Best Practices Policies

South Dakota News Watch strives to earn and maintain the trust of its readers, donors, media partners, news sources and an increasingly skeptical public. To do that, the organization and each team member adhere to strict ethical, journalistic, financial and personal guidelines that are outlined below.

Click on the subject line or toggle button below to reveal details for each.

Leadership and how to give feedback

A board of directors from journalism and non-journalism backgrounds governs the organization. The staff is led by CEO Carson Walker, who has more than 35 years of experience in journalism and communications.

If you have questions, concerns or suggestions regarding news coverage, our mission or any other of these best practices, please contact the CEO at carson.walker@sdnewswatch.org or 605-610-9366 (call or text).

Mission statement

South Dakota News Watch is an independent, nonprofit organization reporting untold stories that help South Dakotans be informed and engaged citizens. South Dakota News Watch produces investigative and public service journalism that sheds light on the issues, concerns and welfare of South Dakotans. 

Preamble

South Dakota News Watch is a nonprofit, nonpartisan digital news site covering stories about South Dakota.

South Dakota News Watch upholds the values of free speech and a free press for all South Dakotans and their communities.

As a result, South Dakota communities are better informed to improve all aspects of community wellness, including health, education, governance, economics and culture.

Whereas, our reporting shall respect and not diminish culture, traditions, and values sacred to all state residents, both those who have been here for generations and newcomers from other places.

Whereas, South Dakotans have a constitutional right to seek truth and exercise the public’s right to information.

Therefore, South Dakota News Watch is resolved to maintain the highest standards of credible, ethical and independent journalism in service to South Dakota communities.

Code of ethics

South Dakota News Watch's journalists strive to be accurate, fair and nonpartisan. They may vote but may not contribute time or money to or advocate for candidates, ballot measures or political causes. 

Our journalists abide by the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics

Preamble

Members of the Society of Professional Journalists believe that public enlightenment is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy. Ethical journalism strives to ensure the free exchange of information that is accurate, fair and thorough. An ethical journalist acts with integrity. The Society declares these four principles as the foundation of ethical journalism and encourages their use in its practice by all people in all media.

Seek truth and report it

Ethical journalism should be accurate and fair. Journalists should be honest and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information. Journalists should:

  • Take responsibility for the accuracy of their work. Verify information before releasing it. Use original sources whenever possible.
  • Remember that neither speed nor format excuses inaccuracy.
  • Provide context. Take special care not to misrepresent or oversimplify in promoting, previewing or summarizing a story.
  • Gather, update and correct information throughout the life of a news story.
  • Be cautious when making promises, but keep the promises they make.
  • Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources.
  • Consider sources’ motives before promising anonymity. Reserve anonymity for sources who may face danger, retribution or other harm, and have information that cannot be obtained elsewhere. Explain why anonymity was granted.
  • Diligently seek subjects of news coverage to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing.
  • Avoid undercover or other surreptitious methods of gathering information unless traditional, open methods will not yield information vital to the public.
  • Be vigilant and courageous about holding those with power accountable. Give voice to the voiceless.
  • Support the open and civil exchange of views, even views they find repugnant.
  • Recognize a special obligation to serve as watchdogs over public affairs and government. Seek to ensure that the public’s business is conducted in the open, and that public records are open to all.
  • Provide access to source material when it is relevant and appropriate.
  • Boldly tell the story of the diversity and magnitude of the human experience. Seek sources whose voices we seldom hear.
  • Avoid stereotyping. Journalists should examine the ways their values and experiences may shape their reporting.
  • Label advocacy and commentary.
  • Never deliberately distort facts or context, including visual information. Clearly label illustrations and re-enactments.
  • Never plagiarize. Always attribute.

Minimize harm

Ethical journalism treats sources, subjects, colleagues and members of the public as human beings deserving of respect. Journalists should:

  • Balance the public’s need for information against potential harm or discomfort. Pursuit of the news is not a license for arrogance or undue intrusiveness.
  • Show compassion for those who may be affected by news coverage. Use heightened sensitivity when dealing with juveniles, victims of sex crimes, and sources or subjects who are inexperienced or unable to give consent. Consider cultural differences in approach and treatment.
  • Recognize that legal access to information differs from an ethical justifica- tion to publish or broadcast.
  • Realize that private people have a greater right to control information about themselves than public figures and others who seek power, influence or attention. Weigh the consequences of publishing or broadcasting personal information.
  • Avoid pandering to lurid curiosity, even if others do.
  • Balance a suspect’s right to a fair trial with the public’s right to know. Consider the implications of identifying criminal suspects before they face legal charges.
  • Consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication. Provide updated and more complete information as appropriate.

Act independently

The highest and primary obligation of ethical journalism is to serve the public. Journalists should:

  • Avoid conflicts of interest, real or perceived. Disclose unavoidable conflicts.
  • Refuse gifts, favors, fees, free travel and special treatment, and avoid politi- cal and other outside activities that may compromise integrity or impartiality, or may damage credibility.
  • Be wary of sources offering information for favors or money; do not pay for access to news. Identify content provided by outside sources, whether paid or not.
  • Deny favored treatment to advertisers, donors or any other special interests, and resist internal and external pressure to influence coverage.
  • Distinguish news from advertising and shun hybrids that blur the lines between the two. Prominently label sponsored content.

Be accountable and transparent

Ethical journalism means taking responsibility for one's work and explaining one’s decisions to the public. Journalists should:

  • Explain ethical choices and processes to audiences. Encourage a civil dialogue with the public about journalistic practices, coverage and news content.
  • Respond quickly to questions about accuracy, clarity and fairness.
  • Acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly and prominently. Explain corrections and clarifications carefully and clearly.
  • Expose unethical conduct in journalism, including within their organizations.
  • Abide by the same high standards they expect of others.

Corrections policy

South Dakota News Watch is committed to telling readers when an error has been made, the magnitude of the error and the correct information as quickly as possible.

This commitment and transparency are applicable to small errors as well as large, short news summaries as well as large stories. If our audiences cannot trust us to get the small things right, they can't trust us on the big things.

As much as we strive to be accurate, mistakes happen. But correcting them and alerting our readers and donors demonstrates credibility. Here's how we handle corrections:

  1. Once a correction or clarification is identified, the editor is alerted to discuss.
  2. Make the change(s) in the story and add a note to the end indicating what was done and when. For example, “At DATE, TIME, this story was edited to CORRECTION DESCRIPTION.” 
  3. Update the story to republish with the correction.
  4. If the mistake was also made in the reader email, make the correction and note it at the top and resend. 
  5. Edit all versions sent to media partners and resend the email to alert them to use the latest version.
  6. Add the correction to the corrections page on the website.

Readers should report possible errors to 605-215-6225 (call/text) or info@sdnewswatch.org.

Political FAQ

Do South Dakota News Watch’s journalists have a political leaning?
No. We are nonpartisan, operate with integrity and independence and abide by journalism ethics that require fairness. We explore multiple sides of issues. We aren’t beholden to special interests, public officials, political parties or corporate entities. We don’t produce commentary, editorials or express opinions. And we don’t accept contributions from anonymous donors or elected officials.

How can I trust that your political stories are accurate and fair?
We clearly state who we talked to in each story, only cite credible sources, seek comment from all sides and verify the background of personal interviewees. Our graphics often include the raw material on which stories are based, so readers can decide for themselves if we got the story right.

How are your political stories different from other news organizations?
Other traditional and new media organizations in the state cover day-to-day developments in stories about politics, government and democracy. South Dakota News Watch’s journalists instead produce in-depth, watchdog stories that go deeper on important issues. We research and do reporting that explains complex topics that are relevant to people and policymakers. We also conduct scientific polls and public forums that explore what’s on the minds of South Dakotans.

What’s an example of that type of coverage?
During the last legislative session, lawmakers debated 10 bills on eminent domain that stemmed from a planned carbon pipeline. Rather than report on each measure as it wound through the process, we did one longer story that provided readers all sides of the issue along with context that’s often lost in daily stories. 

When you say you do “watchdog journalism,” doesn’t that just mean doing hit pieces on politicians?
No. The nation’s founders believed a free press was vital to holding elected leaders accountable. Some of those politicians in office now have found it very effective to accuse all media of being biased against them. We believe South Dakota News Watch should be judged on the merits of its own work because our journalists take their role seriously. Our donors, all of whom are listed on our website, represent people from across the political spectrum and appreciate that commitment. They are concerned about the state of democracy and appreciate our coverage of politics and government.

Editorial transparency policy

South Dakota News Watch, an independent nonprofit news organization, subscribes to standards of editorial independence adopted by the Institute for Nonprofit News.

The policy sets expectations for donors and outlines prohibitions from any financial contributor influencing South Dakota News Watch’s news focus or coverage.

South Dakota News Watch retains full authority over editorial content to protect the best journalistic and business interests of our organization. We maintain a firewall between news coverage decisions and sources of revenue. Acceptance of financial support does not constitute implied or actual endorsement of donors or their products, services or opinions.

We accept gifts, grants, contributions and sponsorships from individuals and organizations for the general support of our activities, but our news judgments are made independently and not on the basis of donor support.

South Dakota News Watch may consider donations to support the coverage of particular topics, but our organization maintains editorial control of the coverage. We will cede no right of review or influence of editorial content, nor of unauthorized distribution of editorial content.

South Dakota News Watch will make public all donors. We will not accept anonymous donations.

South Dakota News Watch may reject contributions for any reason in order to protect the journalistic integrity of the organization.

Donor transparency policy

South Dakota News Watch is committed to transparency in every aspect of funding our organization. Accepting financial support does not mean we endorse donors or their products, services or opinions.

South Dakota News Watch accepts gifts, grants and sponsorships from individuals, organizations and foundations to help with our general operations, coverage of specific topics and special projects. Gifts may be in-kind services or tangible goods.

Our news judgments are made independently – not based on or influenced by donors. We do not give supporters the rights to assign, review or edit content.

South Dakota News Watch will make public all donors. As a nonprofit, we will not accept donations from anonymous sources, government entities, political parties, elected officials or candidates actively seeking public office. We will not accept donations from sources who, deemed by our board of directors, present a conflict of interest with our work or compromise our independence.

Artificial intelligence policy

Generative artificial intelligence is the use of large language models to create something new, such as text, images, graphics and interactive media. Although generative AI has the potential to improve newsgathering, it also has the potential to harm journalists’ credibility and our unique relationship with our audience.

South Dakota News Watch's only use of AI currently is to transcribe audio interviews that are then verified by the journalist for accuracy. As we proceed, the following four core values developed by Poynter will guide our work. These principles apply explicitly to the newsroom and throughout other non-news departments including advertising, events, marketing and development.

Transparency (internal and external): 

Externally, when we publish any content that was created by AI, we will tell our audience. We will work with editors and designers to create the proper disclosures. This may be a short tagline, a caption or credit, or for something more substantial, like an editor’s note. When appropriate, we will include the prompts that fed into the model to generate the material

Internally, it will be clear to our peers and our bosses whenever we are using generative AI. This will facilitate collective learning and help us create applicable, transitory policies as the technologies evolve. Are you using AI to do research, generate headlines, comb through public databases? Make sure your boss knows.

Accuracy and human verification: All information generated by AI requires human verification. Everything we publish will live up to our standards of verification. Increasingly in all of our work, it is important to be explicit about how we know that facts are facts. This will be particularly important when using AI. For example, an editor should review prompts, and any other inputs used to generate a story or other material. And, everything should be replicable.

Audience service: Our work in AI should be guided by what will be useful to our audience as we serve them. We have made a promise to our audience to provide them with information that, according to our mission statement, "help South Dakotans be informed and engaged citizens ... and sheds light on the issues, concerns and welfare of South Dakotans."

Exploration: With the three previous principles as our foundation, we will embrace exploration and experimentation.

Unnamed sources policy

South Dakota News Watch avoids using anonymous sources by working the story until the information can be confirmed. If an unnamed source were used, the top editor must sign off on it and the situation must abide by the standard outlined in The Associated Press Stylebook, which our journalists follow:

Transparency is critical to our credibility with the public and our subscribers. Whenever possible, we pursue information on the record. When a newsmaker insists on background or off-the-record ground rules, we must adhere to a strict set of guidelines, enforced by AP (and South Dakota News Watch) news managers.

Under AP’s rules, material from anonymous sources may be used only if:

  1. The material is information and not opinion or speculation, and is vital to the report.
  2. The information is not available except under the conditions of anonymity imposed by the source.
  3. The source is reliable, and in a position to have direct knowledge of the information.

Reporters who intend to use material from anonymous sources must get approval from their news manager before sending the story to the desk. The manager is responsible for vetting the material and making sure it meets AP guidelines. The manager must know the identity of the source, and is obligated, like the reporter, to keep the source’s identity confidential. Only after they are assured that the source material has been vetted by a manager should editors and producers allow it to be used.

Reporters should proceed with interviews on the assumption they are on the record. If the source wants to set conditions, these should be negotiated at the start of the interview. At the end of the interview, the reporter should try once again to move onto the record some or all of the information that was given on a background basis.

The AP routinely seeks and requires more than one source when sourcing is anonymous. Stories should be held while attempts are made to reach additional sources for confirmation or elaboration. In rare cases, one source will be sufficient – when material comes from an authoritative figure who provides information so detailed that there is no question of its accuracy.

We must explain in the story why the source requested anonymity. And, when it’s relevant, we must describe the source’s motive for disclosing the information. If the story hinges on documents, as opposed to interviews, the reporter must describe how the documents were obtained, at least to the extent possible.

The story also must provide attribution that establishes the source’s credibility; simply quoting “a source” is not allowed. We should be as descriptive as possible: “according to top White House aides” or “a senior official in the British Foreign Office.” The description of a source must never be altered without consulting the reporter.

We must not say that a person declined comment when that person the person is already quoted anonymously. And we should not attribute information to anonymous sources when it is obvious or well known. We should just state the information as fact.

Stories that use anonymous sources must carry a reporter’s byline. If a reporter other than the bylined staffer contributes anonymous material to a story, that reporter should be given credit as a contributor to the story.

All complaints and questions about the authenticity or veracity of anonymous material – from inside or outside the AP – must be promptly brought to the news manager’s attention.

Not everyone understands “off the record” or “on background” to mean the same things. Before any interview in which any degree of anonymity is expected, there should be a discussion in which the ground rules are set explicitly.

These are the AP’s definitions:

On the record. The information can be used with no caveats, quoting the source by name.

Off the record. The information cannot be used for publication. Background. The information can be published but only under conditions negotiated with the source. Generally, the sources do not want their names published but will agree to a description of their position. AP reporters should object vigorously when a source wants to brief a group of reporters on background and try to persuade the source to put the briefing on the record.

Deep background. The information can be used but without attribution. The source does not want to be identified in any way, even on condition of anonymity.

In general, information obtained under any of these circumstances can be pursued with other sources to be placed on the record.

Verification, fact-checking standards

South Dakota News Watch commits to doing its best to publish accurate information across all of its content.

We take many steps to ensure accuracy: We investigate claims with skepticism; question assumptions; challenge conventional wisdom; confirm information with experts; and seek to corroborate what sources tell us by talking with other informed people or consulting documents.

We verify content, such as technical terms and stats, against source documents or make clear who is providing the information. We may share relevant components of a story with a primary source or an outside expert to verify them.

We stand by the information as accurate, and if it's not, we will change it as quickly as possible and be transparent with our readers about the magnitude of the error.

We guide our journalists to ask the following questions when they double-check information in a quest for the truth:

  • How do you know?
  • How can you be sure?
  • Where is the evidence?
  • Who is the source, and how does the source know?
  • What is the supporting documentation?

We include the name and contact information for the reporter on each story we publish.

We welcome feedback from our readers and sources regarding the information that we publish by calling or texting 605-215-6225 or emailing info@sdnewswatch.org.

Privacy policy

South Dakota News Watch abides by the same privacy policy as the Institute for Nonprofit News to explain how we collect, use, protect and share information when you use our sdnewswatch.org website (the “Site“) or when you use any of our services (the “Services“). By using the Site or Services you consent to this Privacy Policy.

Information We Collect

Personally Identifiable Information. We may collect or have access to information that personally identifies you, such as your name and email address, from time to time only if you choose to share such information with us. For example, we may have access to your name and email address when you blog using the Site or Services.

Site Usage Data. We automatically collect anonymous usage data regarding the actions you take on the Site. For example, each time you use the Site we automatically collect the type of Web browser you use, your operating system, your Internet Service Provider, your IP address, the pages you view, and the time and duration of your visits to the Site. This data does not identify, contact, or precisely locate any individual. We use this data to help us understand how people use the Site and Services, and to enhance the services we offer.

Cookies and Web Beacons. We may use cookies (a small text file placed on your computer to identify your computer and browser) and other tracking technologies to improve the quality of the Site or Services. Most web browsers are initially set up to accept cookies. You can reset your web browser to refuse all cookies or to indicate when a cookie is being sent. However, certain features of the Site or Services may not work if you delete or disable cookies. Some of our “Service Providers” (as defined below) may use their own cookies and other tracking technologies in connection with the services they perform on our behalf, as explained in more detail below.

How We Use and Share Information

General. We use information we collect for internal purposes only, such as providing the Services. We will not sell, share, or rent your personally identifiable information to third parties, and we will not otherwise disclose your personally identifiable information to third parties, without your permission, except as expressly disclosed in this Privacy Policy.

Service Providers. From time to time, we might establish a business relationship with third parties whom we believe trustworthy and whom we have asked to confirm that their privacy practices are consistent with ours (“Service Providers“). For example, we may contract with Service Providers to provide certain services, such as web analytics tools, newsletter and list management services, web hosting, and web and application development. We provide our Service Providers with the information needed for them to perform these services. Each Service Provider must agree to implement and maintain reasonable security procedures and practices appropriate to the nature of the information involved in order to protect your information from unauthorized access, destruction, use, modification, or disclosure.

Google Analytics and other web analytics services are some of our Service Providers. The web analytics services use “cookies” and other tracking technologies to help analyze how users use our Site. They do not collect personally identifiable information. The information generated by the cookie about your use of the Site (including your IP address) will be transmitted to and stored by the web analytics services. The web analytics services will use this information for the purpose of evaluating your use of the Site, compiling reports on Site activity for us, and providing other services relating to Site activity and Internet usage. The web analytics services may also transfer this information to third parties where required to do so by law, or where such third parties process the information on their behalf. You may refuse the use of cookies by selecting the appropriate settings on your browser, however, please note that if you do this you may not be able to use the full functionality of the Site.

Anonymous Data. We may use, and disclose to third parties, anonymous data regarding the Site and Services (e.g., number of visits, page views, frequency, number, time, and other data related to ads delivered, and other usage metrics) without your permission. However, such data does not identify you or any other individual.

Other Transfers. We may share information with businesses controlling, controlled by, or under common control with South Dakota News Watch. If South Dakota News Watch is merged, acquired, or sold, or in the event of a transfer of some or all of our assets, we may disclose or transfer information in connection with such transaction. You will have the opportunity to opt out of any such transfer if, in our discretion, the new entity plans to handle your information in a way that differs materially from this Privacy Policy.

Compliance with Laws and Law Enforcement. South Dakota News Watch cooperates with government and law enforcement officials and private parties to enforce and comply with the law. We may disclose information to government or law enforcement officials or private parties if, in our discretion, we believe it is necessary or appropriate in order to respond to legal requests (including court orders and subpoenas), to protect the safety, property, or rights of South Dakota News Watch or of any third party, to prevent or stop any illegal, unethical, or legally actionable activity, or to comply with the law or legal process.

Third Party Websites

The Site or Services may contain links to websites or content operated and maintained by third parties, over which we have no control. You access such third-party websites or content at your own risk. You should always read the privacy policy of a third-party website before disclosing any information to the website.

Security

We maintain physical, electronic, and procedural safeguards to protect the confidentiality and security of personally identifiable information and other information transmitted to us. However, no data transmission over the Internet or other network can be guaranteed to be 100% secure. As a result, while we strive to protect information transmitted on or through the Site or Services, we cannot and do not guarantee the security of any information you transmit on or through the Site or Services, and you do so at your own risk.

Children’s Privacy Statement

We do not knowingly collect information from children under the age of 13. If we become aware that we have inadvertently received information from a child under the age of 13, we will delete such information from our records. Because we do not knowingly collect any information from children under the age of 13, we also do not knowingly distribute such information to third parties.

Privacy Policy Changes

From time to time, we may change this Privacy Policy. If we decide to change this Privacy Policy, we will inform you by posting the revised Privacy Policy on the Site. Those changes will go into effect on the Revision Date shown at the top of the revised Privacy Policy. Your continued use of the Site or Services constitutes your consent to the revised Privacy Policy.

Please contact us at 605-215-6225 (call/text) or info@sdnewswatch.org with questions or concerns.