Policies: Conflict of Interest & Disclosure

In such a smallish town, for a publication where authors are residents and volunteers, it seems inevitable that authors will sometimes have some kind of involvement in the events or issues they are writing about. This is especially true because the Acton Exchange wants deeply-informed writing, from authors who know the back-story and cast of characters behind the timely bit of news that they happen to be writing about this week. To live up to the Acton Exchange Mission Statement to provide “relevant and accurate” news, authors and editors abide by the following checks and balances.

  • Volunteer and paid staff of the AE must be familiar with and abide by the Code of Ethics of the Society of Professional Journalists.
  • A member of a municipal Board or Commission may not report, write, or edit articles about official meetings or decisions of their own Board or Commission. 
  • However, a member of such a Board or Commission may report, write or edit articles about events that they attend that are associated with their municipal role but that are not formal meetings (e.g. a flag raising or dedication). 
  • Business owners and their family members may not write articles that are directly related to their businesses.  
  • If you might have an indirect financial interest in the topic of an article (e.g. abutter of a property being discussed by a Board or Commission), seek editorial guidance; disclosure will probably be required. 
  • If you are a municipal or other government employee or volunteer (which includes members of Boards, Commissions and Committees), and you have questions about Conflict of Interest, contact  the Massachusetts Ethics Committee. Telephone for the Attorney of the Day  617-371-9500 or mass.gov/request-advice-from-the-state-ethics-commission

Under the following conditions, authorship is allowed, but a disclosure should be included in a statement at the end of the article. Disclosures serve two purposes, both related to our commitment to “accuracy”: (a) alert the reader that some subtle bias might have crept into the story, and (b) assure the reader that the author has substantial knowledge about the topic of the article.

  • The writer is the parent/guardian of a child competing in an athletic or academic event or performing in a musical/dramatic performance. Example: Jane Smith is the parent of an ABRHS swimmer.
  • A member of a municipal Board, Committee, or Commission, or a municipal staff member, can write about issues or happenings relevant to their role (except as specified above concerning formal meetings of Boards and Commissions) but they should disclose their affiliation. Example: John Smith is the second assistant manager in the Town of Acton XYZ Department.
  • If the writer holds a responsible position (paid or volunteer) in an organization that sponsored or organized an event, that should be disclosed.  Example: Maria Smith is on the Steering Committee of the XYZ Association, which helped to organize this event. 
  • If the writer (or their family or household) has a financial interest or potential financial interest in the subject of the article, that should be disclosed. 

If a person finds they cannot write about a controversial and important issue in such a way that their opinion is invisible to the reader, the writing should be passed off to another member of the AE team. 


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