Wisconsin Watch is an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan news organization that strives to uphold high standards of fairness and accuracy.
Wisconsin Watch’s ethics standards include the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, adopted in 1996 and endorsed by thousands of journalists around the world. That code is reprinted below, with permission. Wisconsin Watch’s Board of Directors have also adopted a conflict of interest policy and a diversity statement, which appear after the SPJ Code of Ethics.
Additional standards guiding operations include:
- Wisconsin Watch’s Policy on Financial Support, which requires news coverage be independent of donors and that all providers of revenue will be publicly identified.
- Membership standards of the Institute for Nonprofit News (originally Investigative News Network), the nation’s first consortium of nonprofit investigative news organizations. Wisconsin Watch is a founding member of INN and the standards, developed with assistance of our leaders, require members to disclose information about donors and financial practices, produce nonpartisan investigative journalism, and apply high journalistic standards for accuracy and fairness.
Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics
Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. The duty of the journalist is to further those ends by seeking truth and providing a fair and comprehensive account of events and issues. Conscientious journalists from all media and specialties strive to serve the public with thoroughness and honesty. Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Members of the Society share a dedication to ethical behavior and adopt this code to declare the Society’s principles and standards of practice.
Seek Truth and Report It
Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.
- Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
- Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
- Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.
- Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
- Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
- Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
- Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
- Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.
- Never plagiarize.
- Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
- Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
- Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.
- Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
- Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
- Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
- Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
- Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
- Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
- Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
- Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
- Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
- Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
- Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
- Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
- Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.
- Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
- Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
- Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
- Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
- Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
- Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
- Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.
Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.
- Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.
- Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.
- Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.
- Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.
- Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.
More information about SPJ and its Code of Ethics is available at www.spj.org.
Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism Conflict of Interest Policy
This policy was created and accepted when Wisconsin Watch was known as Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism. The policy is still used by Wisconsin Watch.
The following Financial Conflict of Interest Policy (“Conflict of Interest Policy”) is an effort (i) to ensure that the deliberations and decisions of the Wisconsin Center for Investigative Journalism (“WCIJ”) are made solely in the interest of promoting the quality of journalism in the state of Wisconsin, and (ii) to protect the interests of WCIJ when it considers any transaction, contract, or arrangement that might benefit or be perceived to benefit the private interest of a person affiliated with WCIJ (each, a “WCIJ Representative”). As used in this Conflict of Interest Policy, a WCIJ Representative includes any director, advisory board member, financial advisor, legal counsel or employee.
- Duty to WCIJ. Each WCIJ Representative owes a duty to WCIJ to advance WCIJ’s legitimate interests when the opportunity to do so arises. Each WCIJ Representative must give undivided allegiance when making decisions affecting the organization. Similarly, WCIJ Representatives must be faithful to WCIJ’s non-profit mission and are not permitted to act in a way that is inconsistent with the central goals of the organization and its non-profit status.
- Gifts. No WCIJ Representative shall personally accept gifts or favors that could compromise his or her loyalty to WCIJ. Any gifts or benefits personally accepted from a party having a material interest in the outcome of WCIJ or its employees by a WCIJ Representative individually should be merely incidental to his or her role as a WCIJ Representative and should not be of substantial value. Any gift with a value of $250 or more, or any gifts with a cumulative value in excess of $250 received by a WCIJ Representative in any twelve-month period from a single source, shall be considered substantial. Cash payments may not be accepted, and no gifts should be accepted if there are strings attached. For example, no WCIJ Representative may accept gifts if he or she knows that such gifts are being given to solicit his or her support of or opposition to the outcome or content of any WCIJ publication.
- Personal Loans. WCIJ may not loan to, or guarantee the personal obligations of any WCIJ Representative.
- Conflicts of Interest. The following are examples of conflicts of interest which must be promptly disclosed to the WCIJ Board of Directors pursuant to Section 4 below by any WCIJ Representative with knowledge of such conflict of interest:
- (a) any real or apparent conflict of interest between a donor or the subject of a WCIJ publication or report and a WCIJ Representative;
- (b) a WCIJ Representative’s ownership of an equity interest in a person or entity that is or will be the subject of a WCIJ publication or report; and
- (c) failure to disclose to WCIJ all relationships between the subject of any WCIJ publication or report and any WCIJ Representative or close relatives of the WCIJ Representative.
- Conflict Procedure:
(a) If a WCIJ Representative or party related to a WCIJ Representative has an interest in any contract, action or transaction to be entered into with WCIJ, a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest exists. Any WCIJ Representative having knowledge that such a conflict of interest exists or may exist (an “Interested WCIJ Representative”) will so advise the Board of Directors promptly. An Interested WCIJ Representative will include in the notice the material facts as to the relationship or interest of the Interested WCIJ Representative in the entity proposing to enter into a contract, action or transaction with WCIJ.
(b) Notwithstanding anything herein to the contrary, the Board of Directors may authorize any committee appointed pursuant to the WCIJ by-laws (a “Committee”) to act in lieu of the Board of Directors in determining whether an action, contract or transaction is fair to WCIJ as of the time it is authorized or approved by the Committee.
(c) At any time that a conflict of interest or potential conflict of interest is identified, the Chair of the Board or a Chair of the applicable Committee will ensure that such conflict of interest is placed on the agenda for the next meeting of the Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable. The notice of such meeting of the Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable, will include, to the extent available when the notice is sent, a description of the conflict of interest matter to be discussed. By notice before the meeting or at the meeting, the directors on the board or the Committee, as applicable, will be advised that a vote will be taken at the meeting and that, in order to authorize the relevant contract, action or transaction, an affirmative vote of a majority of disinterested directors present at the meeting at which a quorum is present will be required and will be sufficient, even though the disinterested directors constitute less than a quorum of the Board of Directors or the Committee.
(d) Reasonable effort will be made to cause the material facts concerning the relationships between the individuals and WCIJ which create the conflict to be delivered to and shared with the members of the Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable, prior to the meeting to enable the directors to arrive at the meeting prepared to discuss the issue. In the event it is not practicable to deliver the information prior to the meeting, it will be delivered to the directors at the meeting, and the directors can act upon the matter with the same authority as if notice had been given prior to the meeting.
(e) The Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable, will invite all parties to the conflict of interest to attend the meeting, to make presentations and to be prepared to answer questions, if necessary. The Board or Directors or the Committee, as applicable, will also invite outside experts if necessary.
(f) At the meeting, providing a quorum is present, the conflict will be discussed to ensure that the directors present are aware of the issues and the factors involved. The interested directors may be counted for purposes of a quorum, even though they may not take part in any vote on the issues.
(g) The Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable, must decide, in good faith, reasonably justified by the material facts, whether the action, contract or transaction would be in the best interest of WCIJ and fair to WCIJ as of the time it is authorized or approved.
(h) All interested directors must abstain from voting and, if necessary, leave the room when the vote is taken.
(i) The Board of Directors or the Committee, as applicable, will maintain a written account of all that transpires at the meeting and incorporate such account into the minutes of the meeting and disseminate it to the full Board of Directors. Such minutes will be presented for approval at the next meeting of the Board of Directors and maintained in the corporate record book.
(j) To the extent that the conflict of interest is continuing and the contract, action or transaction goes beyond one (1) year, the foregoing notice and discussion and vote will be repeated on an annual basis.