Code of Ethics
is an editorially independent, non-profit magazine published by the California Academy of Sciences with funding support from major foundations and private individuals. A multimedia publication that showcases both the wonder of nature and the latest tools, breakthroughs, and ideas for sustaining life on Earth,bioGraphic
serves as a beacon of hope in troubling times. Our mission is to share stories that spark conversations, shift perspectives, and inspire new ideas, helping to not only shed new light on our planet’s most pressing environmental challenges, but also—ultimately—to solve them. Journalistic integrity is critical to these efforts, and we are committed to upholding the highest standards of excellence, honesty, fairness, and transparency. This code of ethics, produced using guidance from the Online News Association, offers some specific examples of the protocols we follow to meet these standards.
OBJECTIVITY AND FAIRNESS
- Although we strive for objectivity in our reporting, our content is predicated on the belief that a healthy and sustainable planet is both desirable and achievable.
We are politically agnostic and inclusive.
- We do not commission stories from contributors who have a conflict of interest that might affect their reporting on a particular piece.
- Opinion pieces are clearly identified as such.
If a story includes criticism of people or organizations, we give those subjects the opportunity to respond.
- We do not advocate for specific positions on environmental issues.
- We refrain from presenting multiple points of view if one perspective on an issue has been credibly established as fact. In other words, we avoid “false balance."
- We strive to publish stories that are honest, accurate, truthful, and fair. We do not distort or fabricate facts, imagery, or data.
- Contributors must provide accurate context for all reporting.
- Contributors seek out diverse voices that can contribute important perspectives on the subject they’re covering.
- Contributors ensure that their sources are reliable. To the maximum extent possible, we make clear to our audience who and what our sources as well as any motivations our sources may have.
- When we are unsure about information, we seek out additional primary sources that can help us verify the information, or we leave it out.
- We clearly distinguish fact from opinion in all content.
- We hold contributors responsible for the accuracy of their contributions, and require full documentation of source material. We also use fact-checkers to independently verify information prior to publication.
- Contributors may read or paraphrase parts of stories to sources or other experts in order to check facts. They should make clear to the sources that they are only verifying facts, not providing an opportunity to change the writing or approach to the story.
- We clearly identify all changes that have been made to stories if those corrections materially change the meaning of the content.
- We clean up random utterances such as pauses, “ums” and “you knows” unless their removal would materially alter the meaning of a quote.
- We allow separate phrases of a quote to be joined by ellipses as along as those edits don’t change the source’s intended meaning.
- We allow separate phrases of a quote to be separated by attribution as along as it does not change the source’s intended meaning.
- Contributors use primary sources for information included in their stories.
- We include source attribution, and we also use links, if available, in cases when we feel it’s important to guide our audience to additional information.
- We use confidential sources sparingly to provide important information that cannot be obtained through on-the-record sources. Reporters should disclose the identity of unnamed sources to at least one editor. We will consider potential harm to sources facing intolerance in their societies before naming them in stories.
- We may use sources with a conflict of interest in stories, but details that signal the conflict of interest (e.g., a comment from a scientist who conducted a study funded by an organization that might benefit from the results) are included in the story.
- We do not pay interviewees for granting interviews.
- When reporting on an interview, contributors are not required to state the type of interview (i.e., whether it was in person, by telephone, video, Skype, or email.)
- Contributors may at their discretion provide interview subjects with a general idea of their questions in advance.
- Contributors may at their discretion share quotes and/or explanations of complicated material with subjects to ensure the accuracy of the material under the condition that the contributor and editor make the final decision on how to handle any changes suggested as the result of the exchange with the subject.
- We edit interviews for length and readability without altering the meaning of the interviewees’ answers. We allow interviewees to see the edited transcript if they desire, while making clear it is not an opportunity to change their answers, other than to provide explanations of complicated material to ensure the accuracy of the material (see above).
PLAGIARISM AND ATTRIBUTION
- We need not always name the source in the text if the information being conveyed is common knowledge.
- When we are using someone else’s exact words, we use quotation marks and attribution.
- Attribution is as specific as possible, including the name of the author and publication or organization of the source we are quoting.
- We cite news releases if they are our sources and quote them if using their exact words.
- When we use substantial material from our archives or from an author’s previous work in a current story, we note that the material has been published before.
- Even when using basic facts from another source we vary the wording by paraphrasing the language used in source materials.
RACE, GENDER, AND POLITICAL AFFILIATION
- We use racial, ethnic, gender, sexuality, and political affiliation identifiers only when specifically germane to a story.
- We present all data in relevant context.
- We use primary sources of data and statistics.
- We consider possible biases when choosing and using sources of statistics and other information, and we convey pertinent background information about sources to our audience as appropriate.
- We graphically depict data in an objective manner, using best practices to represent elements, trends, etc., in ways that won’t inappropriately steer our audiences toward specific conclusions.
- We use infographics and animations to reconstruct past events and model future events only if we are certain that every detail depicted is accurate.
PHOTO AND VIDEO
- We believe that image manipulation must never alter essential content in such a way that it either misrepresents actual events or deceives the intended audience in any context in which the truth of the image is assumed.
- We clearly label the sources of all photos and videos.
- We use only photos that we have commissioned, for which we have licenses, that are available for fair use, or for which we have received permission from the original source to publish.
- We always place the welfare of photographic subjects above all else.
- When photographing breeding animals, contributors must take special care to avoid having a negative impact on reproductive success or adding to the risk of predation. This often involves maintaining safe distances from subjects.
- Images of captive animals are honestly and accurately captioned and never represented as wild.
- Creative manipulation of photographs, when performed, must be fully disclosed.
- We try to write clever, creative headlines that will entice readers to click on and share our stories, but headlines do not make promises that our stories do not deliver.
REPORTING ON THE CALIFORNIA ACADEMY OF SCIENCES
- The California Academy of Sciences does not direct or influence bioGraphic content.
- We do not preferentially include the California Academy of Sciences or Academy partners in our content. Contributors may include Academy sources in their reporting if they are the best sources for the purpose. When they do, the Academy affiliation is noted in the piece.
- We follow the same editorial process we use for covering any other organization when the Academy has done something worthy of coverage. We assign a reporter and let that reporter contact sources within our organization. The story is then edited like any other; senior executives do not see the story prior to publication.
- We disclose all donors who contribute $5,000 or more to bioGraphic.
- Our funders may not see our stories before publication.
- Our funders may fund coverage of general topics, but they have no say in specific stories pursued or in how they are reported or written.
- Our funders do not influence sources used, except that they are not used as sources in topic areas they fund.
- Our funders do not influence conclusions drawn in our content.
- We disclose funding for specific topics in any content generated with support from that funding.
- We seek out and commission stories from a diverse pool of freelance contributors.
- We encourage contributors to seek diverse sources for their stories.
COMMUNITY AND POLITICAL ACTIVITIES
- Our contributors may not serve in publicity roles for organizations involved in the stories they report.
- Our contributors are welcome to be involved in the community and the issues we cover, but we disclose these involvements if they are pertinent to the story being told.
- Our contributors should disclose to us any community and political connections involving topics they propose to cover before accepting an assignment.
- We provide factual coverage in a neutral voice despite our organization’s involvement in the issues we cover. We disclose our affiliation for transparency reasons, but the affiliation should not influence our voice or content.
CONFLICTS OF INTEREST
- Before accepting a commission to produce bioGraphic content, contributors should disclose any interests they have in a company, or organization, or individual that would be considered an appropriate source. We will determine together if a conflict of interest exists, and if so, whether to cancel the story or make appropriate disclosures.
- Contributors are to avoid any conflict of interest that undermines their ability to report a piece fairly and accurately.
- Contributors should disclose any unavoidable conflicts or other situational factors that may affect their judgment or credibility, and we share that information with our audience as appropriate.
- Contributors and editors do not allow the interests of funding sources to affect the integrity of our journalism.
GIFTS, TRAVEL AND OTHER PERKS
- Our contributors may accept small gifts in cases where people are being kind and clearly not trying to influence the story. Our gift policy does not require us to be rude; sometimes there’s a common-sense need to accept a small gift.
- Except for the small exceptions identified above, our contributors should accept no gifts from subjects or potential subjects of their reporting. If gifts sent to contributors cannot be returned, we will donate them to charity.
- We allow contributors to accept comped travel expenses on scientific expeditions, but we will disclose that arrangement in the story.
- Our contributors are free to express opinions on social media.
- We encourage staff members to retweet, share, and otherwise pass along things they find interesting on social media. We trust them to provide context where appropriate.
FREELANCE WORK BY EMPLOYEES
- We permit freelancing by full-time employees, but they must receive explicit permission to do so from their direct manager before undertaking such work.
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