New York Times sends ‘ethics reminder’ to freelancers

New York Times standards editor Philip Corbett sent an “ethics reminder” to the paper’s freelancers on Tuesday afternoon.
He tells them to “take care to avoid activities on social media that would damage the credibility of that journalism – for example, partisan advocacy or offensive personal attacks.”

Other common areas of concern include these:
– Work for companies or organizations that The Times may cover.
— Undisclosed ties between the writer and people or institutions mentioned in an article.
— Lobbying, advocacy or political activities or contributions related to the area of coverage.

I assume this memo was prompted by Times Magazine freelance columnist Andrew Goldman’s Twitter comments, which got him suspended for a month.

From: NYT PACT/SYS/NYTIMES
Date: Tue, Oct 23, 2012 at 2:13 PM
Subject: The New York Times Freelancer Ethics Reminder
To: [Times freelance writers]

TO: ALL FREELANCE WRITERS
October 2012

This is a reminder about The Times’s ethics policies for journalists.

As you know, we take very seriously the issue of conflicts of interest and other problems that might undermine the credibility of our journalism or the reputation of The Times.

Your freelance contract obliges you to comply with the applicable provisions of The Times’s policy on Ethical Journalism and to take care to avoid conflicts or the appearance of a conflict. The provisions pertaining specifically to outside contributors are reproduced below, but you should review the entire document. Readers do not distinguish between freelancers and staff reporters in The Times, so as far as possible we expect outside contributors to adhere to the same standards as Times staff members./CONTINUES

The ethics rules outline specific requirements while you are on assignment for The Times. But because of The Times’s high profile, our freelance contributors are often viewed as “Times writers” even when they are not specifically working for us. Companies, organizations and other potential subjects and sources may believe that favors or special treatment for you — whether you are on assignment or not — will help them gain favorable treatment in The Times.

Note that our rules on free travel and other free or discounted products and services are stricter than those of many publications. Even if such a benefit is not directly connected to a Times assignment, it can create an appearance that undermines the credibility of The Times or its contributors. Any questions involving such benefits should be discussed with your Times editor.

In connection with their Times assignments, freelancers should also take care to avoid activities on social media that would damage the credibility of that journalism – for example, partisan advocacy or offensive personal attacks.

Other common areas of concern include these:

— Work for companies or organizations that The Times may cover.
— Undisclosed ties between the writer and people or institutions mentioned in an article.
— Lobbying, advocacy or political activities or contributions related to the area of coverage.

The written guidelines are detailed, but they cannot anticipate every situation. The best rule of thumb is the simplest: If you have any questions or doubts about our policies, ask your Times editor before proceeding.

When you first signed a contract with The Times, you should have filled out a questionnaire covering many of these topics. You should update the questionnaire as often as needed to keep the information current, so your editors can identify areas that might warrant further discussion. To review or update your questionnaire, please log in to the freelancer invoicing (Extranet) site ( https://freelancers.nytimes.com ) and follow the “Stringer Questionnaire” link. If you have questions about this policy, feel free to call your assigning editor; for technical help with the invoicing site, please call 1-800-XXX-XXXX (or, from outside the United States, +1-212-XXX-XXXX).

Thank you for your cooperation.

Sincerely,

Philip B. Corbett
Associate Managing Editor for Standards
The New York Times

For Your Information:
Here are the policies on “Outside Contributors,” from “Ethical Journalism/A Handbook of Values and Practices for the News and Editorial Departments of The New York Times, September 2004,” p. 44.

152. Times readers apply exacting standards to the entire paper. They do not distinguish between staff written articles and those written by outsiders. Thus as far as possible, freelance contributors to The Times, while not its employees, will be held to the same standards as staff members when they are on Times assignments, including those for the Times Magazine. If they violate these guidelines, they will be denied further assignments.

153. Before being given an assignment, freelance contributors must sign a contract with The Times. These contracts oblige them to take care to avoid conflicts of interests or the appearance of conflict. Specifically, in connection with work for The Times, freelancers will not accept free transportation, free lodging, gifts, junkets, commissions or assignments from current or potential news sources. In addition, they will publish no similar article in a competing publication within 14 days unless The Times approves.

154. The contracts’ concise provisions cannot cover every circumstance that might arise. Assigning editors should ensure that contributors are aware of this document and to the greatest extent possible, in fact honor its provisions while on assignment for The Times. Any disagreement over whether a specific provision applies to outside contributors should be resolved before the assignment proceeds.

155. Assigning editors in business and financial news who deal with non-staff contributors have a special duty to guard against conflicts of interest or the appearance of conflict. To the extent possible, assigning editors should ensure that
outside contributors meet the strict standards outlined in Section 12 above for the business and financial news staff.

* More from Corbett: Some sparkling prose from recent editions of NYT (nytimes.com)

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