Not all aspects of business journalism are as cut and dried as the laws and rules that determine the release of information. That’s why we’re including this section on business journalism ethics.
There are no set guidelines in business journalism. Although many business journalists agree on certain issues, such as that trading in stocks of companies they report about is unethical, there are just as many other issues that there is disagreement.
We’re providing the American City Business Journals guidelines as recommended reading for any business journalist faced with an ethical issue.
Others can be found here:
When in doubt, however, let us emphasize that the best policy is to discuss the matter with your superior, or the editor in chief, before taking any action. An after-the-fact discussion won’t undo any harm that might arise from your actions.
American City Business Journals Conflict of Interest Policy
This policy statement is designed to provide all employees with guidelines which will enable them to avoid conflicts of interest that might be construed to be detrimental to the best interests of ACBJ. It is important for all employees to keep in mind the tremendous embarrassment and damage to the Company's reputation and that of fellow employees that could come about through a lapse in judgment by one person, or someone closely associated with that person, no matter how well-intended that person may be. Because we think it is essential that every employee be above suspicion, we consider any slip in judgment in the areas covered in this policy statement to be serious enough to warrant dismissal.
Employees should not use, directly or indirectly, for their own or any other person's financial gain, any information about ACBJ which the employee obtained in connection with ACBJ employment. Further, employees should not disclose to anyone confidential information obtained in connection with ACBJ.
Gifts, Purchases of Goods or Political Contributions
Employees should not requisition, order, approve or otherwise participate in the purchase of goods or services on behalf of ACBJ from any company in which the employee or a family member has any financial interest, whether stock ownership or loans or otherwise.
Employees should not accept, directly or indirectly, any gift, entertainment or reimbursement of expenses of more than twenty dollars or that exceeds customary courtesies, nor should they accept, directly or indirectly, payment, loan, services, employment or any other benefit from any company or individual that furnishes or seeks to furnish news, material, equipment, supplies or services to ACBJ.
Employees are not permitted to accept free transportation or lodging ("so-called junkets") offered by companies, individuals or governmental agencies.
Employees should not offer to provide, directly or indirectly, any gift, entertainment or reimbursement of expenses for more than nominal value or that exceeds customary courtesies, nor should they offer, directly or indirectly, any material, equipment or services to any company or person in position to make or influence any business or governmental decision affecting ACBJ.
ACBJ does not contribute directly or indirectly to political campaigns or to political parties or groups seeking to raise money for political parties or political campaigns, and ACBJ does not and will not reimburse any employee for any political contribution made by an employee.
ACBJ has a strict policy on security transactions by employees who have access to inside information regarding unpublished stories or advertising schedules. It also has a strict related policy on the conduct of news and advertising staff members dealing with corporations we cover or whose advertising we carry. Each employee is expected to bend over backwards to avoid any action, no matter how well-intentioned, that could provide grounds even for suspicion:
(i) that an employee, his family or others close to the employee made financial gains by acting on the basis of "inside" information obtained through a position on our staff, before it was available to the general public. Such information includes hold-for-release material, our plans for running stories, items that may affect price movements, or projected advertising campaigns;
(ii) that an employee is financially committed in the market so deeply or in such other ways as to create a temptation to biased writing or scheduling of advertising;
(iii) that an employee is beholden to brokers or any other group we cover or advertisers. Such indebtedness could arise through acceptance of favors, gifts or payments for performing writing assignments or other services for them.
We do not want to penalize our staff members by suggesting that they not buy stocks or make other investments. We do, however, want employees to avoid speculation or the appearance of speculation. We reiterate that it is not enough to be incorruptible and act with honest motives. It is equally important to use good judgment and conduct one's outside activities so that no one -- management, our editors, an SEC investigator, or a political critic of the Company -- has any grounds for even raising the suspicion that an employee misused a position with the Company.
With these general propositions in mind, here are some further specific guidelines:
(i) First and foremost, all material gleaned by you in the course of your work for ACBJ is deemed to be strictly the Company's property. This includes not only the fruits of your own and your colleagues' work, but also information on plans for running items and articles on particular companies and industries and advertising schedules in future issues. Such material must never be disclosed to anyone outside of the Company, including friends and relatives. Viewing information as the Company's property should avoid a great many of the obvious pitfalls.
(ii) No employee regularly assigned to a specific industry should invest, nor should his family, in any company engaged in whole or significant part in that industry.
Serving on the Board of Directors of Other Companies
ACBJ employees are prohibited except with written approval of the chief executive officer from serving as directors or officers of any other company devoted to profit-making. Employees may not receive payment for serving on a board which is not devoted to making a profit. If an employee is involved in a family-owned profit-making business, clearance should be obtained in advance from the chief executive officer. If an employee's participation on a board of directors, of either a profit-making or nonprofit organization, creates the appearance of a potential conflict of interest with the company or a conflict of the editorial integrity of the newspaper, that person may be required by the chief executive officer to resign from that board of directors.
No ACBJ fund, asset or liability which is not fully and properly recorded on the books and records shall be created or permitted to exist.
All employees will comply with ACBJ's accounting principles, procedures and controls and no false, artificial or misleading entries in our books and records shall be made for any reason whatsoever.
No ACBJ employee will:
(a) issue or authorize any official company document that is false or misleading;
(b) knowingly accept and treat as accurate a false or misleading document prepared by a person outside ACBJ; and
(c) knowingly make false or misleading statements to our external, internal or other auditors.
Only those corporate managers authorized to do so may release information regarding ACBJ. Management of individual papers may release information pertaining solely to their own market as outlined in the Company's policy manual.
We believe these guidelines should be easily understood. They aren't intended to deter any employee from participating actively in civic or charitable organization, provided they have no impact on or connection with ACBJ. The same applies to political organization or government advisory boards for the average employee -- but editorial employees and company executives would be expected to refrain if there were a connection with issues covered by his or her publication or if his or her superior didn't provide prior clearance.
We would like to emphasize that we have complete confidence in all of our employees. It is essential, however, that all of us maintain the highest standards of ethics in the conduct of ACBJ business in actuality and also in appearances by acting within the framework of these guidelines. Please retain this policy statement in your files.
Every ACBJ employee will be given a copy of this Conflict of Interest policy annually and acknowledge by signature that they understand and abide by it. All new employees will receive the policy at the time of hiring and acknowledge same.
Your cooperation is greatly appreciated.