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Code of Ethics

In addition to building a business model that bolsters our independence, we have adopted a code of ethics to govern the conduct of our team members and those we work with.

Votebeat is a nonprofit news organization covering voting access and election integrity year-round. Our mission is to increase Americans’ participation in democracy by championing access to voting. Democracy is stronger when voters are engaged in elections and trust the results. To that aim, we show how all aspects of elections work, what safeguards protect the integrity of the vote, and where the process needs improvement.

This mission demands that our readers and sources alike be able to have the utmost confidence in the accuracy of our journalism; the fairness of our reporting process; and the independence of our news judgments from the influence of advocates, partisan actors, and financial supporters.

One way we protect our commitment to accuracy, integrity, and independence is by actively designing a business model that relies on diversified streams of support. Our revenue sources include major donations from foundations and individuals; contributions from readers; paid sponsorships that appear on our website and email newsletters; and paid sponsorships of our live events. We believe the more diverse our revenue sources, the more solid our independence and the stronger our prospects for long-term sustainability.

In addition to building a business model that bolsters our independence, we have also adopted a code of ethics to govern the conduct of our team members and those we work with.

The Votebeat code of ethics, which mirrors Chalkbeat’s code, draws inspiration from those of other nonprofit news organizations, including the Marshall Project, ProPublica, Texas Tribune, and the Center for Investigative Reporting, and from those of professional organizations such as the Education Writers Association and the Society for Professional Journalists. Our code of ethics also reflects longstanding values and standards of practice of the journalism profession. Exceptional circumstances may require exceptions to this code, and we will revise it as our experiences and norms in journalism and digital media evolve.

Any team member inside Votebeat who has questions or issues raised in these policies is encouraged to bring them to their supervisor or editor. When in doubt, we suggest asking.

Our stories are accurate.

Journalism must be accurate, fair, and clear if readers are to trust it. To build trust, Votebeat journalists will:

  • Check facts; correct errors transparently and swiftly; and learn from mistakes so that they aren’t repeated. If you find an error, email corrections@votebeat.org.
  • Never plagiarize and never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. (Plagiarism and deliberate distortion are grounds for discipline, including termination.)
  • Identify the sources of their reporting, whether the information comes from people, documents, or exclusive reporting that appeared elsewhere.
  • Seek independent verification from multiple sources to confirm (or contradict) claims, especially those made by public officials or anyone with an agenda beyond merely reporting the truth.
  • Work to the best of their ability to assess evidence and claims without bias, always examining ways in which personal experiences and values may shape our reporting.
  • Provide context that readers need to make sense of the facts.
  • Acknowledge areas of uncertainty, which will always exist despite our best efforts to resolve them.

Our newsgathering is conducted comprehensively, ethically, and transparently.

Reporting about elections involves developing sources who do not interact frequently with journalists, including county administrators whose work has historically taken place outside of public view. To ensure that we minimize harm while maximizing truth, Votebeat journalists:

  • Identify ourselves to sources openly and accurately, never misrepresenting ourselves to get a story. When we seek an interview, we identify ourselves as Votebeat journalists and explain how our reporting might be used.
  • Avoid using unnamed sources whenever possible. When sources who are providing insights that others could also provide seek to keep their name out of our reporting, make every effort to speak to someone else.
  • Recognize that election administrators can be vulnerable to negative consequences of speaking to the press, and so it may be appropriate to cite unnamed administrators when reporting about the effects of election laws and processes. Editors should make that call, and a story should never rely on a single unnamed administrator to provide such insights.
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with inexperienced sources or subjects.
  • Explain why a source is not named when using an anonymous source is unavoidable and appropriate, and negotiate with those sources to provide readers with as much information as possible about them so that readers can assess the sources’ reliability.
  • Share information about sources with editors, so that editors and reporters can jointly assess whether and how to use the information they have provided. Any anonymous quotes must reflect conversation between a reporter and editor.
  • Have clear conversations with sources about how to use the information they provide, especially when the sources do not have significant media experience. Clarify a source’s expectations for keeping information “off the record,” “on background,” and other statuses because those terms can mean different things to different people.
  • Give people the right to respond to reporting that might portray them in a negative light, and explain to readers the efforts we went to seek a response in cases where sources do not respond.
  • Actively seek sources who lack access to broad public platforms, in addition to documenting the claims of those with influence and power.

Our journalism reflects our independent conclusions.

Voting debates can be highly polarized, and Votebeat provides balanced, unbiased, fact-based coverage aimed at informing the public conversation. To ensure that we remain independent and trustworthy, Votebeat team members involved in newsgathering, shaping stories, or overall program strategy will not:

  • Seek or accept secondary employment, political involvement, and other outside activities — particularly related to election policy issues — that could compromise integrity or cause the perception of compromised integrity.
  • Accept gifts, favors, fees, free travel, and special treatment from sources and potential sources. When attending events or conferences put on by sources or potential sources that offer free gift bags, reporters should decline to take any item of more than nominal value.
  • Pay for access to news, either with money or other favors.
  • Work on stories, projects, or initiatives in which they have a personal connection, vested interest or financial interest. This policy extends to the involvement and activities of a business partner, spouse, or domestic partner. In cases where reporters have an indirect personal connection to a story, we will always err on the side of disclosing to let readers make an independent judgment.
  • Give favored treatment to sponsors and donors. Team members will resist pressure from inside or outside Votebeat to influence coverage because of an advocacy agenda or financial need.
  • Participate in political activities such as marches and demonstrations. We will not make donations to candidates or lobbying groups.

Additionally, Votebeat team members will:

  • Disclose the relationship whenever we produce stories that involve Votebeat or Chalkbeat board members or financial supporters who have given more than $1,000. When these situations arise, editors and reporters are responsible for identifying the conflict and producing a disclosure.
  • Adhere to principles that protect our journalism from the influence of sponsors and donors, as outlined below.

Our donors and sponsors do not influence our reporting.

Votebeat is open to a wide range of financial support because we believe the more diverse our revenue sources, the more solid our independence. We have adopted a set of principles that enable us to accept this support while safeguarding our reporting from the influence of our supporters.

  • Major contributions from foundations and individuals: Accepting funds from foundations and individuals is a necessity for Votebeat’s financial viability, but those who contribute do so knowing that our only duty is to our mission. In some cases, we accept funding to cover certain topics, if we were going to cover those topics anyway. We never accept funding for specific story ideas. Feedback from major supporters is treated like that of any entity: we listen to the feedback, but ultimately, decisions about our editorial direction are Votebeat’s alone. We recognize that foundations are sometimes major players in the stories we cover, and we don’t shy away from covering these stories. When we cover the work of foundations that support Votebeat, we disclose the relationship for the sake of full transparency.
  • As a news organization that values transparency, Votebeat will always disclose the sources of gifts larger than $1,000 — both to staff and to readers.
  • Website and newsletter sponsorships: Sponsors cannot influence our decisions about what to cover and how. We acknowledge sponsors on our websites and in our newsletters. We reserve the right to reject a sponsorship if we believe the content is misleading, fraudulent, or distasteful, and in no way does a sponsorship represent an endorsement from Votebeat. Votebeat requires people-first language when referring to persons with disabilities and will not run sponsorships that reinforce negative racial, ethnic, or gender stereotypes. All content will be clearly labeled to be distinguishable from Votebeat’s editorial content.
  • Events sponsorships: Event sponsors are recognized at events and in Votebeat’s marketing materials, but they do not co-create or influence event content. If sponsors make announcements or distribute materials at events, Votebeat will describe this as a paid sponsorship.
  • Donations from readers: Votebeat gladly accepts contributions from our readers. As with other donations, there is no expectation that supporting Votebeat will influence reporting decisions.
  • Sponsored content and dedicated emails: Sponsors may also reach Votebeat readers in the form of sponsored articles on Votebeat.org and dedicated emails. The views expressed in any sponsored content, whether articles or emails, do not reflect those of Votebeat, and sponsors have no role or influence in Votebeat’s editorial decisions. Votebeat editorial staff has no involvement in writing this content. Votebeat will always identify the organization paying for the content on the article page, within the email, and/or in any related social media promotion. When the sponsored content is an article about a Votebeat-specific promotion, such as a Votebeat contest, Votebeat will be listed as the sponsor and Votebeat’s logo will be displayed.

We acknowledge that new revenue strategies will be developed in the future that may require additional enumeration of relevant ethical policies. We assume, however, that the underlying principles will be the same, even as our strategies for serving our audience and generating revenue develop.

First adopted 2015. Updated 2020.