City Limits Standards and Practices

Our mission and our standards

City Limits exists to produce journalism that informs democracy in New York City and empowers communities. Our mission shapes our decision about what topics and articles to pursue. Once we decide to pursue an article, however, we employ standard journalistic practices and ethics. We believe a vigorous pursuit of the facts and a thoughtful, candid presentation of complex truths is the only way to achieve our larger mission. City Limits journalists and freelance reporters are expected to adhere to the Society for Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics. We avoid and disclose any conflicts. Our journalists can participate in democracy as normal citizens do (belonging to a party, voting, and so forth) but may not donate money to, work for or volunteer on election campaigns on any level.

Our commitment to the truth

City Limits does its own reporting. We would never publish a fact we know to be untrue, and we make every effort to ensure that all the facts we publish are true. We also try to publish all relevant facts in a story, although no work of journalism can cover all aspects of a story.

Anyone can alert us to errors via email, the complaint line, phone or other means of communication. When so alerted, we investigate the claim and, depending on the results of our investigation, might retract, correct and clarify—and explain what we did with an “editor’s note.” We also could decide to stand by the story as is. Minor copy-editing errors, like the spelling of a name, might be addressed without a note. We seek to make corrections and clarifications as swiftly and thoughtfully as we can.

These accuracy standards apply to social media and broadcast appearances as well.

Who writes for us

City Limits publishes journalism by
• editors and staff on salary
• freelance writers, photographers and videographers paid per item
• interns (who are either paid or get course credit)
• journalism students (who, if doing the story as part of a class project, are not paid)

We try to feature diverse voices in covering our diverse city. New writers can become part of our team by pitching freelance stories.

Where our stories come from

We get story ideas from staff, freelancers and members of the general pubic. Sometimes we get tips about a story. Sometimes a reporter attends a hearing or discovers some research that spurs an idea. Sometimes we see what other media outlets are covering and see ways we can add to the story.

How we report stories

We interview sources “on the record” and “off the record.” “Off the record” material cannot be cited in an article in any way; it is used to guide other reporting efforts. Sometimes sources are interviewed “on the record” but on background (where we use quotes and might identify someone generally but no not reveal names) or on deep background (where no quotes are used). Reporters decide with sources what the ground rules of an interview are. If no such rules are set, City Limits treats all interviews as “on the record.” (A good breakdown of different ground rules can be found here.)

The identities of unnamed sources are always known to the editor. We will never violate promises to protect our sources’ confidentiality, even if that means resisting legal directives to hand over material. Factual claims made by unnamed sources are verified.

We also use documents, data, direct observation and other tools to report.

Opinions on our site

City Limits tries to provide a platform to a diverse set of voices. Anyone can submit an op-ed. Sometimes we reject op-eds because of scheduling conflicts, writing quality or word length, or because they address topics outside of City Limits’ area of focus (e.g., international affairs). We reserve the right to reject op-eds for the opinions they express, but rarely exercise that right, even when we disagree with the points made in them (which is often). We require that op-ed writers back up factual assertions that might be injurious to reputations or communities. The same policies for corrections and clarifications apply to opinion pieces. All opinion pieces are labelled as such.

We strive to permit an open but civil dialogue in comments on our site. We do not permit the use of slurs or profanity, and edit or reject comments that make personal attacks.

Sometimes our news articles contain elements of analysis and interpretation that necessarily involve the writer’s opinion. However, we will always strive to present a comprehensive accounting of facts so that readers can draw their own conclusions.

How we pay for our operations

City Limits is a 501c3 nonprofit. All our financials are open to public review via the New York State Attorney General’s Charities Bureau.

We operate using:
• grants from foundations, and from the nonprofit Community Service Society (which owned City Limits from 2009 through 2014),
• donations from members and people on our board of trustees,
• fees that people and companies pay to post job ads on our site,
• fees that sponsors pay to post display ads on our site,
• syndication fees from other media entities that post our content or use our talent, and
• fees we charge for events we run.

Our grants often fund reporting in particular “beats” but our funders have no role in deciding what we cover.

We don’t pay our sources and sources don’t pay us.

We do not accept “native advertising” or permit “sponsored posts.”

We do not accept direct government support, though government agencies can post job ads, legal notices and other forms of advertising.

How we use data

City Limits tracks social media usage and website traffic. We use this to evaluate our success at driving audience to our work, and to tailor our operations—headline writing, digital tagging, time of publication, methods of promotion, and so on—but not the content of articles. We do not dismiss article ideas merely because they seem unlikely to generate traffic, nor do we pursue other stories merely because they seem likely to attract a large audience, but we do use data to identify topics where there is an alignment between our story ideas and evidence of audience interest. (Read our privacy policy.)