Decaturish updates editorial and ethics policies to better serve community
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This post has been updated.
Decaturish.com, working in conjunction with a community advisory board, has adopted new editorial policies, a formal mission statement and a formal code of ethics.
The community advisory board’s members were Laurel Wilson, Maria Alvarez, Denise VanLanduyt, Lorrie King and Derrica Williams. The process was facilitated by Jean Marie Brown, Assistant Professor of Professional Practice at the Texas Christian University Department of Journalism. Everyone involved was compensated for their time, thanks to a generous $1,000 donation by Decatur resident Andrew Metcalf.
While Decaturish has traditionally followed the ethical guidelines of the Society of Professional Journalists and the editorial guidelines of the Associated Press, those policies had never been formally adopted by our organization. In addition, there are policies unique to our site that are necessary to better reflect the needs of our community.
The biggest change under the new policies will be in how we handle crime and public safety coverage. This coverage is not going away, but we will be more discerning in what we choose to publish. If we write about a specific crime, we will only do so if we intend to follow any arrests on their journey through the court system. That means run-of-the-mill crime stories, like burglaries, thefts, DUIs and the like, won’t receive the same level of coverage. These will be handled as crime trends stories in the future, but there will not be a focus on individual cases unless they involve a felony, a prominent public figure, or an elected official.
That’s not to say we won’t accept and review crime tips. We definitely still need those (they can be sent to [email protected]). But we will be handling them differently.
The new policies also will address how the editor and publisher, Dan Whisenhunt, will handle conflicts involving his business interests. In the past, whenever an investigative story involved an advertiser, that story was assigned to another reporter. The new policy codifies this and also makes clear that when publishing a story from an advertiser, we will acknowledge their support of our publication if the story is written by the publisher. When the situation warrants, we will assign the story to another reporter to avoid any potential conflicts.
This policy has been disseminated to all of the contributors who write for us. The policy does not affect advertising, because advertising has always been handled separately by Jeff Cochran, our director of advertising sales.
The new policies are not static. They will be periodically reviewed and updated in response to community input and concerns. We decided they were necessary at this time because of the ongoing discussion in our country surrounding equity and the role of journalism in our public life. For the past seven years, Decaturish has grown from a personal blog published by the editor into a community news source with numerous contributors. When ethical considerations have arisen, those have been handled on a case-by-case basis. While this has worked for us in the past, as the site continues to grow in readership and its number of contributors, it has become clear that we need to develop a policy that everyone can follow.
Here is the new mission statement and policy:
At Decaturish it is important that coverage recognizes and represents our diverse community. We will do our best to present factual information that represents multiple points of view.
Decaturish follows the Code of Ethics set forth by the Society of Professional Journalists.
Additionally, we hold that:
– Crime coverage should be centered in a place of neutrality. Race should only be used when relevant and coverage should prioritize threats to the community and should avoid reinforcing stereotypes.
– We recognize that content on the internet is always accessible. As such, crime stories should be followed through the court system until there is a resolution.
– Clear conflicts of interest, situations involving the publisher’s financial interests or personal relationships will be acknowledged and another reporter will be assigned whenever possible.
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