Ethics Policy

At Embarcadero Media, we are committed to upholding the highest standards of ethical journalism. In order to ensure the accuracy and integrity of our reporting, we have established the following policies:

Our journalists must be truthful, independent and trustworthy. Our readers should have complete confidence in our work, and any lack of integrity on our part undermines our vital mission. Therefore, we pledge to uphold this code of ethics, which details our commitment to credible, intelligent and independent journalism.

We will strive to avoid conflicts of interest and situations that cast doubt on our integrity. Where such conflicts are unavoidable, we will disclose them to our colleagues and readers. We are committed to transparency. When we make errors, we will be humble, admit our mistakes and rectify them. Our readers' trust is our most valuable asset, and we are committed to working every day on behalf of the Bay Area community to earn and keep their trust.

This code applies to everyone who works for Embarcadero Media, including freelance journalists.

Interactions with sources

Paying for information: We do not pay sources for information or interviews, nor do we pay subjects to shoot photos or videos of them. In the rare instance that someone provides us with an extraordinary photo or video, we may compensate them for their work. We may also pay fees for obtaining copies of public records when required.

Undercover reporting and misrepresentation: We believe in transparency in all of our reporting. Therefore, we always identify ourselves as journalists when approaching someone for an interview and make clear how we will use the information they provide. At the same time, we recognize that any information available to the general public is fair game for reporting, even if we obtained it without identifying ourselves as journalists.

Anonymous sources: We strive to avoid using anonymous sources as much as possible. However, in rare cases where the news value of a quote from an unnamed source outweighs the lack of transparency, an anonymous source may be quoted or cited with the approval of an editor. In such cases, the journalist reporting the story must know the true name of the source and provide that information to an editor.

When presenting information from an anonymous source, we always include a reason why the source needs their name withheld. We place greater value on requests for anonymity from whistleblowers, crime or trauma victims, and people who would be in danger if their names were linked to their quotes. However, we examine requests for anonymity for possible ulterior motives, especially in stories about politics or government. We also do not grant government spokespeople anonymity in quotes when they are providing an official comment.

On/off the record: We use specific terms to describe the use of information in interviews, including "on the record," "not for attribution," "on background," and "off the record." Our journalists must explain these terms to sources and agree to them prior to the interview. All interviews and information sent to us are on the record unless otherwise agreed. We do not retroactively place a comment off the record if it was clearly given on the record, especially when from sources who frequently interact with the media.

Accuracy in reporting

Truth and facts: At Embarcadero Media, we believe that every news story we publish should represent our best and most sincere effort to report the truth. All of our news stories must be based on verifiable facts. If we publish any work of fiction, such as winning entries in our Short Story Contest, it must be clearly labeled as such, and care must be taken to avoid confusing it with our non-fiction news and opinion work.

We value the power of storytelling in conveying the significance and drama of news events. However, our journalists are prohibited from changing facts, altering timelines, omitting important information, or taking artistic liberties to enhance the story.

Headlines: Our headlines must accurately summarize the story they sit atop. While they can be punchy, funny, intriguing or dramatic, they must be truthful. If there is any doubt, our journalists must seek input from their colleagues.

Bylines: The byline should include the names of the journalists who reported and wrote the story. Pseudonyms are not allowed. We encourage our journalists to be generous with byline credit, and those who provided extensive reporting help. If a journalist provided a small amount of information used in the article, a note of that contribution should be provided at the bottom of the story.

Photos and videos: Our images must convey the truth, just like our words. Photos and videos can be cropped, toned and edited in keeping with common journalistic standards. However, they cannot be altered, added to or subtracted from in ways that create a scene that didn't occur in real life. When cropping or framing images, care should be taken not to ignore important context or give a false impression of an event. Photo illustrations and staged or posed images must be clearly labeled.

Video editing should hew to the truth and should not be used to present events as occurring in linear order when they did not. Video re-enactments are strongly discouraged in news videos. If they are used, they must be clearly labeled and include an explanation of why a re-enactment is the best way to tell the story. When in doubt, visual journalists should consult with colleagues and look to the National Press Photographers Association code of ethics.

Quotations: We hold quotations in high regard, and they must be accurately reported. Quotation marks must contain the exact words that someone spoke, to the best and most earnest of our journalists' ability to record them. When using ellipses, care is taken not to change the meaning of the quote.

This standard also applies when editing audio or video clips. While we may condense quotes for clarity, our journalists do not make edits that change the meaning of the quote.

Plagiarism: Plagiarism is taking someone else's words and presenting them as your own journalism. Anyone who commits plagiarism at our organization is subject to serious punishment, including possible termination.

If any reader spots what they believe to be plagiarism, we ask that they contact us as soon as possible. Any staff member who receives a complaint of plagiarism must take that complaint to an editor immediately, and editors must investigate reports of plagiarism promptly.

Fair use: Our policy regarding fair use and citations is based on the principles of integrity and respect for others' work. We work to ensure that all information used in our reporting is properly cited and attributed. If we obtain details from another news outlet, we make every effort to verify the information ourselves or cite the outlet as the source of the information in the body of the story, with a link to the original article when possible.

Source bias: We are committed to impartiality in our reporting and strive to provide a balanced and nuanced portrayal of the news. Our journalists do not inject their personal views or opinions into news articles but instead rely on facts and diverse perspectives to guide their reporting(See conflicts of interest section, below.)

We report on sources' personal or professional affiliations that could influence their views. While we maintain a journalist's skepticism and seek multiple sources to verify information, we do not automatically assume that people are acting in bad faith.

We uphold fairness and thoroughness in our reporting, seeking to tell the whole story from a diversity of perspectives. When provided with information from one source, we consider other viewpoints that could reveal a clearer picture. We fact-check all information and provide ample time for individuals or organizations to respond to critical or questioning comments.

However, we do not present all viewpoints as equally true, as the verifiable facts of the story guide our reporting. We also do not require every story to be an all-inclusive portrait of the issue but instead achieve thoroughness and balance through the totality of our reporting on an issue.

Opinion columns: Our opinion pieces are clearly labeled and separate from news coverage. We avoid confusing language and use clear words to indicate that a piece is an opinion. Opinion writers are expected to base their arguments on verifiable facts and demonstrate respect for others. We seek diverse voices from our coverage areas.

Gifts & gratuities

Embarcadero Media employees follow these guidelines regarding the acceptance of gifts or other special favors or consideration. Policies cannot envision all possible circumstances, so staff must consult with their department manager or the publisher if they have any doubt regarding a particular situation

Tickets to events: Tickets provided to our newspapers because we are a sponsor of an event or have donated advertising to the event are acceptable and are distributed by the publisher (lottery among interested employees, as a reward to one or more employees, to readers or advertisers, etc.). Tickets offered to an editorial department employee shall only be accepted if:

  1. The newspaper intends to use the tickets for the purpose of writing a review.
  2. The ticket is offered by a nonprofit in hopes that a reporter, photographer or editor will attend to become more familiar with the group and possibly write about it afterwards. In this case, it should be made clear that attendance does not mean that any story will be written, and the editor shall determine whether and how the ticket is to be used.
  3. The event is a media preview.

Under no circumstances shall any employee request complimentary tickets to any event unless it is for the purpose of writing a review and with the approval of the editor.

Gifts: Gifts of flowers, food, etc. that are delivered to the office following the publication of a story or the preparation of an advertising campaign (or for any other reason) may be kept as long as it has no permanent, lasting value. Such gifts should, whenever possible, be shared with all employees. The following gifts should not be accepted:

  1. Gift certificates of any kind.
  2. Free meals or merchandise, except as provided as part of a media preview function.
  3. Discounts from local businesses.

Other special treatment or favors: Employees should not accept any preferential treatment, product or service samples or any other favors in the course of their employment. Examples include discounts, priority seating or service, or being provided with a free sample product or service (such as a sample facial, hairstyling or computer consulting by people selling these services to the public).

Meals with editorial sources: Editorial employees having a meal with a news source should always pay for their own meal.

Journalists' credibility

Integrity & transparency: Embarcadero Media journalists must demonstrate their impartiality and commitment to acting in the best interests of readers through their actions. In all situations, journalists must act with integrity and demonstrate that integrity to readers.

Embarcadero Media is committed to transparency in all aspects of our newsgathering and business operations. We work every day to show people who we are and to be as transparent as possible. We regularly publish notes from editors and behind-the-scenes pieces to explain how and why we tackle particular stories.

Conflicts of interest: Journalists must refrain as much as possible from reporting on issues in which their immediate family members or close friends have a financial or advocacy interest. They are not allowed to report stories directly about organizations that employ their spouse or partner because of the financial benefit accrued to them or about organizations where they volunteer or advocacy organizations to which they belong. This does not apply to general religious or other broad affiliations.

Journalists must inform an editor of potential conflicts of interest, and if a conflict is unavoidable, they should disclose it within the text of a story along with an explanation of why the conflict did not influence the coverage of the story. Journalists are encouraged to share their backgrounds in their biographies on Embarcadero Media's website to help readers gain a better understanding of their interests and experiences that shape their coverage.

Financial affairs: Embarcadero Media journalists must never report on businesses in which they or their immediate family members knowingly hold a financial interest. They are allowed to invest in widely held investments, such as mutual funds, as well as in companies that they do not cover, but they must never use pre-publication information they gained in reporting a story to make a profit or limit a loss in an investment. Journalists must also never write a story for the purpose of influencing a company's stock price.

In the event a news story touches on a potential personal or financial conflict involving a company director, executive or editorial staffer, the news organization will note the potential conflict either in the body of the story or in italics at the bottom.

Partisanship and political involvement: Embarcadero Media journalists must avoid engaging in any political activities in their professional or personal lives that could reflect negatively on the integrity of Embarcadero Media.

Journalists, in reporting non-opinion news stories, should not endorse or contribute money to candidates, parties, platforms, bills or initiatives or create the impression that Embarcadero Media, as an institution, endorses any of those things.

While we do not discourage participation in civic life, our journalists must be extremely careful to avoid political partisanship when joining organizations, posting on social media, making public comments, displaying yard signs or bumper stickers, and participating in public events such as rallies or marches. This is especially true if the organizations are ones that are covered by Embarcadero Media. If there is a doubt about whether personal or professional activity is inappropriate, journalists should discuss the situation with an editor.

Advocacy: Embarcadero Media strongly supports the practice of journalism and advocates for issues that promote it, including access to public records, meetings, and court proceedings, protection of the First Amendment, and the importance of local news. We consider these issues as non-political matters.

Freelancers: Freelance journalists must adhere to all ethical requirements spelled out in this code, and they must inform an editor about any potential conflicts of interest on a story. Embarcadero Media does not allow freelancers to cover stories in which they or their immediate family members or business partners have a financial or public advocacy interest.

A commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion

For the Embarcadero Media Foundation and its affiliated news and information sites, nothing is more important than accurately reflecting and representing the many people, groups and institutions that comprise our broader community. We are committed, therefore, to working toward diversity in our workforce and sources of information, to equity in pay, assignments, hiring and promotions, and to creating a sense of inclusion and belonging in every aspect of our work.

Our commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion isn't performative. We acknowledge that we can best tell the stories of our community by tapping into the richness of lived experiences. We strengthen our journalism, our outreach efforts and the lives of everyone in our organization when we include everyone in our work.

We firmly believe that diversity in the composition of our staff, contractors and collaborators based on race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, age, ability, religion, immigration status and wealth is paramount for us if we are to fulfill our mission.

We acknowledge this commitment is a work in progress and pledge to update our stakeholders as we strive always to be a place where everyone belongs.

Acknowledgement: Embarcadero Media developed our thinking around diversity, equity and inclusion after consulting the policies of the Pulitzer Center and the Center for Public Integrity.