The Pointer Journalistic Standards
The Pointer has adapted its Journalistic Standards from the recommended guideline of the Canadian Association of Journalists, with its permission.
- The Pointer attempts to verify all facts. Accuracy is the moral imperative of journalists and news organizations and should not be compromised.
- The Pointer makes every effort to verify the identities and backgrounds of our sources.
- The Pointer seeks documentation to support the reliability of those sources and their stories, and we are careful to distinguish between assertions and fact. The onus is on us to verify all information.
- The Pointer makes sure to retain the original context of all quotations or clips, striving to convey the original tone. Our recorded interviews and all other recorded material used for our stories will be kept for a reasonable period, by staff, following publication — at least 90 days.
- The Pointer’s reporting and editing will not change the meaning of a statement or exclude important qualifiers.
- If we can’t match source material and/or the original reporting of a story first carried by another organization, The Pointer will credit the originating source.
- While news and ideas are there for the taking, the words used to convey them are not. If The Pointer borrows a story or even a paragraph from another source we either credit the source or rewrite it before publication or broadcast. Using another’s analysis or interpretation may constitute plagiarism, even if the words are rewritten, unless it is attributed.
- When we make a mistake, whether in fact or in context, and regardless of the platform, we correct it promptly and in a transparent manner, acknowledging the nature of the error.
- The Pointer publishes all corrections, clarifications or apologies in a consistent way.
- We generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests, or “source remorse.” Rare exceptions generally involve matters of public safety, an egregious error or ethical violation, or legal restrictions such as publication bans.
- The Pointer respects the rights of people involved in the news.
- The Pointer does not allow our own biases to impede fair and accurate reporting.
- We give people, companies or organizations that are publicly accused or criticized opportunity to respond before we publish those criticisms or accusations. We make a genuine and reasonable effort to contact them, and if they decline to comment, we say so.
- The Pointer does not refer to a person’s race, skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story.
- The Pointer will refrain from covering issues it is not equipped to understand in a fair, accurate, impartial and comprehensive way. A fundamental lack of diverse knowledge or perspective can prevent a proper understanding of issues. Even if issues are of public interest in the communities we serve, if we have an inability to gain a fundamental understanding through our journalistic work, The Pointer will refrain from coverage.
- The Pointer will not report on issues primarily using unverifiable outside published sources, that relate to health, science, religion, diversity, gender, sexual orientation, physical disabilities or issues centred in a particular geographic place or a particular political/cultural/historical matter. We will make every effort to report on such issues using journalistic approaches free from any bias – cultural, political, historical or religious – that might unfairly inform outside sources of publication. Accurate historical perspective and context is a goal of The Pointer’s journalism.
- The Pointer avoids stereotypes of race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status. And we take particular care in crime stories.
- The Pointer takes special care when reporting on children or those who are otherwise unable to give consent to be interviewed. While some minors, such as athletes, may be used to being interviewed, others might have little understanding of the implications of talking to the media. So, when unsure, or when dealing with particularly sensitive subjects, we err on the side of seeking parental consent. Likewise, we take special care when using any material posted to social media by minors, as they may not understand the public nature of their postings.
- The Pointer respects each person’s right to a fair trial.
Right to Privacy
- The public has a right to know about its institutions and the people who are elected or hired to serve its interests. People also have a right to privacy, and those accused of crimes have a right to a fair trial.
- However, there are inevitable conflicts between the right to privacy, and the rights of all citizens to be informed about matters of public interest. Each situation should be judged in light of common sense, humanity and relevance.
- The Pointer does not manipulate people who are thrust into the spotlight because they are victims of crime or are associated with a tragedy. Nor do we do voyeuristic stories about them. When we contact them, we are sensitive to their situations, and report only information in which the public has a legitimate interest. The Pointer does not step the bounds of reasonable inquiry when someone is involved in a controversial issue. Publicly elected officials and those seeking public office are pursued more vigorously for comment or response if involved in any controversial issue, however, their privacy and reasonable expectation for decency is respected by The Pointer.
- Journalists are increasingly using social networking sites to access information about people and organizations. When individuals post and publish information about themselves on these sites, this information generally becomes public, and can be used. However, The Pointer does not use subterfuge to gain access to information intended to be private. In addition, even when such information is public, we rigorously apply ethical considerations including independent confirmation and transparency in identifying the source of information. (See DIGITAL MEDIA, below.)
- The Pointer serves democracy and the public interest by reporting the truth. This sometimes conflicts with various public and private interests, including those of sources, governments, private business interests and advocacy groups.
- Defending the public’s interest includes promoting the free flow of information, exposing crime or wrongdoing, protecting public health and safety, and preventing the public from being misled.
- The Pointer is independently owned. No entity—an individual, group of individuals, political party, business or advocacy group—has any influence over The Pointer’s coverage.
- The Pointer does not feature advertisements. It is a subscription-based online journalism platform.
- The Pointer gives no favoured treatment to special interests. We resist their efforts to influence the news. The Pointer gives no favoured treatment to any politician, political party, candidate for office or government/government-entity.
- The Pointer does not solicit gifts or favours for personal use and promptly returns unsolicited gifts of more than nominal value. If it is impractical to return the gift, we will give it to an appropriate charity.
- The Pointer does not accept the free or reduced-rate use of valuable goods or services offered because of our position. However, it may be appropriate to use a product for a short time to test or evaluate it. (A common exception is unsolicited books, music, food, or other new products sent for review.)
- The Pointer generally does not accept payment for speaking to groups we report on or comment on, other than for the costs of related expenses.
- The Pointer does not use its position to obtain business or other advantages not available to the general public.
- The Pointer does not show our completed reports to sources – especially official sources – before they are published, unless the practice is intended to verify facts. Doing so might invite prior restraint and challenge our independence as reporters.
- The Pointer gathers information with the intent of producing stories and images for public consumption. We generally do not share unpublished information – such as notes and audio tapes of interviews, documents, emails, digital files, photos and video. However, sometimes such sharing may be necessary to check facts, gain the confidence of sources or solicit more information, and occasionally if we work with a journalistic partner/organization.
- While The Pointer will maintain the above guidelines for independence, it welcomes reader submissions. Members of the public who want to contribute to the dialogue and information being published on issues directly related to them and their communities will be given the opportunity to do so. Verification of reader identity will be required and all the rules of The Pointer’s standards of practice will be applied to the published submissions from readers. While The Pointer’s journalists will maintain a certain independence over their stories, we will provide opportunity for readers to also express their independent views on certain issues, even to challenge the premise of certain articles published by The Pointer. All rules of our standards of practice will apply.
Conflict of Interest
- As fair and impartial observers, we must be free to comment on the activities of any publicly elected body or special interest group. But we cannot do this without an apparent conflict of interest if we are active members of an organization we are covering, and that includes membership through social media.
- The Pointer loses its credibility if we publish pieces about subjects with whom we have more than a professional relationship, unless any such relationship is clearly stated in the story.
- The Pointer carefully considers its community involvements – including those online – and refrains from taking part in demonstrations, signing petitions, doing public relations work, fundraising or making financial contributions if there is a chance we will be covering the campaign, activity or group involved.
- If a Pointer journalist does choose to engage in outside political activity or espouse a particular political viewpoint, this activity could create a public perception of bias, or favouritism that would reflect on the journalist’s work. Any Pointer journalist who engages in such activities – including running for office – will publicly declare any real or potential conflicts.
- The Pointer’s conflict of interest guidelines apply to all online/social media activities. The joining of any groups or connection with any individuals or entities through such platforms will not be done by The Pointer’s journalists if there is a conflict of interest or the reasonable perception of a conflict.
- The Pointer’s journalists generally declare themselves as journalists working for the organization when first meeting potential interview subjects, sources or individuals being interviewed. They generally do not conceal their identities, including when seeking information through social media. However, journalists may go undercover when it is in the public interest and the information is not obtainable any other way; in such cases, we openly explain this deception to the audience. There are also some other exceptions, for example when a journalist is unsure if revealing their identity might create an unsafe situation, or if it would clearly preclude them from getting information of public interest, where concealment of identity does not manipulate, influence or alter the information being put to the public.
- The Pointer normally identifies sources of information. But we may use unnamed sources when there is a clear and pressing reason to protect anonymity, the material gained from the confidential source is of strong public interest, and there is no other reasonable way to obtain the information. When this happens, we explain the need for anonymity.
- The Pointer avoids pseudonyms, but when their use is essential, and we meet the tests above, we tell our readers, listeners or viewers.
- When The Pointer does use unnamed sources we identify them as accurately as possible by affiliation or status. (For example, a “senior military source” must be both senior and in the military.) Any vested interest or potential bias on the part of a source must be revealed.
- The Pointer independently corroborates facts if we get them from a source we do not name.
- The Pointer does not allow anonymous sources to take cheap shots at individuals or organizations. (See FAIRNESS, above.)
- If The Pointer borrows material from another source we are careful to credit the original source. (See ACCURACY, above.)
- We admit openly when we have made a mistake, and we make every effort to correct our errors immediately.
- The Pointer discloses to our readers any biases that could be perceived to influence our reporting. (See CONFLICT OF INTEREST, above.)
- The Pointer openly tells our readers when another organization pays any expense for the journalism we produce or for our participation in any activity that is part of our mission—to inform and engage our readers. Conversely, we do the same when we have made payments for information.
Promises to Sources
- The Pointer only promises anonymity when the material is of high public interest and it cannot be obtained any other way. (See TRANSPARENCY, above.) And when we make these promises to sources, we keep them.
- Because The Pointer may be ordered by a court or judicial inquiry to divulge confidential sources upon threat of jail, we must understand what we are promising. These promises – and the lengths we’re willing to go to keep them – should be clearly spelled out as part of our promise. The following phrases, if properly explained, may be helpful:
- Not for attribution: We may quote statements directly but the source may not be named, although a general description of his or her position may be given (“a government official,” or “a party insider”). In video or audio clips, the identity may be shielded by changing the voice or appearance.
- On background: We may use the essence of statements and generally describe the source, but we may not use direct quotes.
- Off the record: We may not report the information, which can be used solely to help our own understanding or perspective. There is not much point in knowing something if it can’t be reported, so this undertaking, beyond the development of background knowledge or understanding, should be used sparingly, if at all.
- When we are not willing to go to jail to protect a source, we say so before making the promise. And we make it clear that the deal is off if the source lies or misleads us.
- News organizations such as The Pointer provide forums for the free interchange of information and opinion. As such, we seek to include views from all segments of the population. Upholding the ideals of diversity is common sense. The Pointer believes it is critical for its journalism, and its core mission, to reflect the communities where its readers live. A full range of the diversity of thought, experience and opinion will be reflected in our journalism. In its own operations, The Pointer strives to reflect the values of the communities it serves and the public interest journalism it publishes. If The Pointer falls short in properly reflecting, through its regular publication, the communities where its readers live, it will be open to hearing criticism from the public and, if in line with the commonly shared values of the community, doing our best to act on it.
- The Pointer makes room for the interests of all: minorities and majorities, those with power and those without it, holders of disparate and conflicting views.
- The Pointer avoids stereotypes, and does not refer to a person’s race, colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender self-identification or physical ability unless it is pertinent to the story. (See FAIRNESS, above.)
- The Pointer is accountable to the public for the fairness and reliability of our reporting.
- We serve the public interest, and put the needs of our readers at the forefront of our newsgathering decisions.
- We don’t mislead the public by suggesting a reporter is some place that he or she isn’t.
- Photojournalists and videographers do not alter images or sound so that they mislead the public. When we do alter or stage images, we label them clearly (as a photo illustration or a staged video, for example).
- The Pointer uses care when reporting on medical studies, polls and surveys, and we are especially suspect of studies commissioned by those with a vested interest, such as drug companies, special interest groups or politically sponsored think tanks. We make sure we know the context of the results, such as sample size and population, questions asked, and study sponsors, and we include this information in our reports whenever possible.
- When The Pointer makes a mistake, we correct it promptly and transparently, acknowledging the nature of the error. (See ACCURACY, above.)
- The Pointer clearly identifies news and opinion so that the audience knows which is which.
Digital Media Issues
- Ethical practice does not change with the medium. The Pointer is bound by the above principles no matter where our stories are published or broadcast.
- With the proliferation of “Fake News”, The Pointer will make every effort to ensure any sourcing from online sites, including social media, is not being done from platforms/pages/accounts/blogs/users/publishers that are not credible and/or are likely created as part of a disinformation effort. Accordingly, we will try to monitor any use of The Pointer’s content by such sources and alert the appropriate officials of such activity.
- The Pointer will not rely on the information of trolls, nor will we accept comment or information from sources clearly with an agenda that does not meet the standards of our community values.
- The Pointer will respect the right to legitimate free speech, however will not publish or amplify in any way, including on social media, any speech that is hateful. The Pointer may report on such issues, if they are of public interest.
- The Pointer considers all online content carefully, including blogging, and content posted to social media. We do not re-post rumours. (See ACCURACY, above.)
- The need for speed should never compromise accuracy, credibility or fairness. Online content should be reported and edited as carefully as print content, and when possible, subjected to full editing.
- The Pointer clearly informs sources when stories about them will be published across various media, and we indicate the permanency of digital media.
- When we publish outside links, we make an effort to ensure the sites are credible; in other words, we think before we link.
- When The Pointer corrects errors online, we indicate that the content has been altered or updated, and what the original error was. (See ACCURACY, above.)
- So long as the content is accurate, we generally do not “unpublish” or remove digital content, despite public requests to do so, including cases of “source remorse.” Rare exceptions generally involve matters of public safety, an egregious error or ethical violation, or legal restrictions such as publication bans.
- The Pointer tries to obtain permission whenever possible to use online photos and videos, and we always credit the source of the material, by naming the author and where the photo or video was previously posted. We use these photos and videos for news and public interest purposes only, and not to serve voyeuristic interests.
- The Pointer encourages the use of social networks as it is one way to make connections, which is part of our core work as journalists. However, we keep in mind that any information gathered through online means must be confirmed, verified and properly sourced. We will not participate in any way with any published content, on any platform that is intended to be hateful or is part of a campaign that threatens national security or the security and safety of individuals. The Pointer will, however, apply its journalistic standards when reporting on such activities in the public interest.
- Personal online activity, including emails and social networking, should generally be regarded as public and not private. Such activity can impact our professional credibility. As such, The Pointer thinks carefully before we post, and we take special caution in declaring our political leanings online. (See CONFLICT OF INTEREST, above.)