Handling Conflicts
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Handling Conflicts

Large portions of this guide are based on the New York Times Guidelines on Integrity to avoid reinventing the wheel.

General

We engage with readers on the truth. That is to say, we speak our results and accept valid critique, but do not need to both-sides issues, simper to bad faith engagements or deal in good faith with trolls. We correct our mistakes as soon as we become aware of them and make sure our corrections are a matter of record.

We engage with sources in the same manner. Watchdog staff should always disclose their identity to people they cover (whether face to face or otherwise), though they need not always announce their status as journalists when seeking information normally available to the public. Staff members may not pose as police officers, lawyers, business people or anyone else when they are working as journalists. (As happens on rare occasions, when seeking to enter countries that bar journalists, correspondents may take cover from vagueness and identify themselves as traveling on business or as tourists).

Sexual Harassment

Sexual harassment can involve one or more incidents and actions constituting harassment may be physical, verbal and non-verbal. Examples of conduct or behaviour which constitute sexual harassment include, but are not limited to:

Physical conduct

  1. Unwelcome physical contact including patting, pinching, stroking, kissing, hugging, fondling, or inappropriate touching
  2. Physical violence, including sexual assault
  3. The use of job-related threats or rewards to solicit sexual favors

Verbal conduct

  1. Unwelcome comments on a worker’s appearance, age, private life, etc.
  2. Sexual comments, stories and jokes
  3. Sexual advances
  4. Repeated and unwanted social invitations for dates or physical intimacy
  5. Insults or condescending or paternalistic remarks based on the sex of the worker
  6. Sending sexually explicit messages (by phone or by email)

Non-verbal conduct

  1. Display of sexually explicit or suggestive material
  2. Sexually-suggestive gestures
  3. Whistling
  4. Leering

Sexual harassment grounds for immediate termination and is considered breach of contract. Depending on severity of the incident, this may be grounds for Watchdog filing a case with the police against the perpetrator in additional to other penalties.

Obeying the Law in Pursuit of the News

We must obey the law in the pursuit of news. We may not break into buildings, homes, apartments or offices. We may not purloin data, documents or other property, including such electronic property as databases and email or voice mail messages. We may not tap telephones, invade computer files or otherwise eavesdrop electronically on news sources. In short, while we are free to call for reform, we may not commit illegal acts of any sort. Recording calls and interviews requires consent from the person being recorded.

Personal Relations with Sources

Relationships with sources require the utmost in sound judgment and self discipline to prevent the fact or appearance of partiality. Cultivating sources is an essential skill, often practiced most effectively in informal settings outside of normal business hours. Yet staff members, especially those assigned to beats, must be sensitive that personal relationships with news sources can erode into favoritism, in fact or appearance. And conversely, we must be aware that sources are eager to win our good will for reasons of their own.

Even though this topic defies hard and fast rules, it is essential that we preserve a professional detachment, free of any whiff of bias. We may see sources informally over a meal or drinks, but they must keep in mind the difference between legitimate business and personal friendship. A City Hall reporter who enjoys a weekly round of golf with a City Council member, for example, risks creating an appearance of coziness, even if they sometimes discuss business on the course. So does a reporter who joins a regular card game or is a familiar face in a corporation’s box seats or who spends weekends in the company of people he or she covers. Scrupulous practice requires that periodically we step back and take a hard look at whether we have drifted too close to sources we deal with regularly. The acid test of freedom from favoritism is the ability to maintain good working relationships with all parties to a dispute.

Clearly, romantic involvement with a news source would foster an appearance of partiality. Therefore staff members who develop close relationships with people who might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise must disclose those relationships to the standards editor or the opinion editor. In some cases, no further action may be needed, but in other instances staff members may have to recuse themselves from certain coverage. And in still other cases, assignments may have to be modified or beats changed.

Accepting Hospitality from Sources

Watchdog pays expenses when its representatives entertain news sources (including government officials) or travel to cover them. In some situations, it may be unavoidable to accept a meal or a drink paid for by a news source. For example, a reporter need not decline every invitation to interview an executive over lunch in the corporation’s private dining room, where it is all but impossible to pick up the check. Whenever practical, however, the reporter should suggest dining where we can pay.

We may not accept anything that could be construed as a payment for favorable coverage or as an inducement to alter or forgo unfavorable coverage. We may not accept free or discounted transportation and lodging except where special circumstances give us little or no choice. Among them are certain military or scientific expeditions and other trips for which alternative arrangements would be impractical — for example, a flight aboard a corporate jet during which an executive is interviewed. We should consult their supervisors and the standards editor or the opinion editor or managing editor when special circumstances arise.

Except in the case of invitations to press events, we may not accept gifts, tickets, discounts, reimbursements or other inducements from any individuals or organizations covered by Watchdog or likely to be covered by Watchdog. We may not accept employment or compensation of any sort from individuals or organizations who figure or are likely to figure in coverage we provide, edit, package or supervise.

We may accept any gifts or discounts available to the general public.

Public relations and institutional affiliation

Watchdog staff members are free to work with other organizations, except where there is a conflict of interest: 1)  if the institution in question performs the same functions as Watchdog 2)  is an entity that Watchdog covers or would cover in the interests of the public 3)  where performing work or an act of public relations for said other organization would appear (whether real or apparent) to imply Watchdog’s affiliation with said organization or its goals4) or where such work impedes staff responsibilities to Watchdog

We freely acknowledge that outside appearances can enhance the reputation of its bylines and serve the paper’s interests. We are generally entitled to accept freelance assignments that do not directly compete with Watchdog. We may accept speaking fees, honorariums, expense reimbursement and free transportation from speaking engagements. We are free to discuss their own activities in public, provided their comments do not create an impression that they lack journalistic impartiality or speak for Watchdog as a whole.

We should be especially sensitive to the appearance of partiality when they address groups that might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise, especially if the setting might suggest a close relationship to the sponsoring group. We should not take part in engagements that confer or imply privileged access to Watchdog operations upon the attendees. Where in conflict, staff should disclose other commitments.

None of these restrictions should be interpreted as barring a staff member from responding openly and honestly to any reasonable inquiry from a reader about that staff member’s work. If a reader asks for a correction, or if the request threatens legal action, or appears to be from a lawyer, the complaint will be examined internally and a judgement made from the Editor.