I. Guiding values
The Colorado Sun is in the business of truth. We seek it, we record it and we present it to the public so that our state — our community — can better understand itself. In this way, we believe we can contribute to a more vibrant, informed and whole Colorado.
But for this to work, our journalists must tell the truth without any other agenda, and readers must be able to trust that they do. Any lapse in ethics by our journalists, or any reason readers have to doubt our motives, creates a mistrust that undermines our important mission.
As a news organization, we promise readers that our journalists always seek the truth earnestly and with integrity, independence, compassion and accountability. This code of ethics outlines specific ways that the journalists of The Colorado Sun strive to keep that promise. If we ever stray from it, readers should call us out and demand that we make amends.
It is important to remember that journalists are human and carry with them their own life experiences. Our journalists are also deeply enthusiastic members of the Colorado community, often with longstanding ties. So, it is not practical — nor desired — for Sun journalists to be coldly detached from the issues they cover.
But our journalists will avoid as much as possible conflicts of interest and situations that raise doubts about their integrity. When these conflicts are unavoidable, our journalists must disclose them to their colleagues and to our readers — including in the text of stories, when appropriate. When in doubt, we are transparent.
When we make a mistake, we are humble, admit our error and correct it. While truth may be our business, the trust of our readers is our most valuable asset. We aim every day to work on behalf of the people of Colorado, to earn their trust and to bring their truths to light.
In drafting this code, The Colorado Sun’s staff is grateful for the input of and discussions with readers, who suggested many of the ideas and practices we wrote into it.
In addition, we consulted and incorporated ideas found in the ethics policies of the Society of Professional Journalists, ProPublica, the Center for Investigative Reporting, National Public Radio, The Denver Post, The Texas Tribune, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Wall Street Journal.
We are also appreciative of the support and guidance that was provided to us by Civil and by Vivian Schiller.
III. To Whom This Code Applies
Everybody who is employed by The Colorado Sun must act in ways that promote our mission of credible, intelligent and independent journalism. This code covers all content published by The Colorado Sun and all journalists — whether staff or freelance — working on our behalf. Specific sections will spell out the expectations of our journalists and freelancers when conducting outside work or in their personal lives. Separate sections will detail business practices for The Colorado Sun that must be adhered to by anyone acting in our interest.
IV. Seeking The Truth
Readers must be able to trust that every news article from The Colorado Sun represents our best and most sincere effort to report the truth. This is a basic pillar of journalism. We are here to seek the truth on behalf of the people of Colorado. That’s it.
Fact vs. fiction
All news stories published by The Colorado Sun must be based on verifiable facts. In the event we publish a work of fiction — including creative short stories, excerpts of novels and scripted videos or audio pieces — the work must be clearly labeled as fiction and care must be taken to present it in a manner that will not create confusion between it and our non-fiction news and opinion work.
Truthfulness in storytelling
We like telling good stories. So our journalists may use literary-style storytelling techniques in news articles or videos when appropriate to convey a story’s significance or drama. However, the use of those techniques does not entitle journalists to change facts, alter timelines, leave out important information or otherwise take artistic liberties to place the narrative of the story above the truth of the story.
Our journalists are not allowed to invent or create composite characters or scenes in reporting the news. The use of pseudonyms is also not allowed. Instead, when using the common name of the subject of a story is not possible, our journalists should try to find another version of that subject’s name to use — such as a middle name, a nickname or a first initial — and be transparent with readers about the choice.
Paying for information
We do not pay sources for information or for interviews, and we do not pay subjects to shoot photos or video of them.
If someone witnesses an event and provides us with an extraordinary photo or video, it is acceptable to pay them for their work upon request, as we would pay a freelance journalist.
We also might buy a source a cup of coffee or lunch as part of an interview. And we pay fees for public records when required. But such small considerations should never be manipulated or held out as leverage in exchange for information.
Undercover reporting and misrepresentation
We don’t wear disguises, make up fake names, pretend to be who we are not or mislead people for information. When reporting stories, we identify ourselves when asked. When approaching someone for an interview, we identify ourselves at the outset and make clear how we will use the information they provide.
At the same time, we are also members of the community, and any information available to the general public is fair game for us to report, even if we obtained it in a forum where we didn’t proactively identify ourselves as journalists.
We avoid quoting anonymous sources as much as possible. There may be rare exceptions when the news value of a quote from an unnamed source outweighs the lack of transparency that anonymity creates. In those instances, and only with the approval of an editor, an anonymous source may be quoted or cited.
When presenting information from an anonymous source, we include a reason why the source needs their name withheld. Greater value is placed on requests for anonymity from whistleblowers, people who are victims of crimes or trauma and people who would be in danger if their names were linked to their quotes. We want people to be able to talk about their lives and their experiences.
Always, but especially in stories about politics or government, we examine requests for anonymity for possible ulterior motives. We also do not grant government spokespeople anonymity in quotes when they are providing an official comment.
Any time an anonymous quote is used, the journalist reporting the story must know the true name of the source and how to contact them. The journalist must provide that information to an editor.
On/off the record
As journalists, we sometimes use terms in interviews that are unfamiliar to the general public. So, at The Colorado Sun:
- “On the record” means that the information provided is able to be used, including in quotes, with the person’s name attached as a source.
- “Not for attribution” means that the information can be published and can be used in quotes but not with the source’s name attached to it. This has to comply with the rules for anonymous quotes.
- “On background” means that the information can be published as general contextual information, but it cannot be used in quotes and cannot have the source’s name attached to it.
- “Off the record” means that the information provided cannot be published or used in quotes and cannot have the source’s name attached to it.
Just having these definitions, though, isn’t enough. Our journalists must explain these terms to sources and agree to them prior to the interview. All interviews and information sent to The Sun are on the record unless agreed otherwise. Any request by a source — especially one who frequently interacts with the media — to retroactively place a comment off the record should be viewed with extreme skepticism.
… in headlines
Headlines must accurately sum up the story they sit atop. They can be punchy, funny, punny, intriguing or dramatic. But they must be true, as well. When there’s a doubt, our journalists should seek the input of their colleagues.
… in bylines and datelines
The byline should contain the names of the journalists who reported and wrote the story — no noms de plume allowed. We are a collaborative group, so our journalists are encouraged to be generous with byline credit. Photographers, graphic artists or data analysts who provided extensive reporting help are also entitled to bylines. If a journalist provided a small amount of information used in the article that falls short of full byline credit, it is appropriate to provide a note of that contribution at the bottom of the story.
The dateline is the place name that sits at the very beginning of a story, before the first word in the story’s main body. In order to put a dateline on a story, at least one of our journalists named in the byline or the contributor line must have done actual, on-the-ground reporting from that location. Tag lines at the end of the story can provide additional transparency about who contributed reporting from where.
… in photos and videos
Just as our words must convey the truth, so must our images. So, photos and videos can be cropped, toned and otherwise edited in keeping with common journalistic standards. But photos and videos cannot be altered, added to or subtracted from in ways that create a scene that didn’t occur in real life. Care should also be taken when cropping or framing images not to ignore important context or give a false impression of an event. Photo illustrations and staged or posed images must be clearly labeled.
Video editing should hew to the truth and should not be used to present events as occurring in linear order when they, in fact, did not. Video re-enactments are strongly discouraged in news videos, and, if they are used, they must be clearly labeled and include an explanation of why a re-enactment is the best way to tell the story.
When in doubt, visual journalists should consult with colleagues and look to the National Press Photographers Association code of ethics.
… in quotations
Quotation marks are sacred little pieces of punctuation. What is placed inside them must be the exact words that someone spoke, to the best and most earnest of our journalists’ ability to record them.
When using ellipses, care is taken not to change the meaning of the quote.
This standard also applies when editing audio or video clips. While we may condense quotes for clarity, our journalists do not make edits that change the meaning of the quote.
Plagiarism is taking someone else’s words and presenting them as your own. This can be as little as stealing a unique phrase or sentence or as large as cutting-and-pasting whole paragraphs. It is a cardinal sin in journalism, and anyone who commits plagiarism at The Colorado Sun is subject to serious punishment — including possible termination.
If any reader spots what they believe to be plagiarism in The Colorado Sun, we ask that they contact us as soon as possible. Any staff member who receives a complaint of plagiarism must take that complaint to an editor immediately, and editors must investigate reports of plagiarism promptly.
Fair use and citations
We’re not here to steal anyone’s work. If we learn details for a story exclusively from another news outlet, we first make an effort to verify that information ourselves, and when needed we cite that outlet, in the body of the story, as the source of that information and provide a link to the other outlet’s article, if possible. Contributions from the Associated Press may be noted at the end of the article.
If we cannot verify information reported by another outlet — especially if that information is not something that the other outlet’s journalist witnessed first-hand — we either do not report it or we attribute it to the publication and note that we were unable to confirm the information.
We also use links liberally to be transparent in where we obtained information. We link to academic studies, websites, data sources and elsewhere so our readers can follow our reporting trail.
At the heart of our relationship with readers is a promise that we, in reporting the news, have no agenda but to serve them. Our journalists must leave their personal views and opinions out of news articles and instead let only the facts guide them. We seek out, listen to and quote diverse voices. When applicable, we are transparent with facts about sources’ personal or professional lives that may influence their views. (For instance, when quoting a source who works at a particular think tank for a political story, we should note that think tank’s political leanings.)
While we maintain a journalist’s valued skepticism — and we always seek second and third sources to verify information — we also do not automatically assume people are acting in bad faith. Our job is to help Coloradans understand their state, and that includes exposing things that are outrageous and unjust. But we also seek to understand our sources and their motives so that we can give readers a clear, but nuanced, portrait of Colorado.
We label opinion pieces prominently, using the clearest words possible to note that they are separate from news coverage. This includes when we post links to opinion pieces on social media accounts. We should avoid words like “editorial” or “perspective,” which can have multiple meanings and be confusing to readers.
Just because a piece expresses an opinion, though, does not mean that the writer is freed from the obligations of reporting. Opinion pieces must also be based on verifiable facts and comprehensively reported. They must show respect for others, and they must reflect life in Colorado. In seeking out opinion writers, we look for diverse voices from across Colorado, including people who are not media or communications professionals.
Opinion pieces reflect the views of their authors only.
Opinion cartoons and illustrations
As with written pieces, we seek out diverse and nontraditional voices and bold perspectives for opinion cartoons and illustrations. These images must adhere to the same standards as written pieces when it comes to being based on fact, showing respect for others and reflecting life in Colorado. Artists who produce opinion cartoons and illustrations are also allowed to produce illustrations for news stories, so long as they take care to make their news illustrations visually distinct from their opinion work, produce illustrations that accurately reflect the news article and do not include their personal opinion in the news illustration.
Fairness and thoroughness
Journalists should be fair-minded and thorough in their reporting. At The Colorado Sun, we take that duty seriously, and we promise that our coverage will be doggedly comprehensive.
But we also cannot allow that promise to become a straightjacket that prevents us from seeking the truth or requires us to present all viewpoints as equally true regardless of the facts.
When reporting a story, we seek out diversity of opinion to tell that story more completely. When provided with information from one source, we consider who might think differently or have additional information that could reveal a clearer picture. We fact-check what people tell us.
If we intend to report comments or details that are critical of or raise questions about a person or organization, we provide as much time and information as possible for that person or organization to respond. If we are unable to reach the person or organization for comment, we include an explanation in the article of why.
But we are under no obligation to provide an equal number of quotes or equal amounts of text to differing viewpoints. Rather, the verifiable facts of the story are our guide in how we present our reporting.
We also do not require every individual story to be an all-inclusive portrait of the issue covered — it would be exhausting to readers if we did. Sometimes this is possible, and we always at least nod to the variety of opinions on a particular subject. But thoroughness and balance come from the totality of our reporting on an issue.
It is not enough for Colorado Sun journalists to know, in their own minds, that they are impartial and are acting in the best interests of readers. We must also demonstrate that commitment through our actions. This is the second pillar of our journalism: In all situations, we act with integrity, and we demonstrate that integrity to readers.
The best way to tell people that we are sincere in our motives is to show them how we operate. We are committed to as much transparency as possible in all aspects of our newsgathering and business operations. Subsequent sections of this code will detail specific instances where transparency is especially desired. But, in general, we work every day to show people who we are. This includes regular publishing of notes from editors or behind-the-scenes pieces explaining how or why we tackled a particular story.
Conflicts of interest
… in personal relationships
There should never be a reason to suspect that we are using our journalism to benefit people close to us. Our journalists must refrain as much as possible from reporting on issues in which their immediate family members or close friends have a financial or advocacy interest. Our journalists are not allowed to report stories directly about organizations that employ their spouse or partner, their parents or their children.
Journalists are also not allowed to report on organizations where they volunteer or advocacy organizations to which they belong. This does not apply to general religious or other broad affiliations. (For instance, a reporter who is Catholic is allowed to report on the Catholic Church as long as the reporter’s coverage upholds our standards of impartiality and fairness.)
Journalists must tell an editor of potential conflicts of interest, so that the editor can decide if it is appropriate for the journalist to cover certain issues.
If there’s a doubt, we talk it out among the staff.
If a conflict is unavoidable, the conflict should be disclosed within the text of a story along with an explanation for why the conflict did not influence the coverage of the story.
Our journalists are also encouraged to share details of their lives and backgrounds in their biographies on The Colorado Sun’s website, so that readers can gain a better understanding of the interests and experiences that shape their coverage.
… in financial affairs
Just as we never use our journalism to benefit those closest to us, we also never use our journalism to swell our bank accounts via outside investments. Colorado Sun journalists must never report on businesses in which they or their immediate family members knowingly hold a financial interest. Our journalists are allowed to put money into widely held investments, such as mutual funds, as well as in companies that they do not cover. But they must never use pre-publication information they gained in reporting a story to make a profit or limit a loss in an investment.
They must also never write a story for the purpose of influencing a company’s stock price.
… for freelancers
In reporting stories for The Colorado Sun, freelance journalists must adhere to all ethical requirements spelled out in this code. It is understandable that freelancers may have other jobs or interests. But, as with our staff writers, freelancers must tell an editor about any potential conflicts of interest on a story, and we do not allow freelancers to cover stories in which they or their immediate family members or business partners have a financial or public advocacy interest.
Partisanship and political involvement
Colorado Sun journalists must avoid engaging in any political activities in their professional or personal lives that could reflect negatively on the integrity of The Colorado Sun. Journalists, in reporting non-opinion news stories, should not endorse or contribute money to candidates, parties, platforms, bills or initiatives or create the impression that The Colorado Sun, as an institution, endorses any of those things.
But these considerations also extend into our journalists’ personal lives — that is part of the price of serving the community through reporting the news. While we don’t want to discourage participation in civic life, our journalists must be extremely careful to avoid political partisanship when joining organizations, posting on social media, making public comments, displaying yard signs or bumper stickers, and participating in public events such as rallies or marches. This is even more true if the organizations are ones that are covered by The Colorado Sun.
Our journalists should think long and hard about the potential implications of registering with a political party or, if they are registered as unaffiliated, choosing to vote a party’s primary ballot, as either creates a public record of partisan political involvement.
If there is a doubt about whether personal or professional activity is inappropriate, journalists should discuss the situation with an editor.
Advocacy on behalf of journalism in general
The Colorado Sun supports issues that promote the practice of journalism — access to public records, meetings and court proceedings; the protection of the First Amendment; and the importance of local news. These are not considered political matters.
On these issues, The Colorado Sun or one or more of its journalists may engage in advocacy to support our mission, including testifying in support of or in opposition to legislation, participating in marches and rallies, posting on social media, and displaying signs or other messaging.
When doing so, we should write and post an article or note from an editor explaining the reasons for our actions.
Advocacy on behalf of stories specifically
There may also be circumstances in which our journalists are asked to engage in advocacy on behalf of our stories and the issues covered. For instance, a lawmaker may ask a Sun journalist to testify in support of a bill that would address an issue the journalist identified in a story. Though perhaps well-intentioned, this would be inappropriate. Even in this situation, our journalists should be extremely cautious about engaging in advocacy and should instead let the story speak for itself.
Our journalists may answer questions from lawmakers or others about a story, so long as the answers abide by our editorial standards for providing fact-based information and do not reveal private or off-the-record information that would have been inappropriate for publication. But our news journalists must never stray into opinion or endorse, even implicitly, a course of action.
Gifts, meals and other free stuff
We’re not in this for the swag. Our journalists in general don’t accept gifts, free lunches, cups of coffee, tickets, travel or other goodies in the course of doing their jobs. If our journalists are covering an event where food is served, they should make an effort to pay for their share before partaking. If a gift arrives unbidden, our journalists should make an attempt to donate it or otherwise give it away to someone outside the newsroom.
Journalists should be especially cautious about taking freebies from sources, which could create the appearance of a conflict of interest. When covering a traumatic event, journalists should refrain as much as is practical from accepting food or water that is primarily intended for victims and first responders.
But there are exceptions. If a journalist has regular meetings with a source, it is OK to trade back and forth whose turn it is to pay. If journalists find themselves in a situation where it would be impolite to turn down someone’s generosity — such as at a family dinner for a family the journalist is writing about — then it is OK to eat without trying to pay. And if journalists receive a small, personal gift from someone they covered — a photo, for instance, or something of little monetary value — it is OK to keep it.
Use of media credentials
If our journalists receive media credentials that provide special access to events, they should only use them to do their job. They can have fun while working, but it is not acceptable for a journalist to use media credentials off the clock as a cheaper way to have a good time.
Trading on influence and access to non-public opportunities
At all times our journalists must avoid trading on their influence for their personal benefit or appearing to do so. This is especially true when posting on social media platforms where our journalists identify themselves as working at The Colorado Sun. Even though it may be unintentional, we never want to create the impression that we are threatening to turn our personal gripes into news stories unless they are resolved quickly.
This works in the other direction, as well. Our journalists must be careful about accepting benefits that are not available to the general public and are offered only because of our stature at The Colorado Sun.
Speaking events, conferences, media appearances and honoraria
We want our journalists to engage with the community, talk about their stories, and be available to answer questions. We also want our journalists to connect with colleagues from across the state and country and to learn new skills.
Therefore, we encourage our journalists to participate in public speaking events and to attend conferences. We also encourage our journalists to give interviews to other media outlets, provided that the outlets adhere to the similar ethical and journalistic standards as The Colorado Sun.
But our journalists must be careful, in embracing these opportunities, not to lose hold of our ethical and reporting standards. Any acceptance of travel reimbursement or honoraria must comply with all other parts of this code. Our journalists must also be cautious when agreeing to speak to political groups and make sure to express that their appearance does not constitute an endorsement of the group by the journalist or The Colorado Sun.
When giving public speeches or interviews, our news journalists should stick to The Sun’s policies for impartiality, fairness and truth-seeking and should not offer a personal opinion or analysis of the story that goes beyond the reported facts.
Personal blogging, social media use and outside freelance work
Our journalists are welcome to maintain personal blogs and social media accounts and to conduct freelance work for other publications so long as it does not interfere with their work for The Colorado Sun. When writing for other publications, our staff journalists must first seek approval from an editor.
They also must maintain the same ethical standards that they would when they are writing for The Sun. This may seem unfair, to seek control over what people do in their off hours. But our journalists are closely identified in the public by their association with The Colorado Sun and, fairly or not, members of the public may use our journalists’ personal actions to judge our professional integrity.
Our news journalists must never use their social media channels — even off the clock — to express opinions on issues they cover. If journalists choose to use their social media channels off the clock to express opinions about issues or people other Colorado Sun reporters cover, they must make clear that their views are their own and not The Colorado Sun’s.
Lastly, our journalists should understand that what is written on blogs and social media may not be without consequence, even if it doesn’t technically violate this code of ethics. Opinions expressed or conduct on social media or blogs should be part of the discussion with editors about potential conflicts of interest, and they could form the basis for discipline or to prohibit a journalist from reporting on a topic for The Colorado Sun.
In sum, our integrity and our ability to serve the public at The Colorado Sun is important and worth being extra cautious in our private lives.
In our pursuit of the truth, our readers’ interest always comes first, and there are no people or subjects that are off-limits. We are owned by journalists and beholden to no special interests. This is the third pillar of our work: Even as we strive to be a financially sustainable business and an intelligent source of news, we aggressively protect our independence and ensure that we exist only to serve readers.
Owning our news decisions
Crucial to maintaining our independence is that we retain final authority over the subjects we choose to cover and the ways we choose to cover them. We want to engage with readers, listen to their thoughts about Colorado and solicit their story ideas. At times, we seek to actively involve readers in the reporting or fact-checking of stories. And we also ask readers and others for their financial support to sustain our operations.
But all of this comes with a clear boundary: We cannot and do not allow supporters, as much as we appreciate them, to use their contributions as leverage to dictate our news coverage. All coverage decisions belong to the staff of The Colorado Sun.
Transparency in funding
Part of demonstrating our independence to the public is being transparent in where our revenue comes from. This assures readers that we have no silent backers and that we aren’t a covert plot by a special interest.
But it would also be prohibitively burdensome for The Colorado Sun to report the name of every single person who has contributed money, no matter how little and even if their contribution came through the purchase of a standard membership. We also recognize that donors may want to provide contributions anonymously, though we encourage our donors to put their names on their support.
We seek to strike a balance, providing as much transparency as is practically possible while also acknowledging that we, like many businesses, just can’t disclose everything. To that end, we explain to readers the various ways we are funded — through memberships, grants and sponsorships. And we disclose on our website the names of every donor and investor who has given us more than $5,000 in a calendar year, as well as the name of any investor who holds an equity stake in The Colorado Sun. Support that is provided anonymously will be posted under the name Anonymous.
All donors should be clearly informed that their support, while appreciated, does not allow them to influence our coverage.
If a Colorado Sun journalist quotes or cites information in a story from a contributor whose name is among the posted list of contributors, the story should include, if relevant, a disclaimer that the source is a financial contributor to The Colorado Sun.
Even in seeking out revenue to sustain our operations, we must maintain our integrity and independence. Without trust in our journalism, our mission fails — regardless of how much money is in our bank account.
When soliciting grants, sponsorships and donations, all employees and representatives of The Colorado Sun must be honest and factual with potential contributors. Potential contributors should be informed of The Colorado Sun’s mission and code of ethics and understand the limits of what their contribution gives them in return.
Colorado Sun journalists should never solicit money from organizations or individuals they cover. If journalists are approached with an offer to donate money by a person or organization they cover, they should put the potential contributor in touch with The Sun’s president or someone authorized to conduct fundraising on The Sun’s behalf and then remove themselves from the discussions about the contribution.
At no time should any employee or representative of The Colorado Sun give a potential contributor reason to believe that their contribution would ensure them favorable coverage, protect them from negative coverage or allow them to have any say in The Colorado Sun’s news agenda or opinion content. In the same way, people or organizations should never be threatened that, if they choose not to contribute to The Colorado Sun, they will be the subject of negative coverage or denied favorable coverage in retaliation.
Paid content and advertising
If The Colorado Sun chooses to accept paid content or advertising, we will make every effort to ensure that content is distinct from our news content. This means using a different typeface, setting it apart from other content in page design and prominently and clearly labeling it as advertising or paid content. Readers should never be even the slightest bit confused about what is editorial content and what is advertising. In addition, our journalists will never be used to write or produce advertising content.
All paid content and advertising must also be in keeping with The Colorado Sun’s mission. If it contains lies, factual inaccuracies, offensive or degrading messaging or otherwise undermines The Colorado Sun’s integrity, it may be removed.
Independence from sources
Journalists rely on people to tell them what is happening. While we are appreciative of their help in reporting the news, we must never express that gratitude by showing favoritism to our sources.
This means we don’t allow sources of information to tell us how to write our stories or dictate where we focus our journalism. We don’t engage in deals where, in exchange for information or access, we agree to slant a story a certain way. We don’t adopt our sources’ opinions in news stories. We don’t write frivolous puff pieces or beat-sweeteners in the hopes that they will encourage sources to provide us information later. We don’t agree to pre-conditions for an interview or for access without noting those conditions in our stories.
Part of being independent is that we don’t allow people to amend their quotes, to select or reject photos or to edit stories about themselves prior to publication. Our journalists should fact-check their reporting, and that can include double-checking quotes and information with sources before publication.
For more complicated material — such as scientific or technical descriptions — our journalists may share brief passages with sources to ensure accuracy. In instances where stories are about subjects who do not frequently deal with the media, it is acceptable to give the subjects a general overview of the story so that they can know what to expect.
But our journalists must never share full copies of stories with sources or others outside our newsroom prior to publication without the approval of an editor.
Joint projects and in-kind support
In pursuing the truth, we sometimes work with outside institutions and organizations to report the story. For instance, we may seek the help of an organization in collecting or analysing data or in seeking sources to interview. We also disclose the organizations’ help in the text of the stories.
Subpoenas and requests for additional information
We are not agents of law enforcement nor are we operatives for lawyers or investigators. If anyone approaches us for additional information about our stories, we let the stories speak for themselves — clarifying when necessary — and direct people to available public sources of information when possible.
This is especially important when those people approaching us work for law enforcement or other governmental agencies or are attorneys, investigators or others working on behalf of a client or a political or advocacy campaign.
If we are approached by academic researchers asking for data sources or other information, our journalists may share that information with the researchers after consultation with an editor, as long as it is only for the purposes of study and the researchers agree both to give us credit and also to make clear that our help does not mean The Colorado Sun or any of its journalists endorse the conclusions of the research.
If we are subpoenaed to provide testimony or information for a criminal or civil court case, we fight back hard. To do our jobs, we can never be seen as someone else’s tool, especially not the government’s.
Reporting on ourselves
As awkward as it is, there may be times when we have to report on something about ourselves — whether positive or negative. In this instance, the journalist writing the story should make every attempt to continue to comply with all the ethical and truth-seeking standards set out in this code. We should strive for honesty and transparency in the reporting and avoid opaque business-speak. We aren’t entitled to special treatment in news coverage, not even from ourselves.
If it is not possible or practical for one of our staff journalists to report the story, we should enlist a freelancer. To ensure fairness, The Colorado Sun’s president or another supervisor should be given an opportunity to provide comment for the story, but the journalist reporting it should also seek out other voices, including critical ones. The individual who provided comment for the story should not be involved in editing it. All editing decisions should be made for journalistic reasons and not to try to make The Colorado Sun look better. The Colorado Sun never censors unflattering or controversial stories about itself.
We are not ghouls, bullies or vultures. All of us at The Colorado Sun got into journalism because we care about people, and we see our journalism as an important public service that we can contribute to our state. Those values, though, must be reflected in how we pursue stories and how we treat people while we do. The chase for news — even really, really important news — never justifies unconscionable actions. We must show compassion at all times.
Respect and harm
This is an ironclad promise: We treat the people we cover with basic human respect, and we seek to avoid causing undue harm in their lives. This is especially true when dealing with victims of crime or tragedy or with other people in distressing situations. Often, we encounter people at their worst moments in life. It is important to tell these stories, but it is also important to keep in mind that, when we’ve finished our reporting, we get to return home and our subjects may not. So we listen sincerely when people express their concerns about the news media’s behavior, and we take actions to change our coverage approach when appropriate because we shouldn’t make their situations any more miserable.
Many times, this is more difficult than it seems. Victims and others may be upset simply by the media’s presence or by a polite request for comment. This is understandable, and it should not prevent us from telling the stories that need to be told. But we must also keep in mind our duties to be professional, decent and compassionate.
We never threaten to report information that is upsetting to someone (such as details from an autopsy report or a police investigation) unless that person grants us an interview, and we never agree to withhold relevant, newsworthy information from a story in exchange for an interview or access.
We must remain mindful of the impact our coverage may have in the community at large. The urge to tell a gripping narrative should never outweigh the compassion we show to subjects. When reporting on suicides or mass murders, for instance, we take care not to tell the stories in ways that could inspire copycats, using the best evidence and guidelines available to make our decisions.
Individuals accused of wrongdoing
Respect is most easily shown to people experiencing hardship through no fault of their own, but we must remember that it extends to all people we cover. We are not vigilantes. We do not have to show sympathy for people accused of wrongdoing or provide them or their supporters with unlimited space in stories to excuse their actions. But we must treat them with the same fairness we would show anyone else as part of the practice of ethical journalism, while also making clear the consequences of those individuals’ alleged actions and telling the stories of those who were harmed by them.
This may seem inappropriate: Why should journalists treat accused murderers, swindlers and liars with fairness? Because history is filled with examples of journalists following public sentiment and condemning individuals who later turned out to be innocent or, at least, misrepresented.
And, even in cases where an individual is guilty, criminal trials have been overturned based on jurors’ exposure to prejudicial media coverage — thus impacting our public systems of accountability while also extending the wait for justice. This is not how we want to go down in history.
It does no one any good for journalists to rush to judgment or to lead the charge for condemnation. Even in the face of public pressure, we must adhere to our journalistic standards.
Treatment of public officials and media-savvy sources
Public officials and others who frequently interact with the media are entitled to be treated with respect, compassion and fairness just the same as anyone else. There are times, though, when media-savvy sources attempt to manipulate or stifle our coverage by accusing us of acting unethically when we are simply doing our job. We don’t let them get away with it.
Knocking on someone’s door or calling someone on the telephone to seek comment is good, persistent journalism and not unethical — so long as it is done during appropriate hours of the day and limited to a reasonable number of tries.
Our dogged reporting efforts must also be done in proportion to the magnitude of the story and the stature of the subject. In all situations, a person elected or seeking election to serve the public is not entitled to more privacy or deference than a member of the general public.
Treatment of naive or inexperienced sources, including children
For the same reason we hold politicians and other media-savvy people to a higher standard, we give extra consideration to how we treat people who are especially vulnerable or inexperienced in dealing with the media. This means we take special care to identify ourselves and explain how the information provided will be used. We are patient when explaining how we operate, and we answer questions about the potential consequences of providing information as best as we are able.
This is especially true when dealing with children. When interviewing or photographing children, we make an effort to speak with their parents or guardians so we can explain the purpose of the story and how the information or photo will be used.
At The Colorado Sun, engaging with readers is a major part of who we are. So we are committed to doing it the right way.
This means that our public engagement efforts — whether they involve soliciting story ideas or anecdotes, taking in feedback, asking for advice on policies, or inviting people to an event — are done first and foremost to serve the public. The moment we start looking at our readers as human-shaped dollar signs that we can take from and not as people we owe an obligation to is the moment when we lose our way as a public service-focused news organization.
This means we are upfront with people in how we intend to use the information they provide; we listen sincerely; we treat our readers with respect and humility; we believe genuinely that they can make our work better; and we are responsive to their concerns and input. We are as transparent as we can be — in our business operations but also editorially, letting people know, when appropriate, what we are working on or how we reported a story.
Most of all, we want people to know that they belong to a community, and we are committed to making them feel welcome.
Human beings — and that includes journalists — make mistakes. At The Colorado Sun, we work as hard as we can to prevent them, and we are tough on ourselves when we fail. But, while we know that some mistakes are bound to happen, we never take a lax approach to fixing them. Instead, we act quickly to right our wrongs, both small and big, because we understand that the responsibility of telling the truth comes with the equal responsibility of owning up when we mess up.
Every one of our journalists is responsible for thoroughly fact-checking their own work. While editors and other colleagues may serve as additional lines of defense against mistakes, it is the journalists who gather the information and produce the content who are primarily responsible for the accuracy of it.
During editing and other production processes, editors must take care not to insert mistakes into the content. When in doubt, editors should consult the journalists who produced the work to double-check information.
When journalists at The Colorado Sun become aware of an error, they must correct it. If the information does need to be corrected, journalists must consult an editor, explaining what is wrong, how the mistake occurred and what the correction is.
Journalists must make sure the information in the proposed correction is accurate before inserting it into the article in lieu of the mistaken information. A correction notice must then be posted on the article stating how it was corrected.
Retraction and take-down requests
In general, The Colorado Sun does not grant requests to retract or take down news articles unless the article is so fundamentally and factually flawed that no correction or follow-up reporting could fix it and its continued presence online is causing active harm to public understanding or discourse.
If, after investigation, we determine that information contained in an article is inaccurate, our first move should be to correct it immediately and post a notice of that correction. If the article leaves out important follow-up details that occurred after the article’s publication — such as an article about an individual who was criminally charged but who had those charges dropped following the article’s publication — a follow-up story or a note posted to the original article may be appropriate.
Sometimes, a journalist’s error goes beyond an inadvertent mistake to something bigger. This could be insensitivity in news coverage, mistreatment of individuals in person or online, or other misbehavior in violation of this code. When that happens, The Colorado Sun is committed to making things right.
This means we work immediately to respond to allegations of misconduct, and we investigate those allegations thoroughly. When appropriate, we reach out to affected individuals and talk with them on the phone or meet with them in person to listen to their thoughts about what we did wrong and how we can fix it.
We take their opinions seriously. And, when necessary, we punish journalists for their misbehavior.
When Colorado Sun journalists make mistakes, an editor should talk with them about how the mistake happened and how to prevent it in the future.
Not every mistake requires a journalist to be harshly punished, but editors and other newsroom leaders should be especially aware of patterns of conduct that create habitual or ongoing problems. If strict discipline is required — including suspension or dismissal — it should be decided in accordance with The Colorado Sun’s operating and employment agreements.
When appropriate in instances of major misconduct, The Colorado Sun should publish a story explaining a journalist’s discipline, while also adhering to all personnel privacy rules and employment agreements by which it is bound.
No one — not Sun journalists, not freelancers, not members of the public, and not sources — should be retaliated against or otherwise penalized for bringing forward concerns about inaccurate information or potential violations of this code. We welcome people’s input to make us better.
Some things in this code might seem obvious. Some things might seem overly detailed. But it is important that we write all this out so that everyone understands how we operate. And if, based on public input, changing circumstances or lessons learned, we realize that this code needs to be updated, we will do that and inform our readers of the changes.
This is a commitment and a promise. We make it to ourselves to be the journalists we want to be, and we make it to our readers to be the news source that they deserve. Only working together can we bring light to Colorado’s dark corners and give voice to the silenced. Only together can we bind Colorado into one vibrant, caring community. Only together can we be The Colorado Sun.