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L.A. Times Ethics Guidelines

The standards outlined here apply to all editorial employees and to all work they produce for The Times, whether it appears in print, on television or on the Web.

April 15, 2014

The goal of the Los Angeles Times is to publish a newspaper of the highest quality. This requires The Times to be, above all else, a principled newspaper. Making it so is the responsibility of every staff member.

In deed and in appearance, journalists at The Times must keep themselves – and the newspaper – above reproach.

The ways a newspaper can discredit itself are beyond calculation; these guidelines do not purport to cover them all. It is up to staff members to master these general principles and, beyond that, to listen carefully to their individual sense of right and wrong. If you know of anything that might cast a shadow on the paper’s reputation, you are expected to inform a supervising editor.

This can be an uncomfortable duty; under some circumstances, it can do harm to one’s relationships with others in the newsroom. It is a duty nevertheless. Credibility, a newspaper’s most precious asset, is arduously acquired and easily squandered. It can be maintained only if each of us accepts responsibility for it.

The standards outlined here apply to all editorial employees and to all work they produce for The Times, whether it appears in print, on television or on the Web. When uncertainty arises about the application of these guidelines, the primary goal always should be to protect the paper’s integrity. When in doubt, do not be shy about asking questions. A robust, ongoing discussion of ethics at all levels of the newsroom is essential to producing a first-rate newspaper.

CONTENT

Fairness
A fair-minded reader of Times news coverage should not be able to discern the private opinions of those who contributed to that coverage, or to infer that the newspaper is promoting any agenda. A crucial goal of our news and feature reporting – apart from editorials, columns, criticism and other content that is expressly opinionated – is to be non-ideological. This is a tall order. It requires us to recognize our own biases and stand apart from them. It also requires us to examine the ideological environment in which we work, for the biases of our sources, our colleagues and our communities can distort our sense of objectivity.

In covering controversial issues – strikes, abortion, gun control and the like – we seek out intelligent, articulate views from all perspectives. Reporters should try genuinely to understand all points of view, rather than simply grab quick quotations to create a semblance of balance.

People who will be shown in an adverse light in an article must be given a meaningful opportunity to defend themselves. This means making a good-faith effort to give the subject of allegations or criticism sufficient time and information to respond substantively. Whenever possible, the reporter should meet face-to-face with the subject in a sincere effort to understand his or her best arguments.

Investigative reporting requires special diligence with respect to fairness. Those involved in such stories should bear in mind that they are more credible when they provide a rich, nuanced account of the topic. Our coverage should avoid simplistic portrayals.

Sources

We report in environments – Hollywood and Washington, to name two – where anonymity is routinely sought and casually granted. We stand against that practice and seek to minimize it. We are committed to informing readers as completely as possible; the use of anonymous sources compromises this important value.

These standards are not intended to discourage reporters from cultivating sources who are wary of publicity. Such informants can be invaluable. But the information they provide can often be verified with sources willing to be named, from documents, or both. We should make every effort to obtain such verification. Relying in print on unnamed sources should be a last resort, subject to the following guidelines:

When we use anonymous sources, it should be to convey important information to our readers. We should not use such sources to publish material that is trivial, obvious or self-serving.

Sources should never be permitted to use the shield of anonymity to voice speculation or to make ad hominem attacks.

An unnamed source should have a compelling reason for insisting on anonymity, such as fear of retaliation, and stories should state those reasons when they are relevant.

The reporter and editor must be satisfied that the source has a sound factual basis for his or her assertions. Some sources quoted anonymously might tend to exaggerate or overreach precisely because they will not be named.

Stories should identify sources as completely as possible consistent with the promise of anonymity. In particular, a source’s point of view and potential biases should be disclosed as fully as possible. For instance, “an advisor to Democratic members of the House Foreign Affairs Committee” is preferable to “a Congressional source.”

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