This is an ethics statement for Pungo Publishing Co., LLC, as an organization and our newspaper and online operations under The Princess Anne Independent News banner. It is inspired, in part, by the Society of Professional Journalists code, which you can read at this link. The purposes of aggressive, ethical journalism are many, but here is one particularly good reason suggested by 1920’s Liberty and the News by Walter Lippmann:
There can be no higher law in journalism than to tell the truth and shame the devil.
Our ethics policies:
- Accuracy is our top goal. Our goal is to verify information prior to release through original sources. We must be honest with our readers when we do not meet this standard. Please notify us of errors via firstname.lastname@example.org so we can correct them and so they will not be repeated in online versions of stories or when following stories later.
- “Advertorial” content that contains a byline or bylines or mimics standard editorial design will not be published in The Independent News either in print or online. We do not want to confuse or mislead readers by presenting marketing content as news. This includes so-called “sponsored” content or any paid online “editorial” content.
- Attribution will be made so readers understand the relationship of sources to the material under discussion.
- Civility is essential, and we will work to ensure it on our pages, online, and on social media. This extends to letters to the editor and comments online. Criticism of public figures should be tied to an issue or the office, not individual behavior that has nothing to do with a public role.
- Conflicts of interest will be addressed with transparency. This is a very small operation, and the reality is that some people involved in editorial decisions also sell advertising when they are not reporting. We avoid coverage about topics that we have a direct interest in, and we will be clear with readers when relationships exist or when we face an unavoidable conflict. [John Doucette, for example, has a family conflict of interest with Flanagan Farm, though he may have to write about agricultural issues or the annual strawberry festival in Pungo.]
- Context matters. We must provide it freely when we can do so.
- Endorsement of political candidates, parties and organizations, or specific businesses will not be made by those who contribute to the newspaper’s editorial content. We won’t make political endorsements on our opinion pages, though we may publish or cover endorsements made by others. For example, we may publish letters to the editor explaining why a member of the community supports a specific candidate or effort. Contributors will disclose potential conflicts of interest.
- Fabrication is the invention of facts, circumstances, quotations, and even people. This is unacceptable in every case. Reporters, photographers, and other contributors must represent their work ethically.
- Follows and likes on social media are not endorsements. They are often made for the purpose of following discourses on the pages in question, which is a function of newsgathering.
- Freelance work for The Independent News is work for hire and becomes the property of Pungo Publishing Co., LLC. In some cases, when copyright is retained by the freelancer upon agreement of the publisher, any work commissioned by The Independent News cannot be resold within the Hampton Roads market or to subjects of the materials for any reason.
- Gifts and favors will not be accepted by those representing our newspaper, including freelancers or contracted advertising salespeople. We will handle offers with grace but firmness. Common sense must apply, especially in cases that may give offense when we are guests, but it is clearly inappropriate to accept an offer of discounted services or goods from a source that will call our objectivity into question.
- Online sources will be treated with scrutiny. Attribution will be clear for the reader. Links to online sources will be made with care and common sense. A link is not an endorsement.
- Opinions will be shared with care. A hallmark of a newspaper in a democratic society such as ours is the ability to share ideas whether or not they are popular. We will avoid political endorsements made in the name of either The Princess Anne Independent News and its regular editorial contributors or Pungo Publishing Co., LLC. We welcome columns from members of our government, community leaders, and citizens. We offer candidates equal opportunities to comment on our opinion pages. We will not publish personal attacks. We do not pay for opinion columns unless they are commissioned.
- Payments to sources in exchange for information are not permissible. However, paying for copies or data sets from a government organization, such as in response to a FOIA request made during the normal course of reporting, is appropriate. This is a standard practice of newsgathering. In some cases, payment for entry to political functions for the purpose of newsgathering is unavoidable, and such payment is not an endorsement of any group.
- Plagiarism is the use of another’s work without appropriate attribution or credit, including the efforts of other media organizations, online sources, and the authors of press releases. All sources must be identified fully and properly quoted or paraphrased. Information from press releases or statements will be identified as such. The work of other organizations, authors, or photographers will not be used or republished without permission and proper credit given.
- Quotations must accurately reflect what was said by a speaker or written by a writer. Dialect or certain slang terms are avoided unless they are essential to a story. Profanity and offensive language is avoided unless, in an especially rare case, it is essential to the public interest and with approval of the editor. If an interview is conducted via email, it will be represented that way to the reader.
- Stereotyping will be avoided and challenged.
- Unnamed and anonymous sources are avoided, except in rare situations that will be explained clearly to readers. We do not publish the names of victims of abuse or sex-related crimes without clear permission and an unusually compelling reason to do so, even when quoting victims directly after an interview or during coverage of a court hearing. We don’t identify children accused of crimes, though we may identify a juvenile being tried as an adult on a serious felony charge. We may use unidentified sources, for example, when remarks are made in a public setting but the speakers will not or cannot identify themselves. These decisions will be made by the editor.
- Unpublished material is not shared outside the editorial staff. In some cases, and only with approval of the editor, specific passages of unpublished material that involves highly technical or sensitive topics may be shared prior to publication in writing or by reading it over the phone to the source of the information. Direct quotes and information can be verified and fact checked by telephone only with the speaker to ensure accuracy and context. Contributors are not permitted to share unpublished material with subjects or sources. We don’t share unpublished material, including photography, with law enforcement agencies or attorneys, but common sense must rule. For example, if we observe the endangerment of a child or overhear a specific threat of violence, we need to be citizens first and contact the authorities.
- Visual information such as photography and video, including audio tracks, cannot be manipulated in misleading, dishonest or unethical ways. For example, a photograph may be cropped to improve focus upon a subject or corrected for sharpness or clarity. This is standard picture editing. If we determine that a provided or submitted photo was manipulated and published, we’ll report it to our readers. We don’t knowingly publish staged photographs. Our goal is documentary photography or, in some cases, portraiture. Some posed images, such as portraits, are allowable, but these should be obvious to the reader.
- Writing will be direct, accurate and based upon reliable sources, including opinion writing. We avoid conjecture and generalizations. We don’t use invented or representative characters. We don’t knowingly use fictional names. If we find out a source misrepresented his or her identity, we must address it with readers.
- Further, we welcome questions about our ethics policy from readers in the comments section below.
Last updated in March 2021.