Advocate Media Inc. Editorial Policy Guidelines

 

Please Note: All policy guidelines contained herein are intended to provide a minimum level of quality and uniformity for the various titles published by the company. Individual publications may enforce stricter rules at the discretion of the publication’s Editor, in consultation with Advocate Media Inc.’s Managing Editor.

 

Behaviour and Conduct

All members of the editorial team are expected to display the utmost standards of professional conduct and appearance at all times. Any news media is successful only as long as they maintain the trust of the public to deliver the news in a fair, untainted manner.

Language should be respectful and should not identify anyone’s race, creed, colour, religious affiliation or sexual orientation unless it directly pertains to the story being told.

The use of any work not generated directly by the author must be given appropriate credit, even in the case of press releases. Conformity to all applicable laws and legislation, especially as it pertains to plagiarism, libel and contempt, is mandatory.

All members of the editorial team are expected to identify themselves as such when engaged in reporting a story. Misrepresenting one’s identity is not allowed.

Members of the editorial team may not use their position to achieve any undue advantage, discount or special consideration, whether it be personal, professional or business, not available to the general public.

 

Quotations

Direct quotes are not to be altered in any way that may change their context or meaning. When translating spoken quotes into written form, CP Style says we can opt to “correct slips of grammar that are obvious slips and that would be needlessly embarrassing.” It also allows us to “remove verbal mannerisms such as ah’s, routine vulgarities and meaningless repetitions.” Whether to do so is completely at the reporter’s and editor’s discretion. However, care must be taken not to substantively alter the intended message, be it in tone, emphasis or content.

Anonymous quotes are permitted where no other means of presenting information important to a full public understanding of the issue being covered is available. However, all such instances should be reviewed with your editor before being printed. Also, as much as possible about the source should be disclosed in the article without breaching their confidentiality, so that the reader can assess for themselves the reliability of the anonymous source.

If confidentiality has been promised a source, it must be maintained at all costs.

 

Copy Approval

Except in extra-ordinary situations, and in consultation with the editor and managing editor, no outside bodies are to be given approval over any article that appears in our Advocate-owned publications, be it in print or online. Contract publishing arrangements are, of course, a different situation and clients will be given prescribed access to the content as per the relevant contract clauses.

  

Spelling and Grammar

In all cases, newsrooms shall use the most modern CP Style Guide/Caps and Spelling and general Canadian-style language and spelling protocols as their guides and references. Exception may be made when reprinting historical passages or items from archived publications to allow the retention of grammar/spelling/style of the time, or in the use of industry-specific spellings and terminology.

 

Letters to the Editor

Letters are scanned first and foremost for anything that could result in issues for the publication. For example, swearing, libelous material, etc. Letters aren’t published unless they’re signed (no pseudonyms) and the author has provided a contact phone number. Authors are contacted to verify the letter was written by that individual.

Printed letters should include the writer’s name and community. Letters may be edited for space, content and style at the editor’s discretion. We reserve the right to not print a letter and any that are published reflect the views of the author and not necessarily those of Advocate Media Inc.

Letters from the same author can be published in consecutive issues, space permitting, but preference should be given to presenting a variety of voices rather than allowing a single contributor to dominate. Email submissions are welcomed, but must still be verifiable. Letters should be concise, so avoid where possible long, rambling missives exceeding 500 words in length.

If an address is provided, preference will be given to local writers, or those addressing local topics.

Once an election is called, letters from known candidates or campaign staff deemed promotional or otherwise campaigning may not be published, with the exception of letters from candidates clarifying points of view or defending allegations made via the publication’s printed or online products.

 

Social Media

This is not intended to be an exhaustive listing of social media practices. It merely outlines certainly best practices. All publications must do their best to keep information flowing online. Reporters are expected to provide regular updates of events and happenings throughout their day. Photos and video are encouraged. Posting to such sites as Twitter and Facebook should include regular teasers for upcoming stories, breaking news, updates on events and meetings as they unfold, background snippets on published articles, behind-the-scenes glimpses on developing and published stories, upcoming events, new posts on our websites, reposting of relevant archive stories, etc.

Language can be more “conversational” in tone than print-related stories, but is still expected to meet accepted standards of accuracy, grammar and clarity. Correct any errors in a timely fashion, while acknowledging those errors. The same procedures for obtaining permission and names of subjects depicted in print shall apply to images posted to social media.

Any articles published to social media should contain the main points, but can be abridged versions of their print counterparts at the editor’s discretion.

All posts to outside social media sites should be made with the intention of driving more traffic to our own websites and/or print products.

Despite the general trend of social media postings to accept even rumour as fact or evidence, reporters and editors are expected to uphold the same high standards of fact verification when online as they do in our print products.

For more detail on Advocate Media Inc.’s expectations regarding social media, please see the Employee Handbook.

 

Cheque Presentation and Handshake Photography

A $500 or higher threshold has been established for cheque presentation photographs. Smaller amounts may be noted in text briefs. This rule may be overlooked in certain instances if the story behind the image is deemed to have a high enough value to warrant a full story to accompany the image.

Photographs of a congratulatory nature or the presentation of an award or contest winner of some nature, commonly referred to as “grip and grin” images, may appear as space permits, but there is never a guarantee when or if the picture will appear.

 

Court Reporting

Wherever possible, court reporting should be done in person. Where that isn’t possible, due to scheduling or staffing issues for example, all efforts should be made to obtain proper court documents. All care must be taken to be sensitive to the emotional and/or physical trauma experienced by those involved in either side of a court case. Be respectful at all times and avoid being overly intrusive during such a difficult time, at least as much as possible without compromising the public’s interest in seeing the justice system properly unfold.

In most matters, all efforts will be made to conform to CP style in our court reporting, while staying in-line with national and provincial laws.

We will not name individuals arrested for a crime until they have made a first appearance in Canadian court, even if charges are forthcoming in a U.S. jurisdiction. Any exception, for example when a well-known or high profile person is involved, must be discussed beforehand with the editor and managing editor.

Similarly, if family or friends of staff are involved, a discussion must take place with the editor and/or managing editor about how the reporting will be handled. Although the affected staff member should be part of any such discussion, they cannot be part of the final decision.

In cases where jurisdiction is in doubt, or laws of the land are not similar, we will meet the more restrictive of the laws potentially applicable (in other words, Canadian standards of identity, youth, etc., versus American).

In court coverage, we will provide the full names, age, and ordinary place of residence of all individuals charged with a crime, along with the crimes they are alleged to have committed. The victims of crime will not be named, unless the victim is:

  1. accused in a related suit (i.e.: two individuals charged with assault as a result of a fight with each other);
  2. expresses the desire to be named to the courtroom and/or the media;
  3. is already well-known in the community in relation to the alleged incident;
  4. in no case is a youth victim of crime to be named without the express consent of the victim and the victim’s parents/guardian(s).
  5. even if there isn’t a publication ban of any kind, be careful that identification of the accused doesn’t inadvertently identify the victim(s).
  6. an exception may be made in high profile cases where the victim is well-known in the community, but only after consultation with the editor and managing editor.

Note that courts may levy publication bans barring the release of identities or other information, especially where a youth is involved and it falls under the Youth Criminal Justice Act, which will supersede any parental waiving of rights to anonymity.

Reporters are reminded that information from bail hearings is not to be published until after a verdict has been delivered.

In any situation where a story has been printed noting a charge against an individual, all reasonable attempts will be made to follow that charge to its conclusion.

 

Fatalities/Disasters Reporting

The image of an individual at a crash scene, fire or other calamity will not be published when it’s known the individual perished as a result of injuries suffered at that event unless there’s a compelling reason to do so and such decision has been made in consultation with the Editor and Managing Editor and, if deemed appropriate, Publisher.

In the course of day-to-day news coverage, reporters may encounter grisly scenes or subject matter that may not be deemed appropriate for publication. In all such cases, the reporter is urged to capture images rather than rely on his/her sole discretion in a potentially emotionally charged atmosphere. Editors and publishers may elect not to publish such images, but an image not captured can never be subject to that discussion. That said, reporters are urged to conduct themselves with decorum and sensitivity when faced with situations where there may have been a loss of life or serious injury.

In the case of suicides, coverage is decided on a case-by-case basis. If the newsroom believes it serves the public interest, then coverage may proceed. However, reporters are asked to take special care given the nature of the trauma to family and friends. Confirm any incident has been ruled a suicide with authorities before reporting and avoid being too specific about the means and method. Be sensitive to the language used (i.e. mental health providers currently favour the term “death by suicide” rather than the older phrase “committed suicide”). Provide contact information for helplines where appropriate.

Reporters are urged to use restraint when using social media to report on disasters and/or fatalities. All such postings must be vetted by another member of the newsroom prior to posting.

Reporters are not to file information regarding potential loss of life or serious injury online until such information can be verified by a reliable source (family member, fire fighter, police official, etc.), in which case the source must be clearly identified. It’s appropriate, upon consultation with another member of the news team, to post information that alludes to the state of a serious event without citing a known source, providing that information doesn’t create confusion or might lead a reader to identify or speculate as to the identity of a potentially deceased individual prior to notification of next of kin.

Newsroom staff must also be cautious that information posted doesn’t identify next of kin or cause undue concern to potential next of kin prior to contact by appropriate authorities.

Pictures of fatal crashes/fires sourced online or contributed shouldn’t be posted to our own social media until such information has been confirmed by a reliable source. Again, this is not to be undertaken without oversight from a second member of the newsroom.

Until such a time as accurate information is available, comments from non-staff on posts regarding serious incidents will be monitored for inflammatory or potentially misleading information, and action taken accordingly (removing inflammatory postings or correcting, through comments, information known to be false).

Until such time as accurate information is provided by a reliable source, we will not confirm or provide speculation on an incident of a serious/fatal nature, nor will staff re-post rumours or unconfirmed data. Twitter, Facebook and other social media sites are NOT authoritative or reliable sources.

Exception – there may, from time to time, be incidents of such massive scale as to naturally presume loss of life and where providing information may be of greater benefit to the general public.

 

Conflict of Interest

Any personal connection to a story being covered must be disclosed immediately to a supervisor and, where possible, reassigned. Personal connections could include romantic, family, friendships, financial investments, political or fiduciary.

Editorial team members must clear with their supervisor any activity that may be construed as an endorsement of any kind. This includes speaking engagements, personal appearances, advisory roles, written or verbal testimonials.

Reporters and editors are restricted from accepting personal gifts, gratuities or special considerations as they might be seen to compromise their ability to fairly report the news. When in doubt if a particular offer is a potential conflict, all editorial staff are required to consult with their supervisor before accepting. When costs of reporting are sponsored by any outside agency (i.e. an airline covers the cost of transportation), it must be disclosed as part of the article. In such an instance, no family members or other associates may similarly benefit from the sponsorship.

Staff members are not allowed to freelance for publications considered to be direct competitors with the publications they work on routinely. All outside freelancing should be approved by a supervisor prior to accepting the assignment.

 

Corrections/Apologies/Retractions

Every edition of our publications should contain a notice to readers saying we encourage them to inform us right away if they see an error. The notice should include how to report any error, providing a variety of means to make it as easy as possible.

When an error is reported, the senior editor for the involved publication should be notified immediately. He should then assign an editor or reporter not involved with the article in question to verify the accuracy of the error report.

If it’s found to have merit, a correction should appear in print, online and in any archives. Include the issue, story and page number along with an explanation of changes made and explain what happened and why. Avoid restating the original error.

[Examples of possible corrections:

  1. The story “Council releases budget figures”, which appeared in The Weekly Press, Sept. 6, on page 3 incorrectly noted the capital budget. The correct capital budget amount is $32.6 million. The Weekly Press regrets this error.
  2. On page 18 of the October issue of Halifax Magazine, Mayor Michael Savage’s name was spelt incorrectly. We regret this error.]

In print, chose a standard location in the publication to place all corrections. In newspapers, Page 2 or the op-ed pages are good choices. In magazines, the Table of Contents or the Editor’s Message page are best.

Online, notice of the correction should go at the top of the article so readers are aware right away, maximizing transparency. Promote corrections wherever the story was referenced (i.e. social media) and consider creating a corrections page on your website. However, only unpublish an article if it’s shown to be fundamentally flawed.

If an error causes embarrassment to an individual or group or may also expose the publication to legal liabilities, an apology and retraction may be issued and the managing editor notified. It should follow the parameters already set out, but include our sincerest apologies for the problems caused. In cases where the harm caused would reasonably be considered great or the error considered egregious, the managing editor and director of media operations should be notified immediately and the apology and retraction will be printed on page 1 of the earliest edition.

On occasion, a story may be printed that is technically accurate and correct, but may have inadvertently (or due to some alternate interpretation of language) created some confusion or misunderstanding. In such cases, the publication may issue a “clarification” to ensure correct interpretation of the data presented. This should be done in a timely manner and in the same location as corrections are carried.

 

Political Reporting

In general, political coverage conforms to the same rules and guidelines for any other type of reporting. In practice this means we are more focused on the impact of political decisions and how people in our communities are affected than we are in the political personalities involved. This deviates in only two major areas:

  1. If a politician refuses to provide a relevant answer to a direct question and instead insists on simply repeating partisan talking points, a reporter or editor is fully justified in reporting the subject refused to answer the question.

Similarly, if a politician opts not to grant an interview and instead sends a written or emailed response that doesn’t really address the issue that prompted the request, it becomes the editor’s choice whether to: 1.) run the written response with a statement saying that’s what it is; or 2.) stating the subject declined our offer to be interviewed.

  1. Election campaigns are obviously different from normal day-to-day political reporting. All reasonable efforts must be made to provide comparable coverage for the different parties and/or candidates involved. However, comparable coverage doesn’t mean exactly equal coverage in every edition. If by the end of the campaign period each party and/or candidate has been offered the opportunity to receive a similar amount of coverage, then our burden has been met. Coverage can consist of reports on campaign promises, gaffes, debates, etc. All coverage should strive to be self-generated stories while keeping the use of press releases to a minimum. If candidates contact us looking for coverage of their campaign events, it needs to be made clear we expect reciprocal treatment: i.e. if they get something from us, then we want something from them, be it an exclusive interview, a straight answer on an issue of particular concern in our coverage area, access to meetings, etc. It can’t be a one-way relationship.

 

Business Reporting

New businesses of which the newsroom is made aware, and are within the coverage area, with less than five new full-time (or equivalent) jobs created will be afforded a standalone image of the opening, or normal operation of the business, within a week of opening if at all practical.

Announcements regarding a singular hiring and/or promotions will be referred to the advertising department (exception: appointment of key figures within large-scale local businesses).

Small, one-person home-based businesses (such as those vending at craft fairs) may be afforded coverage at the discretion of the newsroom.

New businesses within the region creating 10 full-time (or equivalent jobs) will be afforded coverage at the discretion of the newsroom.

Existing small or medium-sized businesses expanding to the scale of adding five or more full-time (or equivalent) jobs may be afforded coverage at the discretion of the newsroom.

News stories on large businesses and other prominent employers are at the discretion of the newsroom.

The newsroom may provide coverage of retirement events, including submitted images or full-blown profiles, for employees departing a business at its discretion, and such are, generally, encouraged.

The above parameters are designed to strike a balance between news coverage of the business community and advertising’s need to sell ads to that same community. However, exceptions can be made for businesses where the news merit of their story overrides the general rules outlined above. Such discussions between the editor, the sales department and the newsroom are encouraged.

 

Event and Non-Profit Coverage

Public events that are free of charge may be covered both pre- and post at the discretion of the newsroom.

Events which charge for admission or sell tickets may also receive pre-event coverage, but will direct readers to another source (i.e. a website or phone number) for specifics on venues, costs, hours, etc. in order to preserve advertising opportunities. Post-event coverage of these types of events is at the discretion of the newsroom.

Events and fundraisers for non-profit groups fall under the same guidelines. The provision of dedicated space to non-profits is solely at the discretion of the newsroom. Coverage of non-profits should be based on the story’s news value and interest to readers, not solely on the dollar amounts involved. All non-profits are encouraged to take advantage of the free event listings offered in many of our publications.

 

Naming and Permissions

Though Canadian laws permit the capture of any image in a public place, reporters shall attempt to secure the permissions of the subjects of all photographs and interviews (exceptions: photos at athletic events or artistic performances, where such is expected; words stated at public meetings). While we do not need to state that we have obtained permission, providing the name(s) of the subjects implies the same.

Generally speaking, we shall assume teens of 16 years and older are able to provide consent to being interviewed, or having images captured. However, if the matter is of a sensitive nature (i.e. a teen talking about gender identity issues, allegations about bullying in school, etc.) permission must be obtained from a parent/guardian prior to publication.

In all cases involving elementary-school and middle-school aged children in a school setting, reporters must verify the parents of the individuals have signed a release form with the school in question prior to filing said images.

In cases involving high school-aged youth, it can be generally assumed that persons in Grade 11 or 12 can, of their own volition, provide permission, but reporters should be fully aware that legally, those individuals are still underage and therefore, permission by law falls to the parents. Each case ought to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

Likewise, when capturing images of those individuals reasonably believed to be mentally impaired, either through age, disease, or disability, it should not be assumed the individual has the capacity to provide consent for an image. Caution and common sense should prevail in such cases (seek permission from caregivers, attempt to determine if person is sufficiently self-actualized as to be competent, etc.).

 

Proofreading and Editing

All stories should be read/proofread by one member of the newsroom other than the writer. All pages should be proofread by one person who hasn’t contributed content or paginated the page in question. All such pages must be provided a secondary “headline, turn, date and cutline” check by a member of the newsroom not involved in the pagination process.

Corrected pages must be signed off by one member of the newsroom – checking, primarily, to ensure the changes requested have indeed been made before being released to print.

 

Advertorials and Advertisers as Sources

Advertorials must be clearly marked as paid advertising and should be distinguished from usual ROP copy via the use of different body and headline fonts. Ideally these pieces should be written by freelancers, but where that isn’t feasible then all steps must be taken to ensure the assignment doesn’t negatively impact the usual workflow of the newsroom, nor place a reporter or editor in a position where their impartiality could be called into question. For that reason, such copy written by a member of the newsroom should appear without a byline.

Advertisers may be used as sources where their area of expertise makes them a credible commentator on the subject being written about. The use of advertisers as sources should not be gratuitous, but used judiciously where their input enhances an article for the reader.

If an advertiser is being used as a source, as a courtesy the newsroom should inform the sales leader. A similar courtesy should be extended if an upcoming article could negatively impact an advertiser. However, by no means should that courtesy extend to amending or killing an article because the sales department objects.

Advertising is not to be placed on a newspaper’s editorial pages. However, this is acceptable on the magazine side where it’s a long standing practice across the industry.

 

Regular Columns

All columns will be from known writers, with preference to local sources if at all possible, save those that provide an “expert” opinion. From time to time, editors may choose to run a submission of sufficient quality as a guest column. In all such cases, the column should include a brief end-of-content biography, italicized, to let the reader judge the source.

 

Editorials

All editorials are to be created by newsroom staff. Local topics should take precedence, then provincial, then national, though it’s understood that national-level matters will, from time to time, require editorial comment.

Editorials should present the issue in question, provide a logical argument while at least acknowledging opposing views and suggest a possible resolution. However, since the editorial is supposed to present the position of the paper, not the individual, it should avoid relying on personal opinion. That more appropriately belongs in a column.

Guest editorials may be published from time to time, but limited to submissions from sister publications, publishing association bodies, or other sources as deemed worthy by the editor.

 

Freelance Writing and Photography

In order to maintain the unique nature of our content, Advocate Media Inc. does not accept pitches nor assigns stories to freelancers who are regular contributors to directly competitive publications.

Once a story is accepted or a freelancer agrees to an assignment, they are expected to sign a standard freelancing contract covering that work.

The fee for freelance work must be agreed upon in advance and is payable upon publication. Each newsroom sets its own fee schedule in consultation with the managing editor. Pre-approved reasonable expenses can be covered at editor’s discretion. Advocate Media Inc. will hold exclusive First North American Serial Rights (FNASR) for writing assignments for six months without any limitation to the broadcasting format.

In the event a manuscript doesn’t satisfy the agreed upon requirements or isn’t written in a professional manner, the author is to be given the opportunity to revise the manuscript. If it still fails to meet requirements, the assignment will be revised by our editors and the writer notified.

If, due to unforeseen circumstances, an assignment must be terminated, a kill fee of 50 per cent is paid if the decision to terminate is made more than two weeks after the assignment was agreed upon.

In regards to purchased photography, Advocate Media Inc. is purchasing the North American rights to use the body of works created as part of an assignment on an exclusive basis for six (6) months from the time of first publication in any and all media, without any limitation to the broadcasting format. This period is followed by the ongoing, non-exclusive right to use the photographs within any of its publishing properties, regardless of broadcast format, and for promotional purposes. Advocate Media Inc. reserves first option of reuse upon expiration of the rights outlined above. Subject to the rights purchased by Advocate Media Inc. as laid out above, the contributor retains copyright ownership of any and all photographs provided under the terms of this assignment.

Any digital enhancement or alteration to photographs or images that materially changes the content of the original image should be avoided. Minimal colour balancing, toning, minor sharpening and cropping are allowed, as outlined by CP style. However, adding content to or removing content from the original image is not.

“A photo becomes contrived when elements or interpretations are added or subtracted to make a point that would not normally have been there.” (CP Style)

Where such changes are made for creative reasons or for the sake of clarity, the exact nature of the changes must be disclosed to the reader in the caption, table of contents or “On the Cover” notes.

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