Journalism Resources on the Web

American Society of Newspaper Editors (ASNE) Ethics Codes

The Center for Public Integrity (Investigative Journalism in the Public Interest)

Committee of Concerned Journalists (CCJ)

Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR)

I Want Media Journalism Resources

New York Times Ethical Journalism Handbook (PDF file)

New York University Bobst Library Journalism and Mass Communications

Poynter Online

Project for Excellence in Journalism

Pulitzer Prizes

Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ)

Stanford University Libraries Copyright & Fair Use

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Ethics Pledge

Every incoming student, undergraduate and graduate, must read and sign the department’s ethics pledge. The text is as follows:

Ethics Pledge
New York University Department of Journalism

As a New York University journalism student, you are part of a community of scholars at a university recognized for its research. A scholar’s mission is to push forward the boundaries of knowledge; a journalist’s mission is to serve the public by seeking out and reporting the facts as accurately as possible. Good journalists and scholars share a commitment to the same principle: integrity in their work.

By signing this ethics pledge, you agree to maintain the highest standards of honesty and foster ethical behavior at all times. Anyone who fails to uphold these ethical standards has committed a serious violation of this agreement. Penalties can range from an F on an assignment to a failing grade in a course to expulsion, depending on the decision of the instructor in consultation with the department’s Ethics Committee.

Examples of such activities can include (but are not limited to):

Plagiarism: Attempting to pass off someone else’s words or ideas as your own without proper attribution or acknowledgment. In both journalism and academia, this is akin to theft. Examples: Copying in whole or in part a published article or another student’s paper, borrowing language or concepts, lifting quotes or failing to use quotation marks where appropriate.

Fabrication: Making up information, faking anecdotes or sources, falsifying quotes, creating fictitious sources, citing non-existent articles, or fudging data.

Multiple submission: Recycling assignments from one class for use in another, or submitting assignments to one class that were derived from research in another without prior approval from all professors involved.

Cheating: Using or attempting to use unauthorized assistance, material, or study aids in examinations or other academic exercises. Examples: Using study resources not expressly approved by the instructor, working with another student or students on a take-home exam without prior approval, tampering with grades, purchasing a paper written by someone else or paying someone to write an assignment for you.

In addition, if asked you will submit notes and source lists to your professor without delay.

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Cardinal Sins

Plagiarism: Journalists earn their living with words, and plagiarism — using someone else’s words as if they were your own — is, simply stated, stealing. It can take many forms. At its worst, plagiarism can be copying and pasting an article off the Internet and slapping your own byline at the top. Or subtler: Lifting a quote from a wire service story or taking credit for another person’s idea.

Because of the Internet, plagiarism is easier today than ever before; it’s also easier to catch. To avoid charges of plagiarism, a writer must paraphrase another’s words and state the source(s); credit another person’s ideas and theories; and cite any facts that are not commonly known. Be sure to label your notes carefully when consulting material in a library or online. It is possible to inadvertently plagiarize a work this way; if you do, you suffer the consequences nevertheless.


Original passage: “In 1938, near the end of a decade of monumental turmoil, the year’s number-one newsmaker was not Franklin Delano Roosevelt, Hitler, or Mussolini. It wasn’t Pope Pius XI, nor was it Lou Gehrig, Howard Hughes or Clark Gable. The subject of the most newspaper column inches in 1938 wasn’t even a person. It was an undersized, crooked-legged racehorse named Seabiscuit. (From Seabiscuit: An American Legend, by Laura Hillenbrand.)

The following is plagiarism:

“The biggest newsmaker in 1938 — measured in newspaper column inches — wasn’t the president, nor was it Adolf Hitler or the pope. It wasn’t Babe Ruth or any Hollywood actor either. Why, it wasn’t even human. It was a racehorse named Seabiscuit.”

Why is this plagiarism? Because the writer has taken the spirit of Hillenbrand’s passage and simply reordered a few sentences and substituted words — including a relatively obscure fact about more newspaper column inches being dedicated to Seabiscuit than any human in 1938. What’s more, the writer didn’t credit Hillenbrand’s work.

Here is an acceptable paraphrase of this same passage:

“In 1938, the legendary racehorse Seabiscuit was so famous he accounted for more newspaper column inches than the president, pope and any Hollywood film star, according to Laura Hillenbrand in Seabiscuit: An American Legend.

Or simply, Seabiscuit was extremely popular in 1938. There’s no need to cite Hillenbrand because this is a commonly known fact that cannot be reasonably disputed.

Here is another example:

Original passage: “Jaithirth ‘Jerry’ Rao was one of the first people I met in Bangalore — and I hadn’t been with him for more than a few minutes at the Leela Palace hotel before he told me that he could handle my tax returns and any other accounting needs I had — from Bangalore. No thanks, I demurred. I already have an accountant in Chicago. Jerry just smiled. He was too polite to say it — that he may already be my accountant, or rather my accountant’s accountant, thanks to the explosion in the outsourcing of tax preparation. ‘This is happening as we speak,’ said Rao, a native of Mumbai, formerly Bombay, whose Indian firm, MphasiS, has a team of Indian accountants able to do outsourced accounting work from any state in America and the federal government. ‘We have tied up with several small and medium-sized CPA firms in America.'” (From The World is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century, by Thomas L. Friedman.)

The following is plagiarism:

“India has become a major player in outsourced accounting, and, for all you know, someone in Bangalore might very well be crunching your tax returns — on behalf of your accountant. ‘This is happening as we speak,’ said Jaithirth Rao, whose firm, MphasiS, has ‘tied up with several small and medium-sized CPA firms in America.'”

It is unacceptable because the way it is written, it appears the writer interviewed Rao and got that original quote, when it originated in Thomas Friedman’s book.

Another example:

Original passage: “The stock market crashed on October 29, 1929, a Tuesday, the most disastrous session on Wall Street to date in a month of turmoil.” (The Worst Hard Time, by Timothy Egan.)

The following is not plagiarism: “The stock market crashed on Tuesday, October 29, 1929, following a month of economic jitters.”

It is acceptable because the day the stock market crashed, leading to the Great Depression, is a well-known fact.

Additional sticking points:

It can be tempting to lift highly technical passages (say, a description of BMW’s braking system or an in depth analysis of how Google’s search engine actually works). Don’t do it. Instead, find a way to describe these things in your own words. This also goes for company descriptions used in press releases. For example, HP describes itself as “a technology solutions provider to consumers, businesses and institutions globally.” You might describe it as “a seller of a broad range of technology products and services, including PCs, printers, and IT infrastructure.”

The bottom-line rule of attribution is: When in doubt, cite the source of your information. You can’t go wrong then.

Fabrication: Making up sources or information in an assignment is a serious ethical violation. In the real world, it could lead to immediate dismissal and the end of your career. In the late 1990s Stephen Glass created in part or whole cloth some two dozen stories he published in The New Republic, Harpers and Rolling Stone, which led to one of the biggest journalism scandals in history. Jayson Blair of The New York Times plagiarized and fabricated sources and material, which became a huge embarrassment to the Times, which is still recovering. Both are out of the profession.

Doctoring photos or video: It is not permissible to doctor or manipulate photos for the purpose of misleading, although is all right to crop pictures or enhance clarity if blurry. With video it is OK to edit footage but not all right to alter subjects’ appearance or likewise distort reality. Increasingly photo manipulation is being used as an explanatory technique: Putting George Bush’s head onto a wrestler’s body for satiric purposes, for example. This is acceptable only if there will be no confusion between the photo manipulation — satiric or otherwise — and reality.

Fictional devices: Names, dates and places should never be altered in any story, even to protect a source’s identity. If publishing those facts could lead to retribution against a source, or if compassion dictates omitting these facts from a story, they should simply be cut (with an explanation to the reader). Composites, which are characteristics and histories of multiple characters blended into one, should never be used.

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The assumption is that every word in a quote is word for word what the interviewee said. Many news organizations — The New York Times, Associated Press — do not allow reporters to “clean up” quotations, even if the speaker employs tortured syntax. In that case, it is often best to remove the quote and paraphrase the response — or just quote the words or phrase that are the strongest. It is permissible to delete extraneous sounds like “uh” or “um.”

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Point of View

Objectivity vs. subjectivity: In a hard news piece, the expectation is that the journalist is attempting to convey the facts impartially. That is to say, objectively. But magazines, Web journalism and many other newsmedia value a strong point of view; the journalist lets the research take him to where he needs to go. Often, that requires him to take sides, if the facts warrant it. Some argue that the “he said, she said” form of journalism, in which a reporter tries to balance two opposing sides, often results in an inaccurate article, since one side may be right and the other wrong. When in doubt, consult with your professor. Remember that journalism can be good — or bad — whether or not it is opinionated. The true test of journalistic quality is not whether the reporter has an opinion, but whether the article — opinionated or not — is informed by a fair assessment of the facts.

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