The Hornet Tribune

Code of Ethics

The SPJ Code of Ethics is voluntarily embraced by thousands of writers, editors and other news professionals. The present version of the code was adopted by the 1996 SPJ National Convention, after months of study and debate among the Society’s members. Fall 2018 Editor-in-chief Nefsa’Hyatt Brown expanded upon this code to detail specific instances and circumstances confronted by student editors at The Hornet Tribune


Members of The Hornet Tribune student editorial staff have a duty to the Metro-Montgomery community to report the news. Student journalists should seek to provide truthful accounts of events and issues — and in adhering to the following code of ethics, Tribuners will continue to foster a positive newsroom atmosphere and to promote credibility of the institution.

1. Seek the truth and report it accurately.

Student journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.

    •    Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.

In case of error:

Staff members should hold themselves to the utmost accuracy within their pieces, both with facts and with language. In case of error, a correction shall be appended immediately to the online story and be additionally noted in the online corrections box.

    •    Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.

    •    Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources’ reliability.

    •    Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.

In case of anonymity:

Staff members should always first seek the approval of a desk editor before promising anonymity to sources. The use of unidentified sources is permitted only when information is vital to the public and unattainable by more traditional open reporting. The Hornet Tribune will not use anonymous sources when named sources are readily available.

    •    Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.

    •    Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.

    •    Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.

    •    Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.

In case of undercover reporting:

The desk editor should advise his or her team of writers to use such methods only if important information is unavailable through any other channels. An editor’s note should accompany the story in order to clarify for readers the reporting circumstances.

    •    Never plagiarize.

In case of plagiarism:

Any member of The Hornet Tribune staff found guilty of plagiarism is immediately terminated.

2. Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.

    •    Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.

    •    Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance or social status.

    •    Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.

    •    Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.

    •    Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be clearly labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.

    •    Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.

    •    Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.

3. Minimize harm and maintain compassion.

Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.

    •    Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.

    •    Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

    •    Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.

    •    Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.

    •    Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.

In case of profanity:

The Hornet Tribune adheres to AP style in cases with profanity, adding dashes after the first letter to denote swear words, but such language should only be used in situations that demand it: crime reports and quotes. Desk editors should eliminate the use of profanity in other instances and work with the writer to rewrite the phrase or sentence with other language.

    •    Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.

In case of naming victims:

The Hornet Tribune does not name victims of assault or other crimes. The names are removed from the crime report prior to publication and not disclosed to the public in any circumstance.

    •    Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.

    •    Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.

In case of complaints about the crime notebook:

The Hornet Tribune policy is to leave all articles, letters to the editor, columns, photos and cartoons on once they are posted. The website is our online archive and we do not erase history. If charges have been dropped or additional details about a case are made available, add a correction and/or update.

4. Act independently and for the enlightenment of your audience.

Student journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.

    •    Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.

In case of conflict of interest:

All staffers should not also be employed with any direct competitor of The Hornet Tribune. Members of the editorial staff should also not write opinions or columns for the editorial board on topics that he or she has written about objectively for other sections.

    •    Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.

In case of editorial board meetings:

The news editor and associate news editor are not members of the editorial board in order to protect objectivity in news judgment. Other members of the editorial staff should not write pieces on behalf of the editorial board dealing with subjects which he or she has previously covered in an objective capacity. Example: News writers are not eligible to write institutional editorials condemning acts of the administration.

    •    Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.

In case of meeting with administrators, sources, etc.:

Should an individual offer to pay for lunch, coffee, etc. with a student, the student should respectfully decline unless he or she is meeting in a capacity unassociated with The Hornet Tribune activity.

    •    Disclose unavoidable conflicts.

    •    Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.

    •    Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.

    •    Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.

5. Be accountable.

Student journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers — and to each other.

    •    Clarify and explain news coverage and invite dialogue with the public over journalistic conduct.

    •    Encourage the public to voice grievances against the news media.

    •    Admit mistakes and correct them promptly.

In case of libel:

The Hornet Tribune is a teaching institution, and not all mistakes are small. When a writer commits libel, desk editors and upper management are also held accountable for the error. Members of the editorial staff should immediately seek counsel with the editorial adviser and the publisher in such cases.

    •    Expose unethical practices of journalists and the news media.

    •    Abide by the same high standards to which they hold others.

In case of conduct unbefitting a Tribuner:

As members of the editorial staff, we are also representatives of The Hornet Tribune inside and outside the newsroom. Staffers should conduct themselves as such at all times — if you wouldn’t do it in the newsroom, then don’t do it in a public space.

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Code of Ethics