Code of Ethics

San Francisco State Journalism Department Ethical Guidelines

The First Amendment assures freedom of speech and entrusts the press with explicit protection. These rights establish the important role of journalism in our democratic society, and demand journalists adhere to the highest ethical standards to protect the integrity of journalism and the credibility that audiences expect.

As an institution of journalism education, we expect journalistic excellence from our students. Following this code of ethics along with best professional practices is required of San Francisco State journalism students.

Use this code to recognize and navigate ethical dilemmas presenting themselves in your work as student journalist, intern or professional.

Overall, this department abides by a broad interpretation of the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.

This or any code cannot be comprehensive. Many ethical decisions involve unique circumstances. When in doubt about the ethics surrounding a situation, consult a Journalism faculty member. It is your responsibility to know what is ethical.


Strive for accuracy, fairness and inclusive reporting practices. Safeguard against bias by checking with a variety of sources. Get outside of your circle and talk to people other than usually cited experts or sources. Explore how perspectives about a story might be influenced by race, gender, class, sexual orientation, generation and/or geography. Look for shades of gray: Those can be the most interesting places to dig. Go out of your way to check, then check again, then check one more time. Minimize harm.

Be professional. Always introduce yourself as a San Francisco State journalism student before an interview. This can be tricky — and important — in social situations where conversation is casual. If someone reveals information you feel may be crucial for a story, it’s important they know you are a journalist and that you want to use the information in a story. Treat sources as you would want to be treated if the roles were reversed. Be punctual. Dress appropriately when on assignment. Do not engage in conduct unbecoming of the department during class, online or while on assignment. Such misconduct includes 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.

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 — and attribute — than to print or produce the wrong information.

Correct your errors. We all make mistakes. Journalists admit to them and correct them publicly. Notify your professor or student editor promptly if you discover or are made aware of any errors.

Avoid conflicts of interest. Conflicts or perceived conflicts can arise when a student has a connection to the subjects or institutions they are covering, or a personal stake in the outcome. Do not allow financial, family or personal interests to make you part of the story. The appearance of conflict can be just as perilous as an actual conflict, so when in doubt, ask your professor. Disclose all potential conflicts to your instructor or editor before beginning an assignment.

Expose injustice and give voice to those who rarely have one. This is the motto of some of the world’s most respected journalists.

Don’t fabricate. If you are caught fabricating information or sources for any assignment in any journalism class, you will receive an F on the assignment and could receive a failing grade for the course given the weight of the assignment and the Journalism chair will be notified. Subsequent discoveries of fabrication may subject you to department review of all work performed for credit in the Journalism Department, with discipline up to and including disqualification from the journalism program.

People can feel pressured to fabricate when they are unprepared with deadline pressure weighing on them. Don’t corner yourself. Locate sources early. Schedule and prepare for interviews ahead of time. Do your research in advance. If you have trouble with any of these things, faculty members are ready and willing to help.

Don’t plagiarize. Plagiarism, the passing off of someone else's work as your own, is a serious offense against scholarship, journalism and honesty. It is regarded as a serious offense by this university and this department. Also reusing material that you wrote previously for publication or other classes is also a problem. We call this self-plagiarism.

When a journalist steals someone else's work, or reuses their own, the credibility of all his or her associates is damaged, and the integrity of the publication in which the plagiarized work is published is also questioned.

Plagiarists fail their readers, their profession and themselves. San Francisco State University calls plagiarism "literary theft" and treats it as a disciplinary issue. Journalism professors regard plagiarists as liars and thieves.

Never copy and paste from the Internet without citing the source. Always cite the source and seek guidance from your professor if needed.

Using the same work for multiple classes or submitting work that was previously published is not allowed except with permission from all instructors and/or editors involved.

Any assignments found to have represented the work of others as one’s own without citation of the source will receive an F on the assignment and could receive a failing grade for the course given the weight of the assignment. Additionally, the Journalism chair will be notified. Additional incidents of plagiarism could trigger a department review and discipline, including disqualification.

Don’t mislead viewers or misrepresent subjects. Any editing, including use of software for photo and video, should maintain the integrity of the images’ content and context. Any altering of sound, manipulation of images in video or still photographs that misleads viewers undermines the most basic contract of authenticity that visual journalists have with their viewers.

Any assignments discovered with manipulation deemed deceptive or misleading will receive an F on the assignment and the Journalism chair will be notified. Subsequent incidents of manipulation could trigger a department review and discipline, including disqualification.