For further clarification on Annenberg Media’s style and reporting policies, please reference the newsroom’s Guide for Equitable Reporting Strategies and Newsroom Style.
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. If a source requests anonymity that is not warranted prior to the interview, reporters do not go through with the interview.
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. On our website, corrections are written underneath the story in this format: In the previous version of this story (error). The (story/headline/subhead) has been changed to reflect this correction on (date and time). We regret the error.
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.
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. An appeals process is available for those included in stories who wish for it to be considered for deletion or adjustment.
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. Reporters should let their editors know if a source is requesting to view material ahead of publishing.
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 are a student and have a story that you’d like us to consider for publication, use this link. If you are a professor and have a story you’d like us to consider for publication, use this link.
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 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. If someone has been arrested, their name has become part of the public record and is publishable if newsworthy. However, we should make an effort to follow up on the case and also publish stories noted whether the person was convicted of that crime. In some cases, such as sexual assault, we should take extra steps to protect the identities of suspects and victims, such as not publishing names.
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 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. Please refer to the social media and branding styleguide for further information about social posts made for Annenberg Media.
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. No student should face discrimination, and any discrimination they face in the newsroom or in relation to the work they do for the newsroom (emails, messages, etc.) should be reported to editors and/or instructors.
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.
Annenberg Media will occasionally incorporate user-generated content — that is, material produced and sometimes published by people outside our newsroom — into our stories. For example, material recorded by eyewitnesses to natural disasters, protests, accidents or shootings may prove valuable to our reporting and ultimately to our audience. We verify the identity of the source of the content and the authenticity of the content itself before publishing, treating user-generated content as we do any material obtained through other means of reporting. We adhere to the Online News Association’s Social Newsgathering Ethics Code and take care to consider the safety and motives of people who posted or are providing us content for publication. We credit the originators of the content and provide transparency to our audience about how the material was obtained. When searching for user-generated content, we only access posts that are made available to the public.
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. Further guidelines can be found in the Guide For Equitable Reporting Strategies and Newsroom Style.
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.
As with coverage of suicide, news media can be a factor in the spread of hateful ideas and violent acts. Although such acts are often newsworthy, as are the motives of the perpetrators, we take care to ensure our coverage does not give perpetrators the notoriety they seek or magnify the ideology that drove them. That means we minimize use of a perpetrator’s name and photo, and we do not publish “manifestos.”