Handbook for Lambda Writers

The Lambda Code of Ethics

Quotes to live by:

“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.” -Thomas Jefferson

“I have a theory that the truth is never told during the nine-to-five hours.” -Hunter S. Thompson

“Journalism can never be silent: That is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air.” – Henry Anatole Grunwald

“Writing well means never having to say, ‘I guess you had to be there.’”– Jef Mallett

“Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.” -Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics

(You’re a reporter, not a celebrity. Be kind and people will talk to you again.)

Goal of the Lambda

At the Lambda, we strive to inform the Laurentian community (more specifically, members of the SGA) with stories that impact their life and/or entertain them. If you have a story idea to bring to the editor, first ask yourself: “Is this important to SGA students?”

Reporter/Photographer guidelines

this section covers what is expected of our reporters and photographers, in terms of their responsibility to serve the SGA population and to show integrity in their work at all times. For more specific questions, please ask an editor, the general manager or a senior reporter.

-your responsibilities

Your responsibility as an employee of the Lambda is to inform the public in an accurate and fair way. This means you are responsible for fact-checking your own stories and tips. Just because a source tells you something, it doesn’t mean you should accept it at face value. Ask questions. Be skeptical.

The reporting of race, national or ethnic origin, religion, sexual orientation or disabilities should only be included when deemed relevant to the story. If your story is on a basketball player, does it matter what religion they identify with?

When you transcribe and comb through your interviews to find quotes for your story, it is OK to edit certain things. If the interviewee misuses a word and corrects it, you may use the correction. Example: “The concert Friday was awesome!. Wait, it was a Thursday, sorry!” can become “The concert was awesome” or “The concert Thursday was awesome.” The meaning of the quote has not been altered in any way, and you have just corrected the speaker’s error. If in any way editing a quote may be seen as altering the meaning of the speaker, please refrain from it, or ask an editor about the change.

If a reporter breaks the law, they will be held accountable. Rummaging through someone’s desk, for

example, is against the law. Techniques of this sort are criminal in nature, and employees who break the law will be punished, and potentially fired.

Independence is fundamental for reporters and photographers. If a source tries to sway you to believe their side of the story, or further, to show their side of the story more favourable, it is a reporter’s job to reject it. For photographers, if someone tries to push for you to run a certain picture in the paper, it is your responsibility to resist. An easy cover-all answer is to say “my editor has last choice on my photos.”

Censorship is another element that can compromise a Lambda employee’s credibility. If a friend of yours in the SGA executive or on the SGA board, for example, tells you not to pursue a story, or not to cover it from a certain angle, you should make the editor aware of the attempt and you should never give in to their pressure. You’re the reporter, and it is your job to make ethical decisions. Talk to the editor if you EVER have a question about this.

If you are ever in a conflict of interest with a story (example: you’re covering women’s hockey and your girlfriend plays on the team) then you should let the editor know and you should step away from that particular beat. This goes DOUBLE for political stories. If you are covering the SGA beat, or the senate, and you are close to any of the members (going on a date with them would qualify as being too close, or drinking with them on weekends) then you should step away from that beat, and let the editor know why.

Even if you are a shining example of perfect reporting (would never put a bias in a story), your relationship to that person will make others question your ability to be fair and it WILL hurt your credibility. As reporters/photographers, our credibility is our pride and it is what we are judged on by the public.

Though it is your job to get the story, it is also your job to know when to treat a source with “softer” interviewing when appropriate. The perfect example of this is when a source is mourning. The hardest interviews of your career will likely come from an obituary story. When people are mourning they are sensitive and reporters need to respect that. A reporter also must be mindful of their influence on events and stories. You report the story, NEVER BE THE STORY. This means not putting yourself in situations where you become a part of the events/story and not inviting unneeded attention to yourself.

Don’t plagiarize. If you use information, source it. “It is widely known the _____ has great service” is unacceptable. “A source within their office said” is also generally unacceptable. If someone wants to anonymous, convince them to let you use their name. If they won’t allow it, be skeptical. The ONLY times an anonymous source is acceptable is when it is CLEARLY and IRREFUTABLY important for the public to know the information and there are no sources who can/will go on record, OR when it is of a sensitive matter (a victim of crime, for example).

If you report one side of a story, you need to report the other side. If you get someone (for example) blasting the pub for poor service, you must give someone representing the pub an adequate time frame (at least a week) to respond. Always try to get an official source to speak for organizations or to speak on a point of view. People would prefer to hear the pub manager go on record talking about services at the pub, as compared to a random student. Keep in mind that we always try to give the students a voice. There is nothing wrong with getting a student’s point of view in EVERY story.

It is not our job to TELL students what to believe or to advocate any view in ANY way. It is our job to tell the stories, and to share information. Let people make up their own minds on how they feel about issues. Editorials and opinion pieces are a part of the newspaper world, but they are labelled as such and are good to shed light on issues or to bring an interesting view to an issue. The Lambda NEVER seeks to persuade SGA students to share a certain view point with the paper, or with any other person, group or affiliation.

MINIMIZE HARM. Show compassion for people even when things go wrong. Even when someone is impeached from office, or found guilty of a crime, they are still a human being. Treat every source with respect and compassion. Show good taste when dealing with gruesome or “gossip-type” details of a story. For example, maybe someone got arrested for drunk driving, but only include details that are relevant. Their blood-alcohol level or the location they drank at would be fine. And REMEMBER, only name criminal suspects after formal charges have been filed.

-meeting deadlines

All reporters miss a deadline from time-to-time. What separates the good reporters is that they make every effort possible to get the story before admitting it fell through, and they let their editor know EARLY that they are having difficulties with it. If I have a story due Thursday, and I haven’t received word from my sources by Monday(after repeated attempts, not just an email or two. Did you try calling? Did you go to their office?) my editor should be aware. More communication with an editor is better than too little. At least two days notice should be given if you think a story may be falling through, and you should be contacting sources with at least about a week until deadline. For photographers, pictures should be in the Dropbox, or emailed to editor. Please include cutlines of who is in the photo and what the photo is for (which event, where it’s taken, etc.) on deadline. If it’s a weekend photo, and editors are laying out on the weekend, send it as soon as possible! If the photo isn’t sent by Saturday night, it won’t run in the issue. The same is true of weekend stories, Saturday night or it doesn’t run.

-getting it right over getting it first

There is constant debate over which is more important: having the story before other outlets or having it correct and confirmed. At Lambda, we prefer having it right. We refuse to publish inaccurate information. Make sure to double-check any facts in the story you are unsure about, and ALWAYS ask a source to spell their name out for you and to give you their title within an organization, if they have one. DON’T trust their Facebook name! Business cards are a perfect way to verify a name and title, feel free to ask for one. It is embarrassing to publish mistakes that could have been corrected with one extra question. Though editors act as fact-checkers, to a degree, there is no concrete way for us to know how to spell someone’s name or to know their title. The Internet can be unreliable or out of date.

Reporter/Photographer Ethics

this section will cover what is and is not responsible/ethical behaviour for members of Lambda staff. If you have a question that is not addressed in this guide, you should ask an editor, the general manager or a senior reporter.

-office behaviour within Lambda newsroom

At all times, be respectful to others in the office (whether they are employees, sources or guests). If there are people in the office who are not Lambda staff, refrain from talking about in-progress stories or any information that Lambda has not reported to the public yet. Make sure to stay professional at all times, ESPECIALLY when non-staff are in the office. We appreciate and encouragement a fun office environment, BUT not at the expense of making guests or other workers feel uncomfortable. There is never drinking or smoking permitted in the office.

-disagreement with another Lambda employee

There are times when reporters/photographers will disagree about things, whether it be stories or policies or whatever. This is allowed and encouraged. The newsroom is a place for free conversation and idea-sharing.

Let’s make sure the conversation and criticism is constructive and if the issue can not be worked out, one can always agree to disagree. If a problem persists, please bring it to the attention of the editor or the general manager and allow them to help alleviate it.

-interviewing family/close friends/ significant others

Simply put: don’t do it. If you are closely linked to your source, others may perceive a bias towards their side of the story. That bias is enough to discredit your story or your reporting. It’s not a risk worth taking.

-having personal relations with people you cover professionally

Example: you are covering the SGA beat and you get invited to go for a coffee with the SGA president, or he/she invites you out for drinks one night. There is nothing wrong with taking up either opportunity, but you must NOT let them pay for anything you eat or drink. Having a coffee or lunch with a source is a great way to get information and to also cultivate a positive professional relationship. This does NOT mean it is OK going out, drinking the bar dry and embarrassing yourself in front of your sources. Act as if you are on the job, in a respectable fashion at all times, while engaging with professional sources. This also takes into account the relationship you are allowed to have with your source. If you engage in any behaviour which may complicate your ability to work with the source in the future, the editor must be made aware and you may be taken off of that beat (example: sexual/intimate relations, having intimate feelings for a source, embarrassing yourself to the point of looking unprofessional, or receiving a gift from a source).

-other things to remember

You represent the Lambda always, whether you’re on a job or not. If you’re ever unsure whether you should be doing something or not, it’s probably better to not do it. Your job is to inform the students of Laurentian: what would you want to know? Why should someone care about your story? Always ask yourself these questions on any story.