Journalistic Ethics Policy

The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc.
Guide to Ethics and Journalistic Style
Last updated: April 16, 2017 (Note: The 'Anonymous Authors' and 'Retractions' sections of this page, listed under 'Part 5: General Editorial Standards,' were last updated on February 27, 2022)


It’s long been the principle that any media organization which aims to accurately and fairly serve a community, as The Daily Pennsylvanian, Inc. strives to do, ought to hold itself accountable. The following document makes clear how the DP, Inc. understands journalistic style and ethics in an age of rapidly changing journalistic expectations within the digital publishing world.

Parts 1 and 2 of this document apply specifically t o writers, reporters and editors in News, Sports and 34th Street. If a staffer from Design, Photo, Web Development, or one of the visuals sections of 34th Street independently produces an item of content from conception to completion, Parts 1 and 2 apply to them as well. Part 3 only applies to UTB staff.

Part 4 applies to all staff on both the Editorial and Business sides of the DP, 34th Street and UTB.

Part 1: Conflicts of Interest

Conflicts of interest destroy the credibility of the DP, Inc. and sap the fairness of our journalism. They should be avoided at all costs. If writing a negative story about a source would put a strain on a reporter’s personal relationship with that source, it is likely that a conflict exists. Even if not, the appearance of a conflict coloring content is still enough to warrant removing oneself from coverage. Our status as a student newspaper, writing and reporting about a community we ourselves are part of, clearly complicates traditional conflict of interest norms. Therefore, in any “gray area” case, the relevant reporter or editor must alert their immediate supervisor to the possibility of a conflict. Supervisors also have full jurisdiction to inform any of their staffers of their belief that a conflict of interest is apparent.

It is impossible to exhaustively list all potential conflicts of interest, and some conflicts not captured by the list below can still be categorized as such by an editor’s judgment call. If there is disagreement over whether something is a conflict, the Executive Editor should be consulted for a final decision.

No writer shall cover or contribute to coverage of:

1. Any department, office, or division of which they are an employee.

2. Any class in which they are currently enrolled or of any instructor in whose class they are currently enrolled

3. Any person with whom they have an ongoing romantic or intimate relationship, or any organization in which such a person holds a leadership role

a. Because Penn “relationships” are weird, use good judgment in determining whether a prior romantic relationship is a conflict

b. It is always good practice to preempt potential conflicts of interest by telling your supervisor about them

4. Any close personal friend or roommate

5. Any club, Greek organization or other organization to which they belong

6. Any department under which they are pursuing a major, minor, or concentration

a. For example, English majors should avoid writing stories about a change in the department’s policy on something. A writer who is an English major could still interview an English faculty member, as long as they’re not currently in a class with that professor, as long as the story is not specifically about the English department.

Part 2: Sources and interviews

A source is defined as anybody interviewed by a reporter or writer in pursuit of a story. It has been the practice of the DP and Street in past years to mostly adopt the following requirements, but be flexible with them for certain sources or groups on an as-needed basis. It should never be the practice of any reporter working for the DP or Street to give a blanket exemption to a group or source for eternity. Only the Senior News Editor, Senior Sports Editor, Street Managing Editor, Street Editor-in-Chief or Executive Editor can approve individual deviations from the policies listed below for specific stories.

Levels of attribution for interviews are: 1) on the record, 2) on background, 3) not for attribution and 4) off the record. These terms are not uniformly defined across all media organizations, so default to these definitions:

● On the record: the default level that begins once a staff member introduces themselves as a writer from Street or the DP

○ All material said during an “on the record” portion can be used for quotes. The source can be fully identified by name and using other relevant details

● Not for attribution: a source can be quoted directly, but not referred to by name

○This level must be negotiated between the writer and source before the fact. For example, a source cannot ask, at the end of an interview, “Could that material have been not for attribution?” It must be established up front.

○ Any anonymous sources quoted in the DP or Street are in the “not for attribution” level

○ At least one editor must know the identity of the anonymous source.

● On background: a source can provide context, but cannot be quoted or referred to by name or with any identifying details

○ This level, as well, must be negotiated up front. A source cannot make information “on background” that was previously thought to be “on the record”

● Off the record: the writer cannot use any of the information provided by the source for their article; the writer cannot share anything said in the interview except with their editor

○ Sources are occasionally not certain what “off the record” means — they often think when they request something to be “on the record,” it really is “not for attribution” or “on background.” It is the writer’s responsibility to ensure their source understands all of these levels of attribution.

Here are a few mandatory requirements for source relations and interviews:

● Upon meeting a source, a reporter immediately must identify themselves as a representative from the DP or Street. The expectation once it is vocally made clear that the person is speaking in their capacity as a reporter is that everything that follows is “on the record.” It is good practice for reporters to remind sources of this, especially if the source may not be familiar with this protocol and just say, “We’re on the record right now, so you know.”

○ If a reporter expects that a conversation may contain parts “on background” or “not for attribution,” they should define those terms up front with a source. If a reporter does not do this and the source requests to take the conversation to one of those levels, it should be immediately defined.

○ Material said on the record cannot be retroactively stricken from the record. A reporter should use good and fair judgment to determine if a source was speaking out of turn/making a joke/being unclear when determining whether to use quotes a source said on the record but then requested to be changed or removed after the fact.

● No source is allowed to view a pre-published version of a story, except small excerpts (at an editor’s discretion) purely to fact check.

● Reporters are encouraged, but not required to record their interviews. If they record them, they must ask sources if they are willing to be recorded.(Reporters need permission to record because in Pennsylvania it is illegal to record someone without their knowledge.)

○ It should be general practice to record interviews, but it is not mandated as it may not be practical or useful depending on the circumstance, such as in a breaking news situation.

● Facilitating an interview purely by email is forbidden unless an editor expressly approves it. Reporters can send sample topics ahead of a time to a source and clearly identify any questions that may require data to answer. An interview can only be fully conducted by email if a source is incapable of speaking by phone or meeting in person, because they're overseas—for example.

○ If a faculty member or administrative figure cannot meet in person or talk on the phone, they can respond to requests for comment via an emailed statement.

○ Student groups, academic departments and Penn offices can send statements on behalf of their group.

○ It is up to the editor’s judgment on how much of a statement to include in an article, though if the statement was made via Facebook, it should be general practice to embed it in the online version of the article.

● Sources can only be anonymous by the express permission of either the Senior News Editor, Senior Sports Editor, Street Managing Editor or Street Editor-in-Chief. Anonymous sources are not permitted to be quoted making character attacks on named individuals on the record. In order for a group of anonymous sources to make an allegation against a named individual, there must be a minimum of three different sources, all with the same or closely similar descriptions of the allegation. The claim cannot be published unless the person it is attacking is given an appropriate amount of time to defend themselves.

For the DP, Inc.'s policy on quotes, we’ve borrowed the following excerpt from from The New York Times’ Guidelines on Integrity, which includes the following slightly edited passage:

Readers should be able to assume that every word between quotation marks is what the speaker or writer said. The DP, Street and UTB do not "clean up" quotations. If a subject’s grammar or taste is poor, quotation marks should be removed and the awkward passage paraphrased. Unless the writer has a recording, it is usually wise to paraphrase long comments. "Approximate" quotations can undermine readers’ trust in The DP, Street or UTB. The writer should, of course, omit verbal tics like "um" and may judiciously delete false starts (when someone begins a sentence and quickly changes course to another thought). If any further omission is necessary, close the quotation, insert new attribution and begin another quotation. Ellipses should only be used with discretion and avoided if at all possible. (The DP, Street and UTB adjust spelling, punctuation, capitalization and abbreviations within a quotation for consistent style.) In every case, writer and editor must both be satisfied that the intent of the subject has been preserved.

When a source makes a spelling or grammar mistake in a quote, our policy is as follows (adapted from the AP Style Guide):

"Place (sic) in the text directly after the problem to show that the passage is precisely reproduced. Do not insert (sic) for quoted material that may be open to challenge, such as a political assertion. Specify that outside the quote in a separate sentence."

Part 3: Under the Button

As a humor blog, UTB has slightly more flexibility than The DP or Street when it comes to these reporting guidelines. However, there are a few rules UTB writers must abide by:

1. When writing about a true story where the subject could reasonably have concerns with the way the story was portrayed, the UTB writer should reach out to the group described for comment.

a. This standard doesn't apply when the post is satirical or poking fun at a group, like the “review” of a student group’s performance.

2. Untrue posts should be explicitly labeled as “SATIRE” through an article tag at the top of the page.

3. No posts can ever be bylined anonymously or by “UTB Editor.” Writers should always put their names to a story they wrote.

a. When many people contribute to an article, like in a list, it should be bylined “UTB Staff” if over three staffers contributed. If three or less contributed, then each of their individual bylines should be included.

4. Photos used in UTB posts, if not taken from the DP’s catalog or from a publicly-available source like Creative Commons, must be checked with a DP Photo Editor or the Executive Editor to ensure they are OK to use.

Part 4: Division between Business and Editorial

Editorial staff members in News, Sports, Street and UTB are not permitted to perform functions on the business side, including but not limited to: creating sponsored content and selling ads, contacting Business clients on behalf of The DP...etc. (This rule only applies during the semester in which a staffer is primarily committed to one section of the DP. It’s fine to switch sides if a staffer, for example, was in Marketing in the fall and decided to become a reporter in the spring.) The same rule applies in reverse for business members performing editorial functions in those departments.

Editorial staff in Photo, Video, Design, Social Media, Web Development and Editorial Analytics are permitted to perform business functions including but not limited to: creating and assisting in the creation of sponsored content, designing ads, contacting Business clients on behalf of The DP...etc. However, these staff members can only perform Business functions if specifically approved ahead of time by the Executive Editor. The same rule applies for Business members doing work in those Editorial departments.

Business staffers should take extraordinary care to avoid exerting pressure of any kind on editorial staff regarding the generation of editorial content. If there is a Business-related concern about a particular piece of content, that concern should be directly expressed to the Executive Editor.

Part 5: General Editorial Standards

● CORRECTIONS: Only the Executive Editor, Senior News Editor, Senior Sports Editor, Street Managing Editor, Street Editor-in-Chief and UTB Editor-in-Chief can append corrections to stories. If a staffer or other editor becomes aware of an error that necessitates a correction, they should ask someone from that list of people to formally do it. Corrections in print should be added to the Opinion Page of the following day’s paper. What constitutes a correction in The DP, Street or UTB is: a factual error that biases or disrupts significantly a reader’s understanding of the story, as well as a misquote or mischaracterization of someone’s words.

○ Minor errors, like a typo or misspelling, can be fixed by any editor and do not rise to the level of an official correction.

○ Factual errors ought to be corrected as soon as possible and a reporter is obligated to alert their editor immediately upon realizing a correction is necessary.

○ Written corrections should end with “The DP regrets the error.”

● STAFF MEMBERS AS SOURCES: Editorial and Business staff members across the organization should avoid being quoted as sources in the DP, Street or UTB. It is to be expected that DP, Inc. staffers have roles within other organizations, but when their outside group is being covered by a DP, Inc. publication, they should generally ask someone in a comparable role to be quoted in lieu of them.

● ANONYMOUS AUTHORS: No opinion pieces published in the DP may be published anonymously or under a pseudonym. Pieces that are written on behalf of a group may be published under an author’s description consisting of the organization, or role within the organization.

○ Street can publish pieces with anonymous bylines, but only if they are 1) part of Shoutouts, or 2) contain sensitive subject matter. (The editor of the piece must know the identity of the writer.) Any published pieces with an anonymous byline cannot contain direct reference to another person for the same reason we do not let anonymous sources directly critique people by name on-the-record: the person does not have the ability to defend themselves and it is unfair to be operating on different levels of attribution.

● RETRACTIONS: The DP’s Executive Board is responsible for deciding, by vote count, if a piece of content from The DP, Street or UTB can be formally retracted. The Executive Board is the Corporation’s management board, and voting members consists of the President, Business Manager, Executive Editor, DP Editor-in-Chief, 34th Street Magazine Editor-in-Chief, Under the Button Editor-in-Chief, and two at-large members.

● PAYMENT: Reporters should not accept any payment or gift of any kind whatsoever from sources while pursuing a story. For example, if interviewing a professor while having lunch, the reporter should pay for their own lunch and not accept an offer for the source to pay. Staffers who wish to get any meals comped as part of work done for the DP, Street or UTB must get permission from either the Street Editor-in-Chief, UTB Editor-in-Chief or Executive Editor.