Throughout this semester, various groups and individuals have asked us to do things that don’t adhere to our policies and universal journalism ethics. This includes taking down photos, retracting names and statements, and reviewing our coverage before publication.
Because we understand not everyone is familiar with our policies and how journalism works, we want to explain the reasoning behind our policies.
At the beginning of the semester, we train our 100-plus person staff how to work for a student newspaper, which includes reporting, writing, editing, taking photos, making graphics, and copy editing. And most importantly, we teach everyone the journalism code of ethics as outlined by the Society of Professional Journalists. That code has four tenants: to seek truth and report it, minimize harm, act independently, and be accountable and transparent.
Many of our staff members aren’t paid for their work, and many don’t have previous journalism experience, as we are extremely underfunded and only able to pay editors minimally.
One of the first things we address at training is the difference between on-the-record and off-the-record interviews. All interviews, unless otherwise stated, are assumed to be on the record. But as an extra precaution, we have trained all staffers to confirm when interviews are on the record.
During an on-the-record interview, everything the source says may be published, both by paraphrasing and directly quoting them. On the record also means the source’s name will be published.
When an interview is off the record, it’s as if the interview never happened, meaning the source’s name and information given cannot be used at all.
Sources cannot go back and ask for information to be off the record after they’ve said it. They can only ask for information to be off the record prior to stating it. Similarly, we do not allow published on-the-record information to be retracted.
If these policies did not exist, people could alter the public record by modifying or withdrawing what they have said, which would make our reporting unreliable.
At training, we also differentiate between public and private events, along with how to cover them. Public events at the Claremont Colleges, as designated by Pomona College’s guidelines, are events on-campus that are open to either the public, the 7C community, or individual school communities.
At these events, reporters can cover what happens, take photos of anyone, and use anything that was said. By choosing to attend a public event, you are opening up yourself to the possibility of being reported on by the media.
This policy is vital to our role as protectors of public knowledge. If TSL is barred from covering an event that is public, public information becomes hidden from the media and results in a direct conflict to the First Amendment.
Finally, it’s our policy to never allow sources to read drafts of articles before they’re published. This compromises our coverage, as sources could potentially influence the story. If sources are concerned about how they’re being portrayed in the article, they may request their quotes be read to them over the phone to ensure accuracy.
These rules ultimately exist to protect our ability to hold people accountable. We are certainly sympathetic to groups and individuals who make requests that violate our policies, and we understand there are circumstances that impact individuals in our community. Accordingly, we review incidents on a case-by-case basis, while continually factoring in readers’ concerns and seeking to minimize harm.
But if we don’t follow these policies as closely as possible, we can’t do our job the right way. Every community needs a free press to ensure accountability, and TSL fulfills that role at the 5Cs.