USC Annenberg Media Resources

Operation Policies

Anonymous Sources

All quotes require attribution. Many interviewees ask to be quoted anonymously, but we don’t honor those requests unless there’s a real need for it and the story merits such secrecy. Reporters should work with their editor and/or faculty adviser to come to an agreement that anonymity is important for the integrity of the story and the protection of the source. A story or video that uses an anonymous source should explain why.

Corrections and Clarification

If a story contains a factual error or misspells a proper noun, we will issue a correction by replacing the incorrect information and adding a description of the nature of the error. On social networks like Twitter where it’s not possible to edit a post, we will reply to or comment on the erroneous post with updated information, unless the error is very serious (see Deletions below). If wording was unclear or misleading but not technically incorrect, we will issue a clarification by describing the information more clearly and adding a note describing how the original information was unclear. Whenever possible, the nature of the correction or clarification will be equal in prominence to the original information: as a caption or post on social media, an article on a website, read aloud on a podcast or show, etc.

Conflicts of Interest

Reporters should not work on stories about clubs or Greek organizations they’re part of, teams they play on, classes in which they are a student, or other close-to-home subject matter. Our staff members are actively involved throughout USC, and we can use those connections to further our storytelling, but the work we do should not be done for personal gain. Reporters should not quote their friends unless those people are essential voices in a story (for example, by holding a leadership role in a newsworthy student organization). We should think about the audience’s perspective — if it seems like it might be a conflict of interest, it probably is. In the event that a reporter does have a personal connection to a story, we will say so and make clear what that connection is.

Deletions

Part of the significance of publishing something is that published work will be not be deleted arbitrarily. A story or post — whether it’s on our website or on social media — will only be deleted if it contains severe factual errors that undermine the basis of the story or post and a correction is not sufficient to remedy the issue. A note should be published in its place explaining why it was deleted. If there are any other problems with a post, it should be corrected rather than deleted. Deletion requires approval from a senior student leader.

Editor and Producer Selection and Hiring

Each semester, any USC student has the opportunity to apply for a leadership role at Annenberg Media. Current editors and producers work with Media Center faculty advisors to determine the necessary roles for the following semester, and applications are evaluated by student leaders and advisors. In the end, advisors make the final selection for each role. Many student roles are paid positions funded by USC Annenberg, subject to our Funding and Oversight policy.

Funding and Oversight

USC Annenberg Media is produced by students at USC Annenberg with advisement from faculty of the school and assistance from school staff, who provide services like technical support. We exist as a place for Annenberg journalism students to further develop the skills they learn in their classes and for non-Annenberg students at USC to learn about journalism through hands-on practice. School faculty are encouraged by their leadership to be involved in editorial decision-making and production. We are published and fully funded by USC Annenberg, and our paid student editors are employees of USC. All of our equipment is owned by the school, and USC owns the copyright to our work.

 

This arrangement often brings up uncomfortable questions of oversight, bias, and censorship, even within our newsroom. The school does not generally have a say in our editorial strategy, but employees of the school, especially the faculty advisors, play a large role in determining how we operate. Our advisors largely control the allocation of funding, determine which students are hired for paid editorial leadership roles, and guide students through challenging editorial decisions.

 

There are areas where neither the faculty advisors nor the students have much of a say, with decisions coming down from higher levels in the school administration. One example of this is the school’s curriculum, which mandates that undergraduate journalism students participate in four-hour shifts in the Media Center and that graduate students turn in their Media Center work for a grade. This means that professors’ grading standards sometimes override editorial freedom on an individual level.

 

Advisors serve a vital role in protecting us from legal liability but should not dictate editorial direction more than necessary. The lines between the newsroom and the school are blurry and ill-defined. In the past, school officials are said to have demanded changes to controversial content.

 

So let’s be clear: The free speech rights of students and student publications at private universities are protected in California under the Leonard Law, and we as students will resist attempts by USC Annenberg and its non-student employees to influence our coverage.

 

Our operation also benefits from the support of donors, as evidenced by the donor names on our walls, doors, and equipment. These donations were arranged by USC Annenberg with no influence from the students within the Media Center. Our school also has connections to major corporations like the Annenberg Foundation, CBS Corporation, and The Walt Disney Company through its donor networks. But we as students do not have any loyalty to school donors, and Annenberg donations do not influence our coverage. We will resist any attempt by USC Annenberg to alter our coverage of school donors. Any donor who demands positive press coverage in return for money is donating in bad faith, and it is important for journalism students to learn to uphold their integrity early in their careers.

 

We have a responsibility to keep our credibility, maintain trust with our audience, and prepare the students who begin their careers with us for future success and opportunity. We hope that our policy on this is strong enough to achieve those goals. Our work will not and should not be affected by our school or its donors, as that not only hurts both our integrity and theirs, but it corrodes faith in journalism as a whole.

Interviews and Quote Approval

Our reporters should not provide questions to interview subjects in advance of the interview. If requested, reporters may provide an overview of the topics we intend to cover in the interview or a general idea of a story’s direction. We never provide interview subjects with transcripts or recordings of their interview, and we never provide a final version of a story before it is made public.

Outside Reporting and Content

As part of the journalism school, Annenberg Media encourages students to pursue all their journalistic interests. Editors will consider story submissions produced outside the Media Center for potential publication on Annenberg Media platforms, keeping in mind the tenets of good storytelling and their relevance for our audience. This is often work done independently or for class. However, Annenberg Media is not merely a repository for stories that weren’t good enough for other publications. Our website and social media accounts are also not a home for professors’ side projects, USC public relations initiatives, or content that serves only to promote the school. We strive to maintain editorial independence from USC and the Annenberg school and focus on stories and information that are meaningful to our audience. That being said, if you have a story that you’d like us to consider for publication, use this link.

Political Activism

Many of our students are politically active and use the skills they learn at Annenberg to contribute to causes they care about. Because many students join our team as part of a class requirement, it’s not reasonable for us to interfere with other aspects of their potential career ambitions. Our staffers can work on political campaigns, make donations to candidates, attend rallies, etc., as long as they don’t represent themselves as Annenberg Media reporters while doing so. But Annenberg Media as a whole will never endorse candidates, including for student government. For the sake of fostering trust with our audience, our staffers must follow our Conflicts of Interest policy and not report on issues or campaigns that they have a stake in, whether it’s student government, a major political campaign, or a nonprofit or advocacy group. We should think about the audience’s perspective — if it seems that it might be a conflict of interest, it probably is. In the event that a reporter does have a personal connection to a story, we will say so and make clear what that connection is.

Privacy Rights for Story Subjects

If you Google your name, it’s easy to find everything that’s ever been written about you on the internet. We should keep that in mind when publishing stories. For example (because these have come up in the past): We should not publish someone’s name unless there is a real news value to it; we should blur out faces in the context of a sensitive subject matter; we shouldn’t describe someone’s sexual orientation or sexual identity if it’s not essential to the story. Think about it like this: Is the individual otherwise well-known or newsworthy? If the answer is no, we need to carefully consider what information is necessary for a story. We believe in individuals’ right to privacy, and we should not infringe on basic rights without good reason.

Privacy Rights for Minors

We will take special care to ensure that privacy rights are protected for youth, who may not fully understand what those rights are. In many cases, that means not publishing their names or showing faces. We follow the Associated Press’s guidance by not identifying minors who are accused of crimes or who are witnesses to them.

Privacy Rights for Suspects and Victims of Crimes

In reporting on situations where people have been accused of committing a crime, we must be careful to avoid jumping to conclusions. We cannot ever refer to individuals as “criminals” or say outright that they committed a crime, because we will never know on our own whether they did. Likewise, we cannot say that someone was arrested “for” a crime that he or she may not have committed. Instead, we will focus on the information we do know from reputable sources, such as “John Doe was arrested on suspicion of robbery.” Poor wording can mislead our audience or wrongfully ruin someone’s reputation. In some cases, like sexual assault, we should take extra steps to protect the identities of suspects and victims, such as not publishing names. If someone has been arrested, their name has become part of the public record and is publishable if newsworthy.

Profanity and Graphic Content

We’re all responsible adults here. We will not use profane language unless it is part of a quote and there is a good reason for it. The N-word and the C-word will never be spelled out or spoken. We will not post images or video that show nudity, pornography, excessive blood, corpses, or depictions of violence or abuse. There may be certain exceptions when reporting on newsworthy works of art or human rights abuses.

Race, Ethnicity, and Other Descriptions of Identity

We should focus on story subjects’ actions rather than their identities unless the identity is the centerpiece of the narrative. Descriptions of identity should not be included in a story unless they directly pertain to the content of a story. There are cases where descriptions of identity add value, such as a story centering on “the first black president.” Examples of descriptions of identity include race, ethnicity, gender, religious affiliation, sexual orientation and identity, disability, and immigration status.

Requests for Raw Footage

We do not provide raw footage of interviews or events to individuals. If a major news organization (e.g. NBCUniversal, USC News, etc.) requests access to a raw interview, such as an interview with a celebrity or athlete, for their own adaptation and publication, we consider those requests on a case-by-case basis and require that the news organization provide written, onscreen, and/or verbal credit to Annenberg Media and our reporter.

Social Media

Social networks are both fun and an excellent way to disseminate information to a college audience. When using their own social media accounts, regardless of the context, our reporters should not share information that is untrue, misleading, or one-sided. The way we communicate with our campus community reflects on our values as an organization, so we aim to maintain a high standard of integrity online. Posts on social networks are always public to some extent, and are easy to screenshot, so keep in mind the consequences of your actions. Tweets on Annenberg Media accounts are subject to our Deletions and Corrections policies.

Staff Diversity

Because many of our staff members are required to work for us as part of a class, we do not have much control over the diversity of our staff. Indirectly, the diversity of our staff reflects the diversity of USC Annenberg, which is impacted by the choices of Annenberg Admissions and the USC Office of Admission. We have made efforts to increase intellectual diversity by reaching out to students in other schools at USC and bringing new perspectives into our reporting. We are also mindful of the diversity represented in our shows, since minority representation on screen has the potential to influence the decisions of younger students in what careers they pursue.

Suicide

Suicide is a public health issue, not a crime, and bad reporting on suicide can lead to additional loss of life. In general, we will not report on suicide unless it involves a well-known or important person in the campus community or is significantly disruptive to regular campus activities. If the person is not already well-known, we will take extra steps to protect their identity by not publishing or broadcasting a name. Coverage of suicide should not describe the method or include photos or video of the location or of grieving friends and family.

Third-Party Distribution of Published Work

We often receive requests from third parties to adapt and reuse stories that we have published. Most commonly, these are Facebook Pages that want to re-post our videos to a wider audience. We do not allow content to be republished at all without advance permission, and our editors and faculty advisors consider redistribution requests on a case-by-case basis. However, in nearly every case, we specify that content must be re-posted in its original form, not modified.

Verification

We err on the side of accuracy. Our reporters must write or broadcast only information that is believed to be true and comes from verified sources, such as interviews, primary-source documents, and conversations with officials. To do otherwise is both unfair to our audience and legally questionable. In general, we aim to cite information from three or more sources in a story. In breaking news situations, when events are often fluid, we make sure to attribute information to sources such as the Los Angeles Police Department, USC Department of Public Safety, or Los Angeles Fire Department. There are also a couple publications whose reporting we trust on its own but will only use with attribution if it pertains to the campus community: the Associated Press, a wire service that serves many top news organizations; and the Los Angeles Times, the most well-resourced watchdog newsroom in the city and one that covers USC with an independent viewpoint. We aim not to regurgitate others’ reporting, but to verify and further coverage. We don’t rely on other student publications’ reporting because we’re all students and all fallible, with access to generally the same information. If the university issues a response to an accusation that we are unable to verify on our own, that response is reportable and may be newsworthy on its own. Regardless, it is better to report less information that we know to be accurate than more information that may not fully be true.

Verification of Sexual Assault Accusations

In addition to our Verification policy, which requires multiple verified sources for a story, we must exercise additional caution for accusations of sexual assault, which is a very serious crime. It’s also important to apply our Privacy Rights and Anonymous Sources policies. Ideally, accusations against a single individual should arrive independently of one another. We should only report on them if the accused individual is well-known (e.g. a football player or USG senator) or influential (e.g. a professor or administrator) and we have done our best to verify the accusers’ accounts, which includes reaching out to the accused. Our language should be careful to avoid adopting a foregone conclusion of guilt or implying things that don’t appear likely to be true. In certain cases, following our Privacy Rights policies, we should take extra steps to protect the identities of story subjects, such as not publishing names. If someone has been arrested, their name has become part of the public record and is publishable if newsworthy. Whenever possible, our reporting should incorporate information from official sources such as court documents and information from law enforcement.

 

Last updated Apr. 18, 2018.

 

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