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CostHelper Editorial Ethics Policy

The editorial staff and the freelance writers it uses are required to sign and adhere to the following ethics policy: 1. Introduction and Purpose CostHelper strives to provide its audience the most objective, well-researched and independent consumer price information on the Internet. Because CostHelper writers and editors are the company's public face, it is imperative they conduct themselves with integrity and honesty. Conflicts of interest, real or imagined, can undermine CostHelper's reputation as a leading source for fair and accurate consumer information. All CostHelper writers and editors are required to understand and adhere to the following ethics policy, adapted from the Society of Professional Journalists' Code of Ethics.

2. Gathering Information Professionalism and impartiality are central to CostHelper's mission. Writers and editors are expected to seek out and present credible and useful cost information that reflects the diversity of American consumers' tastes, geography and means. Promising favorable exposure to a cooperative source or threatening to punish an uncooperative one by unfairly portraying them in a negative light is unacceptable and could be grounds for disciplinary action.

Staff and freelance writers need not always disclose their identities and affiliation with CostHelper when gathering information available to the average consumer. Writers may use alternate e-mail addresses when needed to gather online quotes available to the general public, but anyone conducting in-person research (such as at a store or dealership) may not assume a false identity or otherwise misrepresent themselves. CostHelper may pay to bring in sources with specialized knowledge (i.e. an automobile mechanic, contractor, etc.). However, writers are not to pay sources for private information or accept payment from a source for mention in a CostHelper article; doing so is inconsistent with CostHelper's mission and threatens to undermine the company's credibility with its audience.

All products, prices and tips must be cited in proper CostHelper style. Any claims or information likely to reflect poorly on a business or individual mentioned in an article must be adequately supported by a credible source or original research. CostHelper writers must avoid using compensated ("affiliate") links of any kind.

CostHelper writers may post comments to individual articles, provided they can objectively and accurately describe their experience.

Plagiarism or misappropriation of another's work, intentional or otherwise, is grounds for immediate disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment or freelance contract.

3. Discounts and Gifts CostHelper writers may not accept discounts or gifts made available to them as the result of their affiliation with CostHelper. This restriction includes, but is not limited to, goods or services of meaningful value offered during the regular course of researching an article, and unsolicited gifts received after an article is published; it does not preclude CostHelper writers acting as private consumers from receiving discounts or deals available to the general public.

Under no circumstances are writers to use their affiliation with CostHelper to receive discounts or deals not available to the general public. Doing so is considered an abuse of their position and is grounds for immediate disciplinary action up to and including termination of employment or freelance contract. CostHelper pays expenses incurred by writers in the course of researching articles. These expenses could include the purchase of educational materials, products purchased for research purposes or a meal during which a source is interviewed for information to be used in a CostHelper article. Writers may accept items of little to no value, such as a cup of coffee or soda offered by a source during an interview.

Writers must disclose all gifts received in the course of researching and writing CostHelper articles. Writers must make a reasonable effort to return or pay for unsolicited gifts received in appreciation for mentioning a business in a CostHelper article. In circumstances in which it would be awkward or unreasonable to do so, all gifts of significant value become property of CostHelper.

4. Outside Investments and Stock Holdings Because of the potential for real or apparent conflicts of interest, CostHelper writers must disclose any financial holdings that affect companies they cover, or are about to cover. For example, a staff writer who covers consumer electronics should disclose any stock they own in Apple, Sony or other related companies. Diversified investments like individual retirement accounts, 401ks or mutual funds need not be disclosed.

5. Outside Employment and Activities CostHelper staff writers are permitted to accept freelance writing assignments or other employment on their own time, with certain restrictions. These restrictions include performing work that could be viewed as competition for CostHelper or assignments that could jeopardize the site's reputation for objectivity. For example, an editorial employee may take a travel writing assignment for another publication if the article focuses on a foreign culture and/or historic attractions; they may not, however, write an article for a consumer publication that focuses on how to find the best travel deals. All staff and freelance writers must disclose all writing, editorial freelance or outside business work that relates to CostHelper businesses or their beats at the time the conflict occurs.

CostHelper writers may not offer endorsements or testimonials, paid or unpaid, for products or services routinely covered by CostHelper. This restriction includes reviews of specific products or services written for another publication. In addition, writers may not offer opinions on specific products or services to outside media outlets or community organizations.

Outside employment or freelance work that involves promoting or collaborating in a business whose products or services appear or are likely to appear in CostHelper articles is not allowed. This includes performing public relations work, paid or unpaid, for companies with a potential interest in trying to influence CostHelper coverage. Accepting such employment or attempting to conceal such employment is grounds for immediate disciplinary action up to and including termination of CostHelper employment or freelance contract.

6. Conclusion CostHelper strives to maintain high ethical standards, and adherence to these rules is critical to fulfilling its mission to provide clear and objective consumer information. Editorial management welcomes and expects open and frank discussion of this policy.