American Society of Newspaper Editors
The Washington Post
Standards and Ethics
Author: The Washington Post
Published: February 16, 1999
Last Updated: February 17, 1999
The Washington Post
Standards and Ethics
A. Conflict of interest
B. The reporter’s role
D. Attribution of sources
E. Plagiarism and credit
H. The national and community interest
J. The Post’s principles
The Washington Post is pledged to an aggressive, responsible and fair
pursuit of the truth without fear of any special interest, and with
favor to none.
Washington Post reporters and editors are pledged to approach every
assignment with the fairness of open minds and without prior judgment.
The search for opposing views must be routine. Comment from persons
accused or challenged in stories must be included. The motives of those
who press their views upon us must routinely be examined, and it must
be recognized that those motives can be noble or ignoble, obvious or
We fully recognize that the power we have inherited as the dominant
morning newspaper in the capital of the free world carries with it
to listen to the voiceless
to avoid any and all acts of arrogance
to face the public politely and candidly
A. Conflict of Interest
This newspaper is pledged to avoid conflict of interest or the
appearance of conflict of interest, wherever and whenever possible. We
have adopted stringent policies on these issues, conscious that they
may be more restrictive than is customary in the world of private
business. 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 the positions we hold. Exceptions to the no-gift rule are
few and obvious – invitations to meals, for example. Free admissions to
any event that is 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, arrangements will be made to pay for such seats.
We work for no one except The Washington Post without permission from
supervisors. Many outside activities and jobs are incompatible with the
proper performance of work on an independent newspaper. Connections
with government are among the most objectionable. To avoid real or
apparent conflicts of interest in the coverage of business and the
financial markets, all members of the Business and Financial staff are
required to disclose their financial holdings and investments to the
assistant managing editor in charge of the section. The potential for
conflict, however, is not limited to members of the Business and
Financial staff. All reporters and editors, wherever they may work, are
required to disclose to their department head any financial interests
that might be in conflict or give the appearance of a conflict in their
reporting or editing duties. Department heads will make their own
financial disclosures to the managing editor.
We freelance for no one and accept no speaking engagements without
permission from department heads. Permission to freelance will be
granted only if The Washington Post has no interest in the story and
only if it is to appear in a medium that does not compete with The
Post. It is important that no freelance assignments and no honoraria be
accepted that might in any way be interpreted as disguised gratuities.
We make every reasonable effort to be free of obligation to news
sources and to special interests. We must be wary of entanglement with
those whose positions render them likely to be subjects of journalistic
interest and examination. Our private behavior as well as our
professional behavior must not bring discredit to our profession or to
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 and edit fairly.
Relatives cannot fairly be made subject to Post rules, but it should be
recognized that their employment or their involvement in causes can at
least appear to compromise our integrity. The business and professional
ties of traditional family members or other members of your household
must be disclosed to department heads.
B. The Reporter’s Role
Although it has become increasingly difficult for this newspaper and
for the press generally to do so since Watergate, reporters should make
every effort to remain in the audience, to stay off the stage, to
report the news, not to make the news.
In gathering news, reporters will not misrepresent their identity. They
will not identify themselves as police officers, physicians or anything
other than journalists.
This newspaper 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. See Chapter 3, “The Role of the Ombudsman.”
D. Attribution of Sources
The Washington Post is pledged to disclose the source of all
information when at all possible. When we agree to protect a source’s
identity, that identity will not be made known to anyone outside The
Before any information is accepted without full attribution, reporters
must make every reasonable effort to get it on the record. If that is
not possible, reporters should consider seeking the information
elsewhere. If that in turn is not possible, reporters should request an
on-the-record reason for concealing the source’s identity and should
include the reason in the story.
In any case, some kind of identification is almost always possible – by
department or by position, for example – and should be reported.
No pseudonyms are to be used.
However, The Washington Post will not knowingly disclose the identities
of U.S. intelligence agents, except under highly unusual circumstances
which must be weighed by the senior editors.
E. 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.
Reporters and editors of The Post are committed to fairness. While
arguments about objectivity are endless, the concept of fairness is
something that editors and reporters can easily understand and pursue.
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. Fairness includes relevance.
No story is fair if it consciously or unconsciously misleads or even
deceives the reader. Fairness includes honesty – leveling with the
No story is fair if reporters hide their biases or emotions behind such
subtly pejorative words as “refused,” “despite,” “quietly,” “admit” and
“massive.” Fairness requires straightforwardness ahead of flashiness.
On this newspaper, the separation of news columns from the editorial
and opposite-editorial pages is solemn and complete. This separation is
intended to serve the reader, who is entitled to the facts in the news
columns and to opinions on the editorial and “op-ed” pages. But nothing
in this separation of functions is intended to eliminate from the news
columns honest, in-depth reporting, or analysis or commentary when
H. The National and Community Interest
The Washington Post is vitally concerned with the national interest and
with the community interest. We believe these interests are best served
by the widest possible dissemination of information. The claim of
national interest by a federal official does not automatically equate
with the national interest. The claim of community interest by a local
official does not automatically equate with the community interest.
The Washington Post as a newspaper respects taste and decency,
understanding that society’s concepts of taste and decency are
constantly changing. A word offensive to the last generation can be
part of the next generation’s common vocabulary. But we shall avoid
prurience. We shall avoid profanities and obscenities unless their use
is so essential to a story of significance that its meaning is lost
without them. In no case shall obscenities be used without the approval
of the executive editor or the managing editor or his deputy. See
Chapter 5, “Using the Language,” for guidance on particular words or
terms that may be sensitive.
J. The Post’s Principles
After Eugene Meyer bought The Washington Post in 1933 and began the
family ownership that continues today, he published “These Principles”:
The first mission of a newspaper is to tell the truth as nearly as the
truth may be ascertained.
The newspaper shall tell ALL the truth so far as it can learn it,
concerning the important affairs of America and the world.
As a disseminator of the news, the paper shall observe the decencies
that are obligatory upon a private gentleman.
What it prints shall be fit reading for the young as well as for the
The newspaper’s duty is to its readers and to the public at large, and
not to the private interests of the owner.
In the pursuit of truth, the newspaper shall be prepared to make
sacrifices of its material fortunes, if such course be necessary for
the public good. The newspaper shall not be the ally of any special
interest, but shall be fair and free and wholesome in its outlook on
public affairs and public men.
“These Principles” are re-endorsed herewith.