The Red Line Project, produced by students in Mike Reilley’s journalism classes at the University of Illinois-Chicago, are committed to journalistic integrity and credibility. Both are essential to its reputation as a trusted neighborhood news source in Chicago. This reputation is rooted in the conduct of our editorial staff.
As a digital publication striving for an audience-centered culture, we openly post our principles and policies on fairness, diversity, our reporting and editing process, corrections and much more. We take them seriously and have linked them off multiple points of each of our stories. Besides what we list here, our reporters also adhere to the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics.
This site has no political connection or agenda, and it is not affiliated with the Chicago Transit Authority or the former CBS TV series, The Red Line. | Read more about how these policies were developed in this case study from Trusting News.
Editorial Code of Conduct and Guiding Principles
We’re college students, and we know we need to earn your trust. But if you doubt anything you read on this site, take the time to read this page on our guiding principles and policies. We take accuracy seriously. Our stories, data and multimedia are fact-checked, edited and vetted. As documenters of history’s rough draft, we admit when we’ve made a mistake and move quickly to correct them.
The credibility of the stories and multimedia you find on this site rests on solid research, clear, intelligent writing and maintaining a reputation for honesty, accuracy, fairness and balance. To these ends, the following rules and principles apply:
- The Red Line project will seek to provide reasonable accounts of competing views in any controversy so as to enable readers to make up their own minds.
- It is unacceptable to invent or falsify a quote, source, anecdote, detail or anything else pertaining to the news we cover.
- News photos and videos must be real images captured by a camera, not created or altered. They may be edited for sharpness, color balance or cropping, but only minor adjustments, per the recommendations of the National Press Photographers Association Code of Ethics and the Society of Professional Journalists.
- In dealing with people who are emotionally vulnerable and unaccustomed to talking to reporters, the Red Line Project will take care to respect their dignity and feelings.
Read more: To be fully transparent, our writers each semester talk about their reporting approach on a series of Red Line Project reporters’ roundtable podcasts. You can listen to them here or find them embedded at the end of many of their stories.
Learn more about our site, our staff over the years and various projects we’ve worked on. If you would like to use or aggregate content from The Red Line Project, please follow the guidelines in our Creative Commons 3.0 Unported License.
As journalists working to ensure balance and fairness, we strive to:
- Be factually accurate
- Keep in mind our own values, cultural biases and preconceptions, and avoid imposing them on others.
- Ensure that our word choices and the overall tone of the stories are fair and neutral.
- Present a diversity of views.
- Frame stories fairly and openly, in particular the critical sections that make an impression on readers — that is, in the lead and at the end.
- Ensure there are no surprises in the story for our subjects. They should have an opportunity before publication to know the gist of the story and respond to any meaningful details or accusations.
- Give subjects ample time to respond, generally speaking, a minimum of 24 hours.
- Include a timely response from subjects. Listen with an open mind and portray their point of view in a straightforward manner.
- Reach out to allies or sympathetic parties and scour the public record to understand the point of view of subjects who are unwilling or unable to talk.
- Make a sincere effort to reconcile conflicting information if our subjects’ point of view does not square with other data points in a story.
Data and Transparency: We Show Our Work
We have a commitment to “Show our Work” when working with data in our reporting. We provide links to the research and datasets we use in reporting a story. We link to datasets directly from our charts, maps and infographics.
We may run an explanatory story to show how the data was collected, cleaned, analyzed and visualized. We may share that process through a short video, audio interview with the reporter or a Twitter thread.
We also provide searchable databases, cite data sources and provide links to data portals so our readers can access the raw data. We also will provide conflicting data reports on various issues (COVID-19, etc.) when we discover it in our reporting, and tell the reader when we don’t complete data. Watch this video explaining our reporting process for data stories:
Your Rights as an Interviewee
We train our reporters in good interviewing tactics. The reporters must identify themselves and get your permission to record the interview, and make it clear that what you say will appear on RedLineProject.news and our various social platforms.
During or before an interview, you have the right to:
- Request basic information about the reporter and the story. You can ask the reporters about what stories they cover, the deadline they are working under as well as the general gist of the news story they are writing. Credible journalists should have no problem sharing this information.
- Ask the reporters if they are recording the interviews. They’re required by law in most states to get your permission to be recorded.
- Provide information at a later time. If you are not 100 percent sure of an answer, say so. Tell the reporters you would like to double-check your information and get back to them. They’ll appreciate your dedication to accuracy.
Interviewees do not typically have the right to:
- Demand questions in advance. Journalists may share questions or the general point of the interview with you, but you cannot demand to know all of the content of the interview in advance.
- Review the story before it runs. Occasionally a journalist will ask you to review a quote or statistic for accuracy, but never the entire story.
- Ask for another reporter to do the story. This will not only irritate the reporter but will reduce the likelihood you would ever get coverage from our media outlet again.
AI is used sparingly on The Red Line Project and will be clearly marked and explained on all images and in editor’s notes at the beginning or end of a story. AI tools will NOT be used to write news and feature articles, but they may be used to assist in research (finding sources, searching for articles, etc.) and creating photo illustrations (which will be clearly marked as such).
In most cases, we’ll explain what tools were used and for what part of the story or image. We use research and guidance from TrustingNews.org, JournalistsToolbox.ai and the Markkula Center for Applied Ethics at Santa Clara Univesity, among others, for guidance.
Our reporters and editors also are responsible for disclosing what AI tools they use at the end of a story and how they used them.
Diversity: Guidelines for Inclusive Journalism
Chicago is a city of neighborhoods — 77 to be exact. And those neighborhoods blend together a rich mix of diversity in race, gender, age, sexual orientation and more.
Bias can present itself in everything from beat structure to headlines and cutlines to assignments, choice of sources, story and photo approach, play and organization. Bias can blind journalists to a full understanding of a subject and rob readers of important information.
The Red Line Project relies on established tools and safeguards against bias, among them maintaining a diverse staff, the use of multiple sources, multiple layers of editing to help ensure a complete report, and consistent staff training and education.
The most important safeguard, however, is a journalist’s humility before a subject and an understanding that no one person or entity holds the truth. One of our missions is to make our storytelling and our classroom inclusive on issues of race, gender, age and more.
Our faculty and students strive to create and maintain a working atmosphere where staffers can feel comfortable raising concerns about coverage they view as biased or otherwise offensive.
Our student reporters also work to find diverse sources in their reporting, both in people who are impacted by the issues we write about and expert sources.
Additional Policies ⊕⊗
- Anonymous sources: As a rule, The Red Line Project does not quote anonymous sources in our stories in an effort to be transparent. However, there are circumstances in which we may use s pseudonym for a source we feel we must protect. Typically, these are victims of assault or another crime, or as a critical part of the story that can’t be confirmed through other sources or public documents. Only the adviser/editor of the publication can guarantee anonymity and will protect that source’s identity. While the student reporter may negotiate the anonymity, only the adviser/editor can guarantee it.
- Suicide coverage: It’s the Red Line Project’s policy not to report on individual suicides unless the act is in a public place or involves a high-profile person. We do occasionally write stories about suicide as a mental health issue, talking to doctors, family members and others.
- Corrections: The Red Line Project staff strives to correct errors swiftly. If you see any error on our page, fill out this short form and we’ll respond within 24 hours. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact Red Line Project adviser Mike Reilley at email@example.com
- Images: Photos shot by student journalists on this site are credited to the photographer. Any uncredited photos are obtained through Creative Commons, Wikimedia Commons or other rights-free photo platforms. Edits to photos are made for clarity/editorial purposes and are not manipulated or misrespresented. When editing photos, we follow ethics guidelines set forth by the National Press Photographers Association and the Society of Professional Journalists.
- Election polls: Our journalists use election polls sparingly in reporting. We test their reliability, transparency, and make sure the number polled and methodology is clear. We also designate margins of error in polling and if a race is too close to call, we say so.
- Financial support: Adviser Mike Reilley covers server costs and other fees associated with the site structure. UIC’s Communication Department provides the classrooms, computers, software, cameras and other equipment the student journalists need to report the stories. Students receive grades and academic credit for their work on the site. The Red Line Project currently does not accept grant money, but did work with the McCormick Foundation in 2013-14 on a series of data-driven projects.
- Journalist safety: In order to keep our student journalists safe, the Red Line Project publishes only their public Twitter handles and Medium accounts on the About page.
Credits: These policies were derived from TrustingNews.org, Seattle Times, Atlanta Journal-Constitution, San Francisco Chronicle, San Diego Union-Tribune, The Globe and Mail and our own blood, sweat and tears.
Note: This graphic outlines only the reporting process and does not include the copy editing and fact-checking process built into step 6.