Marketplace staffers gain access to sources and information by being honest about our identity, our intentions and asking for participation. We don’t negotiate for access or information. For example, we wouldn’t exchange a promise of story placement for access to a newsmaker. We also don’t make promises regarding story angles or approach. It’s acceptable, though, to discuss in general terms the story we’re considering or our general line of reporting. It’s also acceptable, when necessary, to agree to an embargo after an editor’s approval. If necessary reporters should make clear to sources that editorial decisions are up to the editors and producers. MPR News staffers do not pay sources for information.
Marketplace staffers take full responsibility for their work. Staffers who represent the work of others as their own violate the trust of their colleagues and audience. When we report information that we’ve learned from other media, we cite those other media as the source. Whenever possible, we try to get such information on our own, independently of other media, and report it in a way that goes beyond what’s appeared elsewhere. The work we present as our own will be original composition, not copied from news releases or other sources, even when the authors of those other sources would be happy for us to do so. Above all, we’ll strive to be accurate. We will confirm information before reporting it, and we will never knowingly report false information. We will listen to our audiences and be respectful of criticism. We will respond civilly to letters and emails that warrant reply. Errors of fact will happen. If our journalists notice an error in published work, they will promptly tell one of the news leaders. If anyone requests a correction, the request will be forwarded to a news leader. We’ll strive to correct our errors quickly.
Members of the Marketplace staff are sometimes interviewed on other media or asked to moderate panels. Such appearances can help raise the profile of Marketplace and its staffers, and they can help Marketplace stay connected to the communities it serves. At the same time, outside appearances can present problems. Here are some guidelines to help avoid the complex conflicts that may arise:
Appearances for the underwriting and development departments
As a journalistic organization, Marketplace is part of the public discourse on issues and events. Marketplace supports its journalists’ participating in forums on such issues and events and encourages them to provide information, analysis and insight.
Marketplace executes journalism in service to its many audiences and communities. Our allegiance is to the general public - not funders, foundations, underwriters, the people we cover or the people who sit on our board or in our executive suites. We risk compromising our credibility if personal or professional interests conflict with that allegiance. Such conflicts could take many forms, via personal relationships, business interests or in other ways. No rule can cover every situation. As professional journalists, we will strive to be alert to any factor that may keep us from thinking independently and exercising our best professional judgment.
Marketplace will participate in contests that recognize journalistic excellence - not that publicize an organization. We may enter competitions sponsored by journalism groups or groups whose members have no direct interest in the coverage of the field that they’re recognizing. Staffers should decline an unsolicited award if the group does not meet those criteria.
An ethics policy can’t cover everything. The general principle is this: Outside activities by news staff should not compromise the impartiality of Marketplace’s journalism. That said, news leaders will regularly remind news staff of potential conflicts and review any risky areas. When necessary, we’ll make changes. In unimportant but visible instances that require no change, we’ll explain our rationale. Upon taking an assignment, it is the duty of all news staffers to immediately disclose to news leaders any interests that might be seen as being in actual, apparent or potential conflict.
When Marketplace is in the news, we will take special care to remember that Marketplace exists to serve the public. Marketplace staffers cover their company the same way they would cover any other company when warranted. At times, we will hold ourselves accountable as we hold others accountable. No Marketplace employee from departments outside the Marketplace newsroom should be involved in the coverage. Marketplace staffers do not advocate in support of Marketplace’s business or political initiatives. An obvious exception is participation in membership drives.
The affiliations and activities of family members may create conflicts of interest for staff working in Marketplace operations. For example, a family member who works for a state agency would obviously create the appearance of conflict for a reporter assigned to cover that agency. A companion holding an officer’s position in a noteworthy company might produce the appearance of conflict for a business reporter or editor. A daughter’s work on the campaign of a political candidate would conflict with her mother’s job as a reporter covering that race. To avoid such conflicts, staffers may not produce or edit any news content - photographs, audio, written reports, video, blog items, Tweets -- involving people to whom they are related or with whom they have close personal relationships. Additionally, they must avoid making news judgments about them. Marketplace certainly can’t insist that family members restrict their activities or change professions. However, we may change a staffer’s responsibility based on the activities of a family member. Staffers must inform an editor whenever a companion’s or close relative’s activities, investments or affiliations could create a conflict.
Marketplace staffers may face unique conflicts. This section identifies specific areas of concern. At all times, staffers must avoid this behavior for fear our journalism could appear compromised.
All freelance work - including work for another APM news operation -- must be done on a staffer’s own time. Staffer may not accept or file freelance work for NPR. Freelance work must not seriously compete with Marketplace or APM. We don’t enter into agreements to do freelance work for organizations we cover. Before accepting a freelance assignment, staffers should make sure the assignment will not compromise their or Marketplace’s journalistic standards. They should adhere to Marketplace ethics guidelines in carrying out the assignment. A freelance employer may identify Marketplace staff members by their Marketplace positions, but only in a routine way. All freelance work must be approved by Marketplace’s news leaders.
Freelancers are expected to execute their journalism without conflicts and must follow Marketplace’s standards of professionalism. It is the responsibility of editors and producers to ask about a freelancer’s potential conflicts of interest before making an assignment.
Marketplace staff may not accept gifts of equipment or materials from manufacturers or vendors. They may not endorse equipment. If a manufacturer seeks advice on product design, any compensation for that advice should be disclosed to the staffer’s supervisor.
This section is intended to help Marketplace interact with foundations and individual donors (“funders”) in a way that protects our journalistic integrity and makes clear our boundaries. The integrity of Marketplace reporting and programming is built upon a commitment to serving the public with independent, unbiased news reporting and programming. That’s why it’s critical that Marketplace staff maintain a steady journalistic ethic when interacting with funders.
Marketplace expects its journalists to behave professionally and civilly. We will treat people with decency and compassion. Marketplace journalists will take special care with people who are in the news but aren’t used to the media’s glare, especially children. Our journalists always should disclose their identity when pursuing the news and never pose as anyone else. We’ll work transparently and try not to surprise sources. Remembering that we always represent Marketplace, we will strive to show courtesy and professionalism in our interactions with sources and the public. In all instances, we must obey the law in the pursuit of news.
Marketplace staffers may not accept anything for free or anything discounted from current or potential news subjects. Only staffers assigned to cover an event may accept press passes or review tickets to that event. (Items valued at $25 or less are OK, however. Also, staffers may accept any gifts or discounts available to the general public.)
Staffers who cover artistic events or are assigned to cover sports may accept press passes or tickets. No other staffers, however, may accept free tickets. When buying tickets, staffers may not use their Marketplace affiliation to get favored treatment. Marketplace staffers pay their own expenses when out with news sources or travel to cover them. Reasonable exceptions can be made, however -- a corporate cafeteria, for example. Free or discounted transportation and lodging is OK in rare, specific instances -- viewing a storm-damaged area from a government-owned helicopter, for example.
Marketplace can’t be used for a staffer’s private purpose or to seek special treatment for friends or family. MPR News journalists may not use company ID cards for purposes not connected with Marketplace or for any manner of special treatment. Also, Marketplace-branded material can only be used for the business of reporting or producing.
Staffers may not partner in external projects that involve people or organizations our newsroom may cover. Staffers may not offer endorsements or testimonials, except in reviews or commentaries.
Staffers may keep review copies of books, films, music, etc., which are effectively press releases. If not kept by the staffer, the material may be given to a charity or used as a reference internally. The art may not be sold or copied. Recorded or digital media must be deleted or returned if not kept by the journalist or given to a charity.
Journalists and the public should remain on equal footing. Marketplace staffers should not use any unpublished information obtained during newsgathering for their own or anyone else’s special advantage or personal gain. Moreover, they should not share their reporting with anyone inside or outside of a Marketplace division who may exploit that information. Further, staffers should not disclose to anyone confidential information about Marketplace or APM divisions.
Marketplace staffers must keep their political views private. They may not seek public office. To do so would be to participate in the news instead of covering the news. It would also risk having the staffer’s political views associated with Marketplace, creating the perception of political bias. For the same reason, we do not participate in rallies or make appearances in support of a controversial cause or campaign. When covering political or partisan marches, we should be clearly distinguished as working journalists, with our credentials on display. Staffers may not raise money or contribute money to political or social causes that go beyond the groups described in the section headlined “Service in our communities.” We don’t advocate with yard signs or bumper stickers. In the event a staffer’s significant other wants to make a public political statement, a news leader should be advised. And even when our company publicly voices an opinion, Marketplace staffers will maintain their journalistic impartiality.
Marketplace staffers can’t provide paid or unpaid public relations work or counsel in the area. And they may not provide advice or writing and editing services for outside groups. (Some exceptions are included under “Service in the communities.”) Any requests to participate in public relations workshops must be approved by a senior news leader.
Marketplace staffers keep a personal distance from news sources for fear of creating a hint of bias. Staffers may meet sources informally for lunch, for example, but they must stay aware of the difference between a business relationship and personal friendship. It’s too chummy, for example, for a business reporter to share regular morning runs with an executive of a company he covers. Romantic relationships with sources carry high risk and will certainly create an appearance of partiality. No single rule can cover every possible situation. As a result, staffers should openly discuss any questionable situation with an editor. No action might be necessary, or a change in assignment might be in order.
Gathering news is expensive. As a result, news leaders are encouraged to communicate with our underwriting and development departments to connect editorial goals with funding opportunities. However, Marketplace leaders must maintain a clear boundary between news coverage and business imperatives and have final authority over all journalistic decisions. To ensure that reporters and editors are left free to work without consideration of funding or business issues, only news leaders may exchange information with the underwriting or development departments about the timing or content of our reporting or the assignment of staff.
If community service creates a conflict that might prevent a staffer from covering an issue, that staffer must let his or her editor know. Marketplace staffers and their leaders should avoid committees and boards of newsworthy organizations and certainly all government panels. It’s OK to help organizations typically out of the news such as various community groups - sports leagues and theaters, for example, and houses of worship, though they do wind up in the news from time to time. Staffers also can provide service to journalistic education. And there may be other exceptions. However, if membership in one of these organizations starts to pose a conflict, that staffer must alert an editor. Fundraising is OK, but staffers shouldn’t direct the project or pitch to people with whom they or Marketplace has journalistic dealings.
Social networks such as Facebook and Twitter have become important channels for content distribution and interaction with Marketplace audiences. Social media can add depth to research and provide richer contacts, so we encourage our journalists to take advantage of them. But as we well know, information from your personal Facebook profile, blogs, Twitter accounts and other social platforms can be easily circulated beyond your intended audience. What follows is some guidance to help us negotiate social media in the changing world of news gathering and reporting:
We reviewed and drew upon a number of ethics policies in compiling this one. The basic tenets of ethical behavior for a journalist do not vary much among organizations. What truly matters is adherence and understanding. In some areas, though, we hadn’t considered certain ethical difficulties. That’s why we’re grateful for the work of others, specifically:
In addition, the document was reviewed by two outside experts: Kelly McBride, a senior faculty member in media ethics at The Poynter Institute, and Jane Kirtley, the Silha Professor of Media Ethics and Law at the School of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Minnesota.