Code of Ethics for Members of The Rensselaer Polytechnic
The following code of ethics is meant to aid a student journalist, and The Polytechnic as a whole, in incorporating professionalism and honesty into every word published online. Through this document, the staff of The Polytechnic hopes to foster and protect the sense of trust that the Rensselaer community bestows upon the publication. The Editorial Board approves this code each semester in order to guide the content and demeanor of the publication.
Article I: Definition of “Acting as a reporter of The Polytechnic.”
- While by no means comprehensive, this code is meant as a supplement to the rules, duties, and guidelines set forth in Rensselaer’s Handbook of Student Rights and Responsibilities, The Constitution of The Rensselaer Polytechnic, and the bylaws of The Polytechnic, and should be followed by a person whenever they are acting as a staff member of the paper. This includes, but is not limited to, instances in which the individual is gathering information, either through written, recorded, or mental note, that may eventually be used for publication.
- In the ordinary course of reporting, no member shall misrepresent themselves as anything other than representatives of The Polytechnic. In extraordinary circumstances, when a supervising editor judges that information cannot be obtained in any other way and that the value of that information to the Rensselaer community is important, the editor may authorize a misrepresentation.
Article II: Stolen Materials
- Under no circumstances should a reporter steal or knowingly accept stolen materials of any kind.
Article III: Plagiarism
- Plagiarism of any kind is expressly prohibited. For the purposes of this code, plagiarism is defined as the word-for-word duplication of another person’s writing, or the use of another person’s graphic, without giving credit to the original author or artist. Consent should also be sought to use the writing or graphic if possible.
- Information obtained from another published work must be independently verified before it can be reported as a new, original story.
Article IV: Recording
- Unless specific permission is given by a supervising editor to do otherwise, a reporter should not record, using any recording device, any interviewee or other person(s) without their consent or placement of the recording device such that all subjects to be recorded are aware of the device and do not object to the recording.
- Committing an illegal act to eavesdrop on a source is not allowed.
Article V: Confidential and Anonymous Sources
- A reporter should not promise confidentiality to a source without permission of a supervising editor.
- Confidentiality should only be given if there is a real danger that physical, emotional, or financial harm will come to the source if his or her name were revealed.
- The supervising editor should have all the facts and the source’s name before the decision to grant confidentiality is made.
- Anonymous sources should not be used, unless another, known source, can verify the information.
- The source may be identified generally as one associated with an agency or office to give some degree of credibility to the information.
- If two independent sources verify the information and both are unnamed, a supervising editor may decide to publish the information with careful consideration of the need for immediacy and the news value of the information.
- In the case of either confidential or anonymous sources, the reporter should make every attempt to get the same information from another source that is willing to be named.
Article VI: Gifts
- Under no circumstances should a reporter accept gifts of any kind. This includes, but is not limited to, free travel, room, or board. Any gift should be immediately returned to the sender, donated to a charity or other campus organization that can put it to good use, or disposed of.
- Materials given to a reporter or to The Polytechnic for purposes of review become the property of The Polytechnic and are not considered “gifts” under the paragraph above. Free tickets, press passes, reserved seating, or use of facilities are also not considered “gifts” if they are used expressly for the purpose gathering information for a story, or if they are available on the same complimentary basis to non-student journalists.
Article VII: Conflict of Interest
- Reporters may not cover a campus organization they belong to, or an event to which they directly contributed to in some fashion, nor participate in any editorial or business decisions regarding the same.
- Staff members of The Polytechnic may provide story leads about such to an editor or a reporter who is independent of the organization or event.
- Political involvement, holding public office off-campus, and service in community organizations should be considered carefully to avoid comprising personal integrity and that of The Polytechnic. All staff members should conduct their personal lives so as to avoid conflicts of interest when acting as a reporter.
- All staff members must declare conflicts and avoid involvement in stories dealing with members of their families. Staff members must not cover, in words, photographs, or artwork, or make news decisions about family members or persons with whom they have a financial, adversarial, or close relationship.
Article VIII: Story Confidentiality
- Occasionally, stories may be assigned that the editor feels must remain confidential until the time of publication. This is usually done to protect the truth of the story, but also may be done to protect individuals connected with it. Reporters should always respect this confidentiality.
- Investigations and editorial work in progress must not be discussed with anyone outside of The Polytechnic staff, regardless of whether or not they have any apparent connection with the topic in question.
Article IX: Alcohol
- Alcohol should not be consumed, legally or otherwise, while acting as a reporter of The Polytechnic or while in the office of The Polytechnic.
Article X: Fabrication of Materials
- The use of composite characters or imaginary situations or characters is not allowed, unless it is made expressly clear to the reader that what they are reading is a work of fiction.
- Electronically altering photographs to such a degree that the reader would be misled as to the truth of the situation is not allowed. Adjusting the brightness, contrast, color levels, or other properties of a photograph for the purposes of making it suitable for publication is allowed as long as it does not radically alter the content of the photograph and/or mislead the reader in any way.
Article XI: Right to Privacy of Story Subjects
- Reporters and editors should make judgements, based on the real news value of the situation, common sense, and decency, whenever details of a public person’s life are considered for publication. Reporters should not badger a person who has made it clear that they do not wish to be interviewed or photographed; such persons, if necessary for the establishment of validity of a story, should be on record as giving “no comment,” or that they refused to be interviewed.
- Publishing intimate details of a person’s life, such as their health or sexual activities, should be done with extreme care and only if such details are absolutely necessary to the story and reflect upon their public life.
- Publication of the names of victims or arrested persons in crime stories should be avoided unless the persons in question give their consent. Imprecise descriptions should also be used so as to provide some degree of protection.
- The names of arrested persons, with the exceptions of major crimes, should not be printed until charges are filed in court.
Article XII: Profane, Vulgar, or Explicit Language
- All types of profane, vulgar, or explicit language should be avoided. Direct quotes of such should only be used if the words are important to the reader’s understanding of the situation or person being reported on.
- Explicit, scientifically acceptable language describing sexual activities, human anatomy, or bodily functions should be used only when necessary.
Article XIII: Stereotyping
- Stereotyping of any kind should be avoided. This includes sexist language and collective identifiers such as “unmarried mothers” or “limp-wristed, effeminate homosexuals.” When identifiers are used, it should be done with great care so as to avoid negative stereotyping of any kind, and should be as technical and politically correct as possible.
Article XIV: Corrections
- An inaccuracy shall never be knowingly published or included in any material submitted by a reporter to The Polytechnic. If any error is discovered after publication, a reporter has the responsibility to report the error to a supervising editor immediately.
Article XV: Ownership of Work
- All material submitted to The Polytechnic for publication by a reporter, whether it is eventually published or not, becomes the property of The Polytechnic, and the paper reserves the right to unlimited use of the material. The act of voluntarily joining the staff or accepting a position as a reporter indicates approval of this policy.
Article XVI: Violations of the Code of Ethics
- Any reporter or other staff member has the duty to report any violations of this Code of Ethics that they are party to or witness to their supervising editor, or, if appropriate, to a different editor.
Based on the Model Code of Ethics for Student Journalists by Albert DeLuca and Tom Rolnicki, published by the Associated College Press, copyright 1993.