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Ethics Policy

Below is a statement of the ethics and coverage policies of Common Dreams.

This code is designed to provide all Common Dreams employees with guidelines for appropriate professional conduct.

Our Vision

Common Dreams is an independent, nonprofit news organization that strives to help our audience connect the dots in an increasingly complex informational landscape by providing unbiased, well-researched, and thought-provoking content on multiple platforms. Our fact-based approach provides a 360˚ view of the political, economic and social events that are shaping our communities, our country, our world, providing the tools needed today to create a better future.

Our mission: To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good.

We provide readers with impartial, informative reporting, and maintain an outlet for civic engagement and discourse on public policy, politics, government and other matters of concern across the globe. This vision and mission drive the values and guidelines set out in this code of ethics, which borrows generously from the policies set by other fine news organizations and compiled by the News Leaders Association in their ethics directory. Exceptional circumstances may require exceptions to these rules but as news reporting and the technology surrounding it evolves, we will continue to revise this code.

Editorial Independence & Financing

Common Dreams operates with full independence and has no legal or financial ties to any other organization. Common Dreams is a US-registered 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization #20-3368194. Common Dreams is financially supported by tax-deductible reader donations and foundation grants.

Editorial independence includes but is not limited to the fact that only individuals within Common Dreams’ editorial operations may make any decisions with respect to newsgathering or reporting. Common Dreams journalists are fully insulated from any political or other external pressures or processes that would be inconsistent with the highest standards of professional journalism.

All employees are always required to adhere to the highest professional standards of journalism and must take that into account when carrying out all their responsibilities. The highest professional standards of journalism also require that all elements of news gathering and reporting are carried out by professional journalists trained in and held to the highest industry standards.

Common Dreams employees shall maintain the highest principles of fairness, accuracy, objectivity, and responsible independent reporting. Read more in the journalistic ethics policy below.

Ethics Overview

The central premise of this code is Common Dreams’ reputation for the independence and integrity of our publication, services and products is the heart and soul of our operations.

It is an essential prerequisite in the news business that the public believes us to be telling them the truth. Our readers must be able to assume:

  • Our facts are accurate and fairly presented;
  • Our opinions represent our own editorial philosophies as well as presenting views that readers may not find elsewhere; and
  • There are no hidden agendas in any of our journalistic undertakings.

Furthermore, we adhere to the following guidelines for conduct – paraphrased from Jim Lehrer writing in a 1997 report published by The Aspen Institute:

  • Do nothing we cannot defend.
  • Do not distort, lie, slant, or hype.
  • Do not falsify facts or makeup quotes.
  • Cover, write, and present every story with the care we would want if the story were about us.
  • Assume there is at least one other side or version to every story.
  • Assume the viewer is as smart and caring and as good a person as we believe ourselves to be.
  • Assume the same about all people on whom we report.
  • Assume everyone is innocent until proven guilty.
  • Assume personal lives are a private matter until a legitimate turn in the story mandates otherwise.
  • Carefully separate opinion and analysis from straight news stories and clearly label them as such.
  • Do not use anonymous sources or blind quotes except on rare and monumental occasions. No one should ever be allowed to attack another anonymously.
  • Do not broadcast profanity or the end result of violence unless it is an integral and necessary part of the story and/or crucial to understanding the story.
  • Acknowledge that objectivity may be impossible but fairness never is.
  • Journalists who are reckless with facts and reputations will be disciplined by Common Dreams as their employer.
  • Our readers have a right to know what principles guide our work and the processes we use.
  • We are not in the entertainment business.

The clear implication of these beliefs is that the responsibility of safeguarding and growing a company that lives up to this code lies with each and every one of us. Every Common Dreams employee holds a position of trust. Acceptance of a position at any level or in any part of Common Dreams includes acceptance of individual responsibility to uphold Common Dreams policies governing legal and ethical practices, as well as the responsibility to stress proper ethical behavior among colleagues and subordinates.

We publish Common Dreams reporter contact information on the reporter's bio page so you can reach us immediately should you have a question or concern about our coverage.

In our rapidly evolving world, each of us is challenged with complex environments that often require quick responses under the pressure of deadlines. No written policy can definitively set forth the appropriate action for all situations a Common Dreams employee may encounter but we intend for this code to emphasize and clarify a standard for ethical conduct that must govern all of our professional dealings and relationships.

Clear Content Labeling

The distinct separation of news coverage from opinions and advocacy is intended to serve the reader, who is entitled to facts in our news coverage and opinions on our opinion content pages. The labels Common Dreams uses are designed as follows:

  • Opinions/Views
    • OPINION | an opinion piece by an individual(s)
    • EDITORIALS | an opinion piece by a news organization
    • FURTHER | an opinion piece by our staff columnist
  • News
    • HEADLINES | fact-based news coverage by our staff writers
    • NEWSWIRE | news releases by non-profit organizations

Journalistic Ethics

Common Dreams subscribes to the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists, reprinted here in full:

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity.

The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

Seek Truth and Report It

Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
  • Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
  • Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
  • Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
  • Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
  • Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
  • Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.
  • Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.
  • Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
  • Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
  • Label advocacy and commentary.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
  • Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

Minimize Harm

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

  • Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
  • Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justification to publish or broadcast.
  • Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
  • Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
  • Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
  • Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

Act Independently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid political and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

Be Accountable and Transparent

Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one’s work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journalists should:

  • Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
  • Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
  • Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
  • Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Sigma Delta Chi’s first Code of Ethics was borrowed from the American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1926. In 1973, Sigma Delta Chi wrote its own code, which was revised in 1984, 1987, 1996 and 2014.

Additional Ethics Guidelines which apply to Common Dreams staff

Funders

Journalists employed by Common Dreams take no editorial direction from any funders who support Common Dreams’ nonprofit news operation. 

Use of Confidential Sources

Common Dreams generally refrains from basing stories solely on the assertions of confidential sources, except in extraordinary circumstances and after review by the content editor or their approved designee.

Identification of Victims of Sex Crimes and Minors Accused of Crimes

Absent a compelling reason to do so or permission from the person involved, Common Dreams will not identify the alleged victims of sex crimes or minors charged with crimes.

Surreptitious Reporting

As a general matter, Common Dreams staff will identify themselves and their relationship to Common Dreams when covering a story. Common Dreams staff should not lie about their identities or connection to Common Dreams. However, in rare circumstances, it may be appropriate for Common Dreams staff not to disclose their identity or connection to Common Dreams if doing so would prevent Common Dreams from obtaining information in the public interest. Any exceptions must be approved by their editor or their designee.

Outside Work

Common Dreams staff wishing to engage in freelance or other outside work must obtain prior approval from the managing editor or the Executive Director.

Use of Social Media

As a digital news organization, Common Dreams is committed to using social networking platforms to distribute its work and build an engaged audience. Staff members are mindful that their actions online may be seen as a representation of Common Dreams.

When using networks such as Facebook, Twitter, etc., for reporting or for our personal lives, we must protect our professional integrity and remember: Common Dreams journalists are always Common Dreams journalists.

Social media accounts maintained by all Common Dreams staff reflect upon the reputation and credibility of the newsroom. Even as we express ourselves in more personal and informal ways to forge better connections, we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of Common Dreams for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence. Every comment or link we share should be considered public information, regardless of privacy settings.

Conflicts of Interest

Staff employed by Common Dreams are not permitted to participate in stories in which they or any family member or domestic partner have a direct financial or work interest.

Editorial Firewall

Common Dreams understands that within any credible news organization, a firewall exists between anybody involved with any aspect of journalism (e.g., the creation, reporting, distributing, etc., of content) and everyone else in the organization. For purposes of Common Dreams, the firewall exists between the newsroom of Common Dreams and every other employee, member, officer, and director of Common Dreams, as described below.

This “firewall” is understood to be violated when any individual outside the newsroom attempts to direct, pressure, coerce, threaten, interfere with, or otherwise impermissibly influence any of Common Dreams’ newsroom operations, including their leadership, officers, employees, or staff, in the performance of their journalistic duties and activities. It is also violated when someone inside the newsroom acts in furtherance of or pursuant to such impermissible influence. Such impermissible influence would undermine the journalistic and editorial independence, and thus the credibility, of Common Dreams, and their reporters, editors, and other journalists broadly.

This firewall is essential to ensuring the continued editorial independence, credibility and therefore effectiveness of the journalism provided by Common Dreams. The firewall ensures that our editorial staff, led by our managing editor, continue to make the final decisions on what stories to cover and how they are covered, and that those decisions are ultimately governed by the highest standards of professional journalism.

Compliance with this Code

Common Dreams takes this code of conduct very seriously. All employees of Common Dreams are responsible for compliance with all aspects of this code. All new employees shall be required to read this code at the outset of their employment, and to attest in writing that they have done so; all Common Dreams employees shall be required, at the time this code is first implemented, to read it and so attest. In the case of all members of senior management, and all news and other personnel, such written attestations shall be required to be renewed annually.

Any lapse in judgment in the matters addressed above will be treated as serious enough to warrant discipline up to and including dismissal.

Any employee having a question about a possible violation of this code by any person, or in connection with any practice, should discuss it with their supervisor or the managing editor. Every effort will be made to maintain the confidentiality of such discussions.

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Common Dreams is a trusted NewsGuard-validated news website receiving a 100% rating for adhering to all of its standards of credibility and transparency.

Contact: editor@commondreams.org

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