Observer strives to be the essential source of news, data and insight about the powerful forces that shape the world.
Founded in 1987 as The New York Observer, we believe in an informed public that is empowered to hold the powerful to account. Accordingly, we hold ourselves to the core principles of accuracy, fairness, honesty and independence as journalists. We know that our mission is not achievable without a diversity of voices, and so we seek to include those who have historically been excluded.
We are rigorously committed to ethical conduct in all of our work regardless of format or topic, and we have no agenda other than the pursuit of the truth.
Reporters at the Observer are the principal fact checkers of their own work. It is especially important to check concrete facts such as names, dates, titles and their spellings. A news organization that gets a simple fact wrong loses trust when it comes to more complex matters. Responsibility for errors rests primarily with the reporter. Editors should ensure that reporters have checked their facts before publication.
Corrections and clarifications
If a correction is needed, the reporter must not make it on their own. Report possible corrections to newsroom leadership. If a change is needed, it should be published as soon as possible. If a correction is needed on social media, it should be made transparently. If a correction is needed in a newsletter that has already been sent, it is appropriate to send an update in the next scheduled email, unless newsroom leadership determines that the error is significant enough to warrant sending a new email.
Quotation marks in our work mean that the subject said those words. We do not “clean up” quotes. Filler words such as “um,” “like” and “you know” can be excised and false starts can be removed. If a quote is phrased too awkwardly to be used verbatim, paraphrase outside of quotation marks.
Reporting by other organizations
When exclusive facts are gathered by other organizations, we credit those organizations by name. Before crediting quotes to another news organization, we should make a reasonable effort to confirm the material independently. When we do this, we do not need to credit another organization with the facts, but should acknowledge the organization that first reported the material.
Be wary of rumors that are being reported by another organization. Consult with newsroom leadership to determine if the rumor meets our own standards for publication.
We should distinguish between interviews that happened in person, by email, by video conferencing or by phone or text.
Fairness and Honesty
No one we write about should be surprised by the material we publish. Whenever we portray someone in a negative light, we should make a real effort to obtain a response from that person. We should give them a reasonable amount of time to get back to us before we publish. What is “reasonable” may depend on the urgency and competitiveness of the story. If we don’t reach the parties involved, we should explain in the story what efforts were made to do so.
We strive to identify all the sources of our information, shielding them with anonymity only when they insist upon it and when they provide vital information — not opinion or speculation; when there is no other way to obtain that information; and when we know the source is knowledgeable and reliable. To the extent that we can, we identify in our stories any important bias such a source may have. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, we describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible. We must never say that a person declined to comment when he or she is already quoted anonymously.
Editors have an obligation to know the identity of unnamed sources in our stories, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess the appropriateness of using their information. Sources need to understand this practice.
Masquerading, compensating sources, fictionalizing and plagiarizing
Nothing in our work should be fabricated. We don’t use pseudonyms, composite characters or fictional names, ages, places or dates.
Plagiarism is forbidden.
We do not pay for interviews or work with freelancers who pay for interviews.
We don’t misidentify or misrepresent ourselves to get a story. When we seek an interview, we identify ourselves. When seeking information that is generally available to the public, we do not need to identify ourselves as journalists, but we should also not misrepresent ourselves as police officers, doctors, lawyers, etc.
Obeying the law
Staff members must obey the law when pursuing news.
Photography, illustrations and charts
Photography must not be edited to change the content. If the image is a photo illustration, it must be labeled as such. All images must be credited.
The source of all data used in charts must be disclosed. Charts must not be formatted in a way that is misleading. For example, altering the scale of the y axis to make a line appear more dramatic or interesting.
No Commercial Influence
Our investors, sponsors and business partners do not influence our reporting, coverage choices, and do not have any involvement with our editorial process.
Relationships & Conflicts of Interest
Cultivating sources is important, however too close a personal relationship with a source can create the appearance of a conflict of interest. Staff members who develop close relationships with people who might figure in coverage they provide, edit, package or supervise must disclose those relationships to newsroom leadership. In some cases, the staff member may have to recuse themselves from coverage.
Conflicts of interest can include a personal or family relationship, personal financial investment or donations, or working for or promoting an organization that they’re covering. Staff members must disclose conflicts of interest, and may be recused from coverage.
Editors who work with freelance contributors must take care to ensure those contributors follow the same guidelines as staff writers. Editors should not contract with writers (or ‘influencers’) who are known to accept money or goods in exchange for reviews or links, or who work in a public relations or other conflicting capacity in the industry they are covering for the Observer.
Accepting hospitality, gifts, free samples or review units
Staff members must not accept free or discounted transportation or food and drink from sources unless it would be impractical to decline. For example, if the interview is to take place on a private yacht, scientific expedition, or military base—it would be essentially impossible to pay our own way.
Staff members who review or cover films, performances or sporting events may accept tickets that are generally made available to press. Other staff members may not accept free tickets or use their affiliation with the Observer to obtain favorable seats, invitations or upgrades.
We do not accept free products or gifts of more than nominal value. Gifts of significant value should be returned with a polite note. If a product is provided for review, it should be returned to the company after the evaluation is complete unless this would be impractical, and the resulting review should note that the company provided a sample.