The Virginia Mercury is part of the States Newsroom, a network of nonprofit, nonpartisan news outlets focused on coverage of state government and public policy.
While those ethics provide a foundation, we also adhere and borrow liberally from the practices embraced by the Associated Press, ProPublica, The Center for Investigative Reporting, NPR and the Washington Post.
These policies are for our reporters, editors, administrators and freelancers. Exceptional circumstances may require exceptions to these rules, but must be approved by the Virginia Mercury’s editor and States Newsroom’s National Editor.
Accuracy and attribution
- Our reporting on all platforms will be truthful, transparent and respectful; our facts will be accurate, complete and fairly presented. Our analysis will represent our best independent judgment, not our preferences or those of our sources. There will be no hidden agendas in our endeavors.
- If we make a mistake in our reporting, we will work quickly to address the error, correcting it within the story and noting in the story that an error was made and corrected. We will also make needed corrections in our social media. If a reader discovers an error on one of our news sites, they are encouraged to email the Virginia Mercury editor, who can be found on the “About” page.
- Our journalists will not republish stories, images or other content from outside sources without permission and credit. Fabrication, plagiarism or in any way misappropriating another company’s or individual’s intellectual property are all grounds for immediate termination.
- Any information taken from other published or broadcast sources should include credit and a link within the body of a story, or where appropriate on related visual journalism such as photos, video or graphical elements. There may be times when a link alone will suffice.
- Photo editors and video producers may improve the technical quality of photos and video or audio recordings, but may not alter the substance or meaning of that media. All photo illustrations, graphics or animations will be clearly labeled as such. See more below on digital media integrity.
- We will not identify the survivors of sexual or domestic violence without their consent.
- We will strive to have information on the record with full attribution to the source. Exceptions to this policy will be rare, made only with the approval of the editor, and when the information is critical to the story and can be obtained in no other way. Further, we must know the source to be reliable and to have access to the information. We will, to the best of our ability, identify and report any bias the source may have. The anonymous source must be told that his or her name will be shared with the Virginia Mercury’s editor and the States Newsroom national editor, both of whom will keep the source’s name confidential.
- Not everyone understands journalists’ rules on attribution. We will ensure sources understand what we mean by “on the record,” “off the record,” “not for attribution” or “on background.” Before any interview in which any degree of anonymity is expected, there will be a discussion in which the ground rules are set so that the person being interviewed understands the reporter’s intent regarding disclosure of his or her identity.
“On the record”:
To be quoted and attributed to the named source.
The source cannot be named but the information can be used for further reporting.
“Not for attribution”:
The information can be used but the source can’t be named. Reporters should negotiate to use the best attribution possible and agree on the terminology that will be used in the story to explain how the information is known. For instance, “a source close to the governor” or “involved in the negotiations” is preferable to “a legislative source.”
“Off the record”:
The information cannot be used for publication.
- Our journalists will never misrepresent themselves to get an interview or story. We will tell all sources if we are taping an interview. We do not use hidden cameras, go undercover or pay for interviews.
- Multiple efforts will be made to contact the primary subjects, sources and/or organizations of findings in our stories. We will give a reasonable amount of time to respond before we publish, although what is “reasonable” may depend on the urgency and competitiveness of the story. If we are unable to reach those involved, we will explain in the story our efforts to contact said parties.
Impartiality and conflicts of interest
- Editorial decisions are made by journalists alone.
- Those who contribute to the Virginia Mercury or States Newsroom, whether through financial, service-related or in-kind gifts, do so with the understanding that we are beholden only to quality journalism. Our fundraisers inform all potential donors, who make any type of contribution, that their support does not entitle them to preferential treatment or to relationships with newsroom staff, and in no way protects them from journalistic scrutiny.
- We do not accept donations made anonymously.
- Our journalists may not work on stories or projects in which they have a vested interest, whether financial or personal. They should not invest in companies or industries they regularly cover and instead are encouraged to invest in broadly diversified mutual funds. The editor must be promptly notified should a conflict, or perceived conflict, arises.
- Our journalists are prohibited from:
- participating or intervening in any political campaign on behalf of or in opposition to any candidate for public office;
- inducing or encouraging violations of law or public policy;
- taking any other action inconsistent with applicable provisions of the Internal Revenue Code or related regulations.
- Our journalists may moderate panels and speak at events, including our own newsroom’s events or a States Newsroom event, underwritten by corporate sponsors, as long as their role is purely journalistic; sponsors do not determine the panelists, the subject matter or the questions. Our journalists may speak at events hosted by other companies or institutions if the event is otherwise consistent with this policy and with an editor’s approval.
- Our journalists, including freelancers, may not accept any gift from any company, individual or institution that could have an interest in our reporting. We always pay our own way when traveling for editorial or business purposes. Gratuities, such as a pen, mug or certificate, offered to a newsroom associate for being a guest speaker at a community meeting or service club, may be accepted as long as the value of such items are $20 or less, and they are offered to every speaker. Our preference is for such items to be politely refused, citing our ethics policy. We understand that it is difficult to pay for meals offered at such speaking events, but our journalists should if there is a mechanism for them to do so.
- All employees, contractors and interns who report or edit news will refrain from all partisan political activity, including making contributions or displaying political signs. This same policy applies to all social media and other methods of digital communication. Nothing in this policy is intended to discourage our journalists from voting. Nor can this policy be extended to family members. However, editors should be alerted to potential political or business conflicts as related to the members of a journalists’ household.
Digital Media Integrity
- Images used in our reporting must always tell the truth.
- The content of a photograph may not be altered by any means. No element should be digitally added to or subtracted from any photograph. The faces or identities of individuals must not be obscured by Photoshop or any other editing tool. Only minor retouching to remove scratches or dust on scanned negatives or scanned prints is acceptable.
- Cropping, dodging and burning, conversion into grayscale, and normal toning and color adjustments are allowed but are limited to what is minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction and that restore the authentic nature of the photograph. Changes in density, contrast, color and saturation levels that substantially alter the original scene or the appearance of individuals are not acceptable. Backgrounds should not be digitally blurred or eliminated. The removal of “red eye” from photographs is not allowed.
- Video may be improved by using subtle, standard methods such as adjusting video and audio levels, color correcting due to white balance, eliminating buzzing, hums, clicks, pops, or overly long pauses or other technical faults, and equalization of audio to make the sound clearer — provided the content is not concealed, obscured, removed or otherwise altered.