The nine-page set of standards — sent to reporters and editors at the newspaper this week — comes not after a scandal, as at some other publications, but at a time when waning circulation and public trust in the news media have led many newspapers to codify their standards.
Now, all employees will be asked to review the guidelines, said Editor John S. Carroll.
"I think a code of ethics, written or commonly understood, has always been important for the long-term success of a paper," Carroll said.
The guidelines were drawn up after more than a year of discussion by about a dozen of the paper's reporters and editors.
One of the most immediate outcomes of the guidelines may be in stopping Times sportswriters from voting for a variety of honors and awards, including college football's Heisman Trophy, college basketball's John R. Wooden Award and membership in Major League Baseball's Hall of Fame.
"In general, it is inappropriate for reporters to vote for awards and rankings," the new ethics guidelines read. "Doing so could reasonably be seen as compromising their objectivity."
Sports Editor Bill Dwyre said he planned to stop voting for those awards and expected his writers to follow suit, unless they had "an especially compelling reason for continuing to vote for something."
In such instances, Dwyre said he would take the case to the newspaper's managing editor, as outlined in the standards, and attempt to get an exemption.
"I don't 100% agree or embrace the policy," Dwyre said, "but I understand it.
"I voted for these things, hesitatingly at the start," he said. "But the alternative is you have fans or coaches voting. I may not be perfect, but I'll guarantee you that I am going to be considerably more objective than the fans and coaches, and understandably so."
Dwyre noted the long-reported bias against West Coast players in voting for the Heisman, given each year to the top player in college football.
He said he and two other Times staff members currently joined sportswriters from around the country in voting for the award, and that their absence could turn the balloting even slightly more in favor of East Coast players.
"Should I care about that? Maybe not," he said. "But, I guarantee you, there are plenty of fans who care."
Carroll said in an interview that it was up to those giving the sports awards to find a way to guarantee the integrity of the voting.
"As far as I'm concerned, it's the Heisman's problem if it's not a fair judge of football talent," he said. "If it's not a fair award, they ought to be able to figure out how to make that happen."
Arguments in favor of voting to assure local players have a chance smack of boosterism, Carroll said, adding: "That's not what we're here for."
The Times' guidelines speak in broader terms and make fewer outright prohibitions than ethics standards issued recently by some other publications.