That’s How We Work

Átlátszó Erdély investigative journalism project works to increase the transparency of the public life of the Hungarian community of Transylvania, Romania. The basis of our work is the confidence of our readers, and we’d like to gain and maintain this confidence by working in the most transparent way possible and observing all the ethical rules of journalism.

An important part of this relationship is based on confidence is that we work in a transparent manner, offering every opportunity to our readers to check our activity and statements and whether we respect our principles at each stage of our work.

Below you may find our answers to the most frequently asked questions about our work. These do not cover every possible situation. Whenever we have to ponder the answers, we follow the Ethical Principles of the Editor-in-Chief’s Forum (Főszerkesztők Fóruma) and The Guardian editorial guidelines.

How do you decide which subjects to cover?

We usually cover subjects related to Hungarians in Transylvania which we consider to be of public interest, and which are not covered by other media.

If we must decide between reporting about the next Sekler flag conflict / autonomy issue / bear attack, and a politician’s business interests, we will most likely choose the latter.

Although both these types of subjects are of common interest, the Sekler flag conflicts, the autonomy issues and the bears of the Sekler land are so eagerly treated by everybody, that we can make no significant addition to it.

But much less is written about the business interests of our politicians and the power relations behind our institutions, therefore we rather use the few resources we have to report on these.

Public interest and the right to privacy: how to balance it?

This is a question which has no general right answer, we always ponder it on a case-to-case basis. We respect the constitutional civil and personality rights of the people that we contact during our work. In each particular case, we carefully consider, based on the Ethical Principles published by the Editor-in-Chief’s Forum, or even asking for legal counsel if needed, who can be regarded as a public figure and what counts as private life of a public figure, and to what extent it is justified to publish private life details in case of public interest issues.

What kind of data do you use?

We mostly use public documents and data collected through FOI requests. The data gained this way is corroborated with interviews and field work.

At the beginning of interviews we agree with the interviewee on the data that can be used publicly. For background discussions disclosure, we usually use the Chatham House rules.

We do not work incognito and do not employ illegal means. In all cases, we introduce ourselves as journalists of Átlátszó Erdély, and clearly state that we may publish the information disclosed to us. We always openly say if we make voice or video recordings, we never use hidden voice recorders or cameras.

We only use leaked information or documents or data coming from anonymous sources if and insofar as we can double check the identity of the source and the truth of the information.

I’d also like to double check if your article is indeed founded. How can I do this?

We try to support all our allegations and calculations with documents, and we mostly also publish these documents with links in the text. We hope that our possible mistakes get noticed and corrected more easily and we’d also like to motivate our journalist colleagues to continue the work we started based on the sources we publish.

What if you’re wrong?

No matter how hard we’d try, we may indeed make mistakes on occasions. We may correct typos or grammatical mistakes even after publication without making note of the correction.

If we discover any factual mistakes in our article, we correct it and mark the date of the correction and the type of the mistake in the text.

If we have access to new data after the article was published, then we either insert it into the original text and mark the date of the addition, or publish it as new material.

Rarely it may happen that an article is based entirely on the wrong assumption or that we make some other serious professional mistake. In this case we will make amendments in an editorial note.

Published materials that have passed all the editorial filters are only removed in exceptional cases, or if there is a final court decision to do so. No published materials have been removed from the website so far in the history of Átlátszó Erdély. If it may ever happen, we will announce it publicly.

Do you contact the parties involved?

Yes, we do. Before publishing our articles, we do our best to confront the person, company or institution involved with the allegations made about them, and we offer them the opportunity to present their points of view. The more serious the allegations, the more efforts we make for the involved parties to have their say on the matter.

We ask them to agree to an interview or to make a public declaration about the issue. If we cannot contact them or we receive a negative answer, we point it out in the article. The parties involved can also decide to respond after the publication of the article. Their declarations or their response to the allegations are either inserted into the article in question or published as a separate article.

Do you quote the interviews word for word?

The bracketed fragments are word-for-word quotations of what has been said. However, it may often be the case that we summarize or paraphrase declarations or longer discussions. In this case we try to formulate and render the main statements of the declaration.

Can the interviewee or source review the material before publication?

Yes, our interviewees or sources can review the entire interview. However, they can only check if their answers were recorded and transcribed accurately, they cannot withdraw the interview and they cannot make editing suggestions. If we only use a quote of a few sentences, we only show them the quote, not the entire material. Our request is always that they send back the reviewed material as soon as possible, preferably on the same day.

Do you send the questions before the interview?

Both our readers and us like live interviews more than pre-arranged ones. We inform our discussion partner about the subject of the discussion beforehand, but we do not send them our concrete questions.

We only send questions via e-mail if there is no possibility for a face-to-face meeting or if the issue is very urgent. We always point out if the questions were sent in writing.

Do you accept anonymous declarations?

We never reveal the identity of our sources, but we always double check their claims. If someone wants to make an anonymous declaration, we will state their profession, occupation, and how they are related to the issue in question.

We are extra-careful about anonymous declarations, because anybody can say anything about anyone this way, with no consequences. This is not the kind of public space we are determined to build.

I have a good story. Can I share it with you?

Of course you can, and we will thank you for it. However, we cannot promise you that we will follow up every lead or that we’ll make an article out of it.

Do you publish letters to the editor?

If we deem it worth publishing, yes. However, we can not be held responsible for the statements of the author, and the involved parties have the right to reply.

Have you been threatened?

We’ve always worked freely, and we’ll make our best to keep it this way in the future. We take extremely seriously every attempt to threaten us or to put pressure on us. Our first thought is the safety of our staff and our second thought is how to continue the story.

How do you reference?

In case of information taken over from other media, we reference the name of the media and insert a link to the information there. We expect the same from colleagues referencing content on Átlátszó Erdély, the Creative Commons license applies to our content. In case of photographs, we reference the name of the photographer and the website where we took it over from. We try to use licensed photos and pay the photographers who work for us.

What about your finances? Do you publish the names of your supporters?

Átlátszó Erdély is supported partly by international investigative journalism grants and partly by readers’ donations. We publish yearly reports about our income and expenses, where we also list the funds received from international organizations. We also report the yearly amount of donations from our readers, but we treat their names confidently, unless they expressly ask for their names to be included into the report.

Do you accept company sponsorship?

We do, but for amounts higher than 500 EUR the funding agreement must contain a paragraph that the funder will not interfere in any way with our work or the content published on our website.

Gifts, lunch invitations, travels, other “advantages”?

We’d rather not. The most our journalists can accept on meetings or field work is a coffee, any other expenses – meals, accommodation, travel expenses – are paid by Átlátszó Erdély Association. If we are invited to press tours where we could not otherwise go as journalists – such as, for instance, refugee camps in the Near East – we will clearly state who paid for the travel in the article published as a result of the tour. We do not accept gifts.

Conflict of interests?

We do our best to treat each topic without bias and free from private commitments. Our journalists cannot be members of political parties or NGOs connected to political parties, and cannot have economical or personal interests which prevent them to be objective with a given subject. If our journalist does have such a connection, we will always clearly state it in the article or pass the subject to another journalist.

Do you moderate comments?

We do, because we’d like the community pages of Átlátszó Erdély to be troll-free zones and spaces for civilized debates. Our community standards and guidelines closely follow those of the The Guardian. In short: we welcome any comment or criticism which adds new information, perspective or opinion to a given subject. We do not tolerate personal attacks, abuse, hate-speech and unwanted ads, these will be removed and those who regularly post such comments will be banned. Please take into account that our team is small and because of the nature of our work there’s often no one online to moderate, so we cannot always react at once if conversations get out of hand.