Journalism Department Code of Ethics and Conduct

The First Amendment assures freedom of speech and with that privilege comes great responsibility. Journalism plays an important role in our democratic society and therefore must uphold the highest ethical standards. Protecting the integrity of journalism also means protecting the journalistic credibility that audiences expect from reputable sources of news. As an institution of journalism education, it is our obligation to demand journalistic excellence from our students, following best practices of the profession and a code of ethics. This document is to guide students as they may struggle with ethical dilemmas that may present themselves routinely in their position as student journalists and interns.

This department abides by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics, and in its broadest terms that can be interpreted in a variety of ways. While this document cannot be all-inclusive, it will touch on the most important aspects of ethical behavior as a member of the Journalism Program, a coveted and privileged position. If you are ever in doubt about what to do in a situation, do not hesitate to consult with a Department of Journalism faculty member. Saying that you didn’t know is not a good enough response to a breach in ethical standards. It is your responsibility to find out if you don’t know or are unsure.


Be professional. Always represent yourself as a SF State Journalism student, particularly before an interview. This can be tricky in social situations where conversation is casual. There have been instances when people have revealed things not realizing they are speaking to a journalist. If such a situation occurs and what’s revealed to you may be important for a story, it’s important that you tell the person who you are and that you want to use the information in a story. Remember you are representing not only yourself, but also the Department. Make us look good. Dress appropriately when on assignment. A guide to use is dress as your interviewee will dress.

Always strive for accuracy and fairness. It is difficult to be completely unbiased, but your safeguard against bias is checking with a variety of sources. Get outside of your circle and make sure you talk to people other than the usually cited experts or sources. Look for the shades of gray, for those are usually the most interesting places to dig into a subject. Go out of your way to check, then check again, then check one more time.

Ask, don’t assume. Don’t be afraid to ask what may seem to be an “obvious” question. Journalists can sometimes get into trouble because they assume rather than ask. Better to ask than to print or produce the wrong information.

Correct your errors. We all make mistakes, but the best journalists admit to them and correct them publicly. Check with your professor or student editor to find out how best to proceed.

Expose injustice, and give voice to those who rarely have one. This is the motto of some of the best journalists in the profession.

Avoid conflicts of interest. These conflicts include but are not limited to preparing journalism assignments on subjects or institutions in which the student has a financial, family, or personal involvement, or a personal stake in the outcome. Do not become part of the story. In some cases the appearance of a conflict is just as real as an actual conflict of interest. When in doubt, ask your professor. Disclose all potential conflicts to your professor or editor before you begin your assignment.


Do not fabricate anything. If you do, ultimately you will be caught and the fall will be mighty and great. Department of Journalism policy on fabrication: If you are caught, you will receive an F on the assignment. But worse than that, such behavior will call suspicion on all of your work and you will be tainted as a liar and a fake. Usually people get themselves in these situations because they are unprepared and deadline pressure weighs on them. Don’t corner yourself. Prepare for interviews ahead of time. Do your research ahead of time. Locate sources ahead of time. If you have trouble with any of these things, faculty are ready and happy to help.

Do not plagiarize. This is another self-destructive path because you will get caught. Department of Journalism policy on plagiarism: Assignments found to have copied work without citation of the source will receive an F. But again, if you are caught, you have made an unattractive reputation for yourself. People get themselves in this situation for a variety of reasons. Sometimes students think it’s OK to copy and paste from the Internet if it’s common knowledge. The best practice to follow: Whenever in doubt, cite the source and if you want some guidance, ask your professor.

Do not cheat. We expect academic honesty. Check with your professor about what exercises and assignments are for your eyes only.

Do not engage in conduct unbecoming of the department during class, while online or while on assignment. Such misconduct includes but is not limited to disruptive behavior, physical or verbal abuse, property damage, theft, lewd or obscene behavior, and discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, age, disability, sexual orientation or place of origin.

Do not pitch the same story to multiple publications or classes unless it’s clear such a practice is allowed. When in doubt, ask your professor or editor.