Lesher unveils ethics policy for its papers p. 10

By: M.L. Stein LESHER COMMUNICATIONS Inc. recently moved its ethics policy from the newsroom bulletin board to the pages of its four dailies in Northern California.
The three-quarter-page guide covered accuracy, anonymous sources, conflicts of interest, crediting sources, gifts to staff members, employee gambling, plagiarism, speaking fees, privacy, free travel and other ethical concerns.
In an introduction, Clayton Haswell, executive editor of the newspaper group, stated in part: "It is common these days to hear people complain about the news media. We're too liberal, too conservative. We're biased, sensational, out to make a quick buck off someone's misfortune. . . .
"I think we in the newspaper business need to hear that, because, whether or not these complaints are true, it is what you think entirely too often.
"But it is not how we see ourselves. We hold certain values that can make a difference in your lives . . . . We do not think of ourselves as some vast, faceless entity called the media, but rather as newspaper journalists who care about the communities in which we live and labor."
The ethics rules at the papers require that news sources must be disclosed unless there is a "clear and prevailing reason not to do so."
To keep a source secret, the information must be both vital to the story and unobtainable elsewhere, and even if these conditions are met, the managing editor's permission must be obtained as well, the report said.
Under conflict-of-interest regulations, a reporter cannot cover a story or beat in which he/she or a member of his/her immediate family or a close friend has a financial, political or personal interest. Similarly, an editor with a personal "stake" cannot edit the story.
Gifts from outside sources must be returned immediately, except for perishable items such as candy or flowers of nominal value, "which, if returned, would insult the giver."
Outside speaking engagements by staffers ? including those on TV and radio ? must be approved by a supervisor.
If the speakers represent LCI, they may not accept compensation from the host, but the company will compensate them for their time, meals, mileage and related expenses.
Subsidized travel and accommodations are out of bounds.
The guidelines point out that usually when people become part of a news story, they lose their right to privacy. However, the ethics requirements recommend that "journalists working with people who are thrust unwillingly into the public spotlight should go to extraordinary lengths to clearly identify themselves and explain their intent, and to protect their privacy if possible. We should take extra pains to avoid unnecessarily invading the privacy of crime victims."
Haswell said the ethics policy was produced after a series of meetings by editors and reporters from all Lesher newspapers. The group was led by Anthony Marquez, managing editor of the West County Times.
"Debate was contentious and, at times, heated," Haswell recalled. "But we think we've come up with a document that's as good as any we've seen, so the effort was well worth it."
The editor said every reporter and editor in the Lesher newsrooms has signed the ethics statement.
LCI also includes its flagship paper, the Contra Costa Times, the Valley Times in Pleasanton and the Antioch Daily Ledger-Post Dispatch.


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here