Search Results for: Memmos


Garnish? Garnishee? Garnisheed? We’re Not Buying Into This Parsleying Of Our Words #

Several things should be said about this week’s reports from Chris Arnold and ProPublica’s Paul Kiel. Their stories about debt collection and the seizure of people’s wages and bank accounts have been illuminating, compelling and at points heart-breaking.

Millions Of Americans’ Wages Seized Over Credit Card And Medical Debt

With Debt Collection, Your Bank Account Could Be At Risk

Some listeners, though, can’t get past the way we sprinkled the word “garnish” into the reports.

“This may be a minor thing, but I am a stickler,” writes one of the dozen or so people we’ve heard from so far. “Basically, [the story's] headline is saying that millions of Americans had parsley (or some other garnish) thrown at them. This has always been a tricky bit of grammar, not many people realize there is a huge difference. Please use ‘garnishee’ or ‘garnisheed’ when speaking of wage garnishment.”

As has been noted before (“I Won’t Lie To You, We Get Lay Wrong A Lot“), “many in NPR’s audience (radio and online) pay very close attention to our grammar.”

But, English is a living language. In this case, the critics are trying to enforce a rule that no longer applies. Our go-to dictionary (Webster’s New World College, fourth edition) says “garnishee” is now rarely used as a transitive verb in the U.S. “Garnish” is the verb to use, Webster’s says.

This note isn’t meant to be a dictum about the use of the word garnish. It is intended to remind us about the close attention listeners and readers pay to the words we use. We may disagree with their opinions, but we can admire their dedication and learn from their messages.

Plus, their emails do add some flavor to our day.

(Memmos; Sept. 16, 2014)


Islamic State? ISIS? ISIL? Here’s Another Reminder About NPR’s Guidance #

If you need a refresher about what we call the Islamist fighters in Iraq and Syria who are dominating the news these days and why they’re being referred to in different ways, Morning Edition and the Parallels blog have valuable background:

ISIS, ISIL Or Islamic State: What’s In A Name?

The blog adds a line about our foreign desk’s guidance regarding what to say on the air and online:

“NPR’s policy is to initially call the group ‘the self-declared Islamic State’ or some equivalent phrase, use ISIS in later references and, when necessary, explain that ISIL is another widely used acronym.”

That language was based on our internal Wiki entry:

“ISLAMIC STATE OF IRAQ AND SYRIA: On first reference, we refer to the group as the ‘self-proclaimed Islamic State’ or the militants/extremists/fighters ‘who call themselves the Islamic State.’ On second reference, it is acceptable to refer to them as ISIS. If in a report a person is heard referring to them as ISIL, we should note that is also a widely used acronym for the group.”

How does this play out?

Thursday during the 5 p.m. ET Newscast, Juana Summers’ spot from the Capitol was introduced this way:

“When President Obama outlined his strategy for combatting the threat from the so-called Islamic State, he vowed that there would be no U.S. ground troops involved. But as NPR’s Juana Summers reports, many Republicans have criticized the strategy President Obama outlined Wednesday night. They’re calling on him to lay out a more aggressive plan for military action.”

All Things Considered followed the Newscast with this:

“We begin this hour with a closer look at one element of President Obama’s strategy to take on the so-called Islamic State.”

The second ATC piece that hour was related and began like this:

“Secretary of State, John Kerry, is in Saudi Arabia today to drum up support for President Obama’s strategy to against ISIS.”

“Wait a minute,” you say, “that last one didn’t start with ‘so-called’ or ‘self-described’ or some other modifier to the name ‘Islamic State.’ Doesn’t that go against our guidelines?”

Well, there’s a reason we call them guidelines — not rules. We had just told listeners twice that this is the “so-called Islamic State” we’re reporting about. Yes, some listeners didn’t hear those references. But many, if not most, did. There’s room for cutting to the second reference — ISIS — in that case.

There’s something else about that second ATC report that’s worth noting. Jackie Northam smoothly set up listeners for the “ISIL” reference they were about to hear:

“State Department spokesperson Marie Harff says there’s more than just the military component to battling ISIL, the alternative acronym for the militant group.”

As always, we’re open to discussing reasons to adjust our guidance.

(Memmos; Sept. 12, 2014)


Peat, We Hardly Knew ‘Ye — But We Can Learn From Our Brief Time With The Wee Kitty #

He was the captivating kitten in our story Tuesday about distillery cats. Peat, as we reported from the Glenturret distillery in Scotland, had “the killer reflexes of a champion mouser.” When our microphone came near, he pounced.

Our reporting on Peat and other whisky cats had been done more than three weeks before the broadcast.

Sadly, as we were telling our audience about Peat, he was being mourned by those who knew him. The kitten was struck by a vehicle on Monday. He “passed away [that day] in the arms of distillery manager, Neil Cameron,” according to Aberdeen’s Press and Journal.

We didn’t find out about his death until the distillery announced the news Wednesday.

It would not have occurred to this editor to call up the distillery on Monday or Tuesday to inquire if Peat was still prowling the grounds. But it does seem reasonable to suggest that a call or email to give the distillery a heads up that the piece was going to be broadcast might have led to our hearing of his passing. (It’s also reasonable to suggest that the distillery should have called us.)

Conversations with correspondents this morning confirm that it’s routine, especially when the reporting was done weeks or even months earlier, to check back with key characters before a report is broadcast or posted. Obviously, it could be awkward to ask if someone’s still alive (“hey, has Peat used up any of his nine lives yet?”). A simple, “I wanted to let you know my story’s scheduled to run tomorrow,” could be enough to get the conversation going and alert us to something we need to know.

This note is just a reminder that it’s a good idea to do that — for Peat’s sake.

(Memmos; Sept. 10, 2014)


Do Not Assume, Because You Know What That Will Make You #

July 29: Sports Illustrated‘s Peter King writes on the MMQB blog that officials from the NFL and the Baltimore Ravens “have seen” the surveillance video of Ray Rice punching his then-fiancée.

The implication was that those officials had watched the tape and concluded that a two-game suspension was enough punishment for Rice.

Today: King writes that “earlier this summer a source I trusted told me he assumed the NFL had seen the damaging video that was released by TMZ on Monday morning of Rice slugging his then-fiancée. … The source said league officials had to have seen it. This source has been impeccable, and I believed the information. So I wrote that the league had seen the tape. I should have called the NFL for a comment, a lapse in reporting on my part. The league says it has not seen the tape, and I cannot refute that with certainty.” [Bold added.]

As you’ve probably heard, the newly surfaced video has led the Ravens to cut Rice from the team and the NFL to suspend him indefinitely.

King may have been right all along. But he can’t prove that.

Let’s keep this simple. There’s nothing vague about the word “confirm.” It means the person we’ve spoken to knows for a fact that something has happened. There’s no room for “I think so,” or “that’s what I hear,” or “they must have.” In most cases we require more than one such source — independent from the other — to confirm a key fact before we go with it.

We do all this, as you know, because “when you assume, you make an ass out of u and me.”

H/T to Brian Naylor.

(Memmos; Sept. 8, 2014)


Showing Stories To Sources? This Reporter Did. We Don’t. #

The Intercept broke the news this week that on at least two occasions in 2012, when he was with the Los Angeles Times, reporter Ken Dilanian sent drafts of stories he was working on to the CIA’s press office. The Intercept has also posted copies of emails from Dilanian to the CIA press office.

Dilanian (who is now with the AP and worked at USA Today before joining the LA Times), tells The Intercept that sending the drafts to the CIA was a mistake. “I shouldn’t have done it, and I wouldn’t do it now,” he says. “[But] it had no meaningful impact on the outcome of the stories. I probably should’ve been reading them the stuff instead of giving it to them.”

David Lauter, Tribune’s Washington bureau chief and Dilanian’s former boss, says the company’s news outlets “have a very clear rule that has been in place for quite a few years that tells reporters not to share copies of stories outside the newsroom. … I am disappointed that the emails indicate that Ken may have violated that rule.”

The AP says it is “satisfied that pre-publication exchanges Ken Dilanian had with CIA before joining AP [in May] were in pursuit of accuracy in his reporting.”

Here is what NPR’s Ethics Handbook says about sharing with sources:

“For purposes of accuracy and fairness, there are times when we may want to review portions of a script with a source or read back a quotation to ensure we captured it correctly. We may also play audio or read transcripts of an interview to a third party if the purpose is to get that party’s reaction to what another person has said. Otherwise, however, the public is the first audience for our work — we don’t preview scripts or stories in advance of their broadcast or posting with sources, subjects of coverage or other parties outside NPR.”

This is just the latest in an occasional note to highlight something from our handbook by discussing a problem encountered by another news outlet.

(Memmos; Sept. 5, 2014)

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A Smokin’ Hot Story (Or, How To Make A Great Introduction; Part II) #

Last month it was Morning Edition‘s “panda triplets” intro that got our attention.

This week it’s the intro to All Things Considered‘s conversation about CVS and the retailer’s new name (CVS Health) that’s worth a second listen.

ATC’s Alison MacAdam sets up the CVS story’s setup:

– While looking for a good person to two-way, the show consulted business editor Neal Carruth.

– Neal passed along word that CVS had put a 30-foot-tall cigarette on display in Manhattan’s Bryant Park.  Then he sent a photo of that big smoke.

– Planet Money producer Phia Bennin was recruited to go gather tape in the park, where CVS was promoting its name change by spotlighting its ban on tobacco sales.

Even though only a few seconds were needed, writes Alison, the sound “went a long way to making this story begin in a FAR more interesting and narrative-driven way than it might have otherwise.” Take a listen.

Also take note of the way the show transitioned from the intro to the conversation by acknowledging the Bryant Park event for what it was — a public relations stunt:

AUDIE CORNISH: “In New York’s Bryant Park today, there was an unusual scene — a huge cigarette, maybe 30 feet high, stamped with the words, ‘cigarettes out, health in’ and some free lollipops.”

NICKO LIBOWITZ: “Hey folks. Did you guys get a lollipop yet?”

CORNISH: “Nicko Libowitz was handing out treats on behalf of CVS.”

LIBOWITZ: “So CVS is quitting cigarettes.”


LIBOWITZ: “And we’d like you all to celebrate with us.”

CORNISH: “CVS actually decided to stop selling tobacco products earlier this year. The company is marking today as the day that it’s fulfilled that promise. No more cigarettes on the shelves. And today CVS rebranded itself. Its corporate was CVS Caremark, now it’s CVS Health. Bruce Japsen covers health care business for Forbes, and he joins us now. Bruce, welcome.”

BRUCE JAPSEN: “Hey, thanks for having me.”

CORNISH: “So let’s put what’s happening today in context because this is a lot of PR. But what’s the thinking behind it?”

(Memmos; Sept. 4, 2014)


Corrections: Fresh Guidance About How We Make Them #

Who do I talk to about a correction?*

That question gets asked at least once a week or so. Given that, it seems like a good idea to dust off, freshen and resend the Chuck Holmes/Gerry Holmes memo from earlier this year about “How We Make Corrections.”

As you’ll see, some of the names have changed and some of the steps have been tweaked a bit. But the process remains basically the same.

Click here to see the memo. May I recommend saving a copy to your desktop and perhaps printing it out as well?

Also posted: “A Common Corrections Scenario.” It also might be worthy of saving for future reference.

If you spot any mistakes in those memos (wouldn’t that be ironic?), please let me know.

(Memmos, Sept. 3, 2014)

*Yes, “whom do I talk to …?” or “to whom do I talk …?” would be the grammatical ways to go. They’re not, though, the way the question gets asked.


So, Can You Guess How Many Times We Started A Sentence This Way In One Week? #

A recovering blogger is not someone who should point fingers when it comes to grammar.

It should also be noted, as has pointed out, that it’s not necessarily true that it’s wrong to begin a sentence with the word “so” or any other coordinating conjunction.

What’s more, while we do want to speak and write well, we also want to “sound like America.”

But (to use another such conjunction), we do start our sentences with “so” an awful lot.

During the week of Aug. 17-23, NPR reporters, hosts, member station reporters and freelancers began sentences with the word “so” 237 times during broadcasts of Morning Edition, All Things Considered, Weekend Edition and Weekend All Things Considered.

According to librarian Sarah Knight, who did the research for us, the usage cuts across genders and ages. David Greene believes he may be our most frequent “so” sayer, but he’s certainly not alone.

This isn’t a new thing. Four years ago, The New York Times wrote that during one “dispatch on National Public Radio last month … a quarter of the sentences began with ‘so.’ ”

There’s a case to be made that we’ve been influenced by the people we meet and we’re just reflecting the way Americans speak. Three years ago, University of Delaware English professor Ben Yagoda wrote for The Chronicle of Higher Education that, “I’m an NPR power-listener, and so is to NPR interviewees as dude is to fraternity brothers.”

Should we do something about  this?

Fast Company columnist Hunter Thurman recently argued that starting sentences with “so” can undermine your credibility. Thurman made the case that “just like a speaking coach will tell you not to fill empty space with ‘um,’ you should avoid framing your answer as a rehearsed pitch by starting with ‘so.’ ”

Rutgers University communications professor Galina Bolden, however, told Business Insider that a “so” sentence “communicates that the speaker is interested in or concerned about the recipient.”

The bigger issue for us may be the repetition. Perhaps the thing to do is be aware and try this: If you feel the urge to write a “so” into your story or questions for a two-way, resist. Find another way to start that sentence.

Instead of:

“So, tell us exactly what you saw.”

Just say:

“Tell us what you saw.”

Or instead of:

“So, here’s how the incubator works.”


“Here’s how the incubator works.”

And so on.

(Memmos, Sept. 2, 2014)


I Won’t Lie To You, We Get Lay Wrong A Lot #

What are the most common emails to our corrections inbox? (Besides those accusing us of favoring one side or the other in whatever is the hot debate of the day.)

They’re the ones that go something like this:

“Thanks for the reporting! Please apprise [insert name of NPR staffer here] of the difference between ‘to lay’ and ‘to lie.’ It should be ‘if everybody is lying low’ not ‘laying low.’ “


“Thanks for the reporting! Please apprise Mr. Clapton of the difference between ‘lie down’ and ‘lay down.’ It should be ‘lie down Sally’ not ‘lay down Sally.’ “

Many grammarians have posted about lie vs. lay. The University of Kansas has guidance under the headline “You’ll lay an egg if you don’t lie down.”

Arizona State has guidance and a practice exercise here.

The Associated Press begins its style guide entry this way:

“The action word is lay. It takes a direct object. Laid is the form for its past tense and its past participle. Its present participle is laying. Lie indicates a state of reclining along a horizontal plane. It does not take a direct object. Its past tense is lay. Its past participle is lain. Its present participle is lying. When lie means to make an untrue statement, the verb forms are lie, lied, lying.”

I bring this up for two reasons.

1. We get on average several emails a week about it.

2. It underscores something: Many in NPR’s audience (radio and online) pay very close attention to our grammar. While it’s true that we want to sound conversational and that some grammatical rules are being bent all the time across the nation, it does offend some of our most dedicated fans when we get things wrong.

Note: This is a bad thing for a Standards & Practices editor to admit — I’m not a grammarian. I’m in the camp that needs to look some words up every time I use them (principal? or principle?). Or, I turn to some of the better linguists in the room. There’s somebody who can help on each desk, show and online team. The librarians are here for us too.

There, I’ve put  my cards on the table. (Notice how I avoided the whole lay vs. lie issue there.)

(Memmos; Aug. 29, 2014)


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

There’s been a flurry of appeals to the Standards & Practices editor and the DMEs in recent weeks about identifying someone we’ve spoken to by a first name only.

At least once, a first-name-only got on the air without being discussed with either the DMEs or that S&P scold.

There’s not really a distinction between a first-name-only and anonymity. So this passage from our guidelines applies:

“If a reporter and editor know ahead of time that a key interview can only be done if the source is granted anonymity, they must have a conversation in advance with a senior editor and make the case for granting it.”

Senior editor = a supervising senior editor, a DME or the Standards & Practices nudge. Senior supervising editors  can weigh the issues and make the call on this. They should then flag the decision to the DMEs and the S&P. That way the DMEs and S&P can raise concerns if needed, but just as importantly can keep a handle on how often this is  happening across the desks and shows.

Another important set of words in that passage: “key interview.” (Note: We realize that sometimes it isn’t known ahead of time that a person won’t want us to use a full name. In that case, the discussion about whether to use information from that interview will obviously happen afterward.)

We should be very sparing in our granting of such status and the appearance of first-name-onlys in our reports. Listeners and readers expect us to identify the people we interview. Among the questions to consider:

– Is the person going to be in danger if we use a full name?

– Is the subject sensitive and among those that could come back to haunt the person because the story will live on the Web forever?

– How hard have we tried to get others with equally good stories who have no problem with the use of their full names?

If after a discussion it’s decided that we should grant first-name-only (or anonymous) status, then we have to agree on the language that tells listeners and readers why we’re doing that. We should always explain why someone isn’t being fully identified. It might be because:

– She fears retribution from police.

– He’s concerned his chronic condition could make employers wary of hiring him.

– Her family doesn’t know about what happened.

– He would only discuss his medical condition if his full name was withheld.

You get the idea. It’s also the case that:

“NPR does not name individuals who are the alleged victims of sexual assaults. There are exceptions at times – such as certain instances when such an individual goes public with his/her identity – and NPR editors will judge these instances on a case-by-case basis.”

Related reminders from the handbook:

No offers. “Occasionally in the course of our reporting, a source will agree to share information only if it’s not attributed to him or her. Journalists should use their good judgment to determine whether the information merits such a decision. However, we do not begin our quest for interviews by promising to keep a source anonymous or off the record. Our goal is to get as much information as possible on the record.”

No pseudonyms. “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.”

(Memmos; Aug. 28, 2014)


Campaign-Time Reminder: ‘Don’t Sign, Don’t Advocate, Don’t Donate’ #

Labor Day Weekend means summer is almost over and that the 2014 campaign is about to really get going. So it’s time to remind everyone (and make sure new folks are aware) that as the Ethics Handbook says:

“We’re not advocates. We may not run for office, endorse candidates or otherwise engage in politics in a participatory or activist manner. … We should not sign petitions or otherwise contribute support or money to political causes or public campaigns. Also: we don’t put political signs in our yards or bumper stickers on our cars.”

And remember, there is no privacy on the Web. Posting on Facebook or Twitter or another social media site that you support a political cause or a political candidate is the virtual equivalent of putting a sign in your front yard.

On a related note, there’s also a lot happening (as there often is) on the National Mall and other places around the nation. So here’s another reminder:

“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.”

There’s more in the handbook, including a discussion of “the evolution of our guidance on marches, rallies and public events.”

(Memmos; Aug. 25, 2014)


Guidance On The Word ‘Execute’ #

Several listeners and readers have told us it’s wrong to say that James Foley was “executed” or to use the word “execution” when reporting about his death.

They have a point.

According to Webster’s, someone is executed if they are “put to death as in accordance with a legally imposed sentence.” An execution is the putting to death of someone “in accordance with a legally imposed sentence.”

The AP advises that “to execute a person is to kill him in compliance with a military order or judicial decision.”

Saying Foley was executed, by definition, would mean his death was “in compliance” or “in accordance” with orders from a recognized court, government or military. Saying Foley was executed would imply that the Islamic State (or ISIS) is an entity that can legally carry out such sentences.

In this case, it’s better to say Foley was “killed” or “beheaded” or “murdered” (“the unlawful and malicious or premeditated killing of one human being by another”).

Note I: Yes, the AP seems not to have followed its own guidance on this issue. And yes, “murdered” is a powerful word that should be used judiciously. In this case, though, the video evidence supports use of the word.

Note II: Another word to think about when discussing the Foley case is “captured.” When an Israeli soldier was missing recently, we discussed why it was wrong to say he had been “kidnapped” (a word that applies to civilians and to crimes) and was better to say he had been “captured” (a word that applies to combatants on a battlefield). In Foley’s case, the opposite is true. He was not a combatant. It’s not a major problem to say Foley was “captured,” but it’s better to say something like he was “taken hostage” or “kidnapped.”

(Memmos; Aug. 22, 2014)


Something To Think About: Was Michael Brown A ‘Teenager?’ Yes, But … #

Webster’s New World College Dictionary is clear: “teenager … a person in his or her teens.”

But check out this headline: “AP Decides Not to Refer to Brown, 18, as ‘Teenager.’ ” (Richard Prince’s Journal-isms)

“Many outlets continue to refer to [Michael Brown] as a teen or teenager. Now that we know his age, let’s be specific without using a term that can be left up to interpretation.” (AP Managing Editor Lou Ferrara)

Basically, the wire service says that once you’ve reached 18, you’re an adult and that to most people a “teenager” implies someone younger than 18.

We’ve used the words “teen” and “teenager” often when referring to Brown.

Should we?

After conversations with a dozen or so editors on various parts of the 3rd floor, it’s clear there are two basic views. There’s a slight majority in favor of No. 2:

1. By definition, Brown was a teenager. So the word applies. He was 18 at the time of his death and it’s just a fact that he was a teen. We can use the words “teen” and “teenager.”

2. But words come with connotations. For many listeners and readers, a “teen” is a youngster or a kid. We could be influencing the way they view the story by introducing that word. We should avoid it.

By now, you may be asking: “What’s the alternative?”

The most common suggestion is “young man.” That also comes with connotations — though they seem to be more appropriate ones in this case. Brown was old enough to vote. He had graduated from high school. He could have gone into the military. As AP might say, he had entered adulthood.

Would we refer to an 18-year-old soldier killed in Afghanistan as a “teen” or “teenager?” Probably not unless we were doing a profile and it felt right to say he was “still in his teens.” But I suspect we’d be more likely to use the phrase “young man.”

The best guidance in this case and others like it that may come along seems to (as it has in other situations) come back to avoiding labels.

So, perhaps we should say and write that Brown was “the 18-year-old shot and killed by a police officer.” Or, that protests continued over the “shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown.”

Are we banning the words “teen” and “teenager” for 18- and 19-year-olds? No.

Might we decide sometime that a 17-year-old should be described as a “young woman” or “young man?” Yes.

But is it best to avoid labels and to consider them carefully before using them? Yes.

(H/T to Hansi Lo Wang.)

(Memmos; Aug. 21, 2014)


Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume III: Polling #

We report about polls all the time. We dig into them in various ways. On Morning Edition and in the Ed blog today, Cory Turner highlighted the importance of examining not only the results, but how the questions were asked.

The two surveys he dissected reached different conclusions about the level of support for Common Core.

Cory made a convincing case that it was the way the questions were asked that created the differences.

“Can a majority of Americans oppose and support the Common Core?” he concluded. “In a word: yes. Because, when it comes to polling, a word can make all the difference.”

Read or listen to his report to see how he told the “tale of two polls.”

The piece is a reminder to all of us, especially as the 2016 presidential campaign draws near, about how important it is to go beyond the results when it comes to reporting about polls. Among the tools out there that are worth consulting is the National Council on Public Polls’ “20 Questions A Journalist Should Ask About Poll Results.”

Other valuable materials online include: Poynter’s “Resources for Covering Political Polls.”

One related thought from this former economics editor who has a pet peeve: Don’t fall into the trap of confusing percent and percentage points. Click here for more on that.

(Memmos; Aug. 20, 2014)



Can I Tweet That? Or Facebook It? Or Post It? Some More Social Media Guidance #

Digital strategist and social media team member Mel Kramer writes:

“It’s really good to be able to contact companies on Twitter if, for instance, you need to change a flight or are having an issue with your electrical bill. You should do this! (It’s much easier than contacting customer service almost all of the time.)

“Remember, though, that your messages are public. So, since we cover such companies, it’s important to make sure your posts on their social media accounts are as polite and respectful as you would be if you were addressing them on the air. You don’t want to be open to accusations of bias later on.

“I’ve recently seen several journalists from other news organizations publicly berate companies on Twitter —  and just wanted to send out this reminder that we can correspond, but not berate.”

Meanwhile, on the other side of the social media universe, there’s the question of whether we can post on our personal (but still public!) pages about the things we “like” or the good deeds we’re doing for charities.

The short answer is yes.

The longer answer, of course, comes with a “but.”

For instance, are you going to be in a charity run that raises money for cancer research? Of course you can tell folks about that on Twitter, Facebook or other sites.

But it’s wise to make clear that it’s you — not NPR — that’s doing the good deed. NPR can’t be seen as endorsing one worthy cause over others.

And if your job involves covering the cause or issue that the fundraiser is about, it’s best to steer clear of public pronouncements — and actions — that imply you’ve chosen one organization over another.

There’s lots of grey area here. The handbook has guidance about “whom to turn to” when questions arise.

In particular, it suggests “for advice specific to social media environments, email … Of course, you can always … actually talk” to the social media team as well.

(Memmos; Aug. 19, 2014)


If You See An Adjective, Kill It — Or At Least Ask Whether It Should Be Allowed To Live #

This line in a Newscast spot today …

“An investigation continues into the bizarre accident that claimed the life of 20-year-old Kevin Ward Jr. at a dirt track in western New York.”

… led to a discussion in the newsroom about the advice (from Strunk & White and others) to write with nouns and verbs, not adverbs and adjectives.

The adjective that drew our attention was “bizarre.”

First, we agreed it wasn’t the right word to use. As NPR and other news outlets have reported, it’s not unusual for stock car and dirt track drivers to confront each other. Sometimes it happens on the track. The result in this case was tragic, but the events that led up to it were not unusual. So “bizarre” had to go.

Then Kathy Rushlow said that “verbs, not adjectives,” is a good rule to keep in mind. Her comment reminded me of what one of my first editors did 30 or so years ago as he butchered improved my copy. He hated adverbs that ended in “ly” and killed every one. My stories never seemed to suffer.

But it’s worth noting that there’s been some pushback from grammarians in recent years.

Linguist Geoffry Pullman called Strunk & White’s advice about avoiding adjectives and adverbs a “mysterious decree.”

He’s pointed out that Strunk & White even violated their own rule:

” ‘Write with nouns and verbs, not with adjectives and adverbs,’ they insist. … And then, in the very next sentence, comes a negative passive clause containing three adjectives: ‘The adjective hasn’t been built that can pull a weak or inaccurate noun out of a tight place.’ “

On the Grammar Underground blog, writer June Casagrande suggested that there are “adjectives and manner adverbs that are worth keeping.” They are, “the ones that add new information.”

“The ones that should go are usually the ones that contain value judgments,” she adds. “They tell readers how to feel about something rather than giving them the facts and letting them decide for themselves.”

So: “Mark wears an obnoxiously loud shirt when he bikes.”

Might be better this way: “Mark wears a bright white shirt decorated with Grateful Dead logos when he bikes.”

(Memmos; Aug. 14, 2014)


Panda Triplets! Or, How To Make A Great Introduction #

If you didn’t catch it on the air, take a moment to listen to the introduction on Morning Edition today to a report about panda triplets born in China:

Steve Inskeep: “This is the introduction of a news report, in which part of our job is to interest you in the story that follows.

“In this case, we got one word for ‘ya.


David Greene: “Better still; two words.

“Panda triplets!

“Weeks after birth, they’re still alive. NPR’s Frank Langfitt reports from China.”

In Sound Reporting, Jonathan Kern writes that:

“The host intro is one of the most important — if not the most important — parts of a radio story. It is the equivalent of a newspaper headline and lead paragraph rolled into one — the ‘hook’ that is going to grab the listener’s attention. …

“Because the intro is so important, the writing should shine — it should give the host an opportunity to connect with the audience and sell the reporter’s story. As [former] NPR Senior Vice President Jay Kernis puts it, ‘During a lead is when hosts become hosts. … Let them have their moment on the stage, in the best possible light, in front of the most captivating set.’ “

Based on Jonathan’s guidance, there are two words for that intro: well done.

(Memmos, Aug. 13, 2014)


UPDATE: The Latest ‘NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language’ #

A search today for NPR’s latest guidance on the use of potentially offensive language revealed that we hadn’t posted the most recent version.

So, here’s a link to where our latest language about such language can be found. It was written earlier this year:

NPR Policy On Use Of Potentially Offensive Language

The biggest change from the previous document is the addition of a lengthy section on “Entertainment and Music Programming.”

Fair warning: As we might say on the air and online, “some of the language in the document will be offensive to many readers.”

The section of the Ethics Handbook that deals with “using potentially offensive language” has been updated with the new link.

This is a good time for a reminder, because one slipped through the cracks on us last week: 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.

Clarification: No offensive words were heard in the piece referred to above. The words were bleeped.

(Memmos; Aug. 11, 2014)


Reminder About The Word ‘Torture’ #

As you may have heard, New York Times executive editor Dean Baquet wrote Thursday that “from now on, The Times will use the word ‘torture’ to describe incidents in which we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.”

His post about the Times‘ position on use of that word is here. It came a week after President Obama’s “we tortured some folks” comment.

This is a good time to refresh our memory on NPR’s position. As with many such guidelines, it’s on our internal Wiki.
Here’s what Ellen Weiss wrote on Nov. 13, 2009. I’ve added some bold for emphasis:

“Contrary to some commentaries, NPR did not ban the word ‘torture.’ Rather, we gave our journalists guidance about how to avoid loaded language about interrogation techniques, realizing that no matter what words are chosen, we risk the appearance of taking one side or another. We asked our staff to avoid using imprecise descriptions that lump all techniques together, and to evaluate the use of the following descriptions, depending on context, including: ‘harsh’ or ‘extreme’ techniques; ‘enhanced interrogation techniques;’ and specific descriptions, such as ‘controlled drowning.’ We specifically advised them that they may use the word ‘torture’ when it makes sense in the context of the piece.

In the years since Ellen’s note, debate over the word has continued and we’ve applied the guidance. For example, here’s Robert Siegel this past April:

“Today, the Senate Intelligence Committee moved a step closer to publishing parts of a report about the torture of terrorism suspects after 9/11. Lawmakers voted to send the report on to the White House and to CIA. The CIA will determine how much of the five-year-long study can be declassified. And President Obama could be called upon to referee any dispute of how much of the report sees the light of day.”

Here’s Tom Gjelten in May 2013:

“[President] Obama banned those interrogation techniques on his second day in office. But he has largely avoided the debate over whether torture in some cases has produced valuable information. … The program did not ‘work,’ the [Senate] committee said, in the sense that the ‘brutal’ interrogations — the torture — produced no information, no leads, of any use in tracking down terrorists.”

We’re constantly discussing and reviewing the language we use. Our guidance on use of the word “torture”  comes down to the issue of whether it “makes sense in the context of the piece.” The Times says the test is whether “we know for sure that interrogators inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information.” I would think that if NPR is confident interrogators “inflicted pain on a prisoner in an effort to get information” that is the sort of context our guideline suggests is relevant.

(Memmos; Aug. 8, 2014)


Here’s Where To Find The Latest Version Of Our ‘Minor Consent Form’ #

Click here to see (and print if you need to) a copy of the latest form for obtaining “consent, authorization, release and waiver” before interviewing minors. We’ll be placing it on the Wiki too.

Here’s a reminder, from the 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).”

(Memmos, Aug. 7, 2014)


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

The note about “How To Explain Why We Won’t ‘Take Down’ A Story” prompted several emails suggesting it would be helpful to offer guidance on what to say to people — before we interview them — about the fact that our stories go on the Web as well as the radio.

There’s a case to be made that some people who have come to regret speaking to news outlets did not fully understand that what they said will live on indefinitely thanks to the Web. Perhaps if that had been made clear to them they would have declined to be interviewed, been more careful about what they said or at the very least would have had no reason to object later.

After sampling opinions from various parts of the newsroom, it’s obvious there is no magical sentence that works in all situations and it’s clear that long explanations are not always necessary, possible or helpful.

This note is not intended to 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. Getting the permission of parents or guardians to interview minors is also a separate subject (and we make it clear when we get such consent that the material will be on the Web).

With those caveats in mind, we obviously start conversations that hopefully will turn into interviews by identifying ourselves.  As the handbook says, “journalism should be done in plain sight.”

But as for what to say after we introduce ourselves, rather than try to come up with a one-size-fits-all approach, here are some thoughts.

– Nell Greenfieldboyce comes at the issue as someone who reports about complicated and often sensitive subjects. “If the person is talking to me about, say, their child’s health, I really caution them,” she writes. “I point out that years in the future, someone could search on their child’s name and read this story. Are they really OK with that?

She suggests that in sensitive situations it may be wise to say something like this:

“Before we start, I have to ask you: you know you are being recorded, right? And that I am a radio reporter and the reason I am recording is that I may use part of this tape in my broadcast radio story, just like a newspaper reporter uses a quote? And you should know that we also put our stories up on our website, so this isn’t just for radio, but the audio will go online and there will be a story with it, and you may be quoted by name and your voice may be used. Are you OK with all that?”

Nell adds that she knows “there is a concern that if we fully inform people, they will not want to talk to us. I find it’s just the opposite, that the more I try to talk to sources about the effect on them, the more firm they are in their conviction that they want to talk and the more they trust me.”

– Jon Hamilton also deals with sensitive subjects. He writes that:

“In 2012 I did a story about a guy named Christopher Stephens, who had taken part in an NIH trial of a drug called ketamine for severe depression. We talked about the implications of his story (and photo) being on the Web forever and, after pondering it, he agreed to use his name. The interesting twist came when I did another ketamine story later that year. The website wanted to run one of the photos of him that we already had on file. Legally, we could have. But I tracked him down and got his approval anyway. I wanted to know whether his mental health status had changed and whether he wanted another web reference that would never go away. He gave his permission to use the photo.”

(The BBC devotes a section of its editorial guidelines to the issue of using “archive material involving illness, death, emotional trauma or intimate personal revelation” and the need to “minimise possible distress to surviving contributors, victims and relatives.”)

– Pam Fessler’s reporting on poverty takes her into some very personal places. “I’m often profiling fairly vulnerable people who laying out a lot of personal stuff,” she writes. Pam makes it clear that her report will be on both the radio and the Web — “and that it could expose them to lots of uncomplimentary on-line comments.”

– The Web needs photos. 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.’ ”

Now we come to the situations in which long explanations aren’t needed or might be counterproductive.

Are you trying to book a conversation with a senator? Her press secretary should already know that the interview will be on the radio and the Web. Many people we speak with, in fact, probably only need to be told that the story will be on the Web as well as on the air and that we’ll be glad to send them a link. If it seems to surprise them that we put stories on the Web, the conversation may need to be extended. But otherwise, if the subject isn’t sensitive, they’ve been informed.

Then there are the situations where it’s obvious what reporters are doing and where the people they’re talking to are very familiar with what’s going to be done with what they say. Don Gonyea’s been in a lot of coffee shops. The folks in Iowa, for example, know that if it’s caucus time the guy with the microphone who has come to their table wants to talk politics. Don tells them who he is, who he works for and asks if he can speak with them for a report he’s doing. If the answer is yes, he gets their names first and then starts asking questions. He’s not hiding anything, Don says, but he suspects that a long windup about how names and voices may be on the Web for the foreseeable future could just get in the way of the conversation and wouldn’t be news to media-savvy (and media-weary) Iowans.

So, there’s no “you must say this” dictum. Just be aware that some situations and some people require longer conversations about the potential lingering effects from the reports we do. It comes down to respect, and as the handbook says:

“Everyone affected by our journalism deserves to be treated with decency and compassion. We are civil in our actions and words, avoiding arrogance and hubris. We listen to others. When we ask tough questions, we do so to seek answers — not confrontations. We are sensitive to differences in attitudes and culture. We minimize undue harm and take special care with those who are vulnerable or suffering. And with all subjects of our coverage, we are mindful of their privacy as we fulfill our journalistic obligations.”

(Memmos; Aug. 6, 2014)


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

This is now one of the most common messages received by newsrooms:

 ”I’m mentioned in a story on your website. Please remove it or remove any mentions of me from it.”

The reasons tend to be:

 ”I’m no longer the same person.”

“I don’t want future employers to see it.”

“I didn’t know it would follow me forever.”

The Standards & Practices editor stands ready to field such inquiries (and to coordinate with our legal counsel if necessary). Here’s how we’ll generally respond. The guidance may prove helpful if you’re ever button-holed by a former source. The wording is based on language suggested by the Associated Press Media Editors:

“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.”

(Memmos; Aug. 4, 2014)


Guidance On A Sensitive Subject: Victims/Survivors Of Sexual Assault #

We’re going to be doing more reporting in coming weeks and months about sexual assaults on campuses, the way the cases are handled by universities and legislation that’s working its way through Congress.

There will probably be several words or phrases that we have to consider carefully as the stories develop.

This came up this morning: “Rape victim” or “rape survivor?”

Here’s how we approached the question. The process may provide guidance not only on this particular issue, but on how to think about others that come up.

– First, we have to be careful about referring to someone as a victim or survivor before there’s evidence (police reports, medical reports, etc.) about what happened. Bear in mind that if there’s a victim/survivor, that means we’re telling our audience that there’s an attacker or attackers. We don’t want to be prejudging. When such stories begin, we’re typically dealing with allegations, not verdicts.

– Second, as we’ve said in other cases (immigration, for example), it’s best not to put labels on people. It is better to focus on acts. So, rather than declare that someone is a survivor or a victim, we should describe what happened or what has been alleged. That simplifies the issue. She’s not a “rape survivor” or “rape victim.” She is a young woman “who was raped” or whom “police say was sexually assaulted in her dorm room.” Again, though, be careful not to prejudge.

– But, if there’s a need to choose, we look at the definitions of the words. According to our go-to dictionary, (Webster’s New World College Dictionary), in this case both words apply:

Survivor: “person or thing that survives; specif., a person who has survived an ordeal or great misfortune.”

Victim: “someone or something killed, destroyed, injured, or otherwise harmed by, or suffering from, some act, condition, or circumstance.”

– We could stop there and use either. However, one of our core values involves “respect in sensitive circumstances”:

“NPR journalists show sensitivity when seeking or using interviews of those affected by tragedy or grief.”

That doesn’t mean we automatically refer to people by the terms or words that they want to be called. On matters that are politically charged, we do not adopt the language of one side over the other’s. But we are sensitive to those who have been seriously injured. And if either word is correct, the sensitive choice is the one that respects their feelings. Many of those who have been sexually assaulted make a forceful case that they are not just victims, they are survivors.

So, on this issue, the guidance would be: a) try not to “label; b) either word is correct; but c) “survivor” is more sensitive to those we are reporting about.

(Memmos; July 31, 2014)


Guidance On Ebola: It Is Infectious And Contagious #

Morning Edition asked today for “a review of CONTAGIOUS versus INFECTIOUS. … The wires are not consistent; a rule would help.”

The issue arises because of the Ebola outbreak in West Africa.

In the case of this disease, and especially this outbreak of it, both words apply.

There’s some background in this CDC news briefing from earlier this week. It’s worth noting that the CDC says Ebola does not become contagious (“very communicable”) until symptoms appear in those who are infected. That point has clearly been reached. The World Health Organization, meanwhile, refers to Ebola as “a serious, acute and extremely contagious disease.”

The CDC also has definitions of the differences between “infectious,” “communicable” and “contagious” posted here, which should be helpful when it comes time to cover other diseases.

As always, the Science Desk is available to consult on such issues. (Thanks, Joe Neel, for your help today.)

(Memmos, July 30, 2014)



‘Hey Eyder, The Two-Way’s Half A Decade Old’ #

Every day there’s an unexpected question or two. Today it was whether it sounds right to say something happened “half a decade” ago or that someone spent “half a decade” in a job, rather than simply “five years.”

“Half a decade” doesn’t sound right to these ears. It’s just not conversational. (Before someone asks: no, I don’t think I would have tried to edit out “four score and seven years ago.”)

As the headline on this note suggests, The Two-Way launched in 2009. I can’t imagine telling someone that the blog’s been around half a decade. When it hits 10 years? Maybe then it will feel right to say the Two-Way’s a decade old.

Now, this isn’t a note about banning “half a decade” (which a search shows we’ve said or written more than 50 times). It’s also not about what seems to be an NPR habit of measuring things in decades, rather than years.

This is just a reminder that, as Jonathan Kern suggested in Sound Reporting, we should sound (and read) conversational. “You are not giving a lecture; in fact, as far as that listener is concerned, you’re not even reading a script,” Jonathan wrote. “You’re just talking.”

We do this well every day, of course.

Many here are thinking of Margot Adler. Last night on All Things Considered, Robert Siegel said this about her style:

“She could do a story about nature walks through Central Park that so many other reporters – if they did it – they would skirt at the edge of cliche at every turn. … When she did it, it was fresh, and it was honest, and it was insightful. And the people were wonderfully real. She had a terrific feel for the place she came from.”

It’s easy to find examples of Margot’s work that reinforce Robert’s and Jonathan’s points about being conversational. Take this excerpt from an August 2013 piece she did on the New York Botanical Garden:

ADLER: You enter the garden through a gate with rules etched in stone. In Padua, they are in Latin. Here, they’re in English, like don’t pick the flowers, don’t stray from the path. Inside, there’s Pacific yew, where taxol, used in chemo treatments for cancer originally comes from. There’s aloe and foxglove. And looking at some of the maps of the larger exhibit, I notice a place for marijuana. Do you have any here, I ask Long?

LONG: The state of New York didn’t mind too much. They thought it was probably be all right, but I think it would have been illegal in the eyes of the federal government. So we didn’t want to put our staff in that position.

ADLER: So you can read about it in the wild plants exhibit, but there’s none to look at. Visitors to the garden are looking and smelling. Gregory Long asks me to smell some valerian, which was often used as a sedative and sleep aid.

LONG: Have a whiff of that.


LONG: It’s marvelous.

ADLER: Oh, it’s very subtle, actually. Mm.

(H/T to Michael Cullen for his question today.)

(Memmos; July 29, 2014)


Was Using A First Name On Second Reference The Right Way To Go? #

It felt more natural, editor Joe Neel says, to refer to Lissette Encarnacion as “Lissette” on second reference, not “Encarnacion,” in the broadcast version of Monday’s Morning Edition report about the debate in New York State over whether “housing counts as health care.”

Encarnacion was the emotional center of the piece. Her story — of suffering a traumatic brain injury and a decade of homelessness that followed — was used to spotlight how providing a home for some Medicaid recepients may in the end save states money.

Reporter Amanda Aronczyk, from WNYC, says there was discussion during the editing and that “because Lissette Encarnacion was telling a personal story, using her first name seemed appropriate.”

Though the broadcast version of the story used Encarnacion’s first name after she was introduced to listeners,’s editors changed the references in Aronczyk’s script from “Lissette” to “Encarnacion” before publishing the story in the Shots blog.

The team was following NPR’s style. Like The Associated Press, we generally use last names on second reference. The typical exception comes when the subject is a juvenile.

So, for example, Trayvon Martin was “Trayvon” on second reference, while George Zimmerman was “Zimmerman.”

It’s our style, that is, except when it isn’t. Planet Money, in its conversational way, often uses first names on second reference.

Linton Week’s The Protojounalist blog has adopted first-names-on-second-reference as its style.

The Two-Way typically uses first names on second reference when it’s talking about NPR correspondents. We had a sad reminder of that today.

Those are platforms and projects with unique styles that are doing some experimenting and focus on being conversational.

Let’s get back to today’s case — a news report that opens with a human story. Referring to her as “Lissette” rather than “Encarnacion” did sound natural. And when the story is about someone who has suffered a traumatic injury, been homeless for a decade and still faces many struggles, the formality of the last name might seem harsh.

Aronczyk (or should I say Amanda?) adds that “while there is a larger debate to be had about who should be eligible for subsidized supportive housing, that was not the focus of this story and Lissette Encarnacion’s story was not intended to sway the listener on whether or not she was a worthy recipient.”

But — and there’s always a but, isn’t there? — might the way we referred to Encarnacion also add to the empathy listeners have for her? Also, couldn’t using her first name leave the impression that the reporter has developed a liking or sympathy for the subject? Are those impressions we want to give, even inadvertently, in this case? The state’s decision to spend Medicaid dollars on housing is not without its critics, as we report.

You may have figured out by now that this note isn’t going to end with a “thou shall never use first names on second reference” declaration. And I’m not saying that it was clearly wrong to refer to Encarnacion as Lissette.

The guidance is more like “thou shouldn’t … except after some discussion.” The exceptions should be rare. We do not need to add to our procedures, but it never hurts to talk first with Chuck, Gerry, their designated replacements or the Standards & Practices nudge.

(Memmos; July 28, 2014)


A Sixth Grader, A Science Experiment And The Web’s Wild Assumptions (Or, Why We Check Things Out; Even Our Own Reporting) #

It seemed like an innocently sweet, feel-good story:

Sixth-Grader’s Science Fair Finding Shocks Ecologists

Weekend All Things Considered talked with Lauren Arrington and her dad about the girl’s science project. She studied lionfish and their ability to survive in water with low salinity. The experiment had attracted attention in the scientific community that studies lionfish and other invasive predators from the sea.

NPR wasn’t the first news outlet to report that Lauren had added to what’s known about lionfish. But our headline, the tone of our report and the way we characterized her accomplishment added to the buzz about her work.

Then a scientist from Florida went on Facebook to say that his name and his work on lionfish had been “intentionally left out of the stories.” Zack Jud said he didn’t want to “disparage the little girl,” but that he felt he deserved more credit for discovering that lionfish can live in estuaries.

We started getting emails and comments raising questions about whether Lauren’s work was original. It seems that hundreds of people, or more, saw Jud’s Facebook post and jumped to the conclusion that he had been wronged.

We put our own Alan Greenblatt on the case. His reporting, which included discussions with a spokeswoman for the university where Jud is a marine scientist (Jud is referring media inquiries to the school), Lauren’s father and considerable research into the research that’s been done on lionfish, leads us to the conclusion that Lauren’s work was original. What’s more, her project credited Jud for his work.

Jud was a student in Professor Craig Layman’s lab at Florida International University.

Layman, who is now at North Carolina State, has written papers with Jud. The professor lays out the timetable of Jud’s work and Lauren’s project in a blog post here.

The professor’s conclusion: “Lauren had made a contribution to science. One can argue the magnitude of this finding, but a contribution regardless.”

Layman has critical words for those of us in the media, though: “It is my opinion that this story has been blown out of proportion. ‘Ground breaking research’ is a bit of a stretch. Did it ‘shock ecologists?’ Not really.”

Layman’s criticism leads naturally to our role in all this. We take readers’ concerns about our reports seriously. When questions are raised about the accuracy or tone of our stories, we take a look at what we’ve done. And as the Ethics Handbook says:

Mistakes are fixed in a timely manner.”

So, the headline on our story has been changed to “Sixth-Grader’s Science Project Catches Ecologists’ Attention.” We’ve also removed one sentence: “But no one knew that they [lionfish] could live in water salinity below that.” And we’ve added an editor’s note to explain what we’ve done.

As you know, transparency is also one of our our core principles.

(Memmos; July 24, 2014)


Another Cautionary Tale: AP’s Unfortunate ‘Crash Lands’ Report #

9:50 a.m. ET. AP moves this BULLETIN and tweets it as well:

“Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.”

The key words: “crash lands.”

9:53 a.m. ET. WTOP cuts and pastes that into its own tweet:

“ALERT: Dutch military plane carrying bodies from Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 crash lands in Eindhoven.”

The station also reads that on the air.

9:59 a.m. ET. AP sends out a fix:

“CLARIFIES: Dutch military plane carrying Malaysia Airlines bodies lands in Eindhoven.”

WTOP also “clarifies” online and on the air.

We should always remember that “there but for the grace of God go we.”

We do and will make mistakes. But this is yet another reminder of why it can be so important sometimes to pause — not just before reporting, but also before tweeting and retweeting. (And, in this case, the importance perhaps of looking up at the TV and the live broadcasts of the plane landing?)

Politico’s Dylan Byers calls AP’s bulletin “the most poorly written news alert ever.”

The comments below AP’s original tweet, as you might imagine, include some rather critical remarks.

(Memmos; July 23, 2014)


Some Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 Guidance, Specifically About The Word ‘Crash’ #

We’ve had several emails from listeners who believe they heard us refer to what happened to Malaysia Airlines Flight 17 as only a “crash.”

“I feel that the use of the word crash in this case is ambiguous at best and in my mind relaxes and deflects responsibility,” one person writes.

“I am dismayed and disturbed by the way that this disaster is referred to as a ‘crash,’ ” says another. “The passengers were murdered, not merely killed. Call it what it is.”

The emailers’ basic point: The word “crash” applies when a plane comes down because of bad weather, mechanical failure or perhaps pilot error — not when it is shot out of the sky.

After looking through scripts from Newscast and the shows, it would seem that some listeners who were offended didn’t hear the words that quickly followed about what brought the plane down. But in at least one case, it wasn’t until half-way into a nearly 4-minute long conversation that we mentioned what caused the “crash” we had referred to in the introduction.

The long gap between the reference to a “crash” and the mention of what caused it makes the listeners’ concerns understandable.

Here’s some guidance, based on conversations involving several editors and a look through various approaches:

As we’ve said in other instances, it’s usually best to convey actions. So, instead of simply calling it a “crash,” describe what happened.

Dave Mattingly began a Newscast spot today this way: “FIVE DAYS AFTER THE SHOOT-DOWN OF MALAYSIA AIRLINES’ FLIGHT 17 OVER EASTERN UKRAINE …”

On Morning Edition, Steve Inskeep introduced a piece with these words: “A train arrived [today] in Ukraine’s second largest city. Its cargo was the remains of hundreds of people. They were killed when a Malaysian passenger jet was shot down last week.”

On The Two-Way, Eyder Peralta referred at the top of his post to “the downed Malaysia Airlines plane”

So, does the word “crash” have a place in this story? “Crash site” is being commonly used to describe the scene. Listeners and readers would certainly understand what we mean when we say that. But Didi Schanche offers this thought: “Wreckage field” or “debris field” are more accurate since it appears the plane did not crash in one piece — but, rather, broke up in midair.

(Memmos; July 22, 2014)


A Reminder: Call The ‘Other Side’ #

There have been a couple instances in recent days when we reported something that one person said about another person or organization — and they weren’t words of praise — without even telling listeners or readers whether we had checked with the “other side” and given them the chance to respond. The critical words went unchallenged. (These were not reports from any war zone, by the way; the stories were “domestic.”)

Please keep an eye on that. As we remind everyone in the Ethics Handbook:

“To tell the truest story possible, it is essential that we treat those we interview and report on with scrupulous fairness, guided by a spirit of professionalism. We make every effort to gather responses from those who are the subjects of criticism, unfavorable allegations or other negative assertions in our stories.”

For a look at how we deftly handled a case where the organization under scrutiny did not respond to repeated requests for comment, check this earlier note:

Hey Did You Hear How We Handled That? Volume I: ‘Completeness’

Reminder: We’re posting these “Memmos” even before Romenesko has a chance to get them.

(Memmos; July 16, 2014)