Search Results for: Memmos


Guidance On Music In Broadcast Pieces #

An editor once told me that if I asked 12 economists what was likely to happen I would get 13 opinions.

That line came to mind in recent days as I talked to people across NPR News about whether we do or do not allow music to be embedded in longer news stories. I’m talking about incidental music that is there, at the very least, to improve the listening experience, but otherwise has no obvious connection to the story. I’m also talking about longer pieces that are broadcast, not podcasts.

– “No …” I was told. NPR has a rule: No music; no sound effects. We don’t put anything in our broadcast pieces that isn’t “true” to the stories.

– “Sure …” I was assured. We’ve been adding music for years when it’s felt that “scoring” would improve a piece.

– “Well …” others said. Music can be used as a bookend or to create a bridge between sections of a long report. But it should never be layered beneath reporting.

– “But …” began some. If it’s obvious to listeners that the music is being used in a feature in a humorous way or in a long news story to set off a particular section, it’s OK to run it beneath the script.

– “Only …” said some. Music may be OK in features, but only rarely and with a “less is more” approach. That is, be sparing. We’re making news stories, not movies.

There was agreement on one thing. Music can’t be used in news stories to make editorial statements or to steer a listener toward judgments or conclusions. We don’t do those things – just as we would not tell the audience how to feel about the news we’re reporting.

But, but, but … what is an editorial statement and when is something manipulative? We can’t agree. There’s a “know it when we see it” sense.

After all that, here’s where are:

– There is no rule against putting music into broadcast pieces. It’s been done and is being done every week in features or special projects. Listen to WESUN’s “For The Record” series, a recent “Hidden Brain” piece that was recast for radio, Morning Edition’s report on “How The Libyan Revolution Opened The Door To The Islamic State” and the “Changing Lives of Women” essay from the “gray-haired granny” who has gone “punk rock.” Judge for yourself whether the music worked.

– Even those who advocate for the use of music say that “because it sounds cool” is not a reason to use it. Don’t do this either: Add music in the hope it will make a bad story better. There’s a problem with the story. Fix it or kill it.

– There’s agreement that music must be treated like any other piece of our journalism. An informed, editorially based decision is crucial. Be prepared to answer this question: “What’s that doing there?”

– We’re also in agreement that incidental music should not be layered beneath straight-forward, standard news stories.

– “Less is more” is a very important concept. Yes, there’s a case to be made that we need to keep up with the times and that some popular podcasts (including NPR’s) use music very effectively. But, we care deeply about principles such as honesty, transparency and fairness. Adding music can quickly raise questions in listeners’ minds about whether we’re staying true to our principles. A decade ago in Jonathan Kern’s Sound Reporting, Jay Kernis said that music could be added to “certain feature stories and mini-documentaries — on rare occasions.” The occasions are probably less rare these days, but we’re still thinking that they should be carefully considered.

This isn’t a “thou must” or “must not” note, as you can see. We have to take these thoughts and apply them as cases come up. That means talking to each other. Executive producers and desk heads need to be in on decisions about whether music should or shouldn’t be used in broadcast pieces. They should bring in the DMEs (Chuck Holmes and Gerry Holmes) or standards & practices editor (Mark Memmott) if outside opinions are needed. In coming months, watch for training opportunities about the use of music.

(“Memmos;” Nov. 30, 2015)


When There’s No Evidence To Support A Claim, We Should Say That #

Politicians, public officials and — yes — members of the press will say things that don’t check out.

– Brian Williams’ helicopter was not shot down.

– Hillary Clinton did not have to run to her car because of sniper fire at an airport in Bosnia.

– Toronto Mayor Rob Ford … pick your story.

When we can say some something definitive about such accounts, we should.

The latest case: Donald Trump’s statement that he “watched when the World Trade Center came tumbling down. And I watched in Jersey City, New Jersey, where thousands and thousands of people were cheering as that building was coming down.”

Regarding that account of what he says happened in New Jersey, we have told our audiences that:

– “Police say it didn’t happen.”

– “Local officials in New Jersey continue to dismiss Trump’s claims.”

– “New Jersey officials say it didn’t happen.”

Those lines add helpful context, but they also create a “he said, she said” situation. Trump says one thing, police and local officials say another. Have we done all we can to help listeners and Web users figure out who’s right?

In situations such as this, we should first ask whether we should repeat the claim. After all, repeating it might give it more life. But if the answer to that question is yes, we should get to the point and say what we’ve found. Here’s how The Two-Way has done it:

“We asked our library to look through contemporaneous news reports. They tell us that that they could not turn up any news accounts of American Muslims cheering or celebrating in the wake of Sept. 11.”

Another way to say that might be: “NPR has searched for credible news accounts about large groups of American Muslims celebrating during or after the Sept. 11 attacks. No such accounts have been found.”

We could also flatly report that “no evidence has been found in police or credible media accounts from the time to indicate there were large numbers of Muslim-Americans in New Jersey celebrating.” We have used the “no evidence” framing on the air.

Regarding The Washington Post report from Sept. 18, 2001, that Trump has cited, it stated that “in Jersey City, within hours of two jetliners’ plowing into the World Trade Center, law enforcement authorities detained and questioned a number of people who were allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding tailgate-style parties on rooftops while they watched the devastation on the other side of the river.” But as we said on Morning Edition this week, “there is no reference in the [Washington Post] article to Trump’s claim of seeing thousands and thousands Muslims celebrating in Jersey City.” has noted that:

“The Post story said that Jersey City police detained ‘a number of people’ who were ‘allegedly seen celebrating the attacks and holding a tailgate-style party’ in Jersey City. That allegation was unattributed and unverified. Even if it did happen, and there is no evidence of it, the celebrating was not on TV and did not involve ‘thousands and thousands of people.’ “

(“Memmos,” Nov. 25, 2015)


Put On-Air Corrections With The Original Stories #

When there’s an on-air correction, attach a copy of the audio file to the Webpage where the story originally appeared. See the example on this page:

That way, anyone who comes to the original story will get both a text correction (at the bottom of the page) and an audio correction right at the top.


– A How We Make Corrections memo.

– A document called A Common Corrections Scenario.”

(“Memmos,” Nov. 20, 2015)


Reporter’s Suspension For A Tweet Makes This Is A Good Time To Read Our Social Media Guidance #

CNN global affairs correspondent Elise Labott tweeted this Thursday afternoon:

“House passes bill that could limit Syrian refugees. Statue of Liberty bows head in anguish.”

That has gotten her suspended for two weeks.

The line between editorializing and engaging with the audience is not always easy to see. Also, bloggers, analysts and commentators may be able to do things on social media that we would not want our “traditional” journalists to do.

We have specialists – the social media team – who can help figure out what is and isn’t appropriate. Editors can take a look at tweets and posts before you hit publish. It pays to first ask others on your show or desk for their opinions.

We also have plenty of guidance online:

– The “social media” section of the Ethics Handbook. Here’s an important line: “Conduct yourself online just as you would in any other public circumstances as an NPR journalist.” In other words, if you wouldn’t say it on the air, don’t say it on other platforms.

– This “social media guideline,” which says, in part:

“Refrain from advocating for political or other polarizing issues online. … Don’t express personal views on a political or other controversial issue that you could not write for the air or post on These guidelines apply whether you are posting under your own name or — if the online site allows pseudonyms — your identity would not be readily apparent. In reality, anything you post online reflects both on you and on NPR.”

– There’s another guideline that’s helpfully headlined “When In Doubt, Consult The Social Media Team.”

– We have a post called “Remember: There Is No Privacy On The Web, And ‘Personal’ Pages Are Not Safe Zones.”

– Finally, these posts point to the particular problems that come with political seasons:

Read This If You Use Social Media; Everyone Should Know Our Thinking

Some Guidance About Social Media On Election Day

(“Memmos,” Nov. 20, 2015)


Single Source Approval Process #

As Chris said in his note, we’ve been covering the Paris attacks “with a commitment and sense of mission that other news organizations simply can’t match.” Scott Montgomery echoed those thoughts and called the work done so far “extraordinary.”

Thank you.

This story has many threads. Reporters have been working sources hard. The “first file” process that flags what is “reportable” and what is “guidance” is working well and has kept us from putting out bad information.

Now, we want to pause and review how we handle “single source” reports.

The first thing to say is that we operate on the assumption that information needs to be cross-checked and verified with multiple sources. Single source reports should be rare.

It’s true, though, that sometimes only one credible source has critical information. When NPR journalists get such information, and they and their editors believe it should be reported, they must get approval from one or more of the following people:

– SVP for News Mike Oreskes.

– VP for News Chris Turpin.

– Executive Editor Edith Chapin.

– Deputy Managing Editor Chuck Holmes.

– Deputy Managing Editor Gerry Holmes.

– Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott.

NPR journalists understand they will be expected to explain who the source is, why the source is in a position to know what he/she is telling us, why it’s important that we report the information and what’s been done to cross-check the information.

You don’t have to contact all six people on that list. Chuck and Gerry are the logical ones to consult first. One of them is on duty every day. They can draw in the others if they feel it’s necessary.

One other thing: Information from single sources can’t be classified as “reportable” in a “first file” note until it has been approved. The note should include a line stating that the single-sourcing has been OK’d and by whom. It should also clearly state how we will refer to that source — “person with direct knowledge of the investigation … law enforcement source who has seen the documents … intelligence official who has been briefed on the details … source close to the investigation … etc.”

Thanks again for all the hard work of the past few days. Thanks in advance for all the hard work of the next few days.

(“Memmos,” Nov. 16, 2015)


New Guidance On References To Myanmar #

When reporting about or from Myanmar, it is no longer necessary to say at the top that it is “Myanmar, also known as Burma,” as our style has been since 2011. We feel there are very few in the audience who still need that immediate reminder.

It is also no longer necessary to include the reminder about the name Burma in every report. Use your judgment. In longer pieces, and especially in those tracing the country’s recent history, an “also known as Burma” is appropriate and helpful.

Meanwhile, our guidance (and AP’s) has been that Myanmarese is the adjective to use when describing the people of that country. You should know, however, that there is disagreement over whether that is the proper adjectival form and that people in Myanmar do not refer to themselves that way. Many authorities say Burmese is the word to use, even when referring to the country as Myanmar. One way around all that, of course, is to say something such as “the people of Myanmar” or “the people here.”

(Memmos; Nov. 13, 2015)


Keep Your Enemies Close And Your Antecedents Closer #

“Korva said she would tell her driver, Pat, to start warming the car at 3:07 a.m. each day instead of 3:05 just as soon as she returns from the organic smoothie shop.”

Who’s at the organic smoothie shop? Pat or Korva? Who’s the “she?” When will she get back with that smoothie?

We offer this presumably fictional and rather convoluted sentence because many of us aren’t careful about making sure that the pronouns we use are clearly connected to the antecedents they replace. Editors see antecedent/pronoun problems in copy every day.

Let’s pick apart the opening scene. This is what was happening:

–  Korva wanted the car started at 3:07 a.m., not 3:05.

–  Pat was at the organic smoothie shop getting Korva’s Mango/Kale/Chia Supreme.

– Korva would have to wait until Pat returned to tell her about the new starting time.

Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style offers this advice: “The relative pronoun should come, in most instances, immediately after its antecedent.” Note, for instance, how much clearer it reads to say Korva would have to “wait until Pat returned to tell her.” Just four small words separate the antecedent from the pronoun. It’s clear that Pat is “her.”

Please also take care to pair singular pronouns with singular antecedents and plurals with plurals. Gender agreement is important as well, but bear in mind that the choice of pronoun may be a sensitive issue when the subject is a transgender person.

(Memmos; Nov. 11, 2015)


It’s ‘Boy With Autism,’ Not ‘Autistic Boy’ #

Jeremy Mardis, the boy killed in Louisiana, had autism.

We should say and write that he was “a boy with autism,” not an “autistic boy.”

As we’ve said before about individuals with medical conditions, please avoid labels and use action words. We hear from many who say, “I’m not just a [insert condition]. I am a son/daughter/father/mother with [insert medical condition].”

(“Memmos;” Nov. 9, 2015)


As Great Uncle Frederick Said, ‘More’ Or ‘Most’ Probably Don’t Belong In Front Of An Adjective With One Syllable #

Did Myanmar hold its “most free elections in decades?”

No, as a listener told us, it held its “freest elections in decades.”

Today’s question: When should we use more or most instead of -er or -est to form comparatives and superlatives?

To figure out the answer, it helps to count syllables.

Fowler’s Modern English Usage says that “adjectives of one or two syllables normally form their comparative and superlative forms by adding –er and –est. … Adjectives of more than two syllables are normally preceded by more or most …”

The BBC puts it this way: “It is clear that adjectives of one syllable normally end in -er and –est in their comparative and superlative forms whilst the comparative and superlative of adjectives with three or more syllables are formed with more and most.”

The Chicago Manual of Style agrees. It notes, however, that “a few one-syllable adjectives – such as real, right, and wrong – can take only more and most. … Eager, proper, and somber, unlike many two-syllable adjectives, also take only more and most.” It sagely advises consulting “a good dictionary.” (NPR uses Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition.)

Finally, in 1925 my great uncle Frederick Memmott and fellow educator Nell Young, in the sixth grade edition of their textbooks Good English in Speaking and Writing, told students that “nearly all our adjectives containing only one syllable are compared by adding the syllables -er and -est. Some of our adjectives containing two or more syllables are compared by adding -er and -est, but others require the use of the words more and most. All the adjectives containing more than two syllables require the use of more and most in comparing things.”

There you go. If the adjective has one or two syllables, you almost always add –er and –est. When there are three or more syllables, more and most are almost certainly the words to choose. Check the dictionary if you’re not sure.

Uncle Frederick died 32 years before I was born. I don’t know this for sure, but I trust he would have thanked us for keeping these guidelines in mind.

(Memmos; Nov. 6, 2015)


Stories About Illinois Police Officer’s Death Underscore Need To Attribute #

A look back at our coverage of what happened to Illinois police Lt. Charles Gliniewicz, who authorities now say killed himself, highlights the importance of attributing information and not getting ahead of ourselves when stories are breaking and investigations are under way.

Here are lines from five stories we aired or posted in the first few days after the news broke:

– Gliniewicz “was shot to death in the line of duty on Tuesday — while chasing three suspects on foot.”

– “Investigators acknowledge they still only have vague descriptions of the three men Fox Lake police officer Charles Joseph Gliniewicz was trying to apprehend when he was shot and killed Tuesday morning.”

– “Lt. Gliniewicz was pursuing those suspects–two white men and a black man– on foot when he lost radio contact with a dispatcher.”

– ”Before he was shot and killed Tuesday morning, Lt Charles Joseph Gliniewicz told dispatchers he was pursing three suspicious men on foot — two of them white and the third, black.”

– “The officer radioed to dispatchers that he was going to check on suspicious activity around 8 a.m. local time in the community of Fox Lake, Lake County sheriff’s office spokesman Christopher Covelli said at a news conference. The officer, who has not yet been identified, then said he was in a ‘foot pursuit,’ before losing contact. Covelli said responding officers arrived and found the officer injured from a gunshot wound and without his service weapon. The officer died at the scene.”

The first three examples flatly say that Gliniewicz was chasing suspects when he was shot. The last two examples make it clear that Gliniewicz said he was in pursuit of three suspects.

Examples 1-3 skipped a key fact — that it was Gliniewicz who reported he was chasing three suspects. He was the source for that information. He was a single source. In hindsight, the attribution was critical.

Two other phrases in our early reports are interesting to think about now: “Shot to death” and “shot and killed.” Gliniewicz was shot. He did die. However, those phrases make it sound as if someone else did the shooting. If we had known he took his own life, we wouldn’t have used them. We couldn’t have known that, of course. But there’s a case to be made that we should have thought through the possibilities and said “before he was shot and died” or some other phrasing that didn’t include the word “killed.”

(Memmos; Nov. 4, 2015)


Words We Get Wrong: The List #

We speak and write well most of the time.

There are, however, words and phrases that trip us up. Listeners, readers and our colleagues cringe at the mistakes.

This is going to be a living post. We’re starting with some of the common mistakes. There are some links to where you can get help on the proper usages. We’ll add to the list as suggestions — perhaps we should say “complaints” – come in. The hope is that if the problem cases are identified, they’ll become less common as times goes on.

– Advance planning: One of many pleonasms we should avoid.

Anniversary: It is redundant to say “one-year” or “five-year” or “10-year” … “anniversary.”

– Begs the question: If you think that means “raises the question,” you will incur the wrath of dozens or more audience members.

– But: It’s a little word we use far too often and in ways we shouldn’t.

-- Countless: Do you really mean there are “too many to count?” Or that there’s an “indefinitely large number?” Should you be saying “hundreds” or “thousands?”

– Data: At NPR, we use plural verbs and pronouns when referring to data — unless, that is, we’re confident we’re using the word as a collective noun. Tip: If you can substitute the word “information,” that’s a sign you’re using “data” as a collective noun. If the word “numbers” is the proper substitute, than you need plural verbs and pronouns.

– Farther and further: Use “farther” when discussing distances. “Further” is for issues involving matters of degree.

– Fewer or less? Do you choose your supermarket based on what the sign says over the express aisle? Some people do. “Fewer” is the word to use when things can be counted. “Less” is to be used when when you’re talking about mass quantities.

– Interpreters and translators: An interpreter turns spoken words into another language. A translator works with written words.

– Lay and lie: Stop and check yourself before choosing between these words. Go here or here. At the very least, remember this: You lay down a book; you lie down to rest.

– Lecterns and podiums: You stand on a podium. You put your notes on a lectern, which you sit or stand behind.

– Marine, sailor, soldier: A Marine is not a soldier or a sailor. A sailor is not a Marine or a soldier. A soldier is not a sailor or a Marine. Be careful when referring to them.

– Media: NPR treats “media” as a plural.

– Percent and percentage point: When comparing changes in two percentages, the difference is expressed in “percentage points.” For example, if 36% of Little Valley Central School’s class of ’76 show up at next year’s reunion, that will be an increase of 5 percentage points from the 31% turnout 10 years ago. Attendance, though, will go up 15%. That’s because the 15 who come next year would mark a 15% increase from the 13 who attended in ’06.

– Reticent and reluctant: They do not mean the same thing. Webster’s defines reticent as “habitually silent or uncommunicative; disinclined to speak readily; reserved; taciturn” and “having a restrained, quiet or understated quality.”

– Shrink, shrank and shrunk; sink, sank and sunk: William Safire weighed in on these words back in 1995.  Tip: The movie should have been called “Honey, I Shrank the Kids.”

– Vast majority: The best advice is to just not say it. You’ll probably be wrong. Use facts instead.

(Memmos; Nov. 3, 2015)


On The Plagiarism Case And How It Was Handled #

If you haven’t read the news we posted Thursday, please do. Click on these headlines:

- Editor’s Note: Ethics Violations Identified In Several NPR Music And WQXR Reports
- Stories By A Contributing Writer Published On That Contain Plagiarism
- NPR Acknowledges Plagiarism In 10 Music Stories

The ombudsman has also posted:

- Plagiarism Found In 10 NPR Music Stories

Before describing how this situation was handled, we should note that the Ethics Handbook is clear: “Plagiarism – taking someone else’s work and intentionally presenting it as if it is your own – is theft. At NPR it’s an unforgivable offense.”

The Handbook goes on to say:

“That means no material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution. This includes material from Associated Press reports. We do not, for example, produce news ‘spots’ or other pieces that closely resemble wire service stories. NPR’s standard is that our writing should be our own. There is no excuse for writing that repeats the wire stories that we use word-for-word, or nearly so.”

Now, about how things were handled once we knew the extent of the problem.

We started from the position that when we make mistakes, we acknowledge them. Steps were taken to do that:

1. We stated as clearly as possible, in multiple places, what had happened and what we had done to correct the mistakes. That’s why there is an editor’s note signed by Mike Oreskes and WQXR General Manager Graham Parker, an editor’s note on top of the page where the stories in question were collected and editor’s notes on each of the 10 pages where the pieces originally appeared.

2. We did not try to hide the stories. They were all put on one page because we felt that would be a simple and user-friendly way to make them available to anyone who wanted to see what was in those pieces that had appeared elsewhere before.

3. We highlighted the words and phrases that had appeared elsewhere and linked to the places they had been drawn from. Again, we aimed to make it as simple as possible for anyone to see what had been done.

4. A headline and link to the main editor’s note was put on the homepage.

5. The Two-Way was given no instructions other than to cover the news as it saw fit.

We will make mistakes, though hopefully none this serious. Steps similar to those taken in this situation may need to be repeated. Having them written down here may prove helpful in the future.

Before finishing, a couple more things should be noted.

The first sign that there was a problem came last Friday when copy editor Mark Mobley was checking an unusual spelling and came across a document with phrases much like those in the piece he was editing. He brought the duplication to the attention of editors at NPR Music. That was exactly the right thing to do. Mark was then asked to start going through the pieces the writer had done for in the past. His research turned up the multiple examples.

Tom Huizenga, Jessica Goldstein and Jacob Ganz worked through this situation with what I would say was “firm compassion.” It is not easy to deal with news such as this when it involves a person you like and have enjoyed working with. They stayed focused on what was the right thing to do for NPR and its audience.

We all owe Mark, Tom, Jessica and Jacob a thanks.

(Memmos; Oct. 30, 2015)


It’s ‘Argentine,’ Not ‘Argentinian’ #


As the AP notes, “Argentine” is “the preferred term for the people and culture of Argentina.” Don’t use “Argentinian.”

And as we said earlier this year, the pronunciation is “AHR-jen-tyne.” Not “teen.”

(Memmos; Oct. 28, 2015)


Let’s Reduce Our Buts #

We’re obsessed with our buts.

At least, that’s what I’ve been told by more than one person in the newsroom.

The problem is that we try to insert too many of them into places they don’t belong. We use but to signal a conflict that doesn’t exist or when the conjunction should  be “and.”

I asked Paul Soucy, a veteran copy editor and former colleague, to send me a note he wrote for the staff at USA Today a decade or so ago. Here are excerpts from the memo he titled, “But. Why?

“One objection is mainly stylistic. An over-reliance on but — not just as a word but as a rhetorical device — results in a story that reads like a Ping-Pong match:

– “A, but B.

– “C, but D.

– “E, but F. …

“… all the way to the end.”

“The other major objection to but is linguistic. … Without getting too grammar-y, let’s just say that but is best used to illustrate contradiction, not just contrast. What comes after but should have some impact on what comes before but; it shouldn’t just be something different.

“We run a lot of sentences constructed like this one: ‘Chet has a red Ford, but Ned has a blue Toyota.’

“Why but? There’s contrast in this sentence, but no contradiction. The fact that Ned has a blue Toyota has no bearing whatsoever on the fact that Chet has a red Ford. … If there is no contradiction, there’s no need for but.

“We could just as easily say … ‘Chet has a red Ford and Ned has a blue Toyota.’ [Or] ‘Chet has a red Ford. Ned has a blue Toyota.’ “

Paul finished with three tips:

– “The troublesome buts will usually jump out at you. The best buts are invisible.”

– “Not sure whether a but belongs? Try just taking it out.”

– “If the sentence can be written without the but, perhaps it should be.”

If you’ve read this far, you may have a song in your head: Schoolhouse Rock’s “Conjunction Junction.”

This post also may have brought back memories of last year’s nagging about sentences that start with “so.” If you haven’t read that one, please do. We’re still “soing” a lot.

Other language issues we’ve droned on about include:

Begs The Question

Farther And Further


Imagined Elegance

Lay And Lie

With that, I’ll butt out.

(Memmos; Oct. 22, 2015)



Take The ‘Sting’ Out Of References To The ‘Planned Parenthood Videos’ #

Please use phrases such as “secretly recorded” and “covertly recorded” when referring to the videos made by anti-abortion activists.

“Undercover” is another useful word. True, it may invoke in some listeners’ minds the image of a government spy who has gone under cover, but as an adjective it means “acting or carried out in secret.”

We have concluded that “sting” doesn’t apply because it is defined as “an elaborate confidence game” or “an elaborately planned operation engaged in by law enforcement agents to entrap criminals.” Those don’t fit in this context.

(Memmos; Oct. 14, 2015)


There’s No Debate About This: We’ll Get Complaints If We Say The Candidates Are Behind Podiums #

The five candidates on stage tonight in Las Vegas will be standing at lecterns, not podiums, as many emailers have reminded us already.

From Webster’s New World College Dictionary:

“lectern … a stand for holding the notes, written speech, etc., as of a lecturer.”

“podium … a low platform, esp. for the conductor of an orchestra; dais.”

(Memmos; Oct. 13, 2015)


Read This If You Use Social Media; Everyone Should Know Our Thinking #

The presidential campaign, particularly the debates, and breaking news events such as this week’s mass shooting in Oregon draw many of us to social media. We want to monitor the news, post our reporting, share the interesting information we find and offer our thoughts.

That’s great. Have fun out there.

But … (there’s always a “but”) … all of us — journalists as well as those in other departments — need to remember that what we post and retweet can reflect on NPR. None of us want NPR’s reputation for fairness to be put in doubt because of things we do on digital platforms.

We’ve issued guidance on this before. Everyone is expected to be familiar with our thinking. Please reread:

The “Social Media” section of the handbook. The introduction specifically mentions NPR’s journalists, but the principles apply to others here as well. If you’re in doubt, talk to your supervisor:

“The Internet and the social media communities it encompasses can be incredible resources. They offer both a remarkably robust amount of historical material and an incredible amount of ‘real-time’ reporting from people at the scenes of breaking news events. But they also present new and unfamiliar challenges, and they tend to amplify the effects of any ethical misjudgments you might make. So tread carefully. Conduct yourself online just as you would in any other public circumstances as an NPR journalist. Treat those you encounter online with fairness, honesty and respect, just as you would offline. Verify information before passing it along. Be honest about your intent when reporting. Avoid actions that might discredit your professional impartiality. And always remember, you represent NPR.”

– “Some Guidance About Social Media On Election Day.” You could substitute the words “Debate Night” for “Election Day.”

– “Reminder: There Is No Privacy On The Web, And ‘Personal’ Pages Are Not Safe Zones.”  Here’s a key paragraph:

“Matt Thompson offers a test. Before posting something about your work or a news event or an issue, even if you’re putting it on what you think of as a personal page, ask this question: ‘Is it helping my journalism, or is it hurting my journalism?’ ”

(Memmos; Oct. 2, 2015)


Take Care When Describing Weapons #

As we cover news about the mass shooting in Oregon, we will get reports and see reports about the weapons that were used.

Until we have solid information from the authorities, we need to be careful about descriptions of those weapons. Words to avoid unless we are sure of them include: “automatic,” “semi-automatic,” “assault” and “assault-style.” They are often misused.

Obviously, the shooter had “guns.” It is being reported that he had both “handguns” and a “rifle.” Those are good words because of their breadth. It is best to stick to such words until authorities release details.

The AP Stylebook has a substantial entry for “weapons” that has good guidance. If you’re on our intranet, you can get to the Stylebook here:

We also have hard copies of the Stylebook. There’s one with The Two-Way team and others with copy editors Susan Vavrick, Amy Morgan and Pam Webster.

(Memmos; Oct. 2, 2015)


This Is An Important Reminder About Dealing With Those Who Are Vulnerable; Please Read It #

There have been a couple times in recent weeks when people we’ve interviewed asked that we remove their names from the stories we posted on the Web. We have issued guidance on this topic several times before. Reminders seem to be in order about how to avoid getting into such situations and how to handle them if they arise.

Click on these headlines to see our guidance:

– ‘This Story About You Is Going To Be On The Web Forever And You May Come To Regret That

– Reminder: Whether To Go With ‘First-Name-Only’ Needs To Be Discussed And Explained

– How To Explain Why We Won’t ‘Take Down’ A Story

When We’re Asked To Remove A Photo, Here’s What We Do

Here are some important points from those notes:

– We’re not saying that Sen. Doe or Mayor Smith or CEO Jones need to be reminded that what they say to us is on the record and will be available to anyone with a Web connection. They should know what they’re doing.

– The notes don’t cover “reporting done in war zones or situations when stopping to have a long conversation about the long tail of the Web isn’t safe or practical.”

– But the guidance does cover other situations involving people who are vulnerable. Those include survivors of sexual assault, people with serious medical conditions and those whose lives may be put in danger if they are fully identified. As the handbook says, “we minimize undue harm and take special care with those who are vulnerable or suffering.”

We do not preview our stories for those we interview. But it is essential that vulnerable individuals understand in general how we will be using the information we get from them, how we will identify them and whether any images of them will be published (remember: visuals are important parts of our journalism and we treat them that way). There may be times when people say we can use their full names and photos and we are not comfortable doing so.

It must be made clear to such individuals that our stories do not only air on the radio — they live on various digital forms and will be searchable on the Web. 

How such individuals’ names, biographical details and images will be handled must be discussed with a senior editor well before anything is aired or published. That means a supervising senior editor, a deputy managing editor or the standards & practices editor. In reality, they’ll all probably be involved.

One other reminder (because we’re asked about it at least once a week):

When we decide to withhold a source’s name from a story, we don’t invent a pseudonym for that source.”

 (“Memmos;” Sept. 29, 2015)


Pleonasms: Words That Don’t Need To Be Together #

Here’s a word that a search indicates may never have been said on NPR: “pleonasm.”

But we and other news outlets put pleonasms on the air and on the Web every day.

What is a pleonasm?

“The use of more words than are necessary for the expression of an idea; redundancy.”

Some examples:

– There’s been a “mass exodus” of Syrians.

An “exodus” is the departure of a large, massive group.

“What I did was legally permitted, first and foremost,” says Hillary Clinton.

“Foremost” means “first in place or time.”

Homes that were in the path of a wildfire were “completely destroyed.”

If they were destroyed, enough’s been said.

John McIntyre, the “veteran drudge” at the Baltimore Sun, has collected pleonasms, here and here.

A few of the more common:

–  “Safe haven.”

–  “Final results.”

–  “Advance planning.”

You can probably think of many more.

There are times when pleonasms are useful – for instance, when you want to make sure listeners really, really, really understand the point you’re making. Also, they are common expressions and we do try to be conversational.

But, they annoy some listeners, might add nothing to your story and take up space when you may be fighting to squeeze in valuable information.  Feel free to cut them.

Related post:Do You Suffer From RAS Syndrome?

(Memmos; Sept. 15, 2015)


Guidance: Online News Commentaries #

There have been some questions in recent days about how we handle commentaries online.

Basically, the same principles that apply to on-air news commentaries from outside voices should apply to those commissioned for blogs and other digital platforms.

Let’s start this discussion with a bit of what the Ethics Handbook says about commentaries:

“In selecting commentaries from independent writers, we honor our commitments to impartiality and fairness by presenting our audience with a variety of voices, encompassing many sides of an issue. Our commentaries must also hew to other Guiding Principles, reflecting honesty, accuracy and transparency.”

More on fairness below.

On the air, commentators have always been identified as … well … commentators. Listeners have also heard at least brief bios to establish the commentators’ credentials.

Online, users should know immediately that what they’re seeing is an opinion piece and they should see biographical details about the writer or writers. There are different ways to do it, including assigning commentaries to a category called … wait for it … “commentary.” Then there are combinations of these approaches:

– The headline could begin with “Commentary:”

– An editor’s note at the top might simply state something like: “Social scientist Jane Doe has spent the last 10 years studying [insert the issue]. She has watched the recent events in [insert location]. Doe has some ideas about how to prevent it from happening again.”

– A bio box near the top of the page could spell out who the author is and why she has some expertise.

Now, on fairness.

This is obvious — the commentaries we put online must be fair. It’s also obvious that a writer needs to make well-reasoned, articulate points.

The right thing to do when a commentator is suggesting a person or institution is guilty of bad judgment, malfeasance or some serious misdeed, is to reflect the other person’s side of the story. On the air it’s often been a case of saying something like: “As we just heard, congressman John Doe said today that the $1 million he took from [insert name of shady character] was a gift, not a bribe. Jane Smith, a former federal prosecutor in Texas, doesn’t buy Doe’s explanation and predicts the Justice Department won’t either.”

Online, approaches can include a recap of what the other side says in response to our questions or (if we get a “no comment”) what that side has said in the past. The digital audience should be told what we find out. If the only thing we can say is “they had no comment,” that should be stated. There are several ways to present the information, including: As an editor’s note; as an inset box; or as a separate post that is linked to prominently.

Consider how a recent Goats and Soda commentary turned out. At the top of the post headlined “Taylor Swift Is Dreaming Of A Very White Africa” is a box that begins “this essay reflects the opinions of the authors, Viviane Rutabingwa and James Kassaga Arinaitwe.” Substantial bios of each author follow. Directly below them is a link to a post headlined “The Director Of The Taylor Swift Video Defends His Work.”

To recap: Commentaries must be fair; they must be labeled; the authors’ credentials need to be spelled out; and if the “other side” of the story needs to be told or restated or prominently linked to, we need to do one or more of those things for our Web users.

Side note: An arts critic is a type of commentator. But this guidance is not about critics’ reviews. They certainly shouldn’t be mean-spirited, but are not the same as commentaries on the news or people in the news.

(Memmos; Sept. 11, 2015)


On ‘Migrants’ And ‘Refugees’ #

We don’t base our decisions on whether to refer to those who are heading to Europe as “refugees” or “migrants” simply on what the U.N. or any governments say.

We also do not use words or phrases just because advocates on one side or another say we should.

There’s been discussion about whether the news media should only use the word “refugees” when referring to those who are in Europe or trying to get there. The word choice has legal ramifications and “refugees” is the word that human rights groups want to see used.

News outlets, including NPR, have leaned on “migrants” as the word that encompasses all those who are on the move.

Both words have a place in this story.

There is a migration under way. Large numbers of people are entering and crossing Europe. It is a migrant crisis. The people fit the dictionary definition of “migrants” because to migrate is to “move from one place to another.”

Obviously, given the makeup of the population, there’s a strong case to be made that most of the people are refugees. Here is the Webster’s New World College Dictionary definition: “A person who flees from home or country to seek refuge elsewhere, as in a time of war or of political or religious persecution.” Those fleeing conflict zones such as Syria and Afghanistan and places of persecution like Eritrea are almost surely refugees. But people fleeing poverty aren’t automatically refugees.

Our guidance:

– “Migrants” is a word that covers all those who are on the move, whether it’s because they’re fleeing a war zone or hoping for better lives somewhere new.

– “Refugee” and “refugees” can stand alone when there is evidence that a person or group has left home because of war or persecution or when we’re reporting about people from specific places such as Syria. For instance, it made sense to have our headline say “Number Of Refugees Found Dead In Austrian Truck Rises To 71” because Syrian travel documents were found with the bodies.

But do not assume that “refugees” is the word that works in all cases.

– Phrases such as “hundreds of refugees and other migrants” may be extremely useful.

– Also useful: Thinking of it as a migrant crisis “fueled by refugees from [country or countries].”

– Listen to how Steve Inskeep and Joanna Kakissis handled the words Friday on Morning Edition. Steve framed the conversation by talking about “why so many people risk their lives to move across Europe,” referring to them as “migrants.” Then as he and Joanna dug into the story, they folded in logical references to refugees.

– It will make sense in most cases to employ action words to describe who we’re reporting about —  ”families fleeing the war in Syria,” for instance.

– We turn to the dictionary for help, not the legal definitions. But everyone reporting this story should be familiar with the legalese because it may be necessary to explain it to listeners/readers.

(Memmos; Aug. 28, 2015)


New Guidance On ‘ISIS’ & ‘Islamic State’ #

Enough time has gone by and so many stories have been reported that it’s been decided we no longer need to always use words such as “self-declared,” “self-proclaimed” or “self-styled” with first references to the “Islamic State.”

Also, we believe the audience is familiar enough with that group to allow us to say “ISIS” on first reference.

Please note that we are not issuing a rule that it must be “ISIS” on first reference. Also, “self-declared Islamic State” (or some variation) on first reference is not being banned. The change being made is that we’re no longer saying the first reference has to be done a certain way.

It will still make sense in many cases to remind listeners and readers that ISIS is “the group known as the Islamic State” or some other formulation that spells out exactly what and who we’re referring to. Also, we’ll still have to deal with officials and guests who want to call it “ISIL” or “Daesh,” which will require us to throw in an “also known as.”

This note mostly supersedes our previous guidance. There’s a “mostly” in that sentence because the guidance about not using “so-called” remains in effect.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 19, 2015)


If We’ve Bleeped It, Do We Also Need To Warn Listeners? Maybe Not #

Is it necessary to alert listeners that there’s offensive/disturbing/troubling/etc. language in a report if we’ve already bleeped the nettlesome word or words?

The short answer is, “not always.”

Previous guidance has been too strict on this point. Let’s try this:

If it’s been decided after discussions with senior editors that a word or phrase will be bleeped, don’t assume listeners do or do not need to be alerted. Instead, consider the context.

– Is the cut still intense, graphic or disturbing even after it’s been bleeped? Then a heads up for listeners could be warranted. By the way, it may not have to be a line that sounds like a warning. The language can be conversational and informational (more on that below).

– Is the cut funny and a naughty word or two are said in jest? Then a heads up probably isn’t necessary.

– Is it one bleep in an otherwise family-friendly piece and the word wasn’t said in anger? Then, again, there could be no need for a heads up.

Basically, it’s a judgment call. Talk to the deputy managing editors (Chuck Holmes & Gerry Holmes) and/or the standards & practices editor (Mark Memmott). It will get figured out.

Two related notes:

– Here’s the part about being conversational and informational. If we think listeners should be alerted, we don’t always need to say something like “we should warn you.” On Morning Edition recently, there was a piece about the comic Chris Gethard. Two F-bombs were bleeped. In the introduction, David Greene said of Gethard that, “Chris is funny and weird. But he doesn’t shock audiences. You’ll only hear a couple of bleeps this morning.” That told listeners something about Gethard and tipped them off to what was coming without saying they needed to be on guard.

– Any time there’s bleeped language in a piece, the DACS line must tell stations what that word is, when it appears (or approximately if we’re still editing) and that it will be bleeped. Obviously, on the occasions when we don’t bleep offensive language, the DACS need to explain that.

NPR’s “Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language” is posted here.

(Memmos; Aug. 18, 2015)


Guidance On The Use Of ‘Disturbing’ Videos And Audio #

Videos and audio clips of someone being shot, a disaster victim crying for help, bodies being recovered and other potentially disturbing scenes present us with challenges.

When weighing whether to post such videos online and to use any clips on the air, keep in mind that:

– Conversations are required. The senior news manager on duty (a DME or the designated supervisor) must be consulted. The Visuals team should be pulled in. Other senior editors may be as well.

– The conversations start from this position: We report the news, good and bad.

– But we can’t be callous. The video may show someone’s death. Out of respect for that person and that person’s family, we consider carefully what should be shown or heard. Our general rule is that we do not post video or play audio of someone’s moment of death. There will be exceptions, but only after discussion.

– We also respect our audience. They want the facts. But for many, reading or hearing descriptions will be more than enough. Seeing or hearing disturbing events could leave them too shaken to follow the rest of a story.

– “Every other news outlet else is using it” is not on its own a justification for posting or broadcasting anything.

– Especially in the first minutes and hours after such content surfaces, its credibility may be in doubt. Proceed with caution.

– The content may be propaganda. For example, extremist groups spread their messages and try to spread terror by putting out videos of hostages being murdered. We do not blindly post or air propaganda. It would be highly unusual for us to even link to it.

Rigid rules about what to do won’t work. Each situation is different. However:

– If it’s decided that videos with potentially disturbing content can be posted, they should never start automatically when a webpage loads. They must require a “click” to begin. They must either have a warning note embedded in them or it must appear directly above them.

– Likewise, on the air listeners should never hear potentially disturbing content without first being told that it’s coming. For instance, cellphone audio of gunshots that kill a man should not be heard until after a caution has been given.

– We should consider whether a video’s disturbing moments and sounds can and should be blurred and bleeped, for posting online and using on the air.

– If the original content is too disturbing to post and we do not have a blurred/bleeped version that we are comfortable using, we may decide to link to another news outlet’s edited version if it is in line with our standards. We should caution readers that it includes potentially disturbing content. The language should be simple and clear. For example:  ”The Daily Planet has posted a clip from the video here. Reminder: It is graphic.”

– When a member station is chasing the same story, we should talk with the news director about how to handle the content. Often, we’ll be in agreement and can link to the station’s coverage.

But, But, But:

– Does this mean we’ll never put such content online or on the air?

No. See above: “We report the news, good and bad.” We would not have edited a video of the Challenger explosion, for example, to blur the key moments.

– Are we treating the audience like children?

Some will say we are. We believe we’re making editorial judgments.

Note: The guidance above applies to images as well. We do not post potentially disturbing photos without first discussing.

(Memmos; Aug. 11, 2015. This guidance has also been posted under “Respect.”)


Save Yourself A Word And Make The Latin Teachers Happy #

We’ve gotten a steady stream of emails the past few days reminding us that it’s redundant to say “one-year anniversary” since anniversary comes from the Latin annus, or “year.”

Just say “first anniversary.”

This isn’t a new issue, of course:

(Memmos; Aug. 11, 2015)


Guidance On Key Words That Come Up In The Planned Parenthood Stories #

Flatly saying or writing that Planned Parenthood officials have been secretly recorded discussing the sale of fetal tissue is akin to concluding that they committed a crime. That is a problem. We should not attach such judgments to people or institutions until the confessions or convictions are in.

We’ve been on the story. Meanwhile, both and PolitiFact have explored what is and isn’t known at this point about what Planned Parenthood has done. FactCheck links to the 1993 law that defines what is and is not legal regarding the use of fetal tissue. Here are two key sections:

– “PURCHASE OF TISSUE — It shall be unlawful for any person to knowingly acquire, receive, or otherwise transfer any human fetal tissue for valuable consideration if the transfer affects interstate commerce.”

– “The term ‘valuable consideration’ does not include reasonable payments associated with the transportation,  implantation, processing, preservation, quality control, or storage of human fetal tissue.”

The video makers and other Planned Parenthood critics say the organization was selling fetal tissue. Planned Parenthood says the tissue has been donated, not sold, and that only the organization’s costs (reasonable payments) have been covered.

The facts are not all in.

For now, just as we would report that “prosecutors say John Doe robbed the bank,” we should attribute references to fetal tissue being sold. They’re coming from “Planned Parenthood’s critics,” for example. Conversely, at this point it is for Planned Parenthood to say — not us — that these were donations, not sales.

In the short space of a Newscast spot, an “allegedly” or “accused of” may be required when there isn’t time to say more.

There are cases to be made for saying that Planned Parenthood officials were heard discussing how they could “provide” fetal tissue to researchers, or how those researchers could “procure” or “obtain” it. The issue of money being paid should be addressed in most reports. But, again, attribution is important when characterizing those payments.

(Memmos; Aug. 4, 2015)


No Joke: A Reminder About Writing, Courtesy Of ‘The Daily Show’ #

Crusty editors aren’t the only ones who extol the merits of “precision writing and editing.”

Here’s what comedian Hasan Minaj had to say about Jon Stewart during Elizabeth Blair’s piece on Morning Edition today:

“He’s always been really great about cutting. … Because we only have 22 minutes to convey a lot and in a field piece you only have 4 1/2, 5 minutes, maybe 6 minutes tops. … Cutting out extraneous stuff, even if it’s extra laughs. … Cutting those things out to convey the story and to convey the narrative and the argument. And you’ll still get great jokes in there. But once you really establish and lay that groundwork out, that’s where it goes to that next level.”

Also on writing:

When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of ‘Imagined Elegance’

Let’s Toss ‘Hat In The Ring’ Into The Cliché Round File

We Wave A Lot; Perhaps We Should Stem The Tide

Don’t Be Reticent Or Reluctant About Flagging The Words We Overuse, Misuse Or Otherwise Abuse

Weak language is sometimes a symptom of weak journalism

(Memmos; Aug. 3, 2015)


DACS Lines Are Journalism #

By Chuck Holmes:

DACS lines are many things. A thumbnail description of a story. A necessity. And, yes, often a pain in the backside.

But above all, they are journalism. And they reach ­a vast audience. They are the prime means to inform the network of the stories we’re telling. Shows, Digital News, Member Stations — all rely on them.

A DACS line must be brief, accurate, up to date and reflective of the story. Too often they are written in haste, not updated or simply do not exist.

Bad DACS lines can have a serious cascade effect. In recent weeks, a show billboard was incorrect because information was lifted from a dated DACS line. It was an easily avoidable mistake that was heard by listeners around the world. We too often see imprecise headlines on, again because the DACS line doesn’t accurately reflect the content of the story. On weekends especially, member stations often read our DACS lines — word for word — on air as promotional copy to highlight upcoming stories.

DACS lines are the responsibility, first and foremost, of Desk reporters and Desk editors or, in the case of 2-ways, Show editors and Show producers. Like a story, they should be written, edited and updated. And DACS lines from Desks may be further edited by Shows and Digital News, as warranted.

Here are the rules:

– Every NewsFlex entry needs a DACS line. And every DACS line needs to be updated as the story changes. If you’re creating a NewsFlex entry, you own it and will be accountable for it.

– Keep DACS lines tight and to the point. Think tweet. DACS lines should not be more than a short sentence or two. (If a language advisory or embargo note must be included, those can run longer.)

–  The DACS line needs to say something, even on a story that is developing. Unacceptable: “lines tk.” But it shouldn’t say too much. Unacceptable: a cut and paste of the first few grafs of the piece.

–  Do not include names of reporters, hosts, contributors in the DACS lines for pieces. (A byline will appear automatically on the web rundown and the note to stations).

– In a DACS line for a 2-way, only include the name of a guest when the guest is not affiliated with NPR or a member station. (An issue expert, newsmaker, etc.)

– In our hectic daily routine, it may not be the reporter who creates the DACS line, but in the end the reporter’s name is associated with it. So, if you’re a reporter, it is in your best interest to make sure the DACS line accurately reflects the story.

– Follow-up. If a story changes, let the Show and Digital News know that the DACS line needs to change, too.

We’re putting together a more extensive style guide to DACS lines and will be working with the Shows and Digital News to codify a standard workflow.  More to come.


– Proofread DACS Lines; Mistakes In Them Can End Up On Our Website

– Your Keyboard Is A Live Mic (Or, If You Write It They May Say It)

– No Exceptions: Any Clip With Offensive Language, Bleeped Or Not, Must Be Approved Well Ahead Of Broadcast

(Memmos; July 21, 2015)


Warning: This Post Contains Language That May Offend; Such Words Should Not Be Used In Podcasts Or On The Air #

There was a good discussion this week among correspondents and editors in the New York bureau about whether we can use some offensive language in podcasts that we can’t on the air.

The immediate question was this (NOTE: sensitive readers may find the next sentence objectionable):

Can we call an asshole an asshole?

The answer was “no,” we don’t want an NPR correspondent to say that on a podcast.

The process, by the way, worked. A correspondent consulted his editor. The editor consulted his boss and the Standards & Practices noodge. A case was made, consideration was given and a decision was reached that everyone understood.

This is a good time to ask: How do we feel about offensive language in podcasts?

As an organization, we respect our audience and “set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive.”

That line was originally written about what we say on the air, but we made clear three years ago when the Ethics Handbook was published that the bar applies to our other platforms as well:

“Online, if sound or text containing potentially offensive language has been approved for use by a Managing Editor or someone above that level, it too must be preceded by text (and in the case of audio, a verbal warning as well) advising the audience that what follows contains language some may find offensive.”

The environment is changing quickly. Some very popular podcasts do not worry about whether their language might offend. Their hosts’ conversational and sometimes profane ways of speaking are probably pulling in far more listeners than they repel.

We don’t want to seem boring and out-of-step. We do want to sound like America. But, the bar that NPR journalists need to get over before using such language themselves has to be set incredibly high — so high, in fact, that it’s almost impossible to get over.

We’re professional communicators at a major news organization. What we say and write in public reflects on NPR. No matter what platform we’re using or where we’re appearing, we should live up to our own standards. Yes, there’s more room in podcasts to let guests speak freely and for our journalists to be looser with their language. But it doesn’t mean NPR correspondents are free to use words or phrases in podcasts that they would never use on the air.

We should always be the news outlet that revels in language. There are so many wonderful words. Use them!

The most common offensive words and phrases are among the least creative ways of expressing yourself. They’re akin to cliches in the sense that they’re easy ways out. We pride ourselves on using words that pop out because they’re funny, provocative, rarely heard or just perfect. Again, use them!

You may be asking: Who needs to sign off on what is permissible language in a podcast, what does and does not need to be bleeped and what kind of warnings need to be given to listeners? The people to consult are: the deputy managing editors (Chuck Holmes & Gerry Holmes) and the standards & practices editor (Mark Memmott).

(Memmos; July 16, 2015)


On Why It’s Not OK To Ask Friends, Family Or Fixers To Take Photos For Us #

Here’s what everyone needs to know: When on assignment, do not turn to friends, family members, freelance producers or foreign fixers and ask them to take a picture to go with the digital version of your story.

This has been happening in recent months and as the Visuals team notes, it’s a problem. Among the issues:

– In most cases, the people being asked to take photographs are not trained journalists, so NPR may not be able to vouch for the journalistic integrity of their image-making.

– In some cases, the person who’s been asked to take a photo is being employed by NPR to do a very specific job. Because the photo-making is not negotiated ahead of time, it’s asking someone to do more work than they’ve signed on to do.

– Why not just pay them another $50? Well, the budget for photos is limited, so Visuals must carefully weigh whether to hire a photographer to cover any particular story. If the budget gets drained by ad hoc arrangements, we may not be able to hire professionals for other stories.

– What’s wrong with having your son or daughter come along to take photos? Asking minors to work for us raises child labor issues, liability issues and ethical issues.

We understand that it can be hard to collect tape and make images and do everything else that goes into being a multi-platform journalist. Here’s what the Visuals team asks:

“If reporters think they won’t be able to handle gathering images in the field on their own, they and their editors should come to us and we’ll figure out a solution. If a story warrants original imagery, that decision and hire should be made by a photo editor on the Visuals team.”

Meanwhile, everyone should be on notice that photos taken by “my friend Buzz” or “my nephew who’s really good with a camera” will be turned down for one or more of the reasons above.

Bottom line: It’s important to remember that all assets for stories gathered in the field should be collected by NPR journalists, or NPR-commissioned journalists. The images that go with our reports are important. Think about it this way: Would you hand a microphone to that precocious niece of yours and have her do some interviews?

(Written with guidance from Kainaz Amaria, Ariel Zambelich and Emily Bogle of the Visuals team.)

(Memmos; July 7, 2015)


Proofread DACS Lines; Mistakes In Them Can End Up On Our Website #

Here’s a DACS line as it appears in Newsflex:

“A village of Portsoy is reviving an old seamen’s superstition by banning bananas during it’s annual boat festival. NPR’s Lynn Neary talks to festival chairman Roger Goodyear.”

Here’s the introduction to that piece, as posted on one of our transcripts pages:

“A village of Portsoy is reviving an old seamen’s superstition by banning bananas during it’s annual boat festival. NPR’s Lynn Neary talks to festival chairman Roger Goodyear.”

The DACS line was picked up and posted verbatim, including the typos.

We’ve noted before that the information in “DACS lines, scripts and Web teasers could end up as copy on our website and as language read on the air by us or a member station.”

Yes, the transcript editor should spot obvious problems and either fix or write around them. Yes, an “it’s” when it should be “its” and a confusing phrase such as “a village of Portsoy” are not the biggest mistakes we will make.

And, yes, DACS lines have to do a lot (remember to include warnings about offensive language!).

But they should be as clean and accurate as possible from the start. Remember, “your keyboard is a live mic.”

(Memmos; July 6, 2015)


When News Breaks, Keep A Couple Things In Mind #

Nice work by all those involved in today’s news from the Navy Yard. We did not fall into the traps that some other media outlets did. We stuck with what was known, we were clear about what was not known, and we stayed away from rumors.

A couple things to keep in mind:

– When passing along information to the lead editor(s) and, please be as specific as you can about the source. For example, if the news is that the “all clear” has been given, tell us who’s saying that. A police lieutenant you just spoke to? The public information officer on the scene? The mayor’s chief of staff? Knowing that will help Newscast, The Two-Way and editors as they sort through what are often conflicting reports.

– When passing along information, be clear about what you feel “can be reported” and what “cannot be reported” (but is something you want editors to be aware of). That will also help Newscast, The Two-Way and editors as they sort through what are often conflicting reports.

Again, those are points to keep in mind. But the most important thing to take away from today is how well we did when it came to reporting solid information and staying away from thinly sourced rumors. Thanks.

Related: Our “Breaking News Playbook” is on the NPR Intranet here. Some of the names have changed since it was first posted, but the guidance remains relevant.

(Memmos; July 2, 2015)


No Exceptions: Any Clip With Offensive Language, Bleeped Or Not, Must Be Approved Well Ahead Of Broadcast #

There have been times in recent weeks when potentially offensive language — bleeped, thankfully — was broadcast without a discussion beforehand with senior editors. That’s disturbing given the number of reminders that have gone out concerning such language and our policy. It should not happen.

Hopefully the points that follow are clear:

1. We have a detailed “Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language.” Print it and read it.

2. Any clip with offensive language must be brought to the attention of the DMEs well before air time. Basically, as soon as you think you might be using it, talk to them. They may need time to consult with Legal.

Note: It does not matter if the words have already been bleeped. Be prepared to justify their use.

a. By the way, it’s assumed show executive producers and desk chiefs will already have been consulted.
b. The standards & practices editor should also be flagged.

3. The DMEs have yea-or-nay authority.

4. DACs lines must tell stations the specific language that is in the cut, when it occurs and whether it is bleeped. Those lines must go out with as much lead time as we can give.

5. If the words are bleeped, they must be completely bleeped. No syllable can be heard.

6. We do all this because we respect our audience and know that certain language will offend many. We also know that community standards vary around the nation and that complaints to the FCC can be costly to our member stations.

7. Overall, NPR is conservative about potentially offensive language — not permissive. There’s a key line right at the top of our policy statement: “NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience.” The words must be important to the piece.

Questions? See Chuck, Gerry or me.

(Memmos; June 16, 2015)


When We’re Asked To Remove A Photo, Here’s What We Do #

Occasionally, someone in a photo we have posted asks that we remove the image from our website.

Any such request must be redirected to:

–  Kainaz Amaria or another editor from the Visuals team.

–  Chuck and/or Gerry Holmes, the deputy managing editors.

In most cases, the correspondent producer or staff photographer who took the image will already be aware of the request, as will the editor who handed the report. If not, they will be drawn into the discussion by Kainaz, Chuck and/or Gerry.

Others who will be brought in:

–  Digital ME Scott Montgomery.

–  Standards & Practices editor Mark Memmott.

The executive editor, VP for News and SVP for News will be looped in too.

The issue of whether to remove an image is a serious matter. As we’ve said before when discussing requests to take down stories, we agree with the AP that:

“We are guided by a newsroom policy that says it is inappropriate to remove content from our Website. If a report is inaccurate, we will correct it and state why it has been altered. If relevant new information emerges, we will update or do a follow-up story.

“But our content is a matter of public record and is part of our contract with our audience. To simply remove it from the archive diminishes transparency and trust and, in effect, erases history. This is not a practice engaged in by credible news organizations or in line with ethical journalism.”

A key question that will be asked when such requests come in: What was the person told about how the photo or photos would be used?

It is important that people know we’re not doing stories that only go on the air. We spend time making sure they understand that the stories live on our website and that the photos we take will be there as well. And as we’ve said before:

“Kainaz Amaria from NPR’s visuals team says she has found ‘that the more transparent I am about my intentions with people in my story, the more they are willing to share their time and moments. It may sound counterintuitive, but in fact it’s been proven to me every time I step out of the office and into someone’s life. If people trust you, trust you are there to listen and learn, you’ll be surprised at the access they will offer you. … If people say, ‘Wait you are radio, why do you want my picture?’ I usually say something like, ‘Well, many of our stories go online to reach a wider audience and to get more eyeballs. Chances are if they see you, then they will connect with your story.’ ”

Kainaz and the Visuals team have considerable experience dealing with this issue. If a request comes in, they should take the lead. In most cases, it should be someone from Visuals who gets back to the person who wants a photo removed.

(Memmos; June 15, 2015)





Don’t Trust Your Mother Or The Internet #

The old newsroom adage “if your mother says she loves you, check it out,” applies to information on the Internet as well.

We all know this, but occasionally we get reminders of how important it is not to trust everything we see on the Web and to be sure to do our due diligence before passing along any information we get from there.

Case in point: On Wednesday, WAMU’s Diane Rehm said to Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., “senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.” Sanders quickly corrected her, but Diane went on to say that his name was on a list of lawmakers with such dual citizenship. Sanders told her that was “some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet.”

Diane later issued a statement saying she had gotten the incorrect information from “a comment on Facebook.”

Diane has apologized. She stated as fact something that wasn’t.

We didn’t learn something from this episode. This is a relearning.

We have an entry about this in the Ethics Handbook entitled “Give preference to original sources.” Here’s what it says:

 ”For years, NPR journalists have been cautioned by their editors that an all- too-common pitfall of fact checking is verifying ‘facts’ through second sources, such as other news media outlets, that do not have ‘direct’ knowledge about what they supposedly know. The problem has only gotten more serious as the Internet has made it ever easier to find what others have reported as ‘fact.’ That’s why we value primary sources for our facts and we check them before broadcast or publication. And we value the work of the NPR reference librarians in helping our journalists get to those original sources (to email them, look for ‘NPR Library’ in the NPR internal email address book).

“We value our own reporting and fact-gathering over that done by other news outlets. We strongly prefer to confirm and verify information ourselves before reporting. When reporting on events we did not witness personally, we seek multiple independent perspectives to get a sharper, more accurate understanding of what happened. And if we can’t verify what others are reporting, but still believe the news is important and needs to be reported, we tell listeners and readers that NPR has not yet independently confirmed the news. Too often, incorrect information is passed down from one news story to another because of the failure of the first outlet to get it right. We strive to never pass on errors in this way.”

In other words, check, double-check and triple-check those so-called facts you find on the Internet. Be very skeptical about the credibility of the sources. Get first-hand information. Go right to the original source.

Confirm with mom just how she feels.

(Memmos; June 11, 2015)


Reminders: Say ‘MURZ’ & ‘STEHF-in’ #

From the wide world of science: The acronym for Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) is pronounced “MURZ.” Don’t end it with an “s.” You can hear how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it here.

From the wide world of sports: The star of the Golden State Warriors is “STEHF-in” Curry. Don’t be misled by the spelling of his name (Stephen). He isn’t “STEEV-in.” You can hear Curry say his name here.  

(Memmos; June 9, 2015)


Reminders On Two Names #

On the air, we have a habit of not pronouncing two correspondents’ names the way they do.

– Ofeibea Quist-Arcton says: off-EH-bee-ah.

We too often say: oh-FEH-bee-ah

– Leila Fadel says: FAW-duhl (“FAW” rhymes with “SAW;” it’s worth noting that many listeners hear “duhn” instead of “duhl;” that syllable is very soft).

We too often say: FAH-dill (with “FAH” sounding like “AAH” and the “dill” being hit pretty hard).

We get emails from listeners about this after almost every report from Ofeibea and Leila.

Our pronunciation guide still lives and is accessible through the internal Wiki. Go to the Intranet, click on the little “link” icon in the top left corner and a dropdown box will appear. Then click on “Wiki.”

(“Memmos; June 4, 2015)


False Alarms About The Queen Reinforce Why We Think Before We Tweet #

A BBC journalist tweeted Wednesday that Queen Elizabeth II had been admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, leading at least one other major news outlet — CNN — to tell its affiliates that the queen had been hospitalized and setting off speculation that she had died.

The queen is apparently fine and is not in the hospital. The backstory, according to the BBC, is that it was conducting “a technical rehearsal for an obituary” and “tweets were mistakenly sent from the account of a BBC journalist.”

The BBC has apologized. CNN, which tweeted the “news” without citing any source, subsequently told affiliates to “please disregard our previous tweet about Queen Elizabeth. It was sent in error.”

Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin has more here.

We should note that “there but for the grace of God go we.” But this is also a reminder of why, as the Ethics Handbook says, we do not “just spread information” we see on social media, even if it’s posted by usually reliable news outlets. We are “careful and skeptical.”

Here’s part of what we say in the handbook:

“When determining whether to pass along information being reported on social media sites by other news outlets or individuals, be thoughtful. When we point to what others are saying, in the eyes of many we are effectively reporting that information ourselves. …

“Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation. And the general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.

“News moves fast on the Internet, and we know that speed and accuracy are fierce rivals, so keep your guard up. Ask questions, report and engage as you would in any public setting. But remember that everything you say or do in a social media environment is effectively a public statement from an NPR journalist, so don’t pass along inaccurate information.”

(Memmos; June 3, 2015)


Guidance: If ‘We’ Are Not Part Of The Story, Keep ‘Us’ Out Of It #

Words such as “we,” “our” and “us” are sometimes being used in ways that they shouldn’t.

It isn’t appropriate, for example, to be discussing U.S. policy about a particular conflict and say “we” support one side over another. We — that is, NPR — report about such policies. We don’t make them or endorse them.

A news report isn’t the right place to say that “our” civil rights have been violated by the government. That’s language for an op-ed.

The Ethics Handbook offers this guidance:

“Strive to use words and phrases that accurately deliver information without taking sides on emotional or political issues.”

“We,” “our” and “us” can create the impression that a reporter has taken sides.

In some cases, the right substitute is as simple as “Americans” or “taxpayers.” Other times, it might be a couple words, such as “U.S. forces” or “the administration.”

Remember, “there’s no cheering in the press box.”

(Memmos; May 27, 2015)


Reminder: When Posting Corrections, The Correspondents/Bloggers/Editors Who Allegedly Committed The Errors Need To Be Involved #

There have been a couple times this week when corrections were added to Web pages without input from the correspondents or bloggers who committed the alleged infractions. In one case, we had to correct our correction because the blogger was right the first time. (On the plus side, at least we were recognized as having posted the “Holy Grail” of corrections. )

We’ve written before about our corrections process.

Other reference materials:

– A How We Make Corrections memo.

– A document called A Common Corrections Scenario.”

This note is a reminder that when we think an error has been made, the people who did the work need to be notified immediately so that they can help determine if it really was a mistake. Here’s a key step in our process:

“If you suspect an error, talk and/or send a message to the reporter/blogger/correspondent who was responsible, and the desk editor/producer or show editor/producer who handled the piece, 2-way or Web text. This is important: Include a link to the story and details about what show or blog is involved. This is also important: Make sure you cc Mark Memmott, the DMEs, Susan Vavrick and”

Obviously, if it’s a glaringly obvious and serious error, we need to get the digital text fixed as soon as possible and may not be able to wait for input from those who worked on the story. But they should still be notified immediately. Also, those who are on the receiving end of a message about a possible error need to respond as soon as possible.

(Memmos; May 22, 2015)


Guidance on: Coverage of books written by NPR staffers #

Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen has offered her thoughts here about how NPR should handle books written by its staffers.

Her post includes a note from Mike Oreskes. It says, in part:

“NPR has not had a written policy on this issue or even a consistent practice. We will now. NPR’s producers and editors will use the same standard they apply to outside books to decide whether works by our own staff merit coverage and on which of our programs and platforms. That decision must be approved by the Senior Vice President for News — that is, me.”

He adds that “for the future, NPR staff members will not appear on their own shows to discuss outside books or other works unrelated to NPR coverage.”

The Ethics Handbook has been updated here. The post includes these key points:

– The tests are the same as for any book. They include: Is it newsworthy? Is it of interest to our audience? The books desk, led by Ellen Silva, must be part of the discussion. So must the NPR News deputy managing editors.

– Staff members (hosts, producers, editors) cannot appear on their own shows to discuss “outside books.” Those are books not based on work they’ve done for NPR. In some cases, if a book is based on reporting done for NPR, they may be given the OK to talk about the book on their own show or file a report that airs on that show.

– Coverage plans must be approved by the Senior Vice President for News.

(Memmos; May 21, 2015)


Resending: The ‘NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language’ And Related Notes #

No, we haven’t had a language mishap (that I know of).

This note is just a reminder of some things because there have been questions in recent days.

– The “NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language” is posted here.

– As we’ve said a few times before, “if there’s potentially offensive language in a piece intended for broadcast — even if the words have been bleeped — stations need to be alerted in the DACS line. Listeners and readers online deserve to be warned as well, of course.”

– We “Bleep The Whole @#$%&*! Word.” Yes, that means no “bull.” Not even the “b.”

– As soon as you know that you might want to use some potentially offensive language, bring it to the attention of senior editors. Here’s a recent update to our Ethics Handbook:

  • Discussions Must Happen Well Before Any Broadcast:
    • If potentially offensive language is being considered for broadcast, senior editors (typically, the Deputy Managing Editors or Standards & Practices editor) must be consulted with enough lead time to allow for a substantive discussion and enough lead time to give the General Counsel time to provide guidance. If time for discussion is running short, the language must be cut from the report or “bleeped.”
    • This rule applies to acquired programs as well. As NPR’s policy on use of potentially offensive language states:
      • “In the case of programs under the ultimate direction of the Vice President for Programming, including all acquired programs, producers shall consult NPR’s Vice President for Programming or the VP’s designee as soon as possible, but in any event before the program is delivered to NPR for distribution to stations.”

(Memmos; May 11, 2015)


Guidance: ‘Same-Sex Marriage’ #

Our preference continues to be to say and write “same-sex marriage” or “marriages of same-sex couples” rather than “gay marriage.” In some listeners’ and readers’ minds, a “gay marriage” is between two men. In addition, the AP Style Book’s entry on the word “gay” says that “lesbian is the more common term for women.”

“Same-sex” addresses those issues.

Also, “gay marriage” is a mislabeling if one, or both, of the partners is bisexual. They are not gay or lesbian. But some bisexuals are in, or wish to be in, what listeners and readers can understand are “same-sex marriages.”

(Memmos; May 5, 2015)



Do Listen To This: A Walk Through Sandtown That Is Compelling And Instructive #

Nurith Aizenman’s piece today on Morning Edition is highly recommended listening.

Travon Addison, “an athletic 25-year-old with short cropped hair, a wispy beard and tattoos all over his arms,” takes her through the Sandtown neighborhood of Baltimore. I won’t spoil it by giving away what listeners learned from Addison. You should definitely keep listening to the end. Addison is a compelling character. Nurith and her editors tell his story well.

There are two other things worth noting:

– We use Addison’s full name. That isn’t a minor detail. It helps the piece enormously. In stories in which key characters are not fully identified, we have to explain why. That takes time and can lead listeners to wonder what else that person might be hiding.

Nurith didn’t do what reporters at some news outlets do too often. She didn’t start with the presumption that Addison would want to use just his first name or perhaps even remain anonymous (because he had been arrested earlier in the week). She assumed he would be fully ID’d.

That is NPR’s standard. As we have discussed before, “we name names and do our due diligence.”  What’s more, “whether to go with ‘first-name-only’ needs to be discussed and explained.”

Nurith says another person she met in Baltimore — a white woman who was marching with protesters — initially wanted only her first name to be used in any story. The woman said she didn’t want to call attention to herself. Here’s how Nurith convinced the woman to give her full name: by pointing out that doing otherwise could have just called more attention to her and raised questions about why she wanted to cloak her identity.

– We seize the moment. As she headed to Baltimore, Nurith ran through in her mind the sorts of stories she wanted to tell and the voices who could be part of those pieces. Those characters included people who live in Sandtown and could talk about what happened last week and in recent decades.

Nurith heard Addison complaining about how he and others weren’t being heard from and how outsiders don’t know anything about his neighborhood and why there were riots. So she asked him to “show me your Baltimore.”

It was a simple request that produced an excellent story.

(Memmos; May 4, 2015)


Yes, Journalists Can Give To Charities That Are Helping People In Need #

Recent events have led several people to ask: Can journalists donate to charities that are helping people rebuild after tragedies?

Yes. But keep in mind that:

– The charity should be non-partisan.

– We do not want it to appear that NPR is endorsing one charity over another. That means @MarkMemmottNPR shouldn’t tweet about a donation he just made.

– It should not be a charity or organization that you cover or that is linked to a person, company, foundation or industry that you cover.

We can help people and remain objective.

(Memmos; April 28, 2015)


Guidance On The Words ‘Protests’ And ‘Protesters’ #

Please avoid referring to the people in Baltimore who have injured police officers, started fires, looted stores and vandalized properties as simply “protesters.”

Reports from Baltimore indicate that some people are taking advantage of the situation to lash out at authorities or to grab what they can from businesses. Those are not just protesters in the sense of the word that normally comes to mind.

Likewise, it is too simple to say that “protests turned violent.” That paints a picture of a peaceful gathering that changed into a rock-throwing, tear-gas flying confrontation between citizens and police. Reports from Baltimore indicate that’s not been the case in many instances.

As in other cases we’ve discussed, it’s wise to avoid labels. In this case, “protesters” is a label that’s too broad. The better approach is to focus on action words and describe what’s been happening.

On a Newscast this morning, Dave Mattingly said that “rioting [in Baltimore] yesterday injured 15 police officers. More than a dozen buildings and nearly 150 vehicles were set on fire.” He noted that the violence followed “the funeral for 25-year-old Freddie Gray.”

Korva Coleman used similar language, saying that Gov. Larry Hogan “has declared a state of emergency in Baltimore, after rioting broke out yesterday. … Some residents started fires and clashed with police.”

Morning Edition introduced a report from Jennifer Ludden with this language:

“Let’s go directly to Baltimore, this morning. That’s where people threw cinder blocks at police and set stores on fire. They did all that after the funeral for a black man who died in police custody. NPR’s Jennifer Ludden is tracking the aftermath of the death of Freddie Gray. Jennifer, what’s it like in Baltimore?”


– Immigrants.

– Medical conditions.

– Teenager.

– “Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

Update at 9:55 a.m. ET: 

We should also avoid saying that Freddie Gray died while “in police custody.” He had been arrested, so he had been taken into custody.  But it was a week after his arrest, and he was in a hospital, when he died. The phrase “in police custody” calls to mind someone who is in a jail cell, or who is in handcuffs in the back of a police cruiser.

(Memmos; April 28, 2015)


On Gender Identity #

Bruce Jenner’s appearance Friday on ABC-TV may generate news we want to report. If you’ll be involved in the coverage, it’s worth revisiting our guidance on gender identity.

The key points:

– People define their gender identities and we respect their decisions.

– We respect their wishes if they change their names.

– We respect their wishes on whether to be referred to as “he” or “she.”

– If they have been in the public eye in the past, we remind listeners/readers about their histories. Chelsea Manning’s story is a recent example.

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association adds that if someone, such as Jenner, “has not publicly announced a gender identity, the best practice is to refer to [them] by name rather than using pronouns.” The NLGJA has some useful resources here.

Update at 1:40 p.m. ET: Someone is “transgender.” Do not write or say  “transgendered.” There’s a good discussion of the difference here:

(Memmos; April 23, 2015)


Ben Affleck, ‘Finding Your Roots’ And Why Our Standards Point To A Different Decision #

The PBS-distributed show Finding Your Roots says its mission is to help people “discover long-lost relatives hidden for generations within the branches of their family trees.” But it granted actor Ben Affleck’s request that it not mention his slave-owning ancestor. Affleck says he was embarrassed by the discovery and “didn’t want any television show about my family to include a guy who owned slaves.”

For the record, the decision made by Finding Your Roots was not in line with our standards.

Let’s keep this simple: The people we interview, the sources we use and the supporters who give us money do not shape or dictate what we report.

From the Ethics Handbook:

– “We don’t allow sources to dictate how a topic will be covered, or which other voices or ideas will be included in the stories we do.”

– “NPR greatly appreciates the financial support it receives from individuals, from foundations and from corporations. Their support is essential. At the same time, NPR makes its own decisions about what stories to cover and how to report them.”

– “Decisions about what we cover and how we do our work are made by our journalists.”

PBS ombudsman Michael Getler has had some things to say about what happened:

– “Any serious program about genealogy, especially dealing with celebrities, cannot leave out a slave-owning ancestor.”

– “This censorship should have been stopped cold and mistakes should have been admitted publicly.”

Code Switch blogger Gene Demby talked about all this today on Morning Edition.

(Memmos; April 22, 2015)


Don’t Trust, Do Verify: The Vaping Hoax #

Last week’s appearance in The New York Times of a “Joe Stevonson,” who turned out to be someone pretending to be a young man who enjoys vaping, underscores why it’s important to take steps to verify the identities of those who come our way via social media.

Here’s a repeat recommendation: Check out the Verification Handbook. Edited by Craig Silverman of the Regret the Error blog, it has tips and tools for verifying “user-generated content.”

Also: Don’t ignore the obvious things to do, such as a simple Google search of a person’s name, a visit to and a request for assistance from our librarians and the social media team. They can help figure out if a person is for real.

(Memmos; April 20, 2015)



Gyrocopter Story Raises An Old Question: When Should Journalists Intervene? #

The Tampa Bay Times knew well in advance that a Florida postal worker planned to fly a gyrocopter over Washington, D.C., and on to the grounds of the Capitol.

From what the Times has reported, there seems to have been no evidence that the man, identified as 61-year-old Doug Hughes, intended to do himself or anyone else any harm. There’s also a case to be made that the Times had reason to believe authorities were keeping tabs on Hughes. The Times knew he had been interviewed some months back by a Secret Service agent. That means Hughes was — in theory — on authorities’ virtual radar. (He wasn’t, it turns out, on any actual radar this week).

It isn’t the Times‘ job, or the job of any news outlet, to be the police.

But, the many ways things could have gone badly on Wednesday aren’t difficult to imagine. We’ll set aside the Hollywood scenarios of fighter jets and missiles.


– Hughes might have fooled the Times and had nefarious intentions.
– He could have been shot.
– If shots were fired, bystanders could have been hit.
– People could have been injured during evacuations or as police responded to the scene.

At the very least, as happened, streets would be closed and traffic tied up for blocks around.

The Times‘ reporter on the story tells The Washington Post that the news outlet “spent hours and hours talking about the ethics of this,” and decided there was no need to tell authorities well before Hughes’ planned launch. The Times ended up calling the Secret Service while Hughes was in the air, less than a half hour before he landed.

Media ethicists, as the Post notes, disagree: “ ‘A news organization should be extremely knowledgeable of the potential harm’ a stunt like this could cause, said Edward Wasserman, dean of the University of California at Berkeley Graduate School of Journalism. ‘I really question their judgment.’ ”

News outlets don’t want sources to think reporters will run to the police about just anything potentially illegal that they’re told about.

But how about this? Apply common sense and weigh the value of the story against the potential harm to the public. That will continue to be our standard.

(Memmos; April 16, 2015)


Resource: Guidelines About The ‘Morning Edition’ Book Club, Fundraising & The Firewall Between Them #

Because it is “essential to avoid even the appearance that fundraising in support of the Morning Edition Book Club has influenced the editorial decision-making involved in conducting the book club,” guidelines have been issued that aim to put a “strict firewall between the two activities.”

In the interest of transparency, they have been posted here.

The guidelines also been put online because they could prove useful if similar projects are launched.

(Memmos; April 14, 2015)


Let’s Toss ‘Hat In The Ring’ Into The Cliché Round File #

Unless Sen. Marco Rubio doffs a fedora and flings it into flag-festooned circle of red, white and blue balloons as fireworks go off and a band plays the national anthem, there is no need today to say he “tossed his hat into the ring.”

In fact, how about if we try to make it through the next few weeks or months without saying anyone tossed their hat into anything? (Unless, that is, we’re reporting about boxing — where the phrase originated.)

Editors have said until they’re blue in the face that clichés are a symptom of weak reporting and writing.

Along with “hat in the ring,” here are some  other overused campaign clichés that the AP has singled out for elimination:

ahead of – before

rainbow colors – avoid red, blue or purple for the political leanings of states. Use Democratic-leaning, Republican-tilting or swing-voting, etc.

barnstormed – traveled across a state campaigning or campaigned across XYZ.

hand-to-hand campaigning – seeking support in face-to-face meetings with voters.

horse race – closely contested political contest.

laundry list – the candidate has ideas, proposals, etc.

messaging – the candidate’s pitch to voters.

pressing the flesh – shaking hands is preferred.

rope line – the physical barrier that separates a candidate from the audience. Instead, the candidate shook hands and posed for photographs with the audience.

state nicknames – avoid them in favor of the state name.

stump speech – campaign speech at a routine appearance (or standard or regular campaign speech)

testing the waters – considered entering the race or considered running for XYZ.

took his/her campaign to – specify what the candidate did.

veepstakes – the competition to be a candidate’s running mate.

war lingo – use criticized instead of attacked, or choose a better verb to describe what the candidate is doing, i.e., challenging, doubting, etc. Also avoidable: launch an assault, take aim, open fire, bombard.

war chest – use campaign bank account or stockpile of money.

white paper – a document of policy positions distributed by a campaign.

Related: Poynter’s “15 political clichés journalists should avoid.”

(Memmos; April 13, 2015)


Please Read The ‘CJR’ Report About ‘Rolling Stone’ #

“The particulars of Rolling Stone’s failure make clear the need for a revitalized consensus in newsrooms old and new about what best journalistic practices entail, at an operating-manual-level of detail.”

That line from the Columbia Journalism Review‘s dissection of Rolling Stone‘s infamous investigation of an alleged gang rape underscores why the CJR report is highly recommended reading. It reminds us that the basics matter — a lot.

CJR concludes that “better and clearer policies about reporting practices, pseudonyms and attribution might well have prevented the magazine’s errors. … Stronger policy and clearer staff understanding in at least three areas might have changed the final outcome.” From the report:

– “Pseudonyms. [Editors] said using pseudonyms at Rolling Stone is a ‘case by case’ issue that requires no special convening or review. Pseudonyms are inherently undesirable in journalism. They introduce fiction and ask readers to trust that this is the only instance in which a publication is inventing details at its discretion. Their use in this case was a crutch — it allowed the magazine to evade coming to terms with reporting gaps. Rolling Stone should consider banning them. If its editors believe pseudonyms are an indispensable tool for its forms of narrative writing, the magazine should consider using them much more rarely and only after robust discussion about alternatives, with dissent encouraged.”

– “Checking Derogatory Information. [The reporter and her editor] made the fateful agreement not to check [a key part of the accuser's story that put three people in an unfavorable light] with the three friends. If the fact-checking department had understood that such a practice was unacceptable, the outcome would almost certainly have changed.”

– “Confronting Subjects With Details. When [the reporter] sought ‘comment,’ she missed the opportunity to hear challenging, detailed rebuttals from [the fraternity] before publication. The fact-checker relied only on [the reporter's] communications with the fraternity and did not independently confirm with Phi Kappa Psi the account Rolling Stone intended to publish. … If both the reporter and checker had understood that by policy they should routinely share specific, derogatory details with the subjects of their reporting, Rolling Stone might have veered in a different direction.”

Our Ethics Handbook deals with those points. Here is where NPR stands:

– “Don’t Create Pseudonyms For Sources Whose Names We Withhold.  When we decide to withhold a source’s name from a story, we don’t invent a pseudonym for that source. Again, our job is to present factual – not fabricated – information. Instead, we use pronouns and descriptions to make clear who is speaking or whom we’re referring to. (Or we may refer to him or her without using a last name, if the source is comfortable with that degree of anonymity, and the situation meets our standards for granting anonymity. … )”

– “No Attacks. In our coverage, anonymous or unnamed sources generally cannot make pejorative comments about the character, reputation, or personal qualities of another individual, or derogatory statements about an institution. … [Exceptions are made only after] careful deliberation with senior news managers.”

– “Give Sources Time To Respond. If our audience wonders what someone we report about had to say in his or her defense, and we haven’t provided that information or explained our efforts to get it, we have failed.”

Give Subjects Enough Information To Be Able To Respond Effectively. “In 2005, NPR aired a story about the new editor of the Paris Review. Former staffers of the magazine — some of whom had been let go — were heard saying that the new leader was ‘betraying the vision’ of the Review’s founder, George Plimpton. What was the editor’s response to that charge? He didn’t get the chance to say. Our interview with him was done before the critics were contacted, and the editor wasn’t contacted again. NPR subsequently apologized on the air for not giving the editor the chance to answer his critics. As Bill Marimow, then-NPR vice president for news, said: ‘If the subject of the story doesn’t know what you’re going to report, how can we be fair to them?’ “

CJR‘s analysis makes clear that several people are to blame for Rolling Stone‘s failures, starting with the reporter and extending to her editors. So here’s another reminder from our handbook:

Edit Like A Prosecutor.

“Great journalism comes in part from the collaborative efforts of reporters, editors and producers, who all play a key role in ensuring accuracy. We believe in teamwork. But good editors are also good prosecutors. They test, probe and challenge reporters, always with the goal of making NPR’s stories as good (and therefore as accurate) as possible.”

(Memmos; April 7, 2015)


For Comparison Purposes: The BBC’s Updated Guidance On Social Media #

Because it never hurts to see what others are thinking, here’s a link to the BBC’s just-updated “Social Media Guidance For Staff.” 

There’s also a short story about it by BBC News social media editor Chris Hamilton.

You’ll find much in common with NPR’s guidance and with things discussed in previous “Memmos”:

– “Reminder: There Is No Privacy On The Web, And ‘Personal’ Pages Are Not Safe Zones.”

– “Can I Tweet That? Or Facebook It? Or Post It? Some More Social Media Guidance.”

– “Some Guidance About Social Media On Election Day.”

I can hear Stu Seidel echoing this line from the BBC: “A useful summary has always been and remains: ‘Don’t do anything stupid.’ ”

As always, Wright Bryan and the rest of NPR’s social media team are available for guidance, advice and tips. Be sure to follow their posts on the Social Media Desk Tumblr — a.k.a. the Social Sandbox.

(“Memmos;” April 3, 2015)


On The Word ‘Suicide’ #

We are being careful about the word “suicide” when reporting about the actions of the Germanwings co-pilot. There are at least two reasons not to use it at this time:

– His motivation and state of mind aren’t known (and may never be).

– The investigation into what happened is still in the early stages.

There’s also a case to be made that the word isn’t adequate. As Lufthansa’s chief said, if the co-pilot’s actions were deliberate, “it is more than suicide.”

Regarding what to say instead, previous guidance about avoiding labels makes sense in this case as well.

On Morning Edition, Eleanor Beardsley simply used other action words:

– “Investigators are looking at … clues as to why [Andreas Lubitz] would take 149 people on board to their deaths with him.”

– Investigators told the co-pilot’s family “that their son had deliberately steered his passengers and crew to their deaths.”

In a Newscast, Dave Mattingly put it this way:

– “Investigators say [Andreas] Lubitz deliberately crashed a Germanwings Airbus into the French Alps. … They don’t know why.”

Related notes:

– “Suicide bomber” is a phrase that’s become common usage. But keep in mind that the person with the bomb may have been forced or tricked into carrying out the act. If that appears to have been the case, “suicide bomber” is not accurate. Again, the better course is to simply describe what happened.

– “Committed suicide” is a sensitive phrase that some believe stigmatizes people. They make the case that you “commit” a crime or may be “committed” to an institution, but you do not commit suicide. “Killed himself” and “took her life” are among the alternatives.

(Memmos; March 27, 2015)


In The ‘Vast Majority’ Of Cases, Are We Sure We Should Use Those Words? #

What do you think when you hear the phrase “vast majority?”

Here are some of the answers I got today from 15 correspondents, hosts and editors on the third and fourth floors:

– “More than two-thirds.”

– “At least three-quarters.”

– “Above 90 percent.”

– “Nearly all.”

– “A lot.”

– “A @#$%load.”

– “A boatload.”

– “A phrase that shouldn’t be heard.”

– “An amorphous phrase that means ‘we don’t know how many for sure, but we think it’s a lot.’ ”

The Urban Dictionary, meanwhile, offers a definition that begins with this: “Possibly the most over-used, tired and tautological phrase ever to have survived in the English language.”

Thankfully, a search indicates that the phrase “vast majority” doesn’t make it into our stories every day.

But it was still heard 202 times in the past year. The odds are a bit better than 50-50 that it will be said in the next 24 hours.

That’s a problem.

After all, since we can’t seem to agree on what the words mean or when they should be put together, it seems reasonable to conclude that listeners aren’t sure either. What’s more, attaching the word “vast” to “majority” is a judgment call. Who’s saying it’s a “vast majority?” What’s the proof? Maybe it’s just a “significant” majority. Or a “sizeable” one. Or just a majority.

When possible, the best course is to use facts rather than just the “vast majority” label. Establish, for example, that
“92 percent of those surveyed agreed” and then, perhaps, talk about what such a “vast majority” means.

This brings to mind other guidance about:

Avoiding clichés.


Killing adjectives.

Precision writing and editing.

Words that get abused.

Note: My thanks to listener/reader Anne Sovik for suggesting we look into “vast majority.”

(Memmos; March 18, 2015)


Guidance: On Station Reporters & News About Their Universities Or Institutions #

When there is news involving the university or institution that holds an NPR member station’s license, conflicts of interest – perceived and actual – must be considered. So NPR editors ask questions:

– Is it a breaking news situation in which a station reporter could be our eyes on the ground and voice from the scene? Also is it a story that is about an event more than the institution? In recent years, this has happened most often when an institution is on lock-down because of a shooting or reports of a shooter. We would likely want to hear from a station reporter in our Newscasts and on our news magazines about what is happening.

– Is it a story that involves the institution but is not really about the institution? A recent example was the death of North Carolina basketball coach Dean Smith. We felt it would not be a problem for a station reporter to file an obit-type report for us. Yes, Smith was a towering figure at the university. But he was not controversial in the way that Joe Paterno, for example, became at Penn State. There wasn’t anything about his time at UNC that we felt would give the appearance of a conflict if a station reporter was on our air. Bottom line: the news was about Smith, not the school.

– Is it a story about that institution? In such cases, we consider very carefully whether it would look like there was a conflict of interest if a station reporter files for us. We err on the side of caution. We know that listeners/readers may rightfully question whether a reporter who is paid by an institution should report about it. For example, if a school’s football coach was under fire for putting a football player back on the field too soon after a concussion — leading to calls for the coach’s firing and questions about the university’s response — that is a story we would not want to take from a station reporter at the school. The Penn State/Jerry Sandusky story was another that we felt should not be covered, on our airwaves, by a reporter from the school’s station.

– Has the nature of a story shifted? Here’s an example: While a station reporter is likely the logical person to use in the first hours after a campus shooting, that reporter and his/her station probably are not the right person or place to turn if questions start to come up about the university’s response to the incident.

We can’t anticipate every possibility. The discussion above is designed to offer general guidelines and recent examples of how things have been handled. Situations will be considered case-by-case.

These things don’t change from story to story: We value and need the solid reporting that member stations provide. We start with the assumption that we want to use their reports. Sometimes we may need to say “no.” But at all times we want to talk through the issues.

We have worked with some station-based news directors and PRNDI on the guidelines above; we welcome more feedback about our thinking and this guidance.

(Memmos; March 16, 2015)


Watch What You Say: It’s National Grammar Day #

Prescriptivists, this is your holiday.

To mark the occasion, here are some relevant links and tools we all may (or might?) want to bookmark:

– The American Copy Editors Society’s website.

– The Common Errors in English Usage website.

– A Poynter post on “grammar pet peeves.”

– Grammar Girl’s “Editing Checklist.”

“The NPR Accuracy Checklist.”

– William Safire’s appearance on “Not My Job.” (He wasn’t asked about language issues, but it never hurts to have a laugh.)

Related: From 4 to 5 p.m. ET, Merriam-Webster lexicographer Kory Stamper will be on Twitter for a #GrammarDay #ACESchat.

(Memmos; March 4, 2015)


NPR’s ‘Minor Consent Form’: Spanish Version #

A Spanish-language version of the “consent, authorization, release and waiver” form that needs to be signed by a parent or guardian before many interviews of minors is available to download and print here:

As we noted last summer, the English-language version is here:

Meanwhile here’s a reminder, from the Ethics Handbook:

“Be sure to consider legal issues when dealing with minors (generally defined as anyone under the age of 18). An interview of a minor about a sensitive subject requires us to secure permission from at least one of the minor’s parents (preferably both) or a legal guardian. Examples of sensitive subjects include cheating, sexual activity, involvement in gangs or crime, difficult family relationships, probation violation, out-of-wedlock pregnancy or parenthood, victims’ sexual abuse and similar topics that could have legal ramifications or lead to embarrassment. An interview of a minor in a special custodial situation, such as foster care, juvenile detention, or holding facilities for illegal immigrants, requires the consent of the person who has custody of the minor. Utah also requires the consent of both the custodian of the juvenile facility and the minor’s parent.

“An interview on a non-sensitive topic (normal childhood activities, sports, book, movies, trips to the zoo, baseball and the like) does not require consent. Generally however, any interview on school premises will require the permission of the school authorities.

“In cases where there is even a hint of doubt about whether to get consent, contact our legal team (look for LegalAlert in the NPR internal email address book).”

(H/T Mandalit Del Barco)

(Memmos; March 4, 2015)


Some So-called Guidance #

“So-called” is a useful combination of two words. Properly used, so-called signals to listeners that the word or phrase that follows is becoming (or has become) popular or common, but is not official.

But when you’re about to say or write it, please keep some things in mind:

– Webster’s first definition of so-called is “popularly known or called by this term.”

– The second definition is “inaccurately or questionably designated as such.”

– That second definition is important. Depending on the context and tone, so-called may give the impression that we have formed a judgment about the term or words that follow. As Fowler’s Modern English Usage puts it, “so-called is traditionally used before a name or description to signal doubt about relevance or entitlement, as in ‘this so-called work of art.’ ” Cambridge Dictionaries says so-called shows “you think a word that is used to describe someone or something is not suitable or not correct.”

– Alternatives may sound more neutral. “Known as,” is one possible substitute. “Called the” is another. There are cases where a “supporters/opponents call it the …” may be appropriate.

– Alternatives may give the audience more information. That’s why “self-declared Islamic State” is better than “so-called Islamic State.”

– Alternatives will also help us with a repetition situation. We say “so-called” on the air about twice a day on average; and that’s not counting Newscasts.

– So-called should not be used before the actual name of something or a name that has moved into the history books. It’s not the “so-called Gettysburg Address,” for instance.

– Online, the word or term that follows so-called should not be put in quotes. Subsequent references also should not be put in quotes.

(Memmos; Feb. 26, 2015)


An Anonymous Editor Thinks What The ‘Times’ Did Was Funny #

At the end of a mildly amusing story about renovations at Manhattan’s Port Authority Bus Terminal, The New York Times writes this:

“A second person who checked out the women’s restroom — and who asked not to be identified because she has always wanted to be an anonymous source — reported her findings by email: ‘Black shiny granite-y sink. Arched faucets by Sloan. Tasteful slate gray and powder gray tiles.’ “

Is “always wanted to be an anonymous source” a valid reason to grant anonymity? No, Korva. But was it OK this time? Speaking anonymously because he doesn’t want to be drummed out of the Noodge Union, an NPR editor said it felt fine, given the spirit of the story. “Always wanted to be an anonymous source” seems like a parody of the many questionable reasons the Times and other news outlets have granted anonymity in serious stories.  There’s a case to be made it worked in this rather cheeky report.

Now, will Times‘ public editor Margaret Sullivan give this line a special place in her “AnonyWatch” series?

For more about NPR’s position on anonymity and related issues, see this post from last August:

“Reminder: Whether To Go With ‘First-Name-Only’ Needs To Be Discussed And Explained”

(H/T Evie Stone.)

(Memmos; Feb. 25, 2015)


Hey, You Should Read This: We Put The ‘Superbug’ News In Its Proper Place #

As other news outlets shift into scare-the-pants-off-’em mode, something NPR often does very well is put things into perspective.

Jon Hamilton does that on the Shots blog with this post:

Why California’s Superbug Outbreak Isn’t As Scary As It Seems

It’s a nice example of how we can help the audience make sense of what seems like alarming news. Southern California Public Radio does a good job as well with this report:

‘Superbug’ outbreak not a threat to Los Angeles County public health

(Memmos; Feb. 20, 2015)


Analysts, Critics, Experts & Officials Agree: We Talk About Them An Awful Lot #

On page 33 of Jonathan Kern’s Sound Recording there’s an entry titled: “Avoid Meaningless Attributions.”

“Beware of the overused terms ‘officials,’ ‘analysts,’ ‘critics’ and ‘experts,’ ” Jonathan writes. His message: Obviously, we should push to use actual names as often as possible. But when we can’t do that, it’s often the case that other words can be found that are precise and offer relief from repetitive references to “officials say” this and “experts say” that.

The ubiquitous “experts,” for example, might be “biologists,” “historians” or “numismatists,” depending on their specialties. (Yes, Korva, we want you to use “numismatists” on the air some day.)

In some cases “officials” can just disappear from a line altogether. Jonathan’s example: Instead of writing “Ford officials say they’re coming out with a new hybrid car,” say “Ford is coming out with a new hybrid car.”

We bring this up because a look back over the past year indicates we’re not heeding his advice.

– “Officials” was heard 2,022 times.
– “Critics” was heard 1,055 times.
– “Experts” was heard 636 times.
– “Analysts” was heard 351 times.

Our guests were certainly responsible for many of the times those words were used. But NPR officials would have to concede that critics, experts and analysts are correct when they say that we’ve contributed more than our fair share. Robert Siegel can testify to that. He says in Sound Reporting that he has spent “a lifetime trying to pull ‘officials’ out of All Things Considered.”

But, But, But …

By now, every member of the Washington desk is poised to send an email that points out they often have to say “administration officials” or “White House officials” or “Justice Department officials” or some variation of those words that their sources insist on. We understand. All we ask is that alternatives be kept in the mix: “Top advisers,” “close aides” and others.

Emails are probably being drafted by the business desk (which has to deal with “analysts”), the science desk (“experts”) and others.

Dave Mattingly is surely wondering what he’s supposed to do when he doesn’t have time for even just a few more words.

Again, the guidance is to look for alternatives. After all, not only are the words overused, they can be problematic. “Experts,” for instance, is both vague and often too-readily bestowed. “Critics” can be a backdoor way of getting in the “other side” without identifying them.

Related Posts:

– Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips

– When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of ‘Imagined Elegance’

(Memmos; Feb. 19, 2015)


They’re ‘Separatist Fighters And Their Russian Allies’ #

From Chuck Holmes:

Please use “separatist fighters and their Russian allies” to describe the anti-government forces in eastern Ukraine. Using “separatist fighters” alone could suggest that only locals are involved.

Kevin Beesley and Corey Flintoff offer the following guidance:

“Pro-Russian Separatists” could mislead our audience into thinking that most of the fighting is being done by local fighters. There is a lot of evidence that most, though not all, of the anti-government forces involved are Russian citizens – although Russia denies its military is directly involved.

So we’ve come up with another construction that we think more accurately reflects the situation on the ground:

“Separatist fighters and their Russian allies.”

As in:

“After weeks of heavy fighting, a strategic town in eastern Ukraine has fallen to separatist fighters and their Russian allies.”

(Memmos; Feb. 18, 2015)


‘Temporary Protective Status,’ Not ‘Temporary Legal Status’ #

From Chuck Holmes:

Please use the phrase “temporary protective status,” not “temporary legal status,” when referring to the provisions of DACA and DAPA.

Denice Rios advises that:

“The term ‘temporary legal status’ when it comes to DACA (Deferred Action for childhood Arrivals) … keeps popping up and it isn’t accurate. … We all look for easy ways to describe complicated bureaucracy. But using the word ‘legal’ even when preceded by ‘temporary’ is problematic. DACA offers some benefits, like a work permit or a reprieve from deportation, but it doesn’t offer all the benefits one would receive if one were here legally. That’s why ‘temporary protective status’ or simply offering an example or two of what the actions offer are better ways to explain DACA and DAPA (Deferred Action for Parental Accountability).”

(Memmos; Feb. 18, 2015)


Here’s Why We Use The Word ‘Islamist’ #

The question comes up about once a week: “Should we say ‘Islamic’ or ‘Islamist’ when referring to fighters from such groups as Boko Haram and the self-proclaimed Islamic State?”

NPR uses “Islamist.” The dictionary is our guide.

“Islamist” is a noun meaning “an advocate or supporter of Islamism” — which in turn is defined as “a movement advocating the social and political establishment of Islamic fundamentalism.”

Compound nouns such as “Islamist fighters” or “Islamist militants” describe who we are reporting about because they make the connection to the fundamentalist movement.

“Islamic” is too general. It’s just the adjective formed from the noun “Islam.”

Note: The Associated Press disagrees with us on this.

(Memmos; Feb. 18, 2015)


Bleep The Whole @#$%&*! Word #

If a word needs to be bleeped, no part of it should be heard. We don’t try to give listeners a hint by including a bit of the word’s start or end.

What language is offensive?

– The “NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language” is posted here.

– A discussion of NPR’s guidelines on the subject is here.

Two related notes:

– The rules apply to foreign languages as well.

– Don’t forget that “if there’s potentially offensive language in a piece intended for broadcast — even if the words have been bleeped — stations need to be alerted in the DACS line. Listeners and readers online deserve to be warned as well, of course.”

(Memmos; Feb. 13, 2015)


No Change In The Way We Introduce The Islamic State #

(Note on Aug. 19, 2015: This guidance has been mostly superseded. Go here to see our new guidance.)

Five months after we issued guidance on how to refer to the group known as the Islamic State, is it time to do away with the rule that listeners and readers be reminded that it is “self-declared,” “self-proclaimed,” “self-styled” or “known as?”

The consensus from the foreign desk editors is that it is not time to do that.

The reasoning remains the same:

– The words help distinguish the Islamic State from nations, such as the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan.

– Not adding the words implies that the organization is a “state,” when in fact it is not an “independent government … within defined borders.” Those are key parts of the word’s definition.

There is one tweak to the guidance. “So-called” is not one of the phrases we should rely on. It doesn’t convey as much information as “self-declared” or “self-proclaimed,” which make clear to listeners and readers where the name came from.

Related note: “ISIS” remains our style on second reference. If someone we speak with uses ISIL or Daesh, we can again remind the audience that the group is also known by those names. Also, if a show has already introduced the Islamic State in one segment, there’s probably no need to go through the “self-proclaimed/self-declared/etc.” steps again in a subsequent segment.

(Memmos; Feb. 12, 2015)


Don’t Be Careless With The Word ‘Countless’ #

It’s tempting to say that we’ve used one word a countless number of times.

But that would be wrong, because we can quantify it:

– “Countless” showed up 255 times in the past year on

– The word is in 112 broadcast transcripts from that same period.

There are two points to make about this:

– We (and our guests) use the word too much. We cannot have found that many things that qualify as countless.

– We (and our guests) often misuse the word, either because what we’re talking about can be counted or because a better word would paint a clearer picture. “Countless” just ends up sounding like a throwaway word that conveys little information.

This is the point in this post where we should go the dictionary. The adjective “countless” is defined as “too many to count; innumerable; myriad.” If you want to make the case that you’re using it as a synonym for “myriad,” please be prepared to prove that you’re speaking of an “indefinitely large number.”

A pretty good use of the word was a reference we made to the “countless other people around the world” who showed support for the Charlie Hebdo cartoonists. That group could be considered an “indefinitely large number.” (Might “millions” have been a better word? There’s a case to be made that the answer is yes.)

A poor use of the word was this headline: “The Countless Lives Of Lauren Bacall.” The appreciation of her life that ran with the headline details about a dozen times she “reinvented herself.” That’s not indefinitely large.

What to say instead? A look through our reports shows that, depending on the context, more precise words would have included:

– Many
– Dozens
– Hundreds
– Thousands
– Millions
– Billions

By the way, it is not a job requirement that reporters covering the 2016 campaign always put “countless” before the words “handshakes,” “pork chops,” “county fairs,” “town halls” and “stump speeches.”

(Memmos; Feb. 10, 2015)


Guidance On The Name Of Argentina’s President #

She is:

–  “President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner” on first reference. We are aware that AP has been saying “President Cristina Fernandez.” Our guidance is based on input from the foreign desk, the way the president’s name is written on her Facebook, Twitter and Web pages and a conversation with the press office at the Argentine embassy.

“Kirchner” on subsequent references. Yes, AP is going with “Fernandez.” We’re not. That may mean some people we speak with will refer to her as “Fernandez.” We’ll just have to address that when it happens. You can, obviously, also refer to her as “the president.”

While we’re talking about Argentina:

We’ve adjusted the pronunciation on the Wiki for the word “Argentine.”

It’s “AHR-jen-tyne.” Not “teen.”

(Memmos; Feb. 4, 2015)


Reminder: References To War Camps Must Be Precise #

To avoid any mistaken impressions about who was in charge, geographic and historic references to prisoner of war camps, concentration camps and death camps must be carefully worded. For instance, during WWII, the Japanese military held prisoners in the Philippines. Do not simply say they were “Philippine prisoner of war camps.” They were “Japanese-run prisoner of war camps in the Philippines.” Likewise, Auschwitz was not a “Polish death camp.” It was a “Nazi- (or German) death camp in Poland.” Sobibor was a “Nazi … death camp in German-occupied Poland.”

In 2011, Edward Schumacher-Matos posted about the sensitive nature of such references.  Respect and sensitivity are among our core principles.  So too, of course, is accuracy.  Both principles are involved.

(Memmos; Feb. 3, 2015)


The NPR Accuracy Checklist #

Mistakes happen, but lately we’ve been making too many. See for yourself on our corrections page:

The checklist that follows is a reminder of things we all know we should do. It’s meant to be particularly useful to correspondents and producers. They collect the information we put on the air and online and they are expected to do all they can to make sure that what we report is accurate.

Think of the checklist as a tool. Print a copy for yourself and please use it. We know we will make mistakes. But we all need to do what we can to reduce them.

NPR REPORTERS, CORRESPONDENTS, PRODUCERS and MULTIMEDIA JOURNALISTS who collect and write the information we broadcast or post online will double-check:

–  SUPERLATIVES. If something is said to be the “first,” “last,” “best,” “worst,” “only,” “oldest,” “youngest” etc., that claim must be verified. If it can’t be, the claim should be deleted or qualified – and clearly attributed.

– PERSONAL NAMES. Verify them, spell them correctly (for radio and the Web) and confirm pronunciations.

–  AGES. Get a person’s date of birth and do the math.

– TITLES. President, CEO, professor, etc. They must be accurate.


–  DAYS and DATES. Are you sure this happened then?

–  HISTORICAL “FACTS.” Are you sure it happened that way?

–  LOCATIONS. Is that where this happened? Is that where this person is from?

–  NUMBERS and CALCULATIONS. Do the math yourself. Should it be millions, billions or trillions? Is the decimal in the correct place? Is it percent or percentage point?

–  QUOTES. They must be attributed to the right person.

–  WEB ADDRESSES and PHONE NUMBERS. They have to be tested.

–  GRAMMAR and SPELLING.  Note: What goes in a radio script may end up on the Web.

When an NPR journalist says something is ready for editing, that journalist IS CONFIRMING that all such double-checking has been done. If something hasn’t yet been nailed down, the journalist will alert the editor. When news is breaking and we’re covering it live, NPR journalists make clear what is “known” and what is ”not known.”


–  Will ask: Has everything that needs to be double-checked been double-checked?

–  Will still check: The accuracy of the reporting.


–  We own them. THIS IS IMPORTANT:  If you realize a mistake has been made, email and notify the appropriate editor or producer. Senior managers need to be told about “serious” mistakes.

–  We correct them.


  • – NAMES
  • – AGES
  • – TITLES
  • – DAYS and DATES
  • – QUOTES

(Memmos; Jan. 29, 2015)


Encore! Encore! That’s The Way To Do It! #

The best intros to encore reports quickly accomplish a few things. They:

– Let listeners know they’re about to hear something that’s been on the air before.

– Tell listeners why we think the report is worth repeating.

– Give listeners at least a sense of when the piece was first broadcast.

Morning Edition hit all three of those out of the park on Monday before the rebroadcast of a 2009 interview with Ernie Banks, the Chicago Cubs hall of famer who died last week.

Here is how the encore was introduced:

Steve Inskeep: “Now, let’s listen to a man who always conserved hope — Ernie Banks died last week at 83. He was a great player on a losing baseball team, the Chicago Cubs.”


Ernie Banks: “Every year I always looked at spring training as a brand-new year.”

Inskeep: “Banks was famous for saying let’s play two, so it’s fitting we will now play our talk with Ernie Banks a second time. In 2009, we met Banks in a hotel and brought an old recording of a baseball game. …”

The 2009 interview ended with Banks speaking about how as a young man he hoped to some day win the Nobel Peace Prize. Morning Edition then brought listeners back to the present with a bit of music and Steve closed with this:

“Ernie Banks in 2009. He died Friday without that Nobel Prize, but did receive the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2013. It’s Morning Edition from NPR News.”


(Memmos; Jan. 27, 2015)


Serious Mistakes Need To Be Flagged Immediately #

If a significant mistake is made on the air or online, these individuals need to know about it as soon as possible:

– Senior vice president for news (Chris Turpin, acting)

– Executive editor (Madhulika Sikka)

– Managing editor, digital news (Scott Montgomery)

– Deputy managing editors (Chuck Holmes; Gerry Holmes)

– Standards and practices (Mark Memmott)

– Legal (Ashley Messenger)

– Member partnership (Gemma Hooley)

– Media relations (Isabel Lara)

Use emails, phone calls, shouts across the newsroom — whatever it takes — to get word to one or more of them. They pledge to respond quickly and to take over the task of reaching others in that group if you haven’t already.

What is a serious or significant mistake? There’s no simple definition. But we all know one when we see or hear it. Examples include:

– An obscenity getting on the air (unless it was vetted and OK’d by senior editors beforehand).

– An offensive or disturbing image being posted online.

– A high-profile “scoop” turning out to be wrong.

(Memmos; Jan. 26, 2015)


Your Keyboard Is A Live Mic (Or, If You Write It They May Say It) #

Reporters have always been told to never put anything in a story draft that they wouldn’t want to see in print. No jokes. No obscenities. No snotty comments. No half-formed theories. No “facts” that haven’t been double-checked.

If they need to create a file into which a story can later be pasted, that’s what “the quick brown fox jumps over the lazy dog” and “lorem ipsum” are for. (Look them up if you don’t know what I’m referring to or how they’re used.)

Sometimes things slip through. Romenesko tracks such mishaps.

Broadcast journalists know every mic may be live and that they shouldn’t say something they wouldn’t want to be recorded and replayed. This note is meant to draw a parallel.

The information that goes into DACS lines, scripts and Web teasers could end up as copy on our website and as language read on the air by us or a member station.

No, our drafts and DACS are not full of naughty words, snide remarks and errors. But what goes into them matters and may find its way into places you did not expect. It’s best to treat them accordingly. Your keyboard is something of a live mic.

(Memmos; Jan. 22, 2015)


Mistakes: We’re Making More Than A Few #

There is a reason baseball players go to spring training.

There is a reason musicians practice scales.

There is a reason experienced pilots use checklists before takeoff.

To avoid making mistakes, skills must be honed and seemingly routine steps must be repeated over and over again.

It’s the same for us.

If your report contains a name, a number, a location, a date, an age, a historical reference — basically anything that “walks or talks or acts like a fact,” as Margaret Low Smith would say — it must be checked and double-checked before being broadcast or published.

We went over this last November in a note headlined “We Get So Many Things Right; Why Do We Get Some Things Wrong?

But a flurry of errors this month, which you can read about on the corrections page, means it’s time for a reminder:

Double-down on fact-checking. We’ve gotten names, dates, numbers, historical “facts,” locations and other basic details wrong in recent days. For the most part, the errors were not made during live broadcasts. They came during pieces and posts that weren’t done on deadline. There was time for fact-checking.

Use a checklist. It’s a valuable tool. There is a classic one for reporters and editors here.

NPR has broadcast and posted some great stories so far this month. We all make mistakes. Let’s do what we can to limit them so that the wonderful work isn’t diminished.

(Memmos; Jan. 14, 2015)


The ‘Charlie Hebdo’ Cartoons And NPR’s Decision Not To Publish Them #

The attack on the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo and the murders of its cartoonists meant editors at NPR and other news organizations needed to decide which, if any, of the magazine’s cartoons they should publish.

In a Two-Way blog post and during a conversation on Weekend Edition Saturday, NPR’s thinking was discussed. The key points behind the decision not to post the magazine’s most controversial, and potentially most offensive, cartoons included:

– “Photos showing just a few of the magazine’s covers could lead viewers to mistakenly conclude that Charlie Hebdo is only a bit edgier than other satirical publications. But a comprehensive display of Charlie Hebdo‘s work would require posting images that go well beyond most news organizations’ standards regarding offensive material. At NPR, the policy on ‘potentially offensive language’ applies to the images posted online as well. It begins by stating that ‘as a responsible broadcaster, NPR has always set a high bar on use of language that may be offensive to our audience.’ ”

– “No news organization could seriously say that it doesn’t think about the safety of its journalists, when these cartoons might have been the cause for the firebombing of Charlie Hebdo‘s offices a few years back and the murder of its staff this week. But, we’re journalists. We’re willing to take risks. We know that sometimes we’ll have to. Editorially, we just didn’t think that we could post enough of the images to give you a sense of what the magazine was really like. If you only put a few, it might look like it was just little bit edgier than MAD magazine, and that’s just not the case.”

(Memmos; Jan. 12, 2015)


Do You Suffer From RAS Syndrome? #

At her favorite gourmet market last week, Korva went to the ATM machine, inserted her card, squinted at the LCD display, entered her PIN number and withdrew cash to pay for her RAS Syndrome therapy.

We’ll stop there.

“Redundant acronym syndrome” isn’t our most serious problem. There’s even a case to be made that saying something like “START treaty” instead of just “START” (the acronym for “Strategic Arms Reduction Treaty”) may be a helpful error on the radio (though never online). If there was a sense that adding the word “treaty” helped the listener understand what you were talking about, the redundancy would be a relatively minor mistake.

But, listeners notice when we insert redundant words. They point out that we would not say “automated teller machine machine” or “liquid crystal display display” or “personal identification number number” or “redundant acronym syndrome syndrome.”

For those listeners, redundancies are nicks in otherwise spotless stories. As Oxford Dictionaries notes in its guidance on “avoiding redundant expressions,” repetition can “give the impression that you don’t really understand the meaning of the words you’re using.”

It’s also worth noting that we benefit if we eliminate unnecessary words. Doing that makes room for other information and when you’re squeezing everything you can into a tight space, each word counts. “Precision writing and editing,” as we’ve said before, are important tools of our trade.

There are many lists online of redundancies, including those at:

The Redundant Acronym Phrase project. (Where “NPR radio” is among those listed.)

(Memmos; Jan. 6, 2015)


What Did We Say About That? A Guide To The 2014 ‘Memmos’ #

What did Mark annoy us about in 2014? Here are the year’s “Memmos” divided into categories:


“Don’t sign, don’t advocate, don’t donate.”

“We don’t participate.”


How we make them and display them, Part I.

How we make them and display them, Part II.

Poynter’s “most notable errors.”

They’re at the bottom of our pages.

“Why do we get some things wrong?” Our most common errors.


A well-done poll.

John Burnett’s completeness.

David Folkenflik’s transparency.

Panda triplets!

The Bill Cosby interview.

The Eric Holder scoop.

The 16-year-old in a diaper and why the photo of him was so important.



Medical conditions.


– “Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)


Adjectives and why we kill them.

“Alleged,” “accused” and “suspected.”

“Ambush” and “assassinate.”

“Begs the question.”

Being conversational.

Cliches in general.


Ebola; infectious or contagious?


“Farther” and “further.” There’s a difference.

“Garnish” vs. “garnishee.”

Holiday cliches.

“Imagined Elegance.”

– “Immigration” (and related terms).

“Islamic State,” then ISIS.

ISIS and al-Qaida; how to refer to their links.


“Lay” vs. “lie.”

“Persian Gulf.”

“Reticent,” “reluctant” and other words we abuse.


“Taps” and why not to talk over it.

Teenager, I.

Teenager II.

Torture I.

Torture II.

Torture III.

“The” vs. “thee.”

The word “war.”

“Victims” vs. “survivors.” (Particularly in cases of sexual assault.)

Washington’s football team.


It’s not an English-only thing.

Latest “NPR policy on use of potentially offensive language.”


AP goes short.

AP’s unfortunate “crash lands” tweet.

Guidance for Election Day.

There is no privacy on the Web and retweets may be endorsements.

When you can and can’t tweet about customer service.


Anonymity and why “first-name-only” must be discussed and explained.

First names on second reference.

More on first names on second reference.

Why we didn’t name the Ebola patient.




Advice on how to fully inform people before we interview them.

How to explain why we don’t do that.


Attribution I.

Attribution II.

An “abundance of caution” can save us sometimes.

Call “the other side” of the story.

Check things out, even our own reporting.


“For Peat’s sake,” check back with key characters before broadcast.

Get names (why we don’t put random voices on the air).

Good grammar.

It’s “Daylight Saving,” Not “Daylight Savings.”

Minor consent (and the form that needs to be signed).

Naming minors.

Never assume.

Never show stories to sources.

Online credits.


Plagiarism is “the offense that keeps on repeating.”

Precision writing and editing.

You can’t always believe what you remember.

We work in plain sight.

We’re cynical, not skeptical.


We’ve got your guidance right here.

(Memmos; Dec. 29, 2014)


Guidance On The Words ‘Ambush’ And ‘Assassinate’ #

When reporting about the shooting deaths of New York City police officers Rafael Ramos and Wenjian Liu, the word “ambush” does not apply according to the accounts we’ve seen so far. By definition, an ambush is an attack from a place of hiding. From what’s been reported, it appears the officers were shot and killed without warning. But it seems that the attacker did not fire from a place of hiding.

The words “assassin,” “assassination” and “assassinated” also do not quite fit. Drawing from dictionary definitions, The Associated Press advises that the term assassination is to be used “only if it involves the murder of a politically important or prominent individual by surprise attack.” An assassin, meanwhile, is “one who kills a politically important or prominent person.”

These were “killings.” The officers were “attacked.” They were “shot dead.” Words such as those describe what happened. We do not need to give this gunman the additional notoriety of being an “assassin.” He was a “killer.”

Newsmakers and guests will likely continue to use the words “ambush” and “assassinated,” of course.

(Memmos; Dec. 22, 2014)


Reminder: Attribute And Qualify The News About Sony And North Korea #

When reporting about the Sony hacking and North Korea’s possible involvement, attribution is important. We should also be careful about how we characterize the connection.

Lakshmi Singh began her noon newscast by saying “the FBI is now formally accusing North Korea of the cyber attack on Sony Pictures, saying it now has enough information to conclude that Pyongyang is responsible.” She went on to talk about what evidence the FBI says it has.

In six words — “the FBI is now formally accusing” — she attributed the news (to the FBI) and established that it’s an accusation, not a fact.

Contrast that with language we used on Thursday: “NPR has learned from U.S. intelligence officials that North Korea was centrally involved … .”

There’s attribution (to intelligence officials) but “was centrally involved” isn’t qualified. It is stated as fact.

But, again, the connection to North Korea is an accusation being made by U.S. authorities – not a fact.

(Memmos; Dec. 19, 2014)


Recommended Reading: Poynter’s Roundup Of 2014′s Most Notable Errors And Corrections #

You probably won’t be surprised to hear that Poynter’s Craig Silverman has put Rolling Stone ’s “campus rape” report atop his list of 2014′s biggest mistakes by the media.

“It should go down as one of the most cautionary tales of confirmation bias in journalism,” he writes of the magazine’s “campus rape” report.

Silverman details how Rolling Stone compounded the problem:

“Managing editor Will Dana published ‘A Note to Our Readers’ that acknowledged there were now ‘discrepancies’ in the account of Jackie, the woman who was allegedly assaulted. The first version of that letter also blamed her, saying that the magazine now realized its trust in her had been ‘misplaced.’ After objections, the magazine removed that line — and didn’t acknowledge the after-the-fact scrubbing. It also has not offered any real information about how the story was fact checked, where mistakes were made, and what it plans to do about it. It hunkered down and kept silent. Shameful.”

NPR’s position on errors and corrections: “We have a simple standard: Errors of fact do not stand uncorrected. If we get it wrong, we’ll admit it.”

The “How We Make Corrections” memo, which everyone has surely bookmarked, is here.

If you want to reread the note on “A Common Corrections Scenario,” it’s here.

Also, go here to see all our corrections. It pays to read through them once in a while, to learn from our mistakes and to see the way we craft our corrections.

For even more on the errors we make, see this note from last month: “We Get So Many Things Right; Why Do We Get Some Things Wrong?

Back to Poynter’s list. We’re on it.

Thankfully, NPR shows up because of one of our more amusing corrections in 2014:

“An earlier version of this story said that the methane emissions associated with livestock come from their farts. In fact, most of those methane emissions come from belches.”

With that, I’ll stop gassing on about corrections.

(Memmos; Dec. 18, 2014)


Three Thoughts About When It’s OK And Not OK To Use First Names On Second Reference #


– NPR’s standard style is to use family names on second reference.
– There are some types of stories and projects in which exceptions can be made.
– Minors (15 or younger) are usually referred to by their first names on second reference.

On second reference, NPR’s standard style is to refer to someone by his or her family name. There have been several pieces in recent weeks, though, where we used first names on second reference. This is a good time to round up our guidance.

– First, the traditional position. The default setting for any of our news reports is simple: We use family names on second reference. That promotes clarity and helps us maintain an objective distance from those we report about.

We’ve previously discussed why one likely 2016 presidential contender is “Clinton,” not “Hillary” on second reference.  The reasons in that case apply to most newsmakers: “There’s the matter of respect … and we don’t want to be perceived as being either for or against someone because of the way we refer to him or her. Everyone is treated the same.”

– But, back in July we looked at the types of stories that seem to lend themselves to first-name-on-second-reference treatment.  They’re personal pieces in which someone is the emotional center of the story. This week, for instance, Carrie Johnson reported about Stephanie George — a nonviolent drug offender who was “coming home to a different life.”  Calling her Stephanie on second reference felt natural. (There was also the issue of the woman’s last name, which could have led some listeners to wonder “who’s George?” In addition, the others heard in the piece referred to her as “Stephanie.” There might have been confusion if Carrie had said “George.”)

As we also said in July, some platforms and projects that focus on being conversational have room to use first names on second reference — on their blogs, podcasts and NPR’s airwaves. Planet Money is an example. (The award-winning “Planet Money Makes A T-shirt” project, it should be noted, employed a few different ways to refer to people on second reference — by family names, by full names and by first names. The references sound right to this ear.)

Something to keep in mind: Using a first name might give the mistaken impression that the reporter has developed a bias, liking or sympathy for the subject. That could be a reason to use the family name instead. Editors and producers should consider that issue and discuss it with the deputy managing editors, their designated replacements or the Standards & Practices editor ahead of time if they have any doubts.

Then there are minors. The AP’s style is to “generally refer to them on second reference by surname if they are 16 or older and by first name if they are 15 or younger. Exceptions would be if they are involved in serious crimes or are athletes or entertainers.”

That guidance applied when Malala Yousafzai was shot in 2012.  She was 15 at the time and was “Malala” on second reference.

Two years later, should we still refer to her as “Malala?” That’s under discussion. For now, “Malala” remains OK even though that goes against the AP’s guidance (which the wire service isn’t following, by the way; it continues to call her “Malala”). One major reason not to change yet is that she’s known as “Malala” around the world.

Update: Of course, if your piece has several family  members in it, there’s probably not going to be any way around referring to them by their first names on second reference. Check out how Nina Totenberg handled one such story:

(Memmos; Dec. 17, 2014)


When It Comes To Being Offensive, English Isn’t The Only Language We Need To Worry About #

Everyone should be familiar with the “NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language.” If you need a refresher, it is posted here:

There are a few things to note:

– This isn’t an “English-only” issue. The FCC’s policies and our guidance apply to offensive words or phrases in any language.

– As the NPR policy states, “there is no room for guessing. If program material depicts or describes sexual or excretory activities or organs or other potentially objectionable language, the producer must seek guidance as to its suitability. If the matter is urgent, please contact the News Duty Manager …who is available 24/7 [if you don't know the phone number, ask Chuck or Gerry]. He/she will consult with the Office of the General Counsel (OGC) and/or escalate as appropriate. In all other non-urgent instances, please work through the normal editorial process, which for these matters, should involve consultation with OGC. While all decisions on content are ultimately reserved to the editorial decision making process in the News and Programming Divisions, it would be the extremely rare case that NPR journalists would not abide by the advice of NPR legal counsel as to the use of language that may be regarded as indecent or profane.”

As we’ve said before, “if there’s potentially offensive language in a piece intended for broadcast — even if the words have been bleeped — stations need to be alerted [as soon as possible] in the DACS line. Listeners and readers online deserve to be warned as well, of course.”

(Memmos; Dec. 12, 2014)


More ‘Torture’ Guidance #

Do not refer to what was done as “enhanced interrogation techniques” unless you’re explaining that is the term the CIA uses for the practices it believes were legal.

Instead, use such words and phrases as:

– “Interrogation techniques.”

– “Interrogations,” as Steve Inskeep did this morning when he introduced a report by simply saying “we’re going to sort out some of the facts behind a polarizing debate. It’s the debate over U.S. interrogations after nine-eleven.”

–  ”Brutal interrogation techniques / brutal interrogations.”

On “torture”: Once again, the word can be used.


– As Robert Siegel did last April when he said there was “torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11.”

– Or by saying that “torture and other harsh [or brutal] methods” were used.

– Or by saying that detainees were “in some cases tortured.”

– Or as Steve did this morning when he said, “this week’s Senate report on U.S. interrogations is the latest stage in a decade-long debate. Americans have talked about torture in different ways, including debating whether to call it torture at all.”

– Or by introducing the fact that some of the practices were acts the U.S. has called torture when they were done by other nations.

Reminder: Though there are those who argue that the techniques were not torture in the legal sense of that word, Merriam-Webster defines torture as “the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something.”

(Memmos; Dec. 11, 2014)


Guidance: Effective References To ‘Torture’ #

Here are some examples of how our guidance on use of the word “torture” has been implemented in the past 24 hours. They may be helpful.

Key takeaway: A thread that connects them is that we establish that the report details instances of torture, cite examples and then get on with the news or conversations.

In a Newscast spot:

“A report released today by the Senate Intelligence Committee charges the CIA lied to lawmakers and the public about interrogation techniques it used on terrorism suspects after 9-11.  The report is based on some 6 million CIA documents. NPR’s Brian Naylor says the report concluded no useful information was obtained through the methods.

[Brian:] “The so-called ‘torture report’ says interrogators water-boarded suspects, forced detainees who had broken legs to stand for hours and employed quote rectal feeding un quote. …”

On Morning Edition:

“This is Morning Edition from NPR news. I’m Steve Inskeep.

“I’m Renee Montagne.

“What’s come to be known as the ‘torture report’ by Senate investigators … broke more new ground than expected.

“Lawmakers examined interrogations of terror suspects after nine-eleven.

[Steve:] “It was already known that interrogators used waterboarding, sleep deprivation and more.

“Senate investigators have now added to that story.

“The report, released by Democrats, contends the tactics failed to produce useful information.

[Renee:] “It says the CIA failed to tell lawmakers everything it was doing.

“And the report says interrogation practices were even more brutal than previously known.

“NPR’s National Security Correspondent Dina Temple-Raston reports on just what was more brutal.”

Also on Morning Edition, during a Two-Way with former CIA lawyer John Rizzo:

Renee: “I should warn our audience that there’s a difficult couple of techniques that I’m just going to describe in a line. One, putting a drill to a detainee’s head. Another, threatening sodomy with a broom handle. These were techniques that this report found were used. Do they constitute torture?”

Rizzo: “Well, they certainly were not authorized and they are indefensible. So, sure. I mean if those Justice Department legal opinions established the legal lines and legal limits … anything that went beyond those techniques, especially the gruesome ones that you described there, sure they would probably constitute torture.”

On All Things Considered:

Audie Cornish, to former CIA acting director John McLaughlin: “You had Senator John McCain on the Senate floor today saying torture produces more misleading information than actionable intelligence. And that is one major argument throughout this report – that there’s intelligence there that could have been yielded through other means – that some of the intelligence, using brutal techniques, was fabricated or not useful.”

Reminder: Other examples of how the word has been used include the way Robert Siegel said in April that the Senate report would address “the torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11.” Though there are those who argue that the techniques were not torture in the legal sense of that word, Merriam-Webster defines torture as “the act of causing severe physical pain as a form of punishment or as a way to force someone to do or say something.”

(Memmos; Dec. 10, 2014)


Reminder: We Can Observe, But We Don’t Participate In Rallies #

Rev. Al Sharpton’s National Action Network plans to hold a civil rights march in Washington, D.C., on Saturday. The National March Against Police Violence is expected to draw a large crowd.

It’s been a few years since we issued guidance “on attending marches, rallies and other public events” and there are more than a few folks who have joined NPR since then. So this is a good time to post the guidance again.

Basically, we believe journalists can go see such events, even if they’re not assigned to cover them, so long as they don’t “participate”:

“There is real journalistic value in being an observer at public events such as a march or rally, even without a reporting assignment. But while we may observe, we refrain from actively participating in marches, rallies or public events involving political issues or partisan causes that our organization covers or may cover. Of course, the distinction between being a participant and being an observer can be subtle. But waving a picket sign or joining along in a cheer would be inappropriate. Again, we rely on your good judgment.

“Since the nature of each event differs, it’s wise to discuss these matters ahead of time with supervisors to figure out where ethical pressure points may exist or emerge. If attending such an event as an observer, take care in behavior, comments, attire and physical location not to reflect a participatory role.

“When we cover political or partisan marches, rallies or public events, we should be clearly distinguished as working in a journalistic role – identifying ourselves as NPR journalists to the people we speak with, with our NPR identification on display.”

The question will be asked: “If my job does not touch on NPR’s journalism, can I attend and participate in this or any other ‘political’ march?”

We can’t give an answer that would cover everyone and every eventuality. The best advice is to discuss it beforehand with your supervisor.

We can say that those who are in “outward-facing” positions — jobs that sometimes put them in the position of representing NPR to the outside world — should adhere to the same guidelines that our journalists follow.

Another question sure to come up is about social media. The same guidelines we spelled out before Election Day apply to marches and rallies:

“Keep in mind that what you tweet or post is going to be perceived as coming ‘from’ NPR. … Tweet and retweet [and post] as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.”

Related:The evolution of our guidance on marches, rallies and public events.”

(Memmos; Dec. 8, 2014)


When Looking For The Right Words, Beware Of ‘Imagined Elegance’ #

“Will someone please tell me what is wrong with the word ‘happened?’ ‘Transpired, transpired, transpired.’ It’s far more irritating than ‘begs the question’ and that’s saying a lot.”

After getting that email, I opened Strunk and White’s The Elements of Style. There’s a wonderful phrase in the book’s entry about “transpire”:

“Not to be used in the sense of ‘happen,’ ‘come to pass.’ Many writers so use it (usually when groping toward imagined elegance), but their usage finds little support in the Latin ‘breathe across or through.’ “

“Imagined elegance.”

Or, choosing a highfalutin word and sounding stuffy.

Or, as Mark Twain put it, using “a $5 word when a 50-cent word will do.”

We’ve heard from emailers about many other words and phrases that can take you down the path to imagined elegance. They include:

– Incentivize
– Esoteric
– Going forward
– Ubiquitous [Which I originally misspelled as ubitquitous!]
– Epicenter
– Comes amid

You can surely  think of others.

There are times to use $5 words. Linton Weeks is a clear, concise writer. But he slips one or two $5 choices into many of his pieces. In writing about “when Thanksgiving was weird,” he described the costumes that Americans once put on while celebrating that holiday:

“Some Americans wore masks that made fun of people of other nations. … More refined revelers donned soft, ghostly, painted veils made of gauzy mesh that both disguised, and improved … a person’s appearance.”

“Donned” is the perfect word. In a post about the past, it feels just right.

But there is a real — not imagined — elegance to clear, simple story-telling.

Some recent examples:

– Howard Berkes’ “Delinquent Mines” reports.

– Ailsa Chang’s pre-election piece, “Sen. Mitch McConnell Has More Than Most Riding On Midterm Elections.”

– Dan Charles’ “Of Carrots And Kids: Healthy School Lunches That Don’t Get Tossed.”

– Linda Holmes’ “ ‘Grape Salad’ Is Not Minnesotan, And Other Lessons In Cultural Mapmaking.”

– Joe Shapiro’s “Guilty And Charged” series.

– Laura Sullivan’s “Red Cross” reports.

– Gregory Warner’s “Guarding The Ebola Border” story.

Every Newscast has a strong example as well. Jennifer Ludden’s report this week on a San Francisco law that mandates predictable work schedules is one. She packed a lot of information into a tight spot:

“Under the new law, companies must post schedules two weeks in advance … pay a penalty for changes made after that … and they must give part-time workers more hours before hiring someone else. Studies show the number of part-timers who would rather be full time has doubled since 2008. Chaotic schedules make it hard to arrange child-care, take classes, or hold a second job. A co-sponsor of San Francisco’s legislation is now in the state assembly and plans to propose a bill there. Advocates are also pushing for predictable scheduling laws in other cities.”

We can question some words in the pieces cited above. But the stories are mostly carried along by short, punchy sentences and good reporting. As you listen or read, you don’t stop to wonder what something means or to sigh at a malapropism (now there’s a $5 word!). The elegance of the stories is not imaginary.

Related:Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips.”

(Memmos; Dec. 2, 2014)


As News From Ferguson Continues To Come, A Couple Reminders On Language #

1. The word  ”teenager” is not banned but is to be avoided. Michael Brown was 18 and that’s the age when you’re considered an adult. “Teenager” means a younger person in many people’s minds.

Newscast skillfully dealt with the issue this way earlier this evening:


2. On the black-and-white issue: Race is not an important matter in most crime stories.

But at the risk of being obvious, the races of the officer and Michael Brown are relevant because of the tensions they exposed and the protests that followed the killing. That context is important. Shereen Marisol Meraji wove that into her report on ATC as she told the story of one mother who is proud of her daughter for protesting. The woman feels “joy” because “her neighbors and her daughter are still out protesting and asking for changes to the way law enforcement treats young black people.” She feels “sadness because an 18 year old had to lose his life to spark that.”

Carrie Johnson folded in this context for Newscast: “Protesters say they’ll keep talking about issues of police bias and militarization no matter what the jurors decide.”

Newscast handled the issue this way:


(Memmos; Nov. 24, 2014)


No, It Tisn’t The Season #

You know you’re going to want to do it. The temptation will be enormous.

With Thanksgiving coming up it’s time to remind everyone: Please go easy on the holiday clichés. They tend to build up like the snowdrifts in Buffalo, and we don’t want that.

– “Tis the season to …” No, it tisn’t.

– “Twas the night before …” It twas?

– “Over the river and through the woods …” It’s been a while since we rode a sleigh to grandmother’s house.

– “Bah, humbug.” Be miserly with your references to Dickens.

– “Oh, the weather outside is …” Don’t put that song in my head!

– “It’s beginning to look a lot like …” Not that one either!

– “Yes, Virginia.” No, Korva.

– “Christmas came early for …” Really? Seems like it’s always on Dec. 25.

– “Jing-a-ling.” Jing-a-don’t.

– “A Christmas Grinch stole …” Every burglar doesn’t have to be be turned into a Dr. Seuss character this time of year.

– “Santa’s elves …” They’re everywhere!

– “On the Xth day of Christmas …” The song is boring enough as it is.

Can you play around with these holiday evergreens? Stand one on its head, as goes another cliché? Maybe. Tis the season for miracles, after all.

But let’s see if we can make these holidays mostly cliché-free.

Ho, ho, ho,

Scrooge McMemmott

(Memmos; Nov. 20, 2014)



Please Save This Reminder: Guidance May Be Just A Couple Clicks Away #

When stories that were hot a few weeks or months ago pop back onto our agenda, one question always comes up.

It begins like this: “What’s our policy on …?”

Variations include:

– “Do we still …?”
– “Didn’t you say something about …?”
– “Do I have to …?”

It’s good to ask if you’re not sure. Either Gerry, Chuck or I are usually available. But remember, you also may be able to find the latest guidance right from your own desk. Not every question can be answered by consulting our online resources, but many can. Here’s where to go:

– Wiki. If you’re inside the firewall, our Wiki has style guides that cover a lot of territory — from the language we use when reporting about abortion to the words that make up the acronym ZIP. There are links there to AP’s Style Book as well. It’s a good resource on topics that our guides don’t cover. If you’re inside the firewall, click here to go to the Wiki.

Note: We’re working on moving the style guides to public pages. Member stations have been asking for that.

– Ethics Handbook. You don’t need to be inside the firewall to get to our Ethics Handbook. It’s the go-to place for guidance on our values and for some case studies and it’s public. Click here to go to

– Memmos. These notes are also public. Click here to go to them. Here’s a tip: Use the “find” box in the upper right hand corner to search them.

For instance, if you vaguely remember that there was a memmo about when NOT to use the word “teenager,” search on that word. The result? “Something To Think About: Was Michael Brown A ‘Teenager?’ Yes, But …

Or maybe you’re trying to remember how we refer to the group that’s trying to take over much of Iraq and Syria. Search “ISIS” and you’ll be led to several posts, including: “Islamic State? ISIS? ISIL? Here’s Another Reminder About NPR’s Guidance.”

Not sure if you need to get a consent form signed by a minor’s parents? Search on “consent form” and you’re taken to: “Here’s Where To Find The Latest Version Of Our ‘Minor Consent Form.’ ” The post has guidance and a link to where we’ve posted a printable form.

Wondering how many times the memmos have referred to Korva? A search shows this is the third one to do that.

Speaking of Korva, right behind the work station she uses on the Newscast desk is a white wall. If you’re the old-fashioned sort who likes it when newsrooms put spellings, key facts and other important matters up on a board for all to see, swing by. Your question may be answered right there.

(Memmos; Nov. 19, 2014)


Peruse Or Peruse? You Can Read These Notes Both Ways #

We’ve asked listeners, users and the Twitter crowd (#wordmatters) to tell us about the grammar mistakes, mispronunciations and misuses of words and phrases that bother them.

They’ve given us an earful (about clichés as well). I’ll pass some along occasionally. For instance:

“@MarkMemmottNPR @MorningEdition peruse is misused often. Many think it’s synonymous with skim.”

The word’s original meaning is to read “in a thorough or careful way.” Also, to “examine carefully or at length.” (Oxford Online) British dictionaries have not wavered from those definitions.

American dictionaries, such as Webster’s, have added this in recent years: “loosely, to read in a casual or leisurely way.” That sure seems like the opposite of the word’s original meaning.

A word with meanings that seem to be in conflict; just what we need.

What to do? We know that definitions can change over time and we do want to sound conversational. But we also don’t want anyone to wonder about what we’re saying. In this case and others involving words that run the risk of causing confusion here’s some guidance: Substitute a word that’s more precise.

For example, if you mean that someone has “studied” some records, use the word studied. If you mean they’ve just given the records a “cursory” look, say that.

As always, feel free to peruse* the Ethics Handbook and  other “memmos” for additional guidance on language.

Related note: Most of the #wordmatters comments we’re getting are not complaints about what people have heard on NPR or read on The majority of the messages are about things people hear in daily conversations and read on all types of media.

One phrase that’s been brought up quite often is “could care less.” Many people say that when what they really mean is that they couldn’t care less.

A search by the Library staff indicates that NPR hosts and correspondents have only gotten that phrase wrong twice in the past year. We do care about about getting things right and it shows.

*Original meaning, of course.

(Memmos; Nov. 18, 2014)


Asking Difficult Questions: Scott Simon’s Conversation With Bill Cosby #

“I just did what I should.”

Late last night, Scott Simon tweeted that thought about the questions he posed to Bill Cosby during a conversation that aired Saturday on Weekend Edition.

This post is meant to preserve for future reference and guidance what happened and how Weekend Edition handled the situation.

Scott gave the comedian a chance to respond to accusations involving alleged sexual assaults.  Though some of the allegations go back a decade or more, they have been in the news in recent weeks. Eric Deggans reminded us today that Cosby has not directly addressed them. Cosby’s representatives have said the accusations are either not true or are due to misunderstandings.

NPR journalists believe that “to secure the public’s trust, we must make it clear that our primary allegiance is to the public.”  As we do that, we treat those we encounter with respect. If we “ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers — not confrontations.”

Here’s how Scott and the show balanced those responsibilities. The audio and full transcript of the interview are here. This part of the conversation came at the end of the interview:

SIMON: “This question gives me no pleasure, Mr. Cosby, but there have been serious allegations raised about you in recent days. [Two seconds of silence.] You’re shaking your head no. [Two seconds of silence.] I’m in the news business. I have to ask the question — do you have any response to those charges? [Two seconds of silence.] Shaking your head no. [Two seconds of silence.] There are people who love you who might like to hear from you about this. I want to give you the chance. [Five seconds of silence.]

“All right. Camille and Bill Cosby — they have lent 62 pieces from their collection of African and African-American artists to create an exhibit called ‘Conversations: African and African-American Artworks In Dialogue.’ It’s now on display at the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art through early 2016. Thank you both for joining us.”

CAMILLE COSBY: “Thank you. Thank you.”

It is also worth noting that listeners were given a heads up about the way the conversation would conclude. In the introduction, Scott said:

“Bill and Camille Cosby have loaned 62 pieces from their extraordinary art collection to the Smithsonian National Museum of African Art in Washington, D.C., for a show called ‘Conversations: African and African-American Artworks In Dialogue.’ Much of their art has never been shown in public. We spoke with the Cosbys at the museum last week, as Bill Cosby’s name was in the news for a different reason — allegations of rape and sexual assault have resurfaced against him. Mr. Cosby settled out of court in a lawsuit for sexual assault back in 2006. Several women supplied affidavits in the suit, which was settled for an undisclosed amount of money. You will hear Mr. Cosby’s response to our questions about the allegations during this interview. We sat down to speak with Bill and Camille Cosby at the Smithsonian in the midst of their art.”

 (Memmos; Nov. 17, 2014)


We Get So Many Things Right; Why Do We Get Some Things Wrong? #

More than 13,000 words were heard during All Things Considered‘s broadcast on Friday.

As of 1 p.m. this afternoon, The Two-Way blog had published nearly 3,300 words today.

Monday’s 9 a.m. newscast — one of 37 produced each day — clocked in at more than 1,000 words.

Those are three slices. Just think about all the information coming each day from Morning Edition, Here & Now, Monkey See, Shots, Goats and Soda, NPR Music, NPR Books, the various digital teams and other parts of this operation. Pick your cliche: mountain, tsunami, avalanche, etc.

Then consider that over the past month we’ve posted about 2 corrections a day. Compare that to the amount of reporting we did.
Pick your cliche: trickle, pint-sized, wee, etc.

Of course, as another cliche goes, one mistake is one too many. A way to avoid them is to study those we’ve made. A run through the corrections page reveals some common mistakes:

– Names. In the past month we posted 7 corrections about names. A couple were misspelled, one was mispronounced, some were just wrong. It always pays to get the person you’re interviewing to say and spell his name. In other cases, it’s wise to check public records. It’s always a good idea to give a script or Web story an extra read with particular attention to the subjects’ names.

– Assumptions. We think we know something, but we don’t. It was IBM’s Watson computer that defeated a world chess champion, right? Wrong. Remember what assuming can make you.

– Locations. This is a cousin of “names” and “assumptions.” Minneapolis and Milwaukee — we confuse them. We recently mixed up Maine and Minnesota. The same goes for Albany, N.Y., and Albany, Ore. Ask yourself: Do I have the right place?

– Numbers. Million, billion, trillion –if a word has “illion” in it, triple-check the first letter. Using the word “percent?” Please be sure you shouldn’t be saying “percentage point.” If there’s a decimal point in that figure, be sure it’s in the right place. In other words, do your math and then do it again.

– Dates. A subset of “numbers” and a close kin of “assumptions.” When was the movie Around the World in 80 Days released? It was 1956, not 1965. (Side note: Data are plural.)

– Ages. Get a person’s birth date and do the math. You may be surprised to find that someone’s miscalcuated their own age.

You’ll discover other common errors if you look through the corrections pages. The point of the exercise isn’t to make the case that we should expect to be perfect. The point is that we get so much so right every day, that it’s a shame for great stories to be tagged with corrections — especially for mistakes that we likely could catch with one more read or one more double-check.


– “Consider using an accuracy checklist.”

– “How We Make Corrections.”

(Memmos; Nov. 20, 2014)


It’s OK For Elvis, But Otherwise We Use Surnames On Second Reference #

The midterm elections are over, which means it’s time to start focusing on the 2016 presidential race!

I’m kidding.

I hope.

But you know there are stories to do about the potential contenders. You also know there will be the temptation to refer to at least one of them, on second reference, by her first name. It has happened a couple times in recent weeks.

We should not do that.

There’s the matter of respect. There’s the issue of whether it’s sexist. And we don’t want to be perceived as being either for or against someone because of the way we refer to him or her. Everyone is treated the same.

The acceptable second-reference alternatives include:

– Clinton.

– Secretary Clinton.

– The former senator.

– The former first lady.

– Mrs. Clinton.

Note: Yes, minors can be referred to by their first names on second reference. And then there’s Elvis, of course.

(Memmos; Nov. 6, 2014)


Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips #

Last week, a friend who’s been reading these “memmos” sent me an email that he’s held on to for 13 years. The message was written by Hal Ritter, a former managing editor of the Money and News sections at USA Today and until earlier this year the business editor at The Associated Press.

The topic: “precision editing.”

I called Hal to get his OK to share some excerpts. There are lessons here for reporters, producers and editors — whether they’re working on pieces for the Web or the radio. Just substitute some words — “listeners” for “readers;” “correspondents” for “reporters;” “pieces” for “stories” and his advice works well. It could easily be a note about “precision writing”:

“1. First, precision editing means getting it correct. Grammar, punctuation, usage and syntax are perfect. No rule is broken — or even bent. … Every day, I see verbs that don’t agree with their subjects, pronouns that disagree with their antecedents. … I see words that are misspelled. … I see prepositions used as conjunctions. And on and on and on. …

“2. Second, precision editing means squeezing every unnecessary word out of a story. I swear I can delete 15% of the words in some stories and not lose a thing. Word editing means when you see ‘away from,’ you delete ‘away.’ ‘Gathered together,’ delete ‘together.’ ‘Fell down,’ delete ‘down.’ ‘Burned up,’ delete ‘up.’ ‘In order to,’ ‘in order for,’ delete ‘in order.’ And many words, like ‘new,’ you can delete almost every time you see them. You can’t build an ‘old’ building. If you go through a story before sending it to the copy desk and challenge every word, you’ll be amazed how many you can delete. And how much crisper the writing is when you’re finished.

“3. Third, precision editing means writing for readers, not for sources. And that means getting rid of jargon or insider expressions. Language from Wall Street or Capitol Hill or Hollywood or the locker room that our readers won’t understand. Or retaining the jargon and explaining it. Completely and conversationally. Readers will thank you for doing that. Sadly, I’ve heard some reporters say that their sources will make fun of them if the reporters don’t write the way the sources talk. I say to hell with sources. Readers are the only people who matter at USA TODAY. Plus, those sources are wrong. The newspaper that does the best job of explaining jargon, completely and conversationally, is The Wall Street Journal. And The Journal‘s readers are likely to be well-versed in the jargon to begin with. A seventh-grader can read business and financial stories in The Journal and understand them.

“4. Fourth, precision editing means eliminating clichés and hackneyed expressions. Most of the time. I added that qualifier after rereading this week three wonderful pages that [Theodore M. Bernstein, long-time assistant managing editor of The New York Times] devotes to clichés [in The Careful Writer - A Modern Guide to English Usage]. Bernstein’s last sentence on clichés is this: ‘The important thing, however, as must be clear by now, is not to avoid the cliché, but rather to use it only with discrimination and sophistication, and to shun it when it is a substitute for precise thinking.’

“5. Finally, precision editing means careful attention to sentence structure. I believe that clear writing is 90% about sentence structure. What’s the best sentence structure? Simple. Subject, verb, object. One independent clause. An active verb. Little or no punctuation. The worst sentence structure? Complex. 40, 50 or even 60 words. Several dependent clauses. Lots of punctuation.”

My thanks to Hal for permission to share all that.

Someone may be about to suggest that the rules are different for radio. I would suggest that’s wrong. For one thing, USA Today‘s best stories at the time of Hal’s note were much like NPR’s and about the same length. The writing was tight and conversational. USA Today writers and editors would sweat over how many characters — not just words — they could fit on a line. Think about how much effort goes into shaving seconds off some of the pieces that NPR produces.

Also, a reading of Jonathan Kern’s Sound Reporting supports my case. Here’s some of what Jonathan says about “how to sound like a real person”:

– “First and foremost, say your sentences before you write them down; or at the very least, say them out loud after you’ve written them.”

– “Don’t use words on the radio you wouldn’t say at other times.”

– “Don’t use syntax that does not occur naturally.”

– “Use present participles — the ‘present progressive’ tense — to describe things that are going on at the moment.”

– “Don’t paraphrase actualities as if you were reading a quote from the newspaper.”

– Keep your sentence structure simple.”

– “Watch out for grammatical errors.”

– “Recognize clichés and look for alternatives.”

– “Avoid unnecessary jargon, acronyms and initialisms.”

– “Check for typos, missing words and other clerical errors.”

For those who want to read even more about proper usage, The New Yorker this week offers a piece on “Steven Pinker’s Bad Grammar.”

(Memmos; Nov. 4, 2014)


Some Guidance About Social Media On Election Day #

As news about the midterm elections comes in Tuesday, many of us are going to be using social media to share updates and pass along interesting bits of information. It’s going to be particularly tempting to post about turnout, about what other news outlets report from exit polls and about the results of key races as they’re “called” by one media outlet or another.

That’s all fine. But please keep in mind that what you tweet or post is going to be perceived as coming “from” NPR.

The first rule of the day is simple. Just as “there’s no cheering in the press box,” it’s not appropriate to cheer (or boo) about election results on social media.

After that, this previously issued guidance applies:

“Tweet and retweet [and post] as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.”

The important context includes making clear what information is coming from NPR and what is from other credible news outlets.

Throughout the evening, our Elections Desk will be following the AP’s lead as races are called — though there may be moments when the desk decides to issue a “stop” order and not follow AP’s decision to declare a winner. Along with, of course, the places where NPR-produced reporting will show up include @nprpolitics on Twitter and the NPR Facebook page.

(Memmos; Nov. 3, 2014)


Timely Reminder: It’s ‘Daylight Saving’ That’s Ending, Not ‘Daylight Savings’ #

This is a preemptive strike:

When we remind (most*) Americans that they should set their clocks back an hour before going to bed Saturday night, can we make sure to write and say it’s “daylight saving” time that’s ending, not “daylight savings?”

That extra “s” drives some folks nuts when it’s mistakenly added (as often happens).

Meanwhile, many thanks to those who have emailed about words or phrases that we get wrong or overuse. More suggestions are welcome. We’ll keep collecting and report back. Here’s a sampling of what’s been sent in so far:

– “We reached out to.” How about “we called” or “we spoke with?”
– It was a “brutal murder.” That’s likely to be redundant. (It’s often seen with the overused “pool of blood.”)
– “The (fill in the blank) community.” Is that really the way people talk?

Watch for more.

*Yes, Korva, we know that Arizona and Hawaii don’t observe Daylight Saving Time. Clocks in those states (except on  the Navajo Indian Reservation in Arizona) don’t need to be adjusted. Also not time-shifting this weekend: “Puerto Rico, the Virgin Islands, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Marianas Islands.”

(Memmos; Oct. 29, 2014)


Don’t Be Reticent Or Reluctant About Flagging The Words We Overuse, Misuse Or Otherwise Abuse #

We’ve previously discussed how we:

Wave a lot.

Go further when we should go farther.

Can’t stop begging the question.

Lay around when we’re really lying.

Are a bunch of so-and-sos.

Each of those “memmos” has prompted emails from reporters and editors who have their own pet peeves about words or phrases that we mess up or use too often. Among the things that really bother some folks:

– “In the wake of.” How about “after” or “following?”

– “Ordinary people” and “real people.” As opposed to what?

– “Dude.” There’s really only one.

– “Translator” when we should say “interpreter.” (This is actually more of a pet peeve among some in our audience. We get an email or two a week about it. If there’s a person standing beside you who’s telling you what someone else is saying, call that person an interpreter.)

– “Reticent.” It means “habitually silent or uncommunicative; disinclined to speak readily; reserved; taciturn” and “having a restrained, quiet, or understated quality.” (Webster’s) That’s not the same as being “reluctant,” but in the vast majority of cases we seem to think the words are interchangeable.

– “Confined to a wheelchair” and other phrases that imply a judgment about someone’s condition. A simple substitute: “Uses a wheelchair.”

Words and phrases matter, of course, because we’re in the business of writing and telling stories that are compelling and clear. Getting them wrong and relying on “cliches and shopworn phrases,” as Jonathan Kern has written, just get in the way of our mission.

Feel free to send along your pet peeves. We can highlight them in upcoming notes.

(Memmos; Oct. 28, 2014)