Ethics and Standards
Before applying to The Washington Post Talent Network, please read and accept our ethics agreement so we know you take journalism as seriously as we do. By accepting, you agree to uphold these professional standards.
(about 4 minutes)
Freelancers are not to identify themselves as being affiliated with or working on behalf of The Washington Post unless they have been placed on assignment by a Post editor. Doing so will result in immediate and permanent expulsion from the Talent Network, and you will be prohibited from working for The Post in the future. Freelancers on formal assignment for The Post will not misrepresent their identity. Do not fool or mislead sources. When identifying yourself, say you are a freelancer for The Washington Post.
Conflict of Interest
The Post is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. In particular:
- We pay our own way.
- We accept no gifts from news sources. We accept no free trips.
- We neither seek nor accept preferential treatment that might be rendered because of an affiliation with The Post. Free admissions to events that are not free to the public are prohibited. The only exception is for seats not sold to the public, as in a press box. Whenever possible make arrangements to pay for such seats. We will reimburse you for that expense, but you must always seek pre-approval from the assigning editor.
- All reporters and editors are required to disclose to their supervisors any connections, financial or otherwise, that might be in conflict or give the appearance of a conflict in their reporting or editing duties.
- A reporter or editor cannot accept payment from any person, company or organization that he or she covers.
- We make every reasonable effort to be free of obligation to news sources and to special interests. Our private behavior as well as our professional behavior must not bring discredit to our profession or to The Post. We avoid active involvement in any partisan causes -- politics, community affairs, social action, demonstrations -- that could compromise or seem to compromise our ability to report fairly. Unless you are exclusively an opinion writer, the prohibition extends to Tweets and other posts on social media that take a partisan stance.
Plagiarism and Credit
Attribution of material from other newspapers and other media must be total. Plagiarism is one of journalism's unforgivable sins. It is the policy of this newspaper to give credit to other publications that develop exclusive stories worthy of coverage by The Post.
Prior publication and related issues
You must disclose whether a piece you are pitching or a variation of a piece has already appeared in another publication. Learning after the fact that a piece published in The Post had first appeared elsewhere could result in expulsion from the Talent Network. You should not report stories for other publications when you are on paid assignments for the Post, or vice versa.
Reporters and editors of The Post are committed to fairness. Fairness results from a few simple practices:
- No story is fair if it omits facts of major importance or significance. Fairness includes completeness.
- No story is fair if it includes essentially irrelevant information at the expense of significant facts.
- No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads or deceives the reader.
A Discussion of Sources
The Post is committed to disclosing to its readers the sources of the information in its stories to the maximum possible extent. We want to make our reporting as transparent to the readers as possible so they may know how and where we got our information. Whenever questions arise about how to convey the transparency of our reporting to the reader, consult with editors.
Sources often insist that we agree not to name them before they agree to talk with us. We must be reluctant to grant their wish. Named sources are vastly to be preferred to unnamed sources. Persistently pushing sources to identify themselves actually works -- not always, of course, but more often than many reporters initially expect.
Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources used in a story, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using them. The source of anything that appears in the paper will be known to at least one editor. Our obligation is to serve readers, not sources.
We strive to treat sources fairly. This means putting statements we quote into context, and summarizing the arguments of people we quote in ways that are recognizably fair and accurate. Potentially controversial statements by public figures and others should be quoted in a complete sentence or paragraph when possible, and in context.
When seeking comment from persons who are the subject of a story, we should give them a reasonable opportunity to respond to us. This means not calling at the last minute before deadline if we have any choice about timing.
We do not promise sources that we will refrain from additional reporting or efforts to verify the information they may give us.
We should not publish ad hominem quotations from unnamed sources.
We do not use pseudonyms, and we do not mislead our readers about the identities of people who appear in our stories.
Facts and quotations in a story that were not produced by our own reporting must be attributed. Readers should be able to distinguish between what the reporter saw and what the reporter obtained from other sources such as wire services, pool reporters, email, websites, etc.
Sometimes, a source will agree to be interviewed only if we promise to read quotations back to the source before publication. We should not allow sources to change what was said in an original interview, although accuracy or the risk of losing an on-the-record quote from a crucial source may sometimes require it. A better and more acceptable alternative is to permit a source to add to a quotation and then explain that sequence to readers. If you find yourself in this gray area, consult with your editor.
Some reporters share sections of stories with sources before publication, to ensure accuracy on technical points or to catch errors. A science writer, for instance, may read to a source a passage, or even much of a story, about a complex subject to make sure that it is accurate. But it is against our policy to share drafts of entire stories with outside sources prior to publication, except with the permission--which will be granted extremely rarely--of the Executive Editor or Managing Editor.
This news organization is pledged to minimize the number of errors we make and to correct those that occur. Accuracy is our goal; candor is our defense. Persons who call errors to our attention must be accorded a respectful hearing.