentary or other types of articles clearly listed as opinion. Every person has opinions, and we believe that our content creators should be transparent about their opinions in the appropriate place.
- Our content creators may express personal opinions in their own accounts on social networks, as governed by our policies on social media. For more information, see the section on Social Media use by Staff and Content Creators.
- We encourage our content creators to express opinions about journalism matters, advocating for freedom of information and joining the conversation within the profession about important issues.
- Our content creators, salespeople and executives should work to ensure that advertisers, sponsors and contributors have no influence over editorial content, unless content is specifically disclosed as sponsored content.
- We encourage content creators to be involved in the community, politics and the issues we cover, but we should disclose these involvements in our coverage, when directly relevant.
- Despite our organization’s involvement in the issues we cover, The Western Journal should provide factual news coverage in an objective voice.
- We believe that including different perspectives is an important part of getting to the heart of a story and telling the truth.
- We seek diverse pools of candidates for all jobs, but should always seek to hire the most qualified candidate.
- We encourage staffers to seek diverse sources, both in specific stories and in routine beat coverage.
- We should respect our audience and those we report about. We should always consider how our work and its permanence may affect the subjects of our reporting, our community and – since the internet knows no boundaries – the larger world.
- The Western Journal is committed to publishing only accurate information. We should take many steps to ensure accuracy: We should investigate claims with skepticism; question assumptions; challenge conventional wisdom; confirm information with subject-matter experts; and seek to corroborate what sources tell us by talking with other informed people or consulting documents. We should verify content, such as technical terms, statistics, etc., against source documents, or make clear who is providing the information. We may share relevant components of a story with a primary source or an outside expert to verify them.
- We should stand by the information as accurate, and if it’s not, we should correct it as quickly as possible and be transparent with our readers about the magnitude of the error. For more information, see the section titled Corrections Policy.
- Content Creators should ask the following questions when double-checking information in a quest for the truth.
- How do you know?
- How can you be sure?
- Where is the evidence?
- Who is the source, and how does the source know?
- What is the supporting documentation?
- All information (other than common knowledge or personal opinion) should be directly cited from a verified source.
- Original Sources: Whenever possible, we should directly reference and rely on original sources: quotes from witnesses, documents, academic journals, databases, authorities, experts.
- Social Media Sources: Social media posts may be used as an original source when directly quoting and referencing the fact that a statement was made by an account. Social media posts should not be relied on as a source of factual information without additional verification of authenticity. Images and videos posted on social media are more likely to be authentic, but they can be faked and also should be authenticated.
- Other News Organizations: The Western Journal uses online tools and other signals to help assess the credibility of potential sources for news and commentary. However, in rare occasions, information from an otherwise questionable source seems credible and is not available elsewhere, and in those cases — and they are and should be rare — those sources may be used with approval from a senior editor, who may choose to explain in the story why the source was used.
- Written, video and audio excerpts from news reports, books, magazines, social media posts or other media should be attributed and linked to wherever possible to allow our readers to directly reference our sources. Not all sources are acceptable sources. Wikipedia or other user-edited websites are not acceptable sources.
- Ideally, if resources permit, other news organizations reports can be a signal that we should gather and confirm facts about a story ourselves, in which case we are now an original source and do not need to attribute facts that we have independently verified.
- However, if resources do not permit, and a credible source is reporting, we have two options:
- Single source: If we have not independently verified facts gathered by a single trustworthy source but want to include the facts, we should clearly note in title and in content that the information has not been independently verified. For example, “Report: Mayor Paid for Personal Car with Public Money.”
- Multiple sources: If multiple credible sources (as seen on internal list of trusted news sources) have independently verified the facts, we may report them without qualifying language, but, as always, we should provide appropriate attribution.
- Content creators should take responsibility for the accuracy of all information they report, using an accuracy checklist before publication. If content creators are unsure about the accuracy of information or believe there is a reasonable chance the accuracy of the information would be questioned, content creators should inform their supervisor and mark stories as needing a fact check.
- If we are unsure of the accuracy of information and still believe it is in the public’s interest to tell a story, we should cite our sources, word stories carefully to avoid spreading false rumors, acknowledge what we don’t know and, where appropriate, ask the community’s help in confirming or correcting our information.
- Content creators may read parts of stories to sources in order to check facts or make sure they understand technical points and procedures. But they should not read full stories to sources before publication and should make clear to the sources that they are only checking facts, not providing an opportunity to change the writing or approach to the story.
- When interviewing sources, content creators should ask interviewees to spell their name (even a common name) and content creators should spell the name back to the source or show how they have written it.
- Content creators should ask for business cards from sources and should check to see that the name is spelled the same as in notes.
- Content creators should look up people and organizations online as they are writing and researching stories. Content creators should call, email or otherwise message to resolve any conflicts between the facts they see online and what they have in their notes.
- Content creators should call phone numbers and check URLs that they include in stories to make sure they are accurate and current.
- Content creators should ask sources, “How do you know that?” and try to get to original sources of information, rather than relying on second-hand sources.
- Content creators should record interviews to ensure accurate quotations.
- When sources are providing statistics, content creators should ask for the original data (which might provide more information, as well as ensuring the accuracy of the statistics).
- Content creators should always check their math (and the source’s math).
- Content creators should check headlines, graphics, cutlines and other material accompanying a story.
- Content creators should provide proper context for all accurate information included in a story.
- We should facilitate and welcome feedback from our readers and sources regarding the information that we publish.
- We include a way for readers to submit a correction to the content creator, as well as an editing contact, for each news item that we publish.
- We also allow the public to reach out to any content creator.
Photo and Video Accuracy
- We should not edit or manipulate images if the intent is to deceive or manipulate the meaning of the image for our audience.
- We may obscure or pixelate images to protect the identity of someone in the image or to protect viewers from graphic material.
- We should clearly label the source of all photos or video that have been provided by government or organizations, e.g. “handout” photos.
- We should make a reasonable effort to verify photos or videos from social media before using them. We may use unverified photos or videos from social media if we believe it is in the interest of our audience to see them for itself, and as long as we disclose that we did not independently verify the photo or video.
Plagiarism and Attribution
- When we use someone’s exact words, we should use quotation marks and attribute.
- We should always cite news releases if they are our sources and should quote them if using their exact words.
- When we use substantial material from our archives or from an author’s previous work in a current story, we should note that the material has been published before.
- Even when taking basic facts from another source — “World War II ended in Allied victories over Germany and Japan” — we should vary the wording from the phrasing used in source materials.
- When using facts generated by an original source of reporting, we should attribute all news sources by name and, if the source is digital, by providing the reader a link to the original source.
- Ideally, if resources permit, we should gather and confirm facts ourselves and in this case would not need to attribute to another organization. Even in this situation, however, we should give credit, as a courtesy, to another news source if it exclusively broke an original story.
- If this information is routine or unoriginal (e.g, dictionary definitions, historical summaries, etc.), we do not need to name the source, but may include a link as a resource for our readers.
- Our content creators should avoid plagiarism by adding attributions, links and quotation marks before pasting a passage into their notes.
- When the situation calls for it, our editors may use plagiarism-detection software to ensure the originality of the work we publish.
- If plagiarism-detection software is unavailable, our editors may do occasional, routine Web searching of distinctive passages in a story to see if they came from another source.
- The Western Journal considers plagiarism to be an extraordinarily serious offense and outright fraud. Under any circumstance, The Western Journal considers plagiarism as grounds for discipline up to immediate termination of employment or contract.
- We may use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Content creators must disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one senior editor.
- We should disclose to readers or viewers the reasons for granting confidentiality, such as fear for the source’s safety or job, when we use unnamed sources.
- We may publish information from confidential sources that we consider reliable, but we should not publish the opinions of unnamed sources.
- We should be more open to granting confidentiality to sources we approach for interviews than to sources approaching us with tips about political opponents or business rivals.
- We recognize that many sources cannot talk to us freely. We may grant confidentiality if we think the source has a good reason. We will only use information and quotes from unnamed sources that editorial leadership considers reliable.
- We should always assume that government snoops, law enforcement or hackers might access our regular communication channels when we grant confidentiality to a source. We should make a reasonable effort to use technology such as encryption software or “burner” cellphones to protect confidentiality.
- We should not approach sources or start interviews with an offer of confidentiality. We should presume that every interview is on the record until a source requests confidentiality.
- We should start interviews by asking sources to spell their names and give their titles. This establishes immediately that we plan to use the name and may prompt a reluctant source to start a discussion about confidentiality.
- We should mark clearly in our notes when a source goes off the record (and mark clearly again if the source goes back on the record).
- We should discuss requests for confidentiality with sources, and we should be clear about the terms of our agreement: Can we use the information but not attribute by name (how then can we identify the source)? Is the information not for publication but just for our understanding (how then can we be sure the source knows we will attempt to get the information from other sources)?
- We should be specific about anonymity promises we make to sources. There’s a difference between saying we’ll leave a source’s name out of a story and saying no one will ever know that they were the source. We should calibrate our promises to what we can actually deliver.
- We should avoid using terms such as “background,” “deep background,” “off the record” or “not for attribution” with sources. They may not understand the terms or may understand them differently than we mean. We should discuss terms of our confidentiality agreement specifically; we should make sure both we and our sources understand the terms, and we should record them appropriately.
- We should ask sources who don’t want to speak for the record if they can provide documentation of what they tell us, or if they can refer us to other sources who might speak on the record or provide documentation.
- We should review information that was off the record after we’ve finished an interview that includes off-the-record information, and we should try to persuade the source to go on the record for some or all of it. Sometimes enough trust is built during an interview to get more information on the record.
- We do not pay for interviews.
- We may permit interviewees with transcripts to revise their comments to clarify complicated or technical matters. After an interview, content creators may talk over the interview with interviewees and ask them to clarify unclear, complicated or technical matters.
- We may provide interview subjects with lists of questions in advance upon their request if the source makes a strong case justifying the request.
- Articles and reports should state the method of interviewing (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype or email) if doing so enhances the context of the interview and article.
- Content creators should record interviews and retain notes or transcripts in a secure but accessible location.
- “Q&A”-type articles, or articles that contain long sections of interviews, may condense the interviewees’ responses, but we should note that editing and condensing has occurred.
- When reprinting long sections of an interview, content creators should avoid rearranging the order of the interviewee’s comments unless doing so substantially clarifies the comments. In any case, content creators should note that the responses were reordered if they have done so.
- When dealing with minors, traumatized sources or people not used to dealing with the media, content creators should state clearly the purpose of the interview and how they will be using the information provided.
Sources: Reliability and Attribution
- Content creators may use sources with a conflict of interest in stories, but known details that signal the conflict of interest should be included (e.g. a scientist who conducted a study about a drug’s effectiveness when the study was funded by the manufacturer).
- When we reference the words or perspectives of individuals outside of the public eye, content creators should disclose the source of that information (e.g. through Twitter, Facebook, personal communication).
- We should use links, if available, for source attribution in articles and commentary.
- We should include source attribution in stories themselves as well as links, as applicable, to other sources not quoted for the story but that provide additional background information, e.g., government documents, court filings, general encyclopedia articles, and so forth.
- We should consistently include clear attributions throughout a story for facts we deem not widely known.
- We should include attributions throughout a story as necessary to make it clear where information is from.
- We should make a reasonable effort to ensure that the source of information is clear to readers, viewers or listeners.
- We should make all attribution as clear and detailed as possible, including names, titles and affiliation.
- We should cast the net widely for relevant sources; we shouldn’t rely on only the easy sources. We should seek diverse sources in order to fully represent the truth in our content.
- We should always try to verify how a source knows something.
- As needed, we should include details about sources that may signal bias or point of view.
- Quotes should not be altered in any way, unless a change is for approved reasons.
- Approved reasons for editing a quote can include:
- We may clean up random utterances such as pauses, “um” or “you know” unless they materially alter the meaning.
- We may allow separate phrases of a quote separated by ellipsis, unless it materially alters the meaning. (“I will go to war … but only if necessary,” the president said.)
- Ideally, content creators should prefer “non-partial” and “unfixed” quotes. Therefore, content creators should resist changes unless necessary. If an appropriate change is thought necessary, content creators should seek to make a minimum of changes. If in doubt, content creators should speak with a supervisor.
- Content creators should be ready to provide a good reason for any changes.
- If a quote requires significant editing, content creators should consider using another quote or paraphrasing.
- Essential questions to ask are:
- Is a change really required?
- Why am I making this change?
- Does the change alter the meaning of what was said in any way?
- Am I accurate and fair in the quotes I select and the way I present the quotes?
- Our content creators should be certain an interview subject understands that the conversation is on the record, unless a different agreement is made.
- We should provide context for quotes with explanatory sentences or paragraphs.
- We should consider whether it makes sense to publish a full recording or transcript of the interview, to avoid any questions over the quotes we selected.
- Our content creators should clearly label notes when pulling material verbatim from another source, such as a research report or government document, so we are sure to quote that source rather than plagiarize.
- The Western Journal is committed to telling readers when an error has been made, the magnitude of the error and the correct information, as quickly as possible. This commitment and transparency is applicable to small errors as well as large, to short news summaries as well as large feature pieces.
- We encourage all members of our organization to let our editorial team know if they believe an incorrect statement has been made in our reporting. We encourage and applaud content creators who bring a correction to the attention of editorial team on their own content.
- Corrections should clearly state 1) The correct information 2) The erroneous information that has been updated 3) When the update was made. The language of the correction should be standardized (as described in The Western Journal House Style Guide), not include extraneous other language, and have a serious tone.
- In general, corrections should be shown at the bottom of the story in question, unless the incorrect information is deemed to have had a material effect on the story as a whole, in which case, the correction should be shown at the top of the story.
- We should note that changes have been made to articles and commentary if they involve corrections or rephrasing to fix unclear material. In the case of inconsequential typos or minor errors of grammar or style, we should not issue a correction.
- We should make a reasonable effort to show all corrections in the place the incorrect material originally appeared (e.g., put corrections related to a story on that same story).
- If a mistake is made in a social media post, we should publish a corrected version indicating that the new post is a correction. We should include a link to the erroneous original post and allow it to stand if it is possible to edit that post and include a correction. If not possible to edit, we should delete the original post and include a screenshot of the incorrect post on the corrected version.
- In the case of a story that has severe issues that cannot be fixed or resolved, a retraction should be issued at the beginning of the story that clearly notes the severe issues with the entire piece. The retraction should include all of the specific errors made, as well as the correct information. In certain cases the entire erroneous piece may remain in place if necessary. Typically, the content would be replaced with a detailed retraction. Similar to corrections, retractions should have a serious tone and should take full responsibility.
Removing Archived Work
- We should make a reasonable effort to update a story in our archives, including the headline, if the story would wrongly damage someone’s reputation and is outdated.
- We should note when the post was updated.
- We should correct any errors we learn of in our archived content and note the corrections.
- In the case of acquisitions we may delete old content without a retraction or a note about the correction.
- We believe that data is like raw footage and may be purchased if it cannot be obtained through other means.
- We should put all data in relevant context.
- We may make original data available for download when it is not covered by a usage agreement that bars such public posting. Any usage agreement should be disclosed publicly.
- We should not use publish personally identifiable data, including addresses or personal identification numbers, without specific and valid news value to support disclosure.
- We should make a reasonable effort to secure data in order to prevent hacking.
- We should put checks in place to make sure that our data is accurate and our reporting on it is correct.
- We should consider ethical issues around privacy, accuracy and context when publishing data in full or automating publication of data.
- We should strive to choose the most important data, which may require more work to obtain, rather than simply the most available.
Headline Methodology and Metrics
- We are encouraged to write clever, creative headlines and social media posts that encourage readers to click on our stories, but headlines should not make promises that our stories don’t deliver on.
- We should accurately reflect the content of related stories in headlines and social media posts.
- We may aggressively court audiences who would be interested in our content, but we should not try to deceive people in headlines, social media posts or marketing.
- We may use metric considerations as one of a number of factors in determining what we cover and how we place stories.
- When taking engagement metrics into account, we should look at the full range of our metrics, not just page views.
Content Creator Ethics
Conflicts of Interest and Transparency
- Our content creators are encouraged to be involved in the community and the issues we cover, but we should disclose these involvements in our coverage. For more information, see the section on Community Activities and Disclosure.
- Content creators should, however, avoid any conflict of interest that undermines their ability to report fairly. We should disclose to our audience any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may validly affect their judgment of our credibility. In such cases, it may be better for content creators to ask that such content be assigned to others. If in doubt, content creators should speak with their supervisors.
- Content creators should not allow people to make them dishonestly skew their reporting. Content creators should not offer to skew their reporting under any circumstances.
- We should not allow the interests of advertisers or others funding our work to affect the integrity of our journalism.
- Page administrators for Facebook pages owned by LMI cannot be Political Entities or Political Persons, as defined by Facebook, or be administrators for pages that Facebook identifies as Political Entities or Political Persons.
- Company leaders at the director level and above cannot lead organizations or administer Facebook pages that would be defined as Political Entities or Persons by Facebook.
Use of Pseudonyms
- Content creators must have senior editorial approval before undercover reporting is authorized and must follow our strict guidelines and checklist.
- Content creators must make sure that all senior management is aware of a project that involves undercover reporting and is updated on a regular basis.
- We will require regular memos that include dates, times, locations and other details from content creators and photographers during the process of undercover reporting.
- We will not authorize a representative of our organization to break the law in the course of undercover newsgathering (i.e., representing themselves as members of law enforcement agencies).
- Our content creators should immediately disclose to a supervisor any meaningful interests they have in a company they are asked to cover. Supervisors should consider putting another content creator on the story or the interest should be disclosed to the reader.
Community Activities and Disclosure
- We encourage our content creators to be involved in the community, politics and the issues we cover, but in the interest of transparency we should disclose these involvements in our coverage when relevant.
- In our news coverage, we should provide factual coverage in an objective voice despite our organization’s and employees’ possible involvement in the issues we cover.
- Although content creators are allowed to cover issues in which they, or their immediate family members, are personally involved, our content creators should avoid coverage of an issue or campaign if their political involvement would call into question the integrity of a content creator’s coverage, in the best judgement of their supervisor. If avoiding such a conflict is impossible, we should disclose relevant involvements.
- Our content creators should ask a trusted friend, colleague or supervisor without connections to read, listen to or view a story before publication to provide feedback in cases when those content creators have strong connections to a story.
- Our content creators are encouraged to disclose community and political involvements, particularly those involving topics they might cover, both in their biographical statements as well in specific stories relating to their involvement.
Social Media Use by Staff and Content Creators
- Content creators should note in their social media profiles that retweets or shares are not endorsements unless specifically noted.
- Content creators should always identify themselves in social media profiles, and, if they are using the profile for professional purposes, they should identify themselves as working for our organization along with their role/title.
- A content creator who considers not identifying himself or herself accurately in a social media profile should explain the extraordinary circumstances to executive editor and receive approval before starting such an account.
- If content creators want to share unconfirmed information on social media, such as rumor or hearsay, they should explain in the post why they are posting this information, such as seeking community confirmation for the report.
- Content creators should edit or delete inaccurate social media posts, so people who haven’t seen the corrections will not spread them on social media. If possible, edit. If not possible to edit, content creators should delete the post, and create a new post including a note that they have edited or deleted an inaccurate post.
- We should note who has retweeted, liked or otherwise shared inaccurate social media posts that we are correcting, and attempt to message them directly to call attention to our corrections.
- Our content creators are free to express opinions on social media, as long as they clearly note in their profile that such views are personal and not the views of our organization.
- Our content creators should regard any social media post as likely to become public, even if their settings are private or even if the message is ostensibly private.
- Content creators should quickly and transparently correct any erroneous posts they make in social media.
- In general, all content creators should be respectful and thoughtful of our audience, the company’s values and the image of our company at all times.
Freelance Work by Employees
- In general, we do not permit freelancing by full-time employees, unless they receive written permission to do so from executive management before undertaking such work.
- We prohibit full-time employees from doing freelance work for a competing media organization as defined by company managers, or for a political organization, an elected official, a government agency, a candidate for office or a nonprofit organization with a political agenda, such as an environmental group.
- In general, we do allow part-time employees to perform freelance work, but they must receive written approval from executive management.
- Any freelance writers are able to perform freelance work for others, including competing media organizations, with the exception that content substantially similar to content that was written for The Western Journal should not be submitted to other news organizations.
- We do not allow full-time employees to be employees of any other organizations, unless they receive written permission to do so from executive management before undertaking such work.
General Ethical Considerations
Children: Coverage, Images and Interviews
- We should generally avoid identifying children — by name or photo — who are connected with crimes as perpetrators, victims or witnesses but may do so if the child’s identity is already widely known.
- We may identify children who are charged with crimes if the child is being tried in adult court.
- We should seek permission from a parent to interview or photograph a child when it relates to all but simple matters (e.g. asking about a favorite video game).
- We do not require parental permission to photograph or talk with children in breaking news situations. However, we should make a reasonable effort to obtain that permission prior to publishing photos or interviews.
- We should consider granting confidentiality if we’re covering a story about a sensitive issue that could cause a child to be stereotyped, judged unfairly or put in harm’s way, even if the child doesn’t request it.
- Our content creators should take special care when interviewing and photographing children, who are vulnerable and often inexperienced sources.
- Our content creators should identify themselves to children and clearly explain what their story is about and where it will appear.
- We should not identify pre-teenage children who are connected with crimes as accused perpetrators, victims or witnesses except in very unusual circumstances, and after discussion with supervisor.
- We should not publish names of sexual assault victims unless they agree to speak on the record or are already widely reported.
- In rare cases, such as when a sexual assault allegation has been proven to be false and malicious, we may identify a sexual assault accuser.
- In breaking news stories, we should not publish the names of anyone killed until authorities have notified their families and released the names, unless compelling circumstances justify publication as soon as we have verified the names.
- We should always be careful about identifying kidnap victims if the person may be in danger.
- In covering active police or military operations, we may withhold such details as location or tactics planned until after the operation to avoid endangering police, troops or civilians who could be affected.
- We should consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.
- Unless we have a compelling reason to withhold a name, we should usually publish names of people involved in the stories we cover.
- We should identify mass killers, as we believe their identities and information about them are important parts of the story. It can be equally important to understand what made the person commit the crime, as to tell the stories of the victims. Still, in the interest of not glorifying or “making famous” a mass murderer, we should try to avoid constantly showing photos or video of people accused of mass killings.
- In general, we should name criminal suspects if they are arrested.
- We should not name juvenile suspects in criminal cases unless they are charged with serious violent crimes, such as armed robbery, aggravated sexual assault, attempted homicide, or if there are extraordinary circumstances that justify use of their names.
- If a criminal suspect is at large and believed to be dangerous, we may identify the suspect, including a photo or sketch.
- If we publish the name of a person arrested or charged with a crime, we should publish a story about the resolution of the case and update the original story and headline, if they are still online, with a link to the new story.
- If we were the primary reporting source for the original story about an arrest, we should make a reasonable effort to subscribe to alerts from court computer systems or search engines, or make other periodic checks to be aware of updates on such cases.
- Our content creators must confer with an editorial supervisor before naming a juvenile suspect or a criminal suspect who hasn’t been charged yet, so that these standards are applied consistently.
- We view everything publicly displayed on social media and the internet as fair game for news. We reserve the right to publish any content we find online or from public sources.
- We do, however, consider the standard for publishing material about private individuals who are thrust into the public eye as much higher than that for public individuals.
- We believe celebrities and public officials have no right to expect privacy, and all of their actions, whether in public or private or in social media, are fair game for publishing. We do, however, reserve the right to exercise our best judgment regarding how a subject matter’s newsworthiness relates to public decency and our values when deciding whether to publish information about celebrities and public officials. We analyze cases on an individual basis, taking into account the news value of the public figure’s action.
- We may voluntarily withhold information we have gathered when requested if we deem the individual’s request to be valid, based on our news judgment and professional standards.
- We reserve the right to publish material that we have voluntarily withheld if we determine that the material has valid public interest or if we feel that the requesting party has deceived us as to his or her claims or motives.
- We should use discretion when it comes to interviewing and publishing material from trauma victims or bystanders because we understand that to do so may cause additional harm to individuals.
- We report on so-called hate speech and actions and include original offensive expressions in most cases, subject to our limitations on obscenities (see the section on Obscenities below). In some cases we may decide against including the original offensive expression based on our best judgement.
- We should not ever publish commentary, opinion or analysis on The Western Journal that promotes racism or promotes the idea that any person or group of people is inhuman or unworthy of respect as human beings created in the image of God.
- Within this context, however, we reserve the right to use strong language, that in normal circumstances would be seen as disrespectful, to describe brutal, vicious or inhumane behavior.
- We should not ever publish anything that encourages violence.
- We do, however, oppose local, national or international laws to combat so-called hate speech. We strongly support free speech as an inherent human right and a cornerstone of a free society.
Mental Health and Suicide
- We acknowledge the reality of mental health issues and personal agency.
- We may cover suicide if it is newsworthy, and should seek to be thoughtful and respectful of the person’s family in a difficult time both through our tone and details.
- We should cover mental health and suicide as broad public health issues as consistently as we cover other health matters.
- We may cover individual events of suicide as news stories if they involve prominent figures or public means.
- We may use obituaries to cover individual events of suicide as appropriate.
- We should not describe a suicide attempt as “successful” or “unsuccessful.”
- We should include contact information for resources for people in mental health crises. (e.g. “The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline in the United States is available 24 hours a day at 800-273-8255.”)
- We may include the method used in a suicide when it is important for audience understanding.
- We have a responsibility to weigh the balance between informing our audience and respecting the potential public health impact of our reporting.
- We should make a reasonable effort to not use medical mental health terminology (i.e., “schizophrenic,” “bipolar,” etc.) to describe non-mental health issues, except when words are part of the commonly accepted lexicon.
Security and Other Considerations
Bombs and Other Threats
- Where feasible, we should consult with local officials to determine whether a bomb or other threat is credible before we publish a story, but we reserve the right to publish regardless of what officials say.
- In regards to publishing information about a hostage situation, we should take authorities’ recommendations into account but use our own judgment.
- We should avoid transmitting any information about preparations for hostage rescue missions.
- We should be particularly careful not to transmit information that could put hostages in greater danger, such as opportunities for escape or biographical details about the hostages (e.g., religious or military affiliations) that could make their situation even more difficult.
Handling and Protection of Freelancers and ‘Fixers’
- We should publicly credit the work of freelancers, “fixers” and translators unless doing so poses risk of harm, such as threatening a person’s safety.
- We should pay reasonable fees to freelancers, fixers and translators for their services but not for contributing as sources on a story.
- In military situations, we may agree to censorship and other restrictions that are reasonable for reasons of security and respect for troops.
- We will refer situations involving censorship to senior levels of our organization.
- If we do submit to censorship for any reason, we should disclose that fact in our report.
Legal and Other Considerations
Use of Licensed and Unlicensed Intellectual Property
- News organizations necessarily rely on copyrighted intellectual property to tell stories that impact government, culture and society. But that necessity doesn’t free writers from the constraints of intellectual property law. Content creators should only use outside media in accordance with fair use law and The Western Journal’s Image/Video Use Guide.
- As with plagiarism, violation of the law and/or The Western Journal’s guidelines in this area is grounds for discipline up to immediate termination of employment or contact.
- The Western Journal is committed to the protection of intellectual property.
- In some cases, we may copy images or video that we believe may be shortly taken down if we believe that the content falls under the purview of fair use and is of public benefit, even if we currently link to or embed the source.
- We have a system that permits individuals to “flag” comments for potential problems, and we should make a reasonable effort to review those “flagged” comments in a systematic and timely fashion.
- In the interest of encouraging public debate, we permit civil and constructive comments on almost all articles.
- As a publisher, we reserve the right to delete any comment for any reason.
- We currently allow anonymous commenting.
- We may access and review the identity of a registered commenter when subpoenaed by law enforcement.
- We reserve the right to access and review the identity of a registered commenter for any reason.
- We should make a reasonable effort to edit or delete comments to remove potentially libelous language, threats of violence or other illegal speech, but we should not change spelling or grammatical errors.
- We reserve the right to remove content that contains spam or advertising.
- We should continually update and upgrade our commenting technology to defend against spam and trolling.
- We should guard against using UGC imagery in situations that might be dangerous to the person who created it or to others in the images. We should stress to possible providers of UGC that they should not take risks to gather information or imagery.
- We may partner with other organizations and the public in attempts to verify what UGC is accurate. This could mean we distribute UGC with caveats that it hasn’t been verified, when applicable.
- We should not distribute UGC content except by embedding the original post from a third party unless we’re certain we have the rights to do so. The only exception might be an urgent situation where a rights-holder cannot be found.
- If we cannot find the rights-holder in an urgent situation and use the UGC, we should make continued efforts afterward to locate and reach an agreement with the rights-holder.
Reporting On The Western Journal, Liftable Media or Affiliated Companies
- We may assign an internal content creator to cover the story when our organization has done something newsworthy, but we will require the story to be vetted by a high-level editor.
Disclosure of Ownership / Funding Sources
- We should publicly disclose all meaningful funding sources on our about page and continually update our ownership structure if changes are made.
- We should disclose whether any one advertiser or industry provides a substantial share (over 50%) of our revenue.
News and Advertising
- We do not allow advertisements for certain types of products, as described in our advertising terms of service.
- We should require news-like content produced by advertisers to be clearly identified as advertising.
- We have specific, consistent definitions of terms like “Advertisement,” “Sponsored Content” and “Message from …” and disclose them to our readers.
- If a piece of sponsored content is given to us directly, as opposed to being created in our in-house studio, we should require that items that look too much like news stories be accompanied by a clear statement that the article was prepared by the advertiser and did not involve our editorial staff.
- We may assist advertisers in creating advertising material.
- We should make it clear when tweets or posts on our social media accounts are linked to advertiser-prepared material.
- We should comply with all Federal Trade Commission actions on sponsored content and paid promotion.
- We should replace obscenities, vulgarities and slurs with something that clearly implies the word rather than stating it directly (e.g. “f—”). If we produce audio/visual recordings of the obscenities, we should censor it in a similar manner.
- We allow embeds of social media posts containing obscenities, vulgarities and slurs as long as we provide a clear warning to users before, as described in The Western Journal House Style Guide.
Graphic, Sexual, Sensitive and Disturbing Material
- We may run sensitive and graphic material that might be offensive to specific members of the audience after internal debate has demonstrated a clear public interest in and value from the publication of such material. However, we should provide a clear warning to users before, as described in The Western Journal House Style Guide.
- We should not publish needlessly disturbing or sexually charged content.
- Examples: Gross content such as pimples popping, bodily functions, nearly any content designed to appeal to base or prurient interests, gratuitous or needless coverage of horribly maimed or disfigured individuals, etc.
- Examples: Content and imagery that goes into needless sexual details or is designed to titillate the reader.
- Clarification: Legitimate stories about sexual crimes or violence are acceptable, though these should be treated with discretion.
- In cases of images or videos of graphic violence or extreme tragedy, we should also remove all advertising using the “Remove Ads” option in the back end of our CMS.
- If there is not a clear public interest or no fear the original source could possibly remove, we may publish a link to the graphic violence or depiction of tragedy, giving readers a clear choice to view. In these cases, advertising can remain on our article.
- Internal questions about this document may be sent to direct supervisors. Outside questions may be sent using The Western Journal’s contact page.
- This ethics policy was created in-part through the assistance of the Online News Association’s Build-Your-Own Ethics Code project.
- This document was last updated August 1, 2018.