Handbook of Professional Practice
- General Standards of Conduct
- Ethical Standards
- Subjects and Sources
- Photos & Video
- Editorial Standards
- Legal Standards
The School educates and trains you to practise journalism. It prepares you to understand the power of a factual story and the engaged role of journalists in society. You will acquire the skills, knowledge and qualities that define professional journalistic practice. We teach you to act ethically in the public interest, to be empathetic, to think critically and to cultivate an independent, open-minded view of the world that is nuanced and based in fact.
We expect that you will carefully read, refer to, and follow the professional standards set out in this guide. Please consult a member of faculty if you have any difficulty understanding any part of this document.
Laziness is the crux of bad journalism. Don’t let overwork, fatigue or other distractions lead you astray. Make that extra phone call, invest the extra hour in yet another rewrite. This is what is needed to tell the whole story as fully as possible, to do excellent work.
Act with Courage
One key ingredient in all great journalism is courage. Journalists stand up to power, search out the nuances of truth and reveal to the audience how and why stories are delivered. This is not easy work and it takes many fine qualities. Among these, do not underestimate courage.
Work hard to overcome the common tendency to regard people of different races, religions, socio-economic classes, ages, sexual orientation, or gender as “other.” To serve the full community it’s best to develop a perspective that is unbiased and fair-minded. Consider your fears and work to move beyond them.
Serving the greater good will at times cause pain to some; this is unavoidable. Know, though, that being a journalist does not give you permission to be haughty, unfeeling or mean. Minimize harm when possible. Bring compassion to your work. Be human.
2. General Standards of Conduct
Students in the School of Journalism should feel they are participants in a respectful and fair learning environment. The School is strongly committed to inclusivity and respect for others. It expects its community to abide by the highest standards of collegial learning.
All students, staff and faculty are bound by the university’s Code of Conduct (Yellow Book).
Comments that are racist, sexist, homophobic, transphobic, or otherwise gender-discriminatory, or prejudiced toward others in regard to religion, culture or national origin — or any other basis — will not be tolerated in the School’s classrooms, newsrooms or online platforms. Screening such content on School equipment or in School facilities is also not tolerated.
3. Ethical Standards
Working as a journalist can be exciting, challenging, and fun. It is also a great responsibility. Because journalism plays a vital role in society, journalists need to carefully consider what they do and say. No ethics code could cover every complication; this code considers only some major issues. Know that ethical problems can appear suddenly, without warning. If you find yourself in a tricky situation — uncertain what is the best, most ethical action — talk to your instructor.
Plagiarism is unfair and wrong and a cardinal sin of journalism. It is also an academic offence. For information on King’s academic policy, see the university calendar.
Plagiarism will be dealt with severely. Please be smart and self-respecting, and do not present anyone else’s work as your own. Do not present work that is substantially the same as work for which you have already received professional or academic credit. Rewriting is not enough. Quotes, original ideas and researched information (unless common knowledge) must be credited.
If in doubt, credit.
Subjects and Sources
Good journalism does not come from comfortable places. It takes courage to speak with people who may look, sound or think differently from you. A diverse range of voices and perspectives strengthens our reporting. Strive for a variety of sources representing race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, and religion. Include these sources in regular reporting, not just specific stories such as those about multiculturalism.
Here are several useful guides:
- How to Discuss Trans and Gender-Diverse People: Media Guide (Rainbow Health Ontario)
- Reporting in Indigenous Communities (Duncan McCue )
- How to talk about Indigenous people (Ossie Michelin)
- Mindset: Guide to Reporting on Mental Health (Canadian Journalism Forum on Violence and Trauma)
- Use The Right Words: Guide to Reporting on Sexual Assault (femifesto)
- Dart Center for Journalism & Trauma (Columbia U.):
- Media Guidelines for Reporting on Veterans, with a focus on PTSD and Suicide (Centre of Excellence on PTSD / Royal Ottawa Mental Health Centre)
Conflicts of Interest
Please advise your instructor if there may be a conflict of interest — or perceived conflict of interest — between your work as a student journalist and your activities as a private citizen. Volunteer work, serving on a board, or being paid by an organization you are covering may all result in a real and/or perceived conflict of interest. Present or past allegiance to a person or organization may also need to be considered.
Also, as a general rule, avoid interviewing family and friends. News tips and story ideas from family and friends are valuable, but these people should not be quoted or the subject of your story. Ask an instructor to clarify any confusion.
Do not accept remuneration of any kind in exchange for an interview.
Story subjects, P.R. firms, and others sometimes offer journalists free gifts, materials, services, or samples. Know that journalistic independence can be damaged by accepting free stuff. If an unsolicited gift is received, return it immediately. If this is impractical, donate it to a homeless shelter, food bank, or some other recognized charity. (In rare circumstances, a small gift may be accepted if refusing to do so will be perceived as an insult. If you think this situation has arisen, explain it to your instructor.)
Free entrance to sporting events, movies, musical performances, etc. is OK if you are covering the event: it is access, not free stuff. (Access should be accepted only by the working student reporter, not for any other person.) Free transportation to events, and/or hotel accommodation, are more than access and cannot be accepted. Audio-recordings and books may be kept if they are relevant to journalism that will be published or aired – for example, if you are reviewing them.
Food and drink can be tempting. If you are covering an event where a free meal is offered, try to arrange to interview the newsmaker without accepting the free meal. Generally speaking, accept only food or drink of minimal value. (A basic sandwich and coffee at a news conference may be OK; a sit-down dinner is not.)
Conduct in Newsgathering
Never be coercive in your conduct. Be alert to situations in which a source’s consent is in question or when your interviewing causes severe distress. Be particularly mindful of situations in which a source’s behaviour indicates a mental health issue. Show awareness when interviewing people who have experienced past trauma.
Do not lie or mislead about the nature of a story in order to obtain access. (Don’t say your angle is X if you know it is Y, or leave out an important aspect of the story that might, as an example, cast the source in a poor light.))
Do not promise a source anonymity. Talk to your instructor about any storytelling that involves less than full attribution of a source. In rare circumstances, make a reasoned, on-the-spot decision to allow a person to speak on background or provide a document without revealing its source.
If a source accuses a person or organization of wrongdoing, do not just report that. Push them for evidence of their claims, find an additional source, and ask the accused for a response. The audience needs every side to a story.
Keep the name and contact information of all sources used for a story or assignment. You may be required to give these to your instructors and/or the director of the School. You may publish and/or link to publicly available contact information. However, don’t otherwise share source information, or contact information for sources, with anyone outside the School of Journalism, including other media, without the permission of the source and/or the director of the School of Journalism. If asked for information about sources, students should direct the inquiry to the director.
If a source wishes to see your work before it is published or goes to air, politely decline this request or discuss it with your instructor if you believe an exception should be made. (It may be acceptable, in unusual circumstances, to read a source his or her quotes – but a source should never be allowed the power to change or kill copy.) If you seek to clarify technical definitions or a chronology of events, discuss how to proceed with your instructor.
Permission to Record
You don’t need permission to do your job at public and media events. In other circumstances, most people expect reporters to mention that they are recording audio and/or video. As a rule, follow this tradition.
To do otherwise, get prior approval from your instructor. If you do attend an event and record surreptitiously, you must reveal and explain this to the viewing/listening audience. There is no legal requirement for journalists to tell a source he or she is being recorded on the telephone, as long as the recording will not be broadcast. (If the source asks if you are recording, that must be revealed so the source is not misled.)
Do not misrepresent yourself as other than a King’s journalism student. In the rare, extreme case where misrepresentation is allowed, permission must be received – in writing – from both the course instructor and the journalism school director. In this rare case the audience needs to be told why no other means could have uncovered the information, and why this story is of crucial importance.
All complaints and allegations of error need to be responded to, calmly and promptly. If a complaint or allegation is made about a story, the course instructor must be informed. In case information in a report is disputed, keep all material (documents, notes, recordings, etc.) for a minimum of six months from the assignment due date or date of airing or publication, whichever is later.
Photos & Video
Staging Photos or Video
Journalists aim to capture telling, specific and true images. Doing this requires advance thought and planning.
Sometimes it’s not possible or appropriate to seize a “moment” as it happens, and you may need to stage activities. This is not the same as fabricating them.
For example, if profiling a duck carver you may ask her to repeat an action so you can choose the best shots and sequences. What’s key is that you capture this action as it would have happened naturally. For example, don’t add elements – power tools, a homey plaque with a quote about ducks – that would not have naturally appeared.
It’s usually ethically OK to stage “wallpaper” – someone talking on the phone, or walking down a hall – that merely establishes location.
Know that there is a difference between features and news. We don’t stage news, period. You may ask a singer to sing for a feature photograph, but don’t pretend he is singing at a concert you didn’t shoot. At a demonstration, you may not prompt a protester to wave a sign, chant, or feign emotion.
Always discuss the staging of any image or activity with your instructor – prior to shooting.
Journalism aims to be true and clear. Cropping a photo is fine, and so is digitally improving technical quality to make an image less blurred. Do not cross the line into distorting reality or misleading the audience. Photo manipulation that alters a subject’s appearance, or that removes or adds an object from the frame, to name just two examples, is unreal and not allowed. Digital enhancement for satirical reasons may be permissible, but only if the vast majority of your audience is certain to understand you are being satirical. This kind of work requires permission of an instructor, and a tag (example: Photo enhancement by Jane Doe).
Photo illustrations may be used to convey the meaning of a news or feature story. Usually they feature a primary object: a gavel, stop sign, microphone, etc.
When people appear in photo illustrations, they must be anonymous and generic. A photo illustration should never be misconstrued to be a news photo, or a picture of a “real” person. If you use a model, ensure that she cannot be misconstrued to be “real”, but only a symbol or idea.
This may be done through framing and/or composition and/or exaggerated processing and filtering (blur, posterizing, pixelating and so on). As a rule, photo illustrations should be captioned as such, perhaps with a creator credit.
Generic images should not be the default option for any story. Consider what relevant and specific images (including contributed images such as archival photos, home movies, etc.) you might use when starting your research.
Always discuss a photo illustration with your instructor – prior to shooting.
Further reference for ethical standards: Principles for Ethical Journalism (Canadian Association of Journalists)
4. Editorial Standards
In general, the School adheres to Canadian Press (CP) style. Ensure you have a copy of both the Canadian Press Stylebook and Caps and Spelling for reference
At King’s we are writing for a general audience. Therefore, avoid coarse or vulgar language. Millions of Canadians have low tolerance for these, and you don’t want to unnecessarily turn off much of your audience.
Coarse or vulgar language may be used if omitting them would seriously compromise the audience’s understanding of the story. In most cases, this means quoting people swearing or speaking roughly. Less often, it allows a reporter to do this. In all cases, avoid doing so gratuitously. Any use of coarse or vulgar language requires your instructor’s permission.
Carefully consider your choice of photos, audio clips, multimedia, and video footage. Just because you possess graphic images or sound is not a good reason to present them to your audience. The public’s sensibilities must also be considered. Not using graphic images and sound is often not censorship, but proof of respect for your audience. For example, court coverage of a pedophile never shows a clip of child pornography. Is this censorship, or honouring a broadly accepted society standard? If you are considering using graphic images or sound, ask yourself: does the graphic material greatly enhance the audience’s understanding? Does showing a dead body, a bloody victim, or a weeping widow increase comprehension, or are they mere voyeurism? Any use of graphic images or sound requires your instructor’s permission.
5. Legal Standards
The law of defamation (or libel, as it is better known) protects individuals and companies from unfair and unjustified attacks on their reputation. The law is not concerned with insults, name-calling or abusive comments – while such statements may be offensive and hurtful, they are not necessarily defamatory. A libel strikes at the heart of someone’s reputation as an honest, law-abiding, decent person. Examples are allegations of misconduct, political corruption, wrongdoing or criminal behaviour, or an attack on someone’s ethics, motives, competence, trustworthiness or morality.
Instances include reporting that a named or identifiable person is a crook, a liar or a racist; accusing someone of corruption, sexual impropriety or professional incompetence; or quoting a source making allegations such as these. Media law scholar Robert Martin suggests a common-sense definition: a defamatory statement is a false or unsubstantiated statement “you would not like to see said in public about yourself.”
Consult your course or workshop instructor before pursuing any story that deals with serious allegations of wrongdoing or that could portray an individual or company in a poor light.
In general, the person who creates an original work owns copyright of it. Our use of copyrighted material must conform to Canadian copyright law. Publishing or broadcasting material created by someone else — articles, books, images, video or social media posts — can be a violation. You can, however, use such material if:
- The creator has given permission for its reuse, OR
- You have confidence it qualifies as fair use under the Fair Dealing provisions of the Canadian Copyright Act — specifically the exception for News Reporting. Generally, this means:
- You are reporting directly on the item you are reproducing. Fair dealing provisions may not apply if you are using copyrighted material to illustrate a broader issue or an unrelated topic
- You use only a reasonable portion (unless it’s an image)
- You mention the source in your story
Being hardworking and creative does not mean putting yourself in potentially unsafe situations. These can range from going to a late-night meeting with someone you don’t know, to climbing rickety ladders, to slipping on an icy sidewalk while you’re concentrating on an interview.
Reducing Risk of Harm
Don’t go anywhere you think may be unsafe. Avoid interviews in hotel rooms (cafes and restaurants are OK), private homes or isolated offices. Don’t get into a car with someone you have known only a short time. Any time you are in the field, make sure that others know where you are headed, when you are expected back and how to reach you. Consider bringing someone with you – even a friend who is not in your class. If no one is available, talk to your instructor.
While Working Online
- Scrub your Internet presence of any phone numbers, addresses or images identifying your home. Someone with an axe to grind might track you down.
- Consider removing your birthday and any other sensitive personal information from public social media profiles. Your birthday combined with your full name is enough to identify you almost uniquely, and could be used by hackers or other malicious users.
- Keep your social media accounts professional and avoid staking out controversial opinions on subjects you might later be asked to cover. As a journalist you are a public figure and you must be professional 24/7.
- Password-protect your cellphone and computer (at the lock screen) to secure your personal data and info about your sources. Remember to always log out of user accounts, when using a shared public computer.
- Use two-step verification systems to better secure your personal accounts (for example, Gmail, Twitter, Facebook).
- Be careful about communicating sensitive personal or incriminating information via open Internet protocols on some email and social services. (Be sure you see “https:” in the URL) Consider using encryption for the most sensitive information, both to protect the information, and your sources.
Sometimes journalists receive offensive or hateful messages, in person or online. Talk to your instructor if this happens to you. Together you’ll come up with a course of action, from ignoring or blocking a troll on social media to contacting police.
Reducing Risk of Theft
When using recording or other production equipment, even your phone: watch your back and those of your colleagues. You can be distracted while working – and are carrying equipment that attracts thieves. Never leave your possessions — or the School’s — unattended.
Reducing Risk of Injury
Wear sensible shoes in the field. A slip can damage many important things: your spine, your ankle, a $5,000 camera…
Don’t lift equipment that is too heavy to lift. Ask for help.
If you are in a volatile situation, remain calm. If someone gets angry at you in an interview or in public, do not respond emotionally. Do not engage in argument if someone is threatening. Leave.
While Recording Video
- Dress cables properly and tape them down for safety.
- If you have to shoot from the street, make sure you have a spotter, for oncoming traffic.
- Don’t shoot while you’re driving. Ever.
- Lights can be hot and bulbs can break, even explode. Light stands are not reliable in busy areas. Keep lights out of the way of passersby, and find ways to steady all stands.
If you feel a situation could put your or others’ safety at risk, bail out and track down your instructor immediately, night or day.
Reporting Safely During COVID-19
Interviewing is a key part of reporting. The most important thing to remember is to follow current public health guidelines when out in the field. Make sure you have the appropriate materials and equipment to keep yourself safe. Stay vigilant and talk to your instructors about any concerns you may have. Communication is key in these uncertain and changing times. Do not be afraid to double-check or clarify anything.
Can I do an in-person interview?
Yes, but only if you can do it in a safe way. Talk to your instructor. There are many precautions you can take to help protect yourself and your source.
- Get vaccinated. Being fully vaccinated (two shots) is the best way to protect yourself and others from COVID-19 and its many variants. Even so, it’s important to adopt other measures, as noted below, because while vaccines are outstanding at preventing serious illness, they are not 100 per cent effective at preventing infection.
- Get tested. Frequent testing is a way for health officials to track any spread of the virus in our community. If you don’t have symptoms, you are encouraged to get a rapid test at least once a week. Check your email for notifications about testing sites on the King’s or Dalhousie campuses. You can also get tested at various sites in the Halifax region.
- Stay six feet away. You might have to talk a bit louder, but you can interview someone from a safe distance. Six feet is about the length of a hockey stick or a bed. Before you start the interview, hand your recorder to your source and then ask your questions. If it’s on video, make sure your microphone is six feet away from you while you record. Do this by using a boom mic, mic attached to a hockey stick, or a remote/wireless mic. Talk to your video instructors and practise at home so you’re more comfortable when you’re in the field.
- Meet outside. It is safer to interview someone outdoors. If you’re going to someone’s business, workplace or home, conduct the interview right outside. You could also meet in a public place like a park, but try to find a quiet area. If the weather is bad on the day of your interview, try to reschedule or find a covered outdoor area. Check the weather forecast before you head out. It is possible to conduct interviews inside, but consider wearing a mask, practice physical distancing and limit your time there.
- Wear a mask. A mask will help to lower the risk of inhaling viral particles that lead to catching COVID-19, and will protect your interviewees should you happen to be infected. Remember, many cases are asymptomatic and while you may not have symptoms, you could infect a more vulnerable person. Make sure you’re wearing your mask properly. There are many different tutorials online for each type of mask to ensure that you are using it in the safest way.
- Bring hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Use the hand sanitizer before and after any contact with the interviewee. Use the disinfectant wipes before and after the interviewee touches any of your things, such as your microphone or cellphone.
- Explain it to the interviewee beforehand. It is common practice to explain to the source how an interview works and how you will conduct it. During the pandemic, it is essential to lay out your ground rules to the person being interviewed so they know you’re protecting them as well as yourself. This will make them feel more comfortable, as well as stop any “We’re not going to shake hands?” awkwardness.
What should I bring?
Carry the tools you would normally bring for an interview, including a recording device (this can be your phone), a phone charger, a pen and a notebook. In the time of COVID-19, a mask, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes are essential. If you want to be extra cautious, look into buying a face shield or wear clear glasses frames so the virus cannot enter your eyes.
What if I don’t feel comfortable doing interviews in person?
Talk to your instructor about your fears. In-person interviews are preferable for many reasons, but there are alternatives, including doing virtual interviews over the internet. Keep your needs in mind when pitching story ideas. For example, don’t cover a large protest if you don’t want to be around crowds.
What if my interview is not within walking distance?
Follow the rules for safe travel on public transportation. Eat and use the restroom before you head out. If you don’t feel safe taking a bus, ferry or other transportation, do the interview online. Talk to your instructor first.
What if my source asks if I’m fully vaccinated?
Some people may worry about the risk of transmission and try to avoid in-person encounters with anyone who is not vaccinated. If asked, it’s up to you to decide if you want to disclose your vaccination status. But don’t lie. Talk to your instructor if a scenario like this arises. Instructors are not legally permitted to ask about your vaccination status and you are not obligated to tell them anything about it (or any health issue). However, you may want to discuss with the instructor your potential response to the source and any consequences. For example, what happens if you don’t want to disclose your status to the source? What do you do if the source cancels the interview? You may need to conduct the interview by phone or video chat, or even drop the story.
Are there any places I shouldn’t go to report?
While there are worthwhile stories everywhere, avoid places like hospitals and nursing homes, unless you have permission from your instructor. Check the list of potential exposure sites to see if the place you want to go is on it. If it is, discuss this with your instructor. Some interviews can still be done outdoors.
How will this change the way I pitch stories?
Your pitch should include plans on how to report safely. Talk to your instructor, who will decide if your precautions are adequate or even if the story idea is too dangerous. You should also consider multimedia and what you’ll need to get from your interviewees or from other sources.
How do I record an interview from six feet away?
Talk to your video instructors about this. It may take a bit longer to set up than before, but it is definitely possible. Bring a tripod and set your phone or camera up on it. Tape the microphone to something that is six feet long. Some reporters have been using hockey sticks, but if you don’t have one you could use something like a broomstick. Start filming on the camera, and get the subject to stand 2-3 feet away from it. Stand behind it so that there is six feet of distance between you and the subject, and extend the microphone so you can clearly hear the person you’re interviewing. Wear a mask for the entire process and sanitize all of your equipment once you’re done. Double-check what cleaning products can be used on what pieces of equipment so that your phone and camera don’t get damaged.
What if I start feeling unwell?
Stay at home and contact your instructor. Your health is the top priority and your school work, including interviews, will be put on pause. If you have COVID-19 symptoms, follow the rules regarding testing. Make a note of where you were and who you were in contact with. The university and/or Public Health may need this information for possible contact tracing. Remember, many cases are asymptomatic so getting tested regularly, regardless of symptoms, is a good way to protect yourself and others, especially if you are in contact with many people.
What if I feel overwhelmed?
This is a stressful time. Keep in contact with your instructors and reach out to classmates, family and friends. Refer to the many resources at King’s and Dalhousie for help.
Online Corrections & Change Requests
The School stands behind the content it publishes and aims to retain it as a historical record. We welcome readers’ efforts to correct factual errors in our stories. Generally, however, we will not “unpublish” stories or change content for any other reason. In rare circumstances, we will consider a request to unpublish if the content of a story profoundly affects a person’s well-being.
Online Comment Moderation
The School welcomes a respectful discussion of student-produced content. Faculty and student editors will not normally alter online comments. However, they will remove ones that are abusive, threatening or potentially libelous. They may also remove ones that are, in their judgment, racist, sexist, homophobic or otherwise offensive to our audience.
Questions about the administration of these policies in specific instances should be directed to the faculty supervisor of the individual publication or show. If unknown, please contact the School.