WTTW News Standards

WTTW News Standards


As a public media entity and a trusted Chicago institution, WTTW is dedicated to the highest standards of quality, credibility, and integrity. WTTW News and our flagship news and public affairs program Chicago Tonight pledge to you, our viewers and users, to always uphold the public trust by tenaciously seeking truth, fairness, and excellence in our journalism, our storytelling, our analysis, and our everyday actions.

As WTTW News editorial staff members, we pledge ourselves to ethical behavior, editorial independence, fairness, accuracy, and context in our reporting and interviewing without fear or favor. We will seek out a diversity of voices, especially those not often heard, and will reflect a range of information and viewpoints as comprehensively as possible, allowing our audience to reach its own conclusions.

We endeavor to enhance the civic, educational, and cultural life of the city by presenting coverage that sparks greater knowledge, civic engagement, discussion, and debate. We embrace our role as a check on government and other institutions but are mindful of the responsibility it requires. We insist on transparency in government and, in turn, will strive to be as transparent as possible in practicing our craft.


We will be professional and truthful in our reporting and respectful of our audience in all that we do. We are mindful that the purpose of ethical journalism is, above all, to serve the public interest. Therefore, our editorial decision making will be inspired and guided solely by our commitment to serve you, our audience, and your need for trustworthy information. Our editorial decisions will never be dictated by motivations of personal gain, partisanship, donor favor, or any factors other than serving our viewers and users.

We value a multiplicity of views and the diversity of our community, and endeavor to reflect it in our journalism. We will be straightforward with the subjects of our reporting and candid with them about the purpose of a story.

We will not plagiarize nor will we distort the facts or context of a story. We will not make libelous statements and will not repeat (or retweet) the libelous statements of others, except for narrow exceptions where appropriate and permitted by law. Any questions regarding possibly libelous material must be directed to WTTW News management.

We will always seek to use original sources and identify them fully, except in limited cases outlined below. We will attribute appropriately. We will give credit to other media when we report stories or details that they have gathered exclusively.

When we edit content, we will adhere to the original story and be careful that it stays faithful to the facts. We will exercise care to ensure that enhanced production techniques, such as added music, do not manipulate a story by altering its tone or changing its facts.

We will strive to be as complete as possible in our reporting. We will use caution not to misrepresent a story in any way, such as in the selection of sound bites, use of quotations, in graphic material, in teases, or in any other promotional material.

In our work, we will always treat news subjects as human beings deserving of respect and will avoid displays of arrogance or malice. We recognize that our legal right to information doesn’t mean that information should always be published.

We recognize that ordinary people have a greater right to privacy than does a public figure, and will minimize our intrusion into their privacy and weigh carefully the consequences of releasing personal information. We will be particularly sensitive and respectful in our treatment of juveniles, victims of crime, and those who are inexperienced in dealing with the media.


WTTW News is accountable for the accuracy of our journalism. We will verify information before reporting it. We will do everything we can to avoid mistakes, but when they do happen, we will correct them promptly and appropriately. We will never willfully or knowingly distort facts or viewpoints. We will remember that getting “it” first counts only if “it” is correct. Otherwise, it is inaccurate and erodes our credibility.

We will be transparent in our reporting. We encourage a dialogue with our audience online at wttw.com/news and on our social media channels. We will explain controversial or complex editorial decisions to our audience. Where possible, we will make relevant source material and credible, high-quality resources available through online links.


We will be independent, unbiased, and fair in our reporting. We will approach stories with an open mind. We will always make our reporting as complete as possible and not omit important factual elements.

WTTW News values the free exchange of ideas and viewpoints, even when those ideas and viewpoints may be objectionable. We are aware that our values and experiences often shape our personal outlook, and we will strive to recognize that and leave personal stereotypes and prejudices out of our reporting.

We pledge to conscientiously reach out to subjects of critical news stories and allow them the opportunity to respond to or refute a charge or allegation of misconduct.

WTTW will not provide favorable treatment to our sponsors, underwriters, donors, board members, or other special interests and will resist any internal or external pressure to do so. We will never attempt to blur the lines between advertising and news content and will clearly label any sponsored material or promotional considerations.

We will not permit a story to be shown to its subject or any other outside person or group before it airs or is published on the web.

We will use care in determining how to balance a subject’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. As a general rule, we will not identify a criminal suspect before they have been charged.


WTTW News may occasionally use an anonymous source for information. Anonymity will only be granted when there is fear that a source may be subject to some form of retribution and there is no other reasonable way to obtain the information. We will consider carefully the motives of the source before anonymity is granted. When possible, we will share these motivations, and the reasons for granting anonymity, with our audience. If we make a promise to shield a confidential source’s identity, we will honor that commitment.

WTTW News will not use hidden cameras or microphones to gather news except when a judgment is made that there is no other way to obtain a significant story in the public interest and management has agreed to its use. We will always inform the audience of the reasons such a technique was used. Editorial staff is reminded that, under Illinois law, the audio recording of an individual is a felony unless all participants consent to the recording. Recording would, however, be allowed in situations where there is no expectation of privacy or the person being recorded is an on-duty police officer.

WTTW News and Chicago Tonight will not alter video or illustrations in any way that might mislead or misrepresent. We will also avoid simulations and re- creations. In the rare instance where we would use such a device for purposes of clarity, we will fully disclose it to our audience. We will never intentionally mislead or deceive.

WTTW News encourages analysis based on factual reporting and expertise. We will always label opinion pieces, advocacy, or commentary as such. We will disclose any content material provided by outside sources.


WTTW News editorial staff will avoid conflicts of interest and disclose any unavoidable conflicts. As creators of news content, the WTTW News editorial staff is prohibited from accepting gifts, tickets, favors, meals, or travel of any kind from news subjects or potential news subjects, except those made available to the general public or trinkets considered niceties of nominal value. Tickets made available to the general media may be accepted by a beat reporter or producer with the approval of management.

In order to avoid compromising our integrity or impartiality, our editorial staff members will not participate in, raise money for, or become identified with any outside organizations, boards, charities, partisan causes, political parties, products, services, or issues which we might normally cover as professional journalists. Staff will disclose to management any involvement with any organization or person that could potentially present a conflict of interest.

While we encourage our staff to become involved in their communities, we also recognize that the role of a journalist compels us to forgo some civic participation in the name of impartiality. Therefore, WTTW News editorial staff will not publicly identify with a candidate or cause in our “off-time.” For example, staff will not make contributions to a political organization, sign a petition for a candidate or a controversial issue, disclose their political views on any social media, wear a campaign pin, display a political button or bumper sticker, or participate in a rally or demonstration.

Editorial staff members should not have a financial interest in an industry or corporation they cover regularly nor should they act on any non- public information for personal gain. A conflict or potential conflict involving a spouse, family member, or close friend should be made known to management for a determination on whether the staff member should recuse him/herself from a story.

We will never use our position at WTTW News or Chicago Tonight to gain advantage in a personal matter. Whenever there is a question about whether a certain behavior or circumstance might present a conflict, it should be presented to the Executive Producer or Supervising Producer of WTTW News/Chicago Tonight for a determination.

WTTW News staff invited to make a speech or participate on a panel may accept free travel, lodging, and an honorarium from a group that does not pose a conflict of interest but only with the approval of the Executive Producer. Work made for WTTW News and Chicago Tonight may be entered in bona fide journalistic contests with the approval of WTTW News management. WTTW does not pay for news or access to news from any person or group with the exception of contracted journalistic affiliations or news organizations, i.e., CNN.


We recognize the importance of a free and fair press and the critical role it plays in our democracy as a surrogate for the public. Therefore, we will be steadfast in our pursuit of accountability from government and other institutions, particularly from elected officials, office holders, and the powerful.

We will inform our audience of content that may be unsuitable for younger or more sensitive viewers. Gratuitous violence, nudity, racial epithets, obscene language, or morbid or sensational details will not be used unless they are germane to a story. In such cases, WTTW News management will be notified to make a determination as to how and/or whether the material appears.


All of the standards expressed herein apply to work for all WTTW News/Chicago Tonight platforms – on television, on our website (wttw.com/news), and on WTTW News social media channels. These standards also apply to the personal social media of all members of the editorial staff.

We recognize that communicating on social media by way of a blog, a post, a tweet, or any other form is often done in a less formal, more conversational style, where “slang” is more permissible than it might be when writing a story. However, all such entries must still conform to our standards, and accurately reporting the truth is the highest of our principles. Therefore, a blog or post should be based on fact that has been examined and reported and not merely a personal opinion. Staff members are responsible for applying the same journalistic standards to anything they retweet or share on any social media platform, whether in a personal or company account.

Personal attacks, obscenities, and vulgarity are never permitted on any of our platforms.

In any online social media communications, we will always identify ourselves as WTTW journalists and not use pseudonyms in gathering information for a story. It is permissible to “friend” or “follow” a partisan or issue advocacy site that we might report on, but we should also monitor groups or sites on differing sides of the issue.

We will use care in posting pictures, video, or other images found online, as questions can arise about their authenticity, possible manipulation, rights, or legal ownership. All pictures, video, and images used online must be properly credited, and if there is any question about their authenticity, they should not be used.


It is WTTW policy to ask in-studio guests of Chicago Tonight to sign a release form, but we do not normally seek them from news sources we record in the field. If we believe that use of field interviews will not be limited to Chicago Tonight, it is best to ask interviewees to sign a release. We will always seek to obtain the appropriate releases when we are recording minors.

WTTW News staff is prohibited from freelancing for another publication, website, or television show without the permission of the Executive Producer.

WTTW may from time to time enter into reporting or promotional partnerships with other news organizations. However, such partnerships should respect and conform to the journalistic principles outlined in this document.

WTTW News/Chicago Tonight Editorial Staff members are expected to follow these journalistic guidelines in the performance of their duties. Failure to comply is grounds for discipline, up to and including dismissal from WTTW.

These WTTW News/Chicago Tonight News Standards are built primarily upon the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. The editorial and/or ethical standards of The Chicago Tribune, The Washington Post, The New York Times, PBS, National Public Radio, the Radio and Television Digital News Association, The Poynter Institute, Wisconsin Public Television, the Associated Press Media Editors, the American Society of News Editors, and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting were also consulted in formulating these principles. WTTW’s independent Community Advisory Board also was consulted and made recommendations.