OCN’s Ethics Policy was drafted using our own beliefs and values as journalists and incorporates ideas from reputable organizations The Society of Professional Journalists, The Colorado Sun and The Denver Post, with input from Trusting News, a national program aimed at understanding and improving trust in news outlets.
We don’t do pay for play
- We do not accept money in exchange for interviews or photos, nor do we pay individuals or organizations for interviews, or to take photos of them.
- If someone witnesses an event and takes a print-worthy photo, we will pay that individual, upon request. We consider this to be no different than paying a freelance photographer to take a photo.
- This does not apply to public records, which in some cases do require a fee for administrative purposes.
We don’t allow pre-publication content reviews
- The OCN team is here to discuss concerns sources may have but pre-published content is not to be shared with anyone outside of the newsroom in order to maintain the work’s authenticity.
- To ensure accuracy, OCN’s policy is to record all interviews.
- We’re human, so sometimes it’s necessary to read information from a pre-published story back to a source to avoid confusion in context or, especially when dealing with complicated topics, substance. Such exceptions are subject to the managing editor’s approval.
Everyone gets a fair shake
- We won’t ambush people or unfairly surprise them. Everyone we seek for a story has 24 hours to respond before the story is published. We will explain in our stories who we tried to contact and how. We will doggedly seek sources on all sides of an issue.
- We seek out underrepresented voices to uncover various perspectives and hidden issues in the community.
We rarely use anonymous sources
- We only promise anonymity to sources if revealing their identity would cause them harm, and if the information we are seeking cannot be obtained elsewhere.
- The same holds true when using first names only to identify sources.
- To clarify, an anonymous source is not anonymous to the journalist, only to the public.
- Our general rule is to identify our sources as clearly as possible.
- Journalists are trained to be skeptical of requests for anonymity.
We are open, honest and direct
- When we contact sources, we are upfront about who we are and what we’re doing. We make it clear that we are reporting on a particular issue. We will never misrepresent ourselves or trick people into giving us information.
- If we learn something that’s available to the general public, such as an announcement being made at an event or a person speaking at a public meeting, we are able to use that information in our reporting.
- Undercover reporting is avoided unless a journalist cannot obtain the information any other way and the information being sought is considered vital to the public.
We’re not out to make people look bad
- Our purpose in covering stories is to inform the community when something is going on that can hurt them, help them, or make them smile. If we see a problem, we want to bring it to light so a solution can be found. A big part of our job is covering the positive things that are happening. People doing good things deserve a shout out. It promotes positive behavior and inspires others.
- As journalists, we hold the powerful accountable and give a voice to the voiceless. This does not mean we’re out to get anyone in a position of power. We want to make sure everyone’s following the rules and acting in good faith.
- We write crime stories only when it poses an ongoing threat to the community, or when our coverage can help the public make better, safer decisions.
We only publish mugshots if:
- that suspect is on the loose and could harm people.
- it could help law enforcement gather information in that case.
- that person has been convicted of a crime. If we learn that someone was wrongly convicted, we will take the mugshot down and print a correction.
- As humans, we have our biases, but we’re trained as journalists to refrain from letting those biases enter our coverage. However, we do make mistakes. If you notice bias or unfairness in our reporting, we invite you to draw our attention to it. You can email firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Part of our job is to take a good, hard look at ourselves and make sure our values and experiences do not affect our reporting.
Here’s a breakdown of journalism jargon so we’re all on the same page:
- “On the record” means that the information you are providing can be used in our publication and will be attributed to you as a source. This can take the form of a direct quote, or can be paraphrased by the reporter.
- “On background” means that the information can be used in a story but cannot be in quotes or attributed to the person. We generally use background information to get started on a story, and then fact-check and get on-the-record sources to back that information up.
- “Off the record” means that the information being given is not able to be used in a story at all.
We do not expect people to know these things. The terms of an interview will be agreed upon by both parties. Information sent to the publication, however, is on the record, unless agreed otherwise. Requests to move information from on the record to off the record will be considered on a case-by-case basis but this is generally not policy.