Editorial Standards - Mic

Editorial Standards

Mic’s editorial mission

Mic combines a boundless curiosity about how the world really works with an urgency to describe it and, when necessary, the courage to reveal how it fails us, especially those of us most underrepresented in society.

The newsroom accepts this challenge by believing in the power of journalism to change the world, and believes that original reporting and analysis on the subjects we care most about never fail to push the conversation forward.

Mic staffers pursue this by embracing diversity, because when both journalists and the sources and subjects they speak to come from varied backgrounds and experiences, they produce a richer, deeper, more valuable journalism.

And they tell it by adapting Mic storytelling to the newest, most innovative ways of spreading their work to the most engaged audiences possible.

The following standards serve as a guide for Mic’s editorial process.

Sourcing standards for Mic stories

Mic will uphold the following guidelines for the sourcing of every piece of editorial content:

  • General guidance: Reporters will investigate key aspects of each story they cover, reaching out to all involved critical sources for interviews wherever possible. It is acceptable and necessary to work based on the reporting of other media outlets, but every strong Mic story will include reporting or insight original to Mic. When using reporting from other media outlets, reporters will thoroughly vet each source to confirm they have obtained and are presenting their information in a trustworthy way. Gossip or satire outlets are not acceptable sources for any Mic story, unless they are explicitly presented to the reader as such. All sources of information will be clearly identified in every piece of Mic content.
  • Anonymous sources: Reporters and editors should always push to get information on the record, but there are cases when anonymous sourcing is beneficial. Reporters and their editors are responsible for ensuring the privacy of their unnamed sources. See “Anonymous sources” below for more detailed guidance.
  • Reporting through social media: Once social media content is included in a story, readers will likely take it as fact; therefore, Mic has a responsibility to verify any information that comes from social media. What may seem like a new photo of a bombing may actually be a Photoshop rendition or an old photo of a different incident. Use reverse image searches (Google image search, Tineye) to find out where the photo originated. Reach out to the social media poster and ask where their information came from. Ask them to provide proof. Information from social media should be carefully selected and reported. Embedding is the preferred method of including social media posts in Mic content, so that if that content is updated on social media, it updates to its most accurate form on Mic as well. Mic reporters will take screenshots of all social media used in a post in the event of an embedded post’s deletion.
    • Sensitive topics: Though public social media posts are generally acceptable for media use, reporters should still ask permission when publishing sensitive material from private individuals. Sensitive topics include but are not limited to sexual assault, medical conditions, drugs and illicit activity. For those under 18, the bar for “sensitive topics” is much lower, and reporters must use their judgment to determine when it is appropriate to obtain consent to include social media content involving minors.
      • If Mic cannot reach the social media user in time to obtain permission or notify them, reporters can blur names, profile pictures and any other identifying information contained in the post. In some cases, it may be appropriate to link to and quote the content, but not include the name of the person who posted it. Public social media posts by public figures (politicians, celebrities, etc.) are almost always fair game for reporting, even if they have been deleted. If a private figure deletes a social media post containing sensitive information, Mic will replace the deleted media with a screenshot on rare occasion. If the deleted media is necessary for the story to remain as published, the writer and editor will consult with the copy chief about the best path forward.
Reporting best practices

While on assignment, staff members will uphold the highest standards for ethical reporting. In addition to the guidelines laid out elsewhere in this document, staffers should follow these best practices:

  • Reaching out for comment: It is both common courtesy and standard journalism practice to give individuals and organizations the opportunity to respond to a story in which they are mentioned or the focus. In the interest of transparency and honesty, Mic stories will indicate if the subject of each story was contacted for comment and, if appropriate, why a story was published without their comment. Reporters must reach out no less than one hour before a story will be published, to provide the source a reasonable chance of responding in time.
    • When reaching out for comment, include deadline details so a source is aware of the potential risks of a slow response. Reporters should be mindful of time zones and distance when sending interview requests, and provide ample time for a reasonable response. Repeated calls or emails are often appropriate in the case of a looming deadline.
    • If a source responds but declines to comment, the story must indicate that fact. As the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics states, “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.”
  • Professionalism: Reporters will be honest and clear about the nature of every story. They will assume their sources are recording them and that their comments are public. For this reason, reporters will never discuss with sources the inner workings of Mic or ever admit fault, error or inaccuracy without first discussing the situation with their editor.
  • On/off the record and “on background”: See “Anonymous sourcing in Mic stories” below.
  • Plagiarism: Plagiarism of any kind is unacceptable. An editor or copy editor will run each story through a plagiarism checker before publication, and the copy team will flag all instances of plagiarism to the story editor and copy chief. Failure to properly attribute all sources of information in a piece of content will result in punitive action, up to and including termination, from the first instance of plagiarism. Staffers will refer to the copy team’s guidelines on proper attribution of all information and visuals in the creation of all Mic content.
  • Difficult sources: Sources that are difficult or demand special treatment that violates Mic’s or a staff member’s personal ethics should be referred to the story’s editor. The editor will handle the situation or, if necessary, confer with higher management on the appropriate course of action. If a source threatens legal action against a reporter or Mic, senior management must be notified immediately.
  • Reporter safety and liability: In the process of upholding high sourcing standards, reporters may be required to go out into the field. Mic has general liability insurance that covers employees doing this kind of field reporting. If a Mic reporter plans to embark on a particularly high-risk assignment that would make them especially susceptible to personal injury, they should contact management to determine a coverage plan.
Anonymous sourcing in Mic stories

Anonymous sourcing is permissible with the approval of the story editor in the following cases:

  • To ensure the safety of the source, specifically in cases where they are discussing abuse, violence or criminal activity
  • To protect the professional standing of the source, specifically in cases where they are discussing malpractice or internal workings of their company or place of former employment
  • To enable the source to talk freely about sensitive and potentially illegal topics like sex or drugs
  • Other criteria to consider when agreeing to terms of anonymity with a source:
    • How important is the information they’re offering?
    • Could we obtain similar or the same information from another source willing to speak on the record?
    • Why do they want to be anonymous?
    • How likely is it that the source is lying?
    • Is the information the crux of the article or a quote to add color?
    • Has the source stated the information publicly before?
    • Does the source have direct knowledge of the information?
  • There are certain types of information we always need to attribute to someone in a story. Some examples include:
    • Opinions of others, whether praise or criticism (with few exceptions, such as whistleblowers)
    • General speculation or unconfirmed information
  • When anonymous sources are warranted, the reporter and their editor will be responsible for preserving a source’s anonymity. Reporters will redact their notes as needed for fact-checking.
  • Definitions and best practices relating to unnamed sourcing:
    • On the record: Generally, conversations are presumed to be "on the record," which means that contents of the conversation, including direct quotes and the name of the people involved in the conversation, can be used without caveats.
    • Off the record: The information provided in the conversation cannot be included in the story or reported in a story. If you get information off the record, try to pursue it using other sources who may provide it either on the record or on background. But beware: You cannot say that you "confirmed" information that was provided off the record.
    • On background: Some sources may request to be interviewed “on background.” Depending on the person, the terms of what "background" means may differ, so it is important to discuss with your source what their understanding of “on background” is before beginning an interview. The terms of what “on background” means must be agreed upon by the parties involved in the conversation.
      • Generally, “on background” means that:
        • information learned from the conversation, including direct quotations, can be used, but personally identifiable information (like a person’s name, their specific job title, etc.) cannot be used;
        • information learned from the conversation can be used, but direct quotations cannot be used, nor can personally identifiable information; or
        • information learned from the conversation can be used, but direct quotes cannot be used, and the information cannot be attributed to a source. This is sometimes referred to as “deep background,” and these types of conversations can help inform the reporting of the story.
    • It is always a good idea to discuss with your source how they can be identified in a story. When considering how to identify a source, try to be as specific as possible while honoring your source’s expectations for anonymity. Examples may include:
      • “a senior administration official,” or “a senior official who was in the room at the time of the conversation.”
      • “a former employee of the company,” or “an employee who left the company within the last six months.”
      • Discuss this with a source before you determine the best way to identify them in a story. Sometimes, sources may request to be identified simply as “a person with knowledge of the situation,” but see if you are able to come up with something a little more specific.
    • It is also important to consider why this source may be requesting not to be identified. Do they have a bone to pick? Do they worry about being fired or otherwise retaliated against for speaking to the press? Are they breaking the law by talking to you? Consider these reasons when deciding whether the source is worth including in your story.
    • If possible, explain in the story why you have granted this source a certain degree of anonymity. Examples may include:
      • “Mic spoke to three company employees, who requested not to be named because they were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly”
      • “An official inside the department, who requested not to be named out of fear of losing their job, said...”
Fact checking, copy editing, interviewing

Mic’s team of copy editors reviews every story to ensure it is grammatically, syntactically and, to the extent that they are able, factually correct. Ultimately, the editor of each piece is fully accountable for its factual accuracy and integrity. Reporters must check their own facts before submitting a piece to their editor, and must leave notes to assist the copy team in their confirmation of the facts. Copy editors are the final step in an editing process designed to make sure names, dates, links, etc. are correct and used in the appropriate context. Except in special cases of original feature reporting, the copy team checks facts using online materials and those provided by the writer and editor, rather than contacting interview sources. Reporters are required to keep detailed notes throughout their reporting process, so that editors and the copy team can inspect them in case of an issue in any story.

Mic’s editorial content will abide by the Associated Press Stylebook, except for where it differs from the guidance outlined in the Mic Official Style Guide. All style and grammar disputes will be resolved by the copy chief or, in her absence, the full-time copy editor reporting to her.

If a story is published with a factual error, the writer or editor who finds the inaccuracy must immediately correct it and notify the copy chief via email, per the outlines in the Mic style guide. The copy team tracks corrections across Mic to evaluate any trends and ensure errors are not repeated.

  • Quote and draft checking: Copy editors may ask reporters to share or review their notes for clarity. Neither copy editors nor reporters are permitted to contact a source and provide them the exact language of a quote for “approval” prior to a story’s publication. Sources will never receive a story’s draft before publication, whether to read it or to make edits. Summarizing quotes to confirm the factual details of what a source told a reporter is acceptable. If a source requests to see the text of all quotes, the reporter must put them in contact with their editor, who will enforce the policy as written. Mic reporters should, however, inform their sources when a particularly controversial or deeply personal statement will be included in a story and must confirm the facts of the statement are correct.
  • Feature reporting and fact-checking: In some cases of substantial original reporting for a feature planned by Mic’s editorial team, it may be appropriate for the copy team to follow a separate fact-checking process. These stories, designated at an editor’s discretion, will be provided to the copy team no less than one week before the date of publication. An assigned copy editor will work with the reporter and editor to verify all information in the piece, including interview quotes. If full transcripts of interviews are not available, the copy editor may contact a reporter’s sources to verify the content details (but not the exact phrasing or language) the story attributes to them. Stories subject to this process will receive a separate copy edit for grammar and style once the facts have all been confirmed and the story editor has made all of their edits.
Revising published stories

All Mic content may be updated or corrected to ensure accuracy. Posts may be “updated” to reflect developments in the news cycle. Posts may be “corrected” if there are factual inaccuracies.

Factual information includes verifiable information in any element of a story, including: the text of an article, headline of an article, a photograph embedded in the article, a graphic, chart or a video in the article. When factual information in the original version of a story is incorrect, and therefore misrepresents any element of the story, Mic will issue a correction.

Readers can report fact errors to corrections@mic.com.

Under no circumstances will Mic unpublish a story for reasons related to its quality or accuracy. Unpublishing stories creates a breach of trust with the reader. If an article must be corrected or updated, the editor must issue a correction or update. If there are gross inaccuracies or legal issues surrounding the content of a story, contact the story editor and the copy chief, who will formulate a plan to address it. In cases of technical complications with a post that cause a significantly diminished reader experience, also contact the managing editor, who will address all extenuating circumstances.

Feedback policy

Mic values our readers and what they think. To help identify areas of success and improvement, among other uses, Mic offers various avenues for readers to provide feedback, including messaging purpose-specific email addresses, responding to any email a user receives from Mic, engaging with Mic social posts and completing surveys on article pages. Mic collects and evaluate this feedback, and staffers may respond to messages when appropriate. For more information on newsroom contact info, see Mic’s contact page.

Bias and editorializing: personal ethical guidelines

Mic staffers should take care to avoid doing anything that could compromise Mic or their work here as a journalists. The work done in the newsroom begins with an open mind and the ability to make a clear, fair assessment of the world. Readers expect that. Staffers are expected to behave in a way — including through social media or political activity — that does not compromise that.

There are a few specific rules that all editorial staff should follow:

  • Don’t contribute to political parties or candidates
  • Don’t donate money to political causes
  • Don’t participate in partisan political activities

Otherwise, staff members are welcome to be civically engaged or to participate in the world around them, so long as they fully internalize their roles as journalists and understand that their actions always have consequences. For further guidance, staffers can consult with their managers; newsroom leaders are prepared to make case-by-case calls.

Bias, editorializing and opinion: in Mic content

Writers and editors should strive for detachment — not lack of viewpoint, but lack of alignment with unsubstantiated opinion — when crafting stories. Readers expect, and deserve, to read their news free of bias. Mic’s content comes from an established point of view, but that point of view is informed by fact. Editorialization and bias come not from presenting analysis or viewpoint, but from doing so without reasonable interpretation of facts to back up those conclusions.

This applies to all coverage, not just political topics, unless a story is clearly labeled as a work of opinion. While it is impossible to be completely objective — human nature dictates that journalists have implicit biases — writers and editors can and should be detached from their writing. Staff will let a story’s facts speak for themselves.

The topic of bias is relevant from the point of story selection: If a story fits in a Mic narrative and there are available resources, Mic should cover it, even if it doesn’t align with a writer or editor’s personal beliefs. The goal is to provide complete coverage for readers, so they have context for all sides of an issue. Editorial staffers will use news judgment, not their personal beliefs, to determine how many sides there are to a story, and will reach out to all relevant sources for comment.

Mic’s hard news content will never editorialize by passing judgment (negative or positive) on any person, item or platform. Editorial staffers should be aware that coverage of a topic often connotes endorsement, and should take care to demonstrate distance from their subjects.

Product reviews must be clearly labeled, and when a product is provided free for review, the reporter must state that in their work. Likewise, work that conveys a reporter’s personal opinion must be labeled a work of opinion. Write-ups of products that Mic has not acquired and tested should cite all claims as to the product’s functionality, since oftentimes those rely on untested production company claims. Mic as a media entity does not endorse political candidates, public figures or products, and requests to do so will be declined except in specific cases of content marked as opinion.

Political contributions and affiliations

Mic’s editorial employees are prohibited from making political contributions to candidates, PACs, party committees or political advocacy organizations. Registering with a political party is acceptable, but any active campaigning or advocating for particular parties or candidates is not allowed. This includes social media activity as well as physical campaigning.

Disclosure of personal or financial connections

Mic editorial staffers are generally prohibited from producing content involving organizations or individuals to which they have personal ties. It is each reporter’s responsibility to inform their editor of any personal ties to an assigned or pitched story, so the editor can determine whether it is appropriate for the reporter to continue with the assignment. If a reporter has permission to cover a topic that they are personally or financially connected to, or that has financial or other ties to Mic, that relationship must be disclosed in the content.

Gifts and meals

Editorial staff members are permitted to accept nominal gifts of $25 or less. Gifts worth more than that must be returned to the sender or, if returning is not practical, reserved for quarterly donation to charity. This includes commercial items as well as tickets to sports games, concerts, etc. that do not come in the form of a press credential to cover an event for Mic. If during the course of reporting an editorial staffer has a meal with a source or a PR rep, that staffer must pay for their own portion of the meal. Promotional materials (DVDs, books, gadgets, clothing, beauty products, etc.) are acceptable to keep, but those materials are the property of Mic rather than the employee. Perishable food items can be accepted and eaten, and employees should be aware of how receiving these items may affect coverage of them. Mic employees also cannot give gifts to sources in the course of covering a story.

Travel

Travel completed during the course of reporting will be paid for by Mic. Employees cannot accept travel compensation by public relations representatives or any other outside entity that is the subject of reporting. This includes airfare, lodging, car services, meals and any other expense incurred while traveling. The following three cases are exceptions to this rule:

  • When a Mic employee is speaking at a conference, the organizers will sometimes offer to cover basic travel costs to and from the conference. Please check with the executive editor and the head of public relations before accepting, though in most cases we’ll allow it.
  • When a Mic employee appears on television or radio, media organizations will sometimes provide a car service to transport them to and from the studio. When offered, it is permissible to accept transportation.
  • When on assignment for Out of Office, staffers may accept travel assistance. Editors and staff writers will travel for stories when appropriate and may request assistance from hotels and/or tourism boards for assignments. Individual trips are preferred to group press tours, but the latter are acceptable when the specific access being offered is otherwise impossible or presents a unique opportunity for reporting. All trips by staff members must be approved by the OOO editor and the executive news director in writing prior to the departure date. Freelance writers may travel with assistance under circumstances agreed upon with the OOO editor during the pitching phase. For context and transparency, all stories produced with travel assistance will include a disclaimer informing the reader of the specific form of assistance, including complimentary lodging, special media rates, etc.
Celebrity interactions

During the course of reporting, Mic staffers may come into contact with celebrities or other famous personalities. While interacting with these figures is acceptable, editorial employees must act with care to avoid creating the impression that they or Mic would alter any current or future coverage of such figures — positively or negatively — because of these interactions. For this reason, staffers should refrain from taking and posting photos or videos of themselves with these figures. Images and video of Mic events featuring celebrities, posted to promote the content associated with the event, are always acceptable as an exception to this rule.

Freelancing

On rare occasion, Mic permits members of the editorial team to perform certain outside freelance work on their own time, but management must review each opportunity on a case-by-case basis to ensure that the assignment does not present a conflict of interest, help a competitor or potentially harm the Mic brand. Each opportunity must be approved in writing by Mic’s senior newsroom leadership before an individual accepts the assignment; staffers should approach their direct managers when they are interested in pursuing outside editorial work. Editorial staff is never permitted to perform freelance branded content work.

Press inquiries

All Mic staffers will use their best judgment when interacting with media and tech reporters at events or anywhere else. If contacted by a reporter working on a story about Mic, staffers must inform senior management and Mic public relations for approval to speak publicly about the company. In addition to company matters, this policy includes any opportunity to comment on industry trends, journalism ethics or any other issue that could impact the company’s reputation and positioning in the media landscape.

Media appearances, conferences and other events

Mic staffers are encouraged to promote their work in every way they can. Mic’s public relations team will help pitch TV segments, secure interviews and highlight the company’s work. Staff members may also be on the receiving end of opportunities to talk about their work in public. However, whenever a Mic staffer speaks publicly, they are representing the company; anything they say will be interpreted through that lens. Before moving forward with any opportunity to speak at a conference or event, staffers must receive approval from the PR team. Approval requests should include all pertinent information about an opportunity, including a short overview of why it’s worth attending on behalf of Mic.

In many cases, particularly last-minute TV opportunities, bookers will need a response almost immediately since they likely have multiple “invites” out for a single slot. If it’s a time-sensitive request from a credible outlet and a Mic staffer is comfortable speaking about the issue, they can accept the opportunity prior to obtaining approval from the PR team.

If an opportunity comes from an unfamiliar outlet and is not time sensitive (e.g. a radio appearance later in the week), it’s best to loop in the PR team first to ensure that it’s an appearance that makes sense for the staffer as well as the company. The PR team should always be made aware of any public appearance, including but not limited to TV, online video, radio and podcasts.

Social media and other platforms

Social media has expanded social circles into a much more public platform, and the things people say as individuals nonetheless reflect their employers. Keeping this in mind, Mic staff members should refrain from using social media to attack other media companies or organizations, including Mic competitors. This does not bar staffers from writing criticism of any entity, but rather should guide the tone and platform for that content. Use judgment and be respectful. Editorial staff members in particular should refrain from endorsing political candidates on social media or elsewhere.

Additionally, all staff members should be mindful of their role as a Mic representative when circulating others' content online. The public expects members of the media to fulfill that purpose at all times, and does not always separate a reporter's personal identity from their occupation. To that end, staffers should vet the things they publish or repost on social media as critically as they would something for a Mic story. Be careful to only share information you have strong reason to believe is true, and to flag doubts about information where appropriate. Even posts behind robust privacy settings should be written with the understanding that every staff member is representing Mic, and its reporting practices, at all times.