This code, which is taken with a few amendments from the Society of Professional Journalists, lays out the guidelines by which we intend to run our newsroom and assure the integrity of our journalism. Extraordinary circumstances may occasionally call for exceptions to these rules, and situations will surely arise that are ambiguous. Therefore the first rule is: when in doubt, ask.
The Marshall Project aims to produce journalism that is accurate in its facts, fair in its interpretation and presentation, and independent in its judgments – in a word, trustworthy. Because journalism is produced by human beings, we will sometimes get things wrong. So our second rule is, when we fall short of our expectations, we will promptly and prominently acknowledge our mistakes and correct them.
The Marshall Project is a nonprofit organization that depends on individuals and foundations for funding, and our journalistic independence extends to the organizations and individuals who support us. Donors should not expect preferential coverage, and they should understand the possibility that we may publish content with which they disagree. Readers should know that in the event we write about our funders or members of our board of directors or advisory board, our relationship will be fully disclosed.
As a rule, The Marshall Project does not accept government funding. However, we did apply for and receive a Small Business Administration loan under the Paycheck Protection Program in April 2020, after the coronavirus pandemic and economic downturn made our future revenue highly uncertain. We did so after determining that the loan, which came with no strings attached as part of an emergency response to a pandemic, would not compromise our editorial independence in any way.
Journalists working for The Marshall Project should:
Test the accuracy of information from all sources and exercise care to avoid inadvertent error. Deliberate distortion is never permissible.
Diligently seek out subjects of news stories to give them the opportunity to respond to allegations of wrongdoing.
Identify sources whenever feasible. The public is entitled to as much information as possible on sources' reliability.
Always question sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Clarify conditions attached to any promise made in exchange for information. Keep promises.
Make certain that headlines, news teases and promotional material, photos, video, audio, graphics, sound bites, and quotations do not misrepresent. They should not oversimplify or highlight incidents out of context.
Never distort the content of news photos or video. Image enhancement for technical clarity is always permissible. Label montages and photo illustrations.
Avoid misleading re-enactments or staged news events. If re-enactment is necessary to tell a story, label it.
Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information except when traditional open methods will not yield information vital to the public. Use of such methods should be explained as part of the story.
Tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience boldly, even when it is unpopular to do so.
Examine their own cultural values and avoid imposing those values on others.
Avoid stereotyping by race, gender, age, religion, ethnicity, geography, sexual orientation, disability, physical appearance, or social status.
Support the open exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
Give voice to the voiceless; official and unofficial sources of information can be equally valid.
Distinguish between advocacy and news reporting. Analysis and commentary should be labeled and not misrepresent fact or context.
Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two.
Recognize a special obligation to ensure that the public's business is conducted in the open and that government records are open to inspection.
Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.
Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.
Recognize that gathering and reporting information may cause harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance.
Recognize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than do public officials and others who seek power, influence, or attention. Only an overriding public need can justify intrusion into anyone’s privacy.
Show good taste. Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity.
Be cautious about identifying juvenile suspects or victims of sex crimes.
Be judicious about naming criminal suspects before the formal filing of charges.
Balance a criminal suspect’s fair trial rights with the public’s right to be informed.
Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public's right to know.
Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived.
Remain free of associations and activities that may compromise integrity or damage credibility.
Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel, and special treatment, and shun secondary employment, political involvement, public office and service in community organizations if they compromise journalistic integrity.
Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable.
Deny favored treatment to advertisers and special interests and resist their pressure to influence news coverage.
Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; avoid bidding for news.