Search Results for: Memmos


On Describing What Donald Trump Spoke About In That Video #

Ombudsman Elizabeth Jensen’s latest post digs into the issue of how far we should go in characterizing what Donald Trump told Billy Bush he had done to women (which, Trump later said he hadn’t done, as you know).

Robert Garcia told Elizabeth that Lakshmi Singh found a way to add “the appropriate amount of nuance.” In a newscast, Lakshmi said that in a 2005 recording, Trump is heard “bragging about groping women, which without their consent, would be sexual assault.” She also added that Trump said during the second debate that he never actually did force himself on women.

Using Lakshmi’s framing as a starting point, here are some ways to talk about Trump’s words:

-          In a 2005 recording … Trump talks about groping women, which without their consent is sexual assault.

-          In a 2005 recording … Trump is heard saying he can get away with groping women. That could be sexual assault if there’s no consent.

-          In a 2005 recording … Trump talks about groping women. If that’s done without their consent, it’s sexual assault.

-          In the video, Trump says he can grab, grope and kiss women … Those may be sexual assaults if there’s no consent.

-          Groping … touching someone without their consent … can be sexual assault. In a video from 2005, Trump claims he can grab women’s genitalia because he’s an “all-star.”

-          Trump brags about being able to grope women … which without their consent is sexual assault.

(“Memmos;” Oct. 18, 2016)


‘Rebut,’ ‘Refute,’ ‘Repudiate,’ ‘Refudiate’ … Or Maybe ‘Deny?’ #

Here’s a cheat sheet about some words we may use these last three weeks of the campaign. The first two often get confused:

Rebut: “To contradict … or oppose, esp. in a formal manner by argument, proof, etc. as in a debate.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Refute: “To prove (a person) to be wrong; confute. … To prove (an argument or statement) to be false or wrong, by argument or evidence.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Repudiate: “To refuse to have anything to do with. … To refuse to accept or support. … To deny the truth of.” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary)

Refudiate: “Verb used loosely to mean ‘reject’: she called on them to refudiate the proposal to build a mosque.” (H/T to Sarah Palin and the Oxford American Dictionary.)

We’re not suggesting anyone use “refudiate,” except perhaps on the Politics Podcast.

“Repudiate,” meanwhile, can be a mouthful.

We are suggesting that “rebut” is the word to use when one candidate contradicts or pushes back against another’s charge. Save “refute” for when a candidate actually proves that the other person is wrong. I guess one may “rebut” by seeking to “refute,” but that makes my head hurt.

Sometimes the most effective thing to do is to use the word “deny.”

(“Memmos;” Oct. 17, 2016)


Trump’s Words And Our Bleeping #

Here is where we stand on the issue of bleeping (on-air) the vulgar words used by Donald Trump — and the thinking that got us here.

-  Were Trump’s words “news?” The answer is clearly, “of course.” That has weighed in favor of airing them.

-  Did he use words that are among those that many in our audience would find highly offensive? The answer to that question is also obvious: “yes.” That has weighed against airing them. “Respect” is one of our core principles.

-  Do “community standards” about what is and is not offensive vary widely across the nation and could airing the words generate complaints that might lead to FCC action against some NPR member stations? “Yes” and “yes.” That has weighed against airing them.

-  If we do not “bleep” the words, can we give radio listeners adequate warning so that if they wish to tune out, they can? “Yes, but.” Certainly, we could include an advisory that lets listeners know there is language that many would find offensive and that they might not want children to hear. That would help most of those listening. But not everyone tunes in at the top of the hour or top of a report. What about those who turn on their radios in the middle of a report and one of the first things they hear is Trump’s vulgarity? A warning earlier in the report would be of no use to them.

-  Can we adequately tell the story if we “bleep”  the words? The answer to this question – “yes” — is the deciding factor. By letting the audience know that Trump had spoken in vulgar terms about how he tried to pressure a married woman into having sex with him, and about how an “all-star” such as him could grab a woman’s genitalia as if that was an acceptable thing to do, we have given listeners the key information about the pieces of tape that they will hear. When the cuts are played, there is no serious confusion about what was said – even with the bleeps.

Some will wonder why it is OK to use our digital platforms to give people a choice between hearing Trump’s words “bleeped” and “unbleeped?” The key word there is “choice.” Digital users can decide for themselves whether they wish to hear the words. Radio listeners aren’t always able to do that.

Some may ask “if this wasn’t the time to air such language, will we ever?” I suspect the answer is “yes.” I can’t predict what the circumstances will be. All I can say is that I trust the same amount of hard thinking will be applied.

(“Memmos;” Oct. 11, 2016. Note: This was emailed to staff on Oct. 9, but not posted here until today because I was out of the office.)


Thank You For Not Pounding Us With Hurricane Clichés #

We haven’t “hunkered down” or “battened the hatches.” We haven’t talked about the hurricane’s “wrath.” “Mother Nature’s fury” hasn’t come up. There haven’t been “calm before the storm” references. Only a few “lashes” have been whipped.

Perhaps we’ve had Matthew “barreling” toward a coast a few too many times.

But, overall, we seem to be avoiding hurricane clichés.

Thanks for not letting them rain down upon the audience.

(“Memmos;” Oct. 7, 2016)


Recommended Reading, Listening & Viewing: ‘For D.C.’s LGBT Community, A Police Liaison Who Can Relate’ #

The words to use and not use when reporting about transgender people have been the subject of several notes in recent years. We’ll link to them below.

This note is a recommendation. Today’s Morning Edition piece about D.C. police Sgt. Jessica Hawkins is worth a listen, read and look (for the photos) because of the way Gabriela Saldivia and her editors simply and sensitively told the officer’s story. It’s also a model for how to handle gender references, names and pronouns in such reports.

One of our core principles is “Respect.” The story does exactly what we aim to do: treat “everyone affected by our journalism … with decency and compassion.”

Along with Gabriela, the team included:

- Morning Edition‘s Andrew Jones
- Story Lab’s Michael May
- Digital’s Heidi Glenn
- Photo intern Raquel Zaldivar

Earlier guidance:

- On Gender Identity
- ‘Choice’ Is Not The Word To Use
- Reminder: It’s “Transgender,’ Not ‘Transgendered’
- Guidance On North Carolina’s ‘HB2′


- NLGJA’s stylebook

(“Memmos;” Oct. 6, 2016)


Guidance On Trump’s Latest Tweets #

We are reporting today about Donald Trump’s latest tweets in which he had more to say about both Hillary Clinton and Alicia Machado, the former Miss Universe who says Trump bullied and humiliated her.

Be very precise about what is said about the content of Trump’s tweets concerning Machado. He states, as if it’s a fact, that she appears in a “sex tape.” We should not frame any references to imply that such a tape exists. That is not an established fact and Trump did not provide any evidence that it exists. As has reported, a tape that has been cited by others is grainy, not explicit and “possibly staged or fabricated.” (I would give you the Snopes link, but it’s not “safe for work.”)

Headlines, spots and intros should not give any misimpressions.

Here are some bad headlines from other news outlets. Avoid anything like them:

- “Donald Trump: ‘Check Out Sex Tape And Past’ Of ‘Disgusting’ Alicia Machado.”

- “Donald Trump Urges Followers To Check Out Alicia Machado’s ‘Sex Tape.’ ”

- “Trump Rips Beauty Queen Machado For ‘Sex Tape And Past.’ ”

Here’s a better one:

- “Trump Attacks Former Miss Universe In Early Morning Tweet Storm.”

Here’s the solid one we used earlier today:

- “Trump Again Attacks Miss Universe Contestant.”

And here’s how we introduced a Sarah McCammon spot:

- “Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump unleashed and early-morning tweet storm going after his democratic rival Hillary Clinton… And again attacking former miss universe Alicia Machado. NPR’s Sarah McCammon has more.”

(“Memmos;” Sept. 30, 2016) 


Our Corrections Page Shows Too Many Unforced Errors; Let’s Fix That #

Misspelled names.

Wrong titles.

Math mistakes.

The list could go on.

A scroll down our corrections page makes clear that we’re not doing a good enough job checking and re-checking many basic things. Bad information is getting into story collections and DACS lines. It’s getting into captions and blog posts. It’s getting on the air.

We’ve got to do better. We can do better. Here’s how:

- Be sure about “facts” you put into DACS, scripts, promos, blog posts or basically anything that could find its way onto our website or onto our airwaves. Remember, your keyboard is a live mic.

- Double- or triple-check everything, and never assume that the next person in the process is going to do it for you. If you write it, say it or approve it, you own it.

- Use the Accuracy Checklist.

(“Memmos;” Sept. 26, 2016)


If A Friend Is In A Story There Must Be A Good Reason And Full Disclosure. But Who Is A Friend? #

“Whenever your pals show up in your work,” Poynter ethicist Kelly McBride has written, “a small number of people in the audience will be wise to the connection. For those in the know, it may seem like you have duped the readers. You also are likely to experience conflicting loyalties. Your friendship may cause you to paint a rosier picture of your friend than you would of other sources. Depending on the subject, you might ignore bad grammar, illegal behavior or plain old stupidity. Your friends would most likely expect to look good in your article, if they agreed to participate.”

The simplest solution is to follow this rule: Friends, family members and co-workers are not sources or subjects we put in stories unless our relationships with them are important to the tales and are fully disclosed. “Mama Stamberg’s Cranberry Relish” comes to mind.

Now, this note isn’t about the kinds of friendly relationships with sources that may develop when a reporter has been on a beat for many years. When that happens, it’s important that our reporting remain solid and objective, as we’ve previously noted. Also, it’s critical that reporters and editors monitor such situations.

We’re talking here about a story in which a character shows up for no other reason than being a friend or relative of the reporter — but it’s a connection that isn’t disclosed.

When is someone a “friend” who shouldn’t be part of a story? Here are some thoughts from The Canadian Association of Journalists:

“As Scott White, then editor- in-chief of the Canadian Press (and a former member of our committee) told us: ‘Current or recent connections are generally more problematic than long-ago connections; close personal friendships more problematic than casual acquaintances or routine professional interactions; siblings or spouses more of an issue than third-cousins.’ That said, almost everyone knows that some long-ago entanglements can have lasting impacts on choices, whether on a conscious level or more subtly.”

If there’s any doubt, leave that person out. Or, hand off the story to someone else. Or, if you’re the editor, assign the piece to someone else.

Two final, probably obvious, points:

- Reporters have to tell editors about connections to sources that might raise conflicts.

- Editors should ask “how’d you find this person?” if they don’t know already.

(“Memmos;” Sept. 22, 2016)


One More Frigging Message About Social Media #

Just eight weeks to go. We can do it, folks. We can get through the next campaign surprise, the upcoming debates and the rest of this election cycle without a social media snafu.

For the benefit of the new interns and anyone who hasn’t memmorized the earlier Memmos about this subject, here’s a snapshot version of our social media guidance:

- Keep your politics to yourself.

- Control your cursing.

- No personal attacks, even if you’re trolled.

- Speaking of trolls, don’t feed them.

- If you do respond, stay classy.

- If someone’s just ranting, disengage.

There’s more guidance in the Ethics Handbook, under “Social media.”

Related Memmos:

With The Conventions Coming; Some Thanks, Fresh Guidance And Reminders About Social Media

Before Super Tuesday, A Reminder About Social Media

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

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

(“Memmos;” Sept. 13, 2016)


On ‘Morning Edition’: An Effective ‘Warning’ To Listeners #

When there is disturbing or offensive content in a report, this question gets asked: “What’s our style for warning listeners?”

There is no one style. Sometimes, “this report includes offensive language” is enough because there are only a few such words. Other times, a more substantial advisory is needed — when a story includes sounds of suffering or painful accounts of personal trauma, for example. We use our judgment to determine how much is necessary and what to say.

On Morning Edition today, there was an advisory that’s worth spotlighting because of the key information it got across in just five words. It was in the introduction to a report about the man who has admitted killing a Minnesota boy in 1989 — a case that led to a 1994 federal law about sex offender registries. Here’s how the introduction went:

“After almost three decades, Minnesota parents — whose 11-year-old son was abducted — finally know what happened. And we should tell you now, this story, which lasts about three minutes, will be disturbing to some listeners. A man arrested last year on child pornography charges admits he kidnapped and killed the boy.”

Saying that this report about a child’s murder would last about three minutes was a simple but powerful way of showing respect to our listeners (an NPR core principle). Most notably, parents with children nearby would know that they might want to turn down the volume or switch stations for a little while. We weren’t sounding scary or shocking. It was conversational — as if a friend was speaking. And we were indirectly inviting them to come back.

Have we given listeners that time of warning before? Yes.

Are you suggesting we do it all the time? No.

What is being suggested is that some types of reports — especially those that parents might not want their children to hear or that might disturb particular groups of vulnerable people — might merit a mention about how long they’ll last.

It’s a friend doing someone else a favor.

(“Memmos;” Sept. 7, 2016)


Three Reasons To Say ‘No Thanks’ To A Speaking Request (Or, Why Your Boss Will Say ‘No’) #

Everyone should know by now that before we accept speaking requests, we have to get OKs from our supervisors — who will consult with Talent Relations and Ethics. An email on the process went out on Aug. 4. If you need a copy, ask the Standards & Practices editor.

Why should you say “no thank you” to a request? Or, why might your boss say “no?”

These are three of the most common reasons:

- A government agency (foreign or domestic) is putting on the event or paying for it.

- An advocacy group or political organization is making the request.

- A company or organization that we cover wants you to speak.

There’s a common thread running through those examples: We must guard our independence. We don’t work “with” or “for” governments, advocacy groups or the organizations we cover. We don’t want to even appear to be doing that.

Are there grey areas and cases where exceptions may be made? Of course. But the bars are set high. It might be OK, for example, to be on a panel or give an address if there’s no honorarium and no travel costs are reimbursed. If the topic is work you’ve done “outside” NPR (a book, for example), that could change things. But even then, if the invitation is from a government agency or political group you should probably say “no” — or not be surprised if that’s the response from your supervisor or the Ethics folks (Standards & Practices and the DMEs).

Beyond those issues, of course, is whether the event conflicts with not just your schedule and work, but also those of others on your desk or team. After all, if you’re out someone may need to cover for you.

Finally, the request might involve issues that aren’t on your beat. You and your supervisor should think about whether there might be someone else at NPR who’s a better fit for the speaking engagement.

(“Memmos;” Sept. 2, 2016)


A ‘Major’ Speech? Says Who? #

If we’re going to say that a candidate is set to deliver a “major” address about something, in almost all cases we need to make clear that’s how the candidate’s campaign is characterizing it, not NPR.

This introduction to a Newscast spot last night did the job well:

“To the chants of  ’USA. USA,’ Donald Trump has taken the stage in Phoenix, Arizona, tonight to deliver what his campaign has billed as a major policy speech on immigration.”


Yes, there are times when objective observers agree that a speech is going to be “major” or some similar word. But in most cases, “major” is a word that campaigns want the media to use to help build anticipation — whether it fits or not. The best advice: Avoid or attribute, and if we don’t think the facts support the campaign’s spin, don’t even use the word.

The same goes for describing the speech after it’s delivered. Some questions need to be answered. Who says it was a “major” address? If we’re going to characterize it that way, what’s our proof? How was it anything more than what the candidate usually says?

(“Memmos;” Sept. 1, 2016)


‘To Be Honest’ … Well, What Else Would We Be? #

When some listeners hear the phrase “to be honest,” they ask this question:

“Does that mean you don’t usually tell the truth?”

We get emails about that phrase, which has been heard on the air at least 240 times in the past year. Most of the time it’s been said by guests, but we’ve used it as well. Along with the snarky question, listeners point out that of the many mostly meaningless ways there are of moving conversations along, it is can be among the least meaningful. For example, here’s Larry Wilmore on Fresh Air talking about what it was like to roast the media during the White House Correspondents’ Dinner: “It was really all in fun, to be honest with you.” What did “to be honest with you” add?

If the words aren’t meaningless, they may give the exact wrong impression. As The Wall Street Journal has reported, the phrase is among the verbal tee-ups that may “signal insincerity.”

Or, there’s the fact that “to be honest” can be heard as an adverbial disjunct that “conveys the speaker’s or writer’s comment on its content, truth or manner” (Merriam-Webster). A “to be honest” can make it sound like you’re opining.

If you want to signal that what you’re about to say is important or you want to underscore that you’re being candid, just say that. “To be clear” might be what you really want to say.


(“Memmos;” Aug. 31, 2016)


It’s Our Job To Know About ‘Experts’ Conflicts Of Interest #

This is not optional: Before we put “experts” in our stories, we have to know where their financial support comes from, who’s paid for their latest work and whether they’re doing any lobbying or advocating related to the issue we’re interviewing them about. It’s information that may knock them out of stories and needs to be shared if they stay in.

That all seems obvious. Why are we bringing it up now?

Well, if you haven’t read these two New York Times reports yet, do so:

- “How Think Tanks Amplify Corporate America’s Influence

- “Think Tank Scholar or Corporate Consultant? It Depends on the Day.”

This “nut graph” should concern us all:

“Think tanks, which position themselves as ‘universities without students,’ have power in government policy debates because they are seen as researchers independent of moneyed interests. But in the chase for funds, think tanks are pushing agendas important to corporate donors, at times blurring the line between researchers and lobbyists. And they are doing so while reaping the benefits of their tax-exempt status, sometimes without disclosing their connections to corporate interests.”

That’s troubling because news outlets are constantly interviewing “experts” from those think tanks. Many of those experts are getting into stories without any references to their connections to “moneyed interests” and lobbying groups. We aren’t perfect on that score. I suspect it’s because in some cases we didn’t do enough digging.

This is important: Just as we said that we have to ask experts about any connections they have to candidates, we have to be looking at the connections experts from think tanks, universities and other institutions might have to interest groups and others.

That means, as we said above, asking questions such as:

- Who’s funding your work?

- Who or what organization has supported you in the past?

- Who paid for the study?

- Is your organization (or school or think tank) taking any money from a corporation or organization with an interest in the issue?

- Are you lobbying or advocating on this issue?

If someone won’t answer such questions, that’s a red flag.

Answers need to be checked, of course. Look in archives. Consult databases. Read a think tank’s annual report and other disclosure forms to see where it’s been getting its money. The RAD team can help.

We should use tools such as the U.S. Senate Lobbying Disclosure Act Database to find out if an expert is also a registered lobbyist.

This is also critical. We have to keep expanding our contact lists to get away from the usual think tanks and sources. Have you consulted the Source of the Week lately or contributed to it? Please do.

Finding out that a study was paid for by a corporation with an interest in the issue will raise questions about the findings. Learning that a think tank “fellow” is also a paid lobbyist may mean that person doesn’t make it into a story. Whatever the result, it’s basic information that we we’re expected to know and share with our audience.

Finally, there’s this: If an expert’s potential conflict of interest should have been revealed in a story, but wasn’t, that is an error that needs to be acknowledged and corrected.

(“Memmos;” Aug. 15, 2016)


Thank You For Simply Setting Things Straight #

It seems longer ago, but was only last November when we wrote that “When There’s No Evidence To Support A Claim, We Should Say That.”

When Donald Trump kept saying this week that President Obama is the “founder” of ISIS, we simply said in our reports:

- It’s a “false claim.”

- It’s “unbelievable.”

- That there’s an “obvious fact check here — President Obama did not found ISIS.”

- It’s an “unfounded claim.”

- It’s an “unfounded assertion.”

We also, of course, explored the history of ISIS and the role that U.S. policy during the Obama and previous administrations has played. As Ari Shapiro put it, “the true story of the U.S. and ISIS is complicated and nuanced.”


(“Memmos;” Aug. 12, 2016)


Hold Your Fire If You’re About To Launch A War Metaphor #

- “Trump Fires Back Against Fallen Muslim-American Soldier’s Father.”

- “Donald Trump Targets Muslim Soldier’s Parents Over ‘Sacrifice’ Remark.”

- Donald Trump has been in a “war of words with the parents of a Muslim Army captain who was killed in Iraq.”

Those are headlines and copy from some stories in the media this week.

Three things come to mind:

1. It seems insensitive to use war or violent metaphors in stories that involve the death of Army Capt. Humayun Khan in Iraq and his parents’ high-profile comments about Trump. What’s going on between Trump and the Khan family is not a “war” when compared to what Capt. Khan experienced.

2. As we’ve said before, clichés are to be avoided at all costs — especially during election years, when they spread like wildfire.  In a Hall of Fame for clichés, war-related ones would be among the first inductees.

3. On any given day there may be an attack or battle in which people are killed. The juxtaposition of a headline or story about politics that is peppered with war clichés alongside news of real people dying in real warfare can make it look as if we’re not careful with our words.

Speaking of campaign clichés, two others phrases have been brought to our attention in recent weeks — “on the campaign trail” and “threading the needle.” You can probably think of others you’ve heard or read that sound tired. Let’s try to avoid all of them. The AP’s list of campaign clichés includes:

- Horse race
- Laundry list
- Pressing the flesh
- Barnstormed
- All those state nicknames

(“Memmos;” Aug. 2, 2016)


A Finely Honed Story Is A Beautiful Thing #

Sometimes we say “honed in” when we mean “homed in.” Within minutes, we hear from listeners or readers who wonder why we don’t know the difference between “hone” and “home.”

They want us to save “hone” for when we’re talking about sharpening, and to use “home” when we’re saying that something or someone has been targeted.

Those folks are sticklers and that’s OK. What they rarely acknowledge, though, is that there’s a lot of fine honing in the work we do.

Look at how much information was packed into two Newscast obits this morning:

– “Renowned TV and film writer and director Garry Marshall has died in Burbank, Calif., at the age of 81. His publicist says he had pneumonia following a stroke. He was behind many TV hits such as Happy Days. Other Marshall hits included Laverne and Shirley, Mork and Mindy and films such as Pretty Woman and The Princess Diaries. Marshall had supporting roles in Lost in America and in Soap Dish.” (Korva Coleman)

– “The creator of the 1970s and ‘80s TV sitcoms Happy Days, Laverne and Shirley and Mork and Mindy has died. Garry Marshall was 81 years old. He died at a hospital in Burbank, Calif., of complications from pneumonia; following a stroke. Actor Richard Gere worked with Marshall on the film Pretty Woman. He says Marshall was one of the funniest men who ever lived, with a heart of pure gold.” (Dave Mattingly)

Listen to the top of Morning Edition’s roundup of news from the GOP convention. Steve Inskeep quickly wraps up the campaign so far, folds in news from last night and sets up listeners for three wonderful clips:

“Months of brutal campaigning for president concluded with a quaint American tradition last night. State delegations cast their ballots for president at the Republican National Convention. It’s a chance to promote your candidate for the nomination; and also your state.”

Revisit the way Weekend All Things Considered opened its look at policing. With short, declarative sentences and the effective use of clips, the show prepared listeners for a powerful hour. Michel Martin then kept things simple:

“After all that’s happened this week, indeed, after all that’s happened in recent years and confrontations between citizens and law enforcement that have resulted in deaths and injury among both, we decided to take this entire hour to talk about policing.

“Almost all of our guests today are or have been directly involved in law enforcement, and we’ll be talking with them about the work they do, why they do it and whether they think the system is broken. We’ll talk about how they cope with the stresses of the job, and we’ll be talking with folks who’ve looked at the latest research around policing to ask them what, if anything, should be done differently.”

Read these concluding paragraphs from Linda Holmes’ appreciation of The Great British Baking Show (which I also love):

“What emerges over the course of the show is that it doesn’t only have a style; it has an ethic. Mary and Paul do not fall victim to the misdirection of small but spectacular-looking mistakes. If the custard in the middle of whatever you’re making doesn’t quite set, the entire thing may collapse and run all over the counter, but they’ll taste it anyway! And they’ll tell you that your custard not setting isn’t necessarily a bigger mistake than anything else; it just looks worse. If you can’t get your cake put together, they’ll still taste the layers. You may not be out. Do not lose heart. Do not lose heart.

“Don’t laugh, but this is life, in a way, as we all hope for it to be. You screw up, but not entirely. You see your hoped-for result dashed on the counter in a pile of goop, but someone says, “I see what you put into this; I see what you intended.” Someone you trust who is better than you are at whatever you’re trying to do says, “We both see what you did wrong; I can help you identify what you did right.” You still might lose. You still might go home crying with disappointment. But someone will have said, “Next time, take it out of the oven five minutes sooner and you’ll really have something.” It’s a show of such … hope. Hoping everybody else is going to be willing to try the imperfect layers of your particular not-quite-put-together cake is often the only way to get through the day, after all.

“It will also really make you want to learn to make macaroons. Though that might be just me.”

Check out this carefully crafted phrase from Camila Domonske’s Two-Way opus on Larry the Cat and the rumors that he hasn’t been a very competent prime mouser:

“Slurs on Larry’s efficacy continued to dog him.”

The list could go on. The point is that while we may not always use the word “honing” correctly, we do know very well how to hone.

(“Memmos;” July 20, 2016)


On The Definition Of Plagiarism #

Because it’s in the news today, here’s a reminder about how we have defined the word “plagiarism”:

 ”Taking someone else’s work and intentionally presenting it as if it is your own.”

Note the word “intentionally.”

We can talk about phrases that are “word-for-word” or that “mirror each other.” It’s fine to say there’s a “plagiarism issue” or that the speech last night raised questions about whether some parts were plagiarized. But we don’t know at this time whether anything was done “intentionally.” So don’t declare that there’s been some plagiarism.

 (“Memmos;” July 19, 2016)


With The Conventions Coming; Some Thanks, Fresh Guidance And Reminders About Social Media #

On Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat and other social media platforms, we’ve been doing lots of great work. Thank you for engaging with the audience in those places. It’s very important.

Now, a “memmo” wouldn’t be a “memmo” without some nudging. Here goes:

The political conventions are approaching. During them, you may be tempted to say some things on social media – especially when candidates are on stage and the urge to live tweet is strong. This is a good time to remind everyone about our thinking when it comes to social media.

- Keep your politics to yourself. And that means on Facebook too. You may think only your “friends” are seeing what you say, but they may share it widely.

- Control your cursing. NPR journalists don’t swear on the air and we don’t think they should be swearing in the digital world either. But we also know that language that isn’t appropriate in one place is common in another. How about this: Don’t use such words in anger and never in a way that might look like a political comment.

- No personal attacks, even if you’re trolled.

-  Speaking of trolls, don’t feed them. Here’s a tip: You do not have to respond to any obnoxious Tweet, Facebook post or other diatribe. They can be ignored. (If they feel threatening, please send a message about them to our internal distribution list, “NPRThreats.”)

- If you do respond, stay classy. Something along the lines of “I’m sorry you feel that way and would like to hear more about why you do” is far better than “go back to the cave you crawled out of.” Remember, “we are civil in our actions and words, avoiding arrogance and hubris. We listen to others.”

- By the way, you can usually tell after one or two exchanges whether the person on the other end is willing to have a conversation or just wants to rant. If it’s a conversation, great. If they’re just ranting, disengage with something like, “thanks, I’m out. We just disagree.”

There’s more guidance in the Ethics Handbook, under “Social media.”

There have also been several “memmos” on the subject:

- Before Super Tuesday, A Reminder About Social Media

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

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

(“Memmos;” July 13, 2016)



Guidance On The Word ‘Sniper’ #

Let’s stop referring to the man who killed five Dallas police officers and wounded seven others and two civilians as a “sniper” or to what he did as a “sniper attack.”

He was a “gunman,” a “killer,” a “shooter” and several other words you can probably come up with. It was an “ambush” as well as an “attack.”

Yes, it appears he at times was firing from hidden positions and from above the street. But he also shot at least one officer from point-blank range. Reporting since the attack indicates he moved quickly from one position to the next. He wasn’t a “sniper” in the sense that most people have come to understand that word — an expert who lies in wait and then methodically fires single shots from a long distance.

(“Memmos;” July 11, 2016)


Recommended Listening: Why Not To Use The Phrase “Officer-involved Shooting” #

A check of our archives shows we’ve generally avoided the phrase “officer-involved shooting.” Thanks.

But it has crept into some DACS-only pages, online teasers, photo captions and headlines. Going forward, let’s not use it.

As On The Media explored this week, “officer-involved shooting” is among those phrases that feel like “euphemisms designed by government to change the subject.”

The better way to go is almost always to simply say “police shooting” or to use action words – basically, to describe what happened rather than try to label it.

(“Memmos;” July 7, 2016)


Couldn’t We Care Less About The Word ‘Pivot,’ Irregardless Of The Consequences? #

Scott Simon weighed in last month about the word “pivot,” which he’s tired of hearing in stories about politicians. “The hundredth time you’ve heard it bounce off the echo chamber of pundits and analysts, it begins to smack of smug insider-ness,” he said.

“Pivot” is a word we use a lot when discussing politicians and their shifting positions. It shows up in about 100 stories we posted or broadcast in the past year.

Scott has a point. We don’t have to use the same word every time. Just as each tornado does not have to “sound like a freight train,” every politician’s pirouette does not have to be called a pivot. Let’s try to use some other words. “Change” or “switch” or “shift” offer possibilities. Maybe it’s a simple “turn.”

Today’s other potentially pedantic points:

–  Just say “regardless.” “Irregardless” means “without without regard” and just doesn’t make sense.

–  If you’re “flaunting,” that means you’re proudly showing off. If you’re “flouting,” you’re showing scorn or contempt; rejecting or defying.

–  In almost all cases, you really mean to say “couldn’t care less,” not “could care less.”

– “Sink, sank, sunk.” “Spring, sprang, sprung.” Watch your tenses.

Redundancies and clichés are almost always wastes of time and space.  In the vast majority of cases we’re better off without them.

(“Memmos;” July 6, 2016)


Guidance: How To Say ‘Rio de Janeiro;’ Who Is And Isn’t The U.K.’s ‘Head Of State’ #

It’s Not “Day:”

Do say “REE-oh dee zhah-NEH-roh.” Don’t say “REE-oh day zhah-NEH-roh.”

It’s Not David Cameron:

Queen Elizabeth II is the U.K.’s head of state.

The prime minister is the head of government.

That means, for example, that the prime minister meets with “other leaders,” not “other heads of state.”

(“Memmos;” June 30, 2016)


Guidance: Specifics About Weapons #

There has been a lot of great work this week about another disturbing news event; the mass shooting in Orlando. Thank you.

As much as we hope “this is the last one,” we have to think about things we’ve learned in case they come up again.

This brings us to weapons.

Posts after earlier mass shootings have discussed why we need to be very careful when describing them.

We’ve said that:

“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.”

We’ve cautioned that:

“To many in the audience, ‘assault rifles’ are fully automatic weapons that cannot be legally purchased. At this point, it’s better to refer to the rifles used in San Bernardino as ‘assault-style.’”

Everyone’s done a good job applying that thinking. Thank you. Here’s what we’re adding to the guidance:

Until there are on-the-record statements from officials in charge of an investigation, or until we have heard from multiple, reliable sources with direct knowledge and the reporting has been vetted with senior editors, do not go into specifics about the types of weapons or their manufacturers. It will often be enough to say, for example, that the gunman had a “rifle and handgun.” As more details come in, “assault-style” may be important to add. Or, perhaps “semi-automatic” if we’re absolutely sure that’s correct.

When we eventually get into specifics, attribution is essential – “said Police Chief John Doe” or “said three law enforcement officials with directly knowledge of the investigation.”

The message here is simple. The details about the weapons will emerge. But in the early hours and perhaps days after a mass shooting, the exact make and model and manufacturer are not at the top of the list of things we need to nail down. And, frankly, if we try to be too precise before all the facts are in, we run the risk of being wrong.

Think of it this way: If the story is that someone with a rifle killed or injured dozens of people in a matter of minutes, it’s clear a powerful weapon that could be rapidly fired was used. Whether it was made by one company or another and exactly which model it was doesn’t immediately change the story or add substantially to the audience’s understanding of what happened.

Again, thanks for the hard work and for applying previous guidance notes.

(“Memmos;” June 17, 2016)


Stop Using The Word ‘Worst’ #

There are several reasons not to refer to the murders in Orlando as the “worst mass shooting in U.S. history.” Editors have been pointed to Eyder’s post about this, where those reasons are explored, but the phrase is still getting into stories. It’s time to stop.

If a piece needs to put this tragedy in context, it can be said that it was the “deadliest” mass shooting in recent history.

(“Memmos;” June 14, 2016)


Chew On This: Is It Chomping Or Champing? #

The listener could have complained that “chomping at the bit” is a cliché, and that it’s one we’ve used at least three times so far this month. But his gripe was more specific — that we should have said “champing at the bit.”

To the dictionary we go:

Webster’s says “champ at the bit” is to “show impatience at restraint; be restless.” It comes from something said about horses when they bite their bits “repeatedly and restlessly.” They “champ.”

That fits with what we were trying to say this week about President Obama and his eagerness to get out on the campaign trail.

The AP says “champ at the bit” is “the original and better form.”

But, Webster’s adds that “chomp at the bit” is a variation.

What’s more, no less an authority than William Safire weighed in 31 years ago, saying that “to spell it champing at the bit when most people would say chomping at the bit is to slavishly follow outdated dictionary preferences.”

The Grammarist blog also comes down on the side of “chomping.” It points out that “champing at the bit can sound funny to people who aren’t familiar with the idiom or the obsolete sense of champ, while most English speakers can infer the meaning of chomping at the bit.”

We’ve been … itching to issue a note about some picky point of punctuation or grammar. After chewing on this one for a while, we’re not going to insist on “champing.” Feel free to use it. After all, you’ll score points with the lexicographers out there.

But “chomping” is fine.

Fine, that is, except for the fact that it is a cliché. As for them:

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

(“Memmos;” June 9, 2016)


Guidance On Facebook & ‘NPR Live’ #

When a story involves Facebook, when and what do we need to say or write about “NPR Live?”

The best advice is to err on the side of disclosure. When the news is about Facebook’s business or about controversies such as whether it does or does not “suppress” conservative stories, we should say something like this (from a David Folkenflik report):

“Facebook pays NPR and other leading news organizations to produce live video streams that run on the site. The network calls its offerings NPR live.”

Other information that can be added includes the fact that Facebook has “no role in the content of the videos” (a line from NPR Extra). The part of the line about what NPR calls its offerings is certainly optional.

If the story has little or no connection to Facebook’s “business,” such as COO Sheryl Sandberg’s thoughts about the challenge of being a single mother, a line about NPR Live may not be necessary. Senior editors and show executive producers should be making the call, with guidance from the deputy managing editors or standards & practices editor.

(“Memmos;” May 19, 2016)


‘Choice’ Is Not The Word To Use #

Several times we have said the so-called bathroom bill in North Carolina is about whether transgender people should be able “to use the public bathrooms of their choice.”

In this case, “choice” is a loaded word. Proponents of laws restricting bathroom access to the sex on someone’s birth certificate say transgender people want to “choose” which bathroom to use, which also implies that being transgender is a “choice.” But transgender people say choice isn’t involved; that that this is about people using the bathrooms that match the genders they identify with. They say being transgender is who they are, not a choice.

We look for neutral language. One way to talk about this subject is to say it’s a debate over whether transgender people should be allowed to use public bathrooms “based on their gender identities or, instead, what’s stated on their birth certificates.”

As for “gender identity,” the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association defines it as “an individual’s emotional and psychological sense of having a gender; feeling like a man, woman, both or neither (gender nonconformity). Does not necessarily align with an individual’s sex at birth.”

We’re going to be using “gender identity” again. It could help our audience understand the phrase if we take a moment when possible to explain it, perhaps simply as “the way we feel about ourselves.”


Reminder: It’s ‘Transgender,’ Not ‘Transgendered’

On Gender Identity

– NPR Issues New Guidance On Manning’s Gender Identity

(“Memmos;” May 16, 2016)


Reminder: It’s “Transgender,’ Not ‘Transgendered’ #

As we report about the administration’s letter to schools, the HB2 law in North Carolina and related stories, here’s a reminder: Someone is “transgender,” not “transgendered.” And it’s “transgender people,” not “transgendered people.”

Vox has written about the difference between “transgender” and “transgendered” here:

The National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association has helpful language resources here:

Related posts:

–  On Gender Identity

–  NPR Issues New Guidance On Manning’s Gender Identity

(“Memmos;” May 13, 2016)


‘I Mostly Listen’: One Key To Avoid ‘Othering’ #

“Othering,” or “otherizing,” has been a topic of conversations on the campaign trail this year and in newsrooms for many years.

I think of it this way: Othering is when a story feels like it’s about “them” and that “they” aren’t like “us.” They’re “others.” It can look and sound as if the news outlet or reporter is tone deaf or condescending. The stories often feel like the reporters began with preconceived notions and looked for confirmation.

This post isn’t about a case of othering. Read or listen to Debbie Elliott’s piece this week about “transgender rights, the new front in culture wars.” The central character is LBGTQ advocate Lane Galbraith. I didn’t detect any othering, so I asked Debbie about the way she reports.

“You know, my approach is always to just try to get to know the people I’m interviewing as people first, not ‘subjects,’ ” she said in an email. “I get rather familiar quickly, but always say something like, ‘OK, now I’m going to get a little nosy or into private territory, please don’t be offended and feel free to wave me off if it’s too personal.’ I will also be honest and admit that I’m not sure a question is appropriate, but ‘here’s what I’d like to know.’

“Generally, I find that people are longing to tell their story, so I mostly listen. And in this case, we had spoken a few times before during the same sex marriage battles in Alabama, so I had a bit of a foundation to build from. …

“There are some interviews you do that are mostly about gathering facts, or (let’s be honest here) getting the sound bite you need. But if you’re looking to share a deeper truth, and get below the surface of the news of the day, it requires a different approach.  You have to care about a person’s story and give them the time and space to tell it.  And that’s hardly ever linear or even logical.  Those kind of interviews are certainly less efficient, but can yield priceless insights.”

There’s a key point there: “I mostly listen.” Also, yes, we tell stories. But they’re not about us or our preconceived notions. As Debbie says, “people are longing to tell their story … give them the time and space to tell it.”

No news outlet gets this right every time. We should keep talking about othering and how to avoid it. Please flag “good” and “bad” examples.

Related:Don’t ‘radiosplain’ and other ways to report on communities that aren’t your own.”

(“Memmos;” May 12, 2016)


Guidance On North Carolina’s ‘HB2′ #

First, the “long version” describing what HB2 is all about:

HB2 is the controversial North Carolina law limiting civil rights protections for LGBT people. It excludes LGBT people from the state’s non-discrimination laws and prevents local governments from offering discrimination protections that go beyond the state’s. It also requires people to use public restrooms that correspond with the sex indicated on their birth certificates.

The law also eliminates the ability to sue in state court over a discrimination claim and prevents local governments from requiring contractors to pay a higher minimum wage than the state’s.

Then, a shorter (hopefully intro- and spot-friendly) version:

HB2 is the controversial North Carolina law that limits civil rights protections for LGBT people.

“So-called bathroom bill” is acceptable in billboards and as a subsequent reference in stories. Material from the “long version” can certainly be folded into pieces in different places.

Note: LGBT is acceptable on first reference. Somewhere else in the story, spell out “lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender.”

Thanks go out to Brent Wolfe at WUNC, Russell Lewis, Theo Balcomb and Renita Jablonski.

(“Memmos;” May 11, 2016)


Reminder: Sometimes ‘Can I Get Your Name?’ Isn’t Enough #

In some situations and before some interviews, it is very important to make sure the people we’re speaking to have agreed to let us use their names and that they understand our reports — and their names — will “live” on digital platforms, in theory at least, forever.

We’ve discussed this before, in posts about:

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

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

Right here, we’ll stop to state what should be obvious: This is not about situations where it isn’t safe or practical to have a detailed conversation about the difference between NPR’s broadcast and digital platforms. Don’t stop running from the gunshots to discuss the fact that the story’s going on as well. Also, this isn’t about interviews with public officials, corporate executives and others who are familiar with how the media works.

This is mostly about sensitive stories (chronic health issues; addictions; criminal histories; hate crimes; etc.) during which someone has expressed concern about being identified or we know that how we’re going to ID them requires careful thought. This is also often about stories involving minors.

Be sure it’s clear to people in such situations that we’re more than a radio network. You’d be surprised how often people still don’t realize that what we do goes on to various platforms.

Having them on tape acknowledging it’s OK to use their names is ideal. If there’s a discussion about some type of anonymity, follow the guidance on:

- The ‘don’ts’ of anonymity.

- A supervisor decides if anonymous news is shared.

- Whether To Go With ‘First-Name-Only’ Needs To Be Discussed And Explained.

- Our word is binding.

Getting this right is in line with one of our core principles: Respect.

Getting it right will also make it less likely that in later months or years someone will ask us to remove them from a story because “I didn’t say you could use my name.” If you ever receive such a request, by the way, don’t immediately reply. Forward it to your supervisor and the Standards & Practices editor.

(“Memmos;” May 5, 2016)


On ‘Presumptive’ #

Here’s a definition we dust off every four years. It will come into play, but not just yet:

Presumptive nominee: Has accumulated the required number of delegates to be the Democratic or Republican party’s nominee, but hasn’t been officially made the nominee. Basically, it’s a designation that applies from when someone gets the required number of delegates up to the vote at the convention (after that, the person is a plain old “nominee”).

Obviously, at this point there are clear front-runners for the Republican and Democratic nominations. For some sharp analysis about where they stand and how likely they are to be the nominees, check Domenico’s post from early this morning.

(“Memmos;” April 27, 2016)


‘Factoid’ Doesn’t Mean What You Think It Does #

If you use the word “factoid” to describe a single bit of important information or “factoids” to talk about several pieces of such data, we will get complaints.

Here’s why:

Norman Mailer gets the credit for coming up with the word “factoid,” which he used in a 1973 biography of Marilyn Monroe. Merriam-Webster notes that Mailer called them “facts which have no existence before appearing in a magazine or newspaper, creations which are not so much lies as a product to manipulate emotion in the Silent Majority.”

Mailer seems to have chosen the suffix “oid” because it forms “resembling” nouns. Think of it this way: A “humanoid” resembles a human — but isn’t human. A “factoid,” then, resembles a fact — but isn’t one, according to Mailer’s definition. Judging from our email traffic, plenty of people agree with him.

Now, English is a living language. Meanings do change. In 1993, William Safire worried that the word would come to mean “a little-known bit of information; trivial but interesting data.”

Safire was right. Webster’s New World dictionary defines the word as “a single fact or statistic variously regarded as being trivial, useless, unsubstantiated, etc.”

The Grammarist blog points out that that in the U.S., at least, “‘factoid’ is now almost exclusively used to mean ‘a brief interesting fact.’ … This definition is still considered incorrect by people who follow English usage, but it’s so widespread those who dislike it may eventually have to accept it, even if it does contradict the word’s original sense.”

Where does this leave us? If you want to be cheered rather than jeered for your attention to language, save “factoid” for those occasions when the subject is something that resembles a fact, but isn’t one. Or for things that are “trivial, useless [and] unsubstantiated.” For everything else, the simple word “fact” is accurate and you can save yourself a syllable.

As for words such as “literally,” “founder” and “reticent,” there are many online lists of those we all misuse. Here’s a Huffington Post version with 50 entries.

Our own list is here.

(“Memmos;” April 25, 2016)


A Reminder About A Word We Shouldn’t Use And Some More Thoughts On Avoiding Labels #

We said this week that a man was “mentally retarded.”

“Retarded” is not a word we use to describe anyone. It’s among the “words that hurt.”

Joe Shapiro, who has done a lot of reporting and thinking about this, suggests phrases such as “intellectual disability” or “developmentally disabled” and that they be used with a “people first” approach. That is, put the person before the condition. Say “a man with an intellectual disability” rather than “a mentally retarded man.”

If you can’t seem to avoid a label, the AP recommends “mentally disabled,” “intellectually disabled” or “developmentally disabled.” But those aren’t great alternatives, as is often the case with labels.

As for labels, reminders are in order:

No. 1: “It is generally best to avoid labeling people, especially with terms that partisans have chosen.” Use “action words” to describe people rather than pinning them with labels.

No. 2: It’s certainly almost always best “to avoid labeling people who have medical conditions.” As we’ve written before, “it’s better to say someone ‘has been diagnosed with schizophrenia’ rather than ‘is a schizophrenic.’ Or, ‘she is being treated for anorexia’ rather than ‘she is an anorexic.’ Or, ‘he is diabetic,’ instead of ‘he is a diabetic.’ ”

No. 3: Pay particularly close attention to the way you refer to people who have gone through traumatic experiences. We’ve previously discussed the language regarding survivors of sexual assault.

This isn’t about political correctness. It’s about respect for those we report about (and “Respect” is one of our core principles) and it’s about accuracy (another core principle).

(“Memmos;” April 22, 2016)


Guidance On The Name Of The Ukrainian Pilot #

Going forward, the Ukrainian military pilot who is jailed in Russia should be referred to as “Nadiya Savchenko,” not “Nadezhda Savchenko.” We want to state and write her first name the way a Ukrainian would, not a Russian.

Yes, we realize other news outlets are using “Nadezhda.”

Courtesy of Corey Flintoff, here is pronunciation guidance for her last name: “SAHV-chen-ko.”

(“Memmos;” April 20, 2016)


Reminder: ‘When Language Is Politicized, Seek Neutral Words That Foster Understanding’ #

The news from North Carolina about its gender identity law and from several states about laws allowing businesses to refuse service to LGBT customers make this a good time to reread our guidance on avoiding politicized, or loaded, language. It’s here.

Some key points:

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

– “In such cases we go with what’s accurate. And err on the side of neutrality.”

– “We also take the time to explain to our audience how certain words or phrases have taken on politically loaded meanings.”

– “Politically loaded language not only violates our commitment to be fair, but also gets in the way of telling good stories.”

Basically, beware the language and labels that any side wants us to use. We figure out for ourselves what’s the clearest thing to say.

(“Memmos;” April 15, 2016)


Korva Discovers That Hailstones Come In ‘Grapefruit’ And ‘Softball’ Sizes; Diatribe About Clichés Averted #

We were prepared to issue another rant about clichés this morning after hearing during the 6 a.m. ET Newscast that hailstones ranging in size from “grapefruits to softballs” fell in Dallas on Monday. Can’t we find some other comparisons?

We were also prepared to complain that grapefruits and softballs are basically the same size, so there really wasn’t a “range.”

But, as she sometimes is, Korva was on to something. NOAA’s Storm Prediction Center has posted a “traditional object-to-size conversion for assessment and translation of severe hail reports.”

Based on the diameters (in inches), here are NOAA’s conversions:

0.50 … marble or moth ball
0.75 … penny
0.88 … nickel
1.00 … quarter

1.25 … half dollar
1.50 … walnut or ping pong ball
1.75 … golf ball
2.00 … hen egg

2.50 … tennis ball
2.75 … baseball
3.00 … tea cup
4.00 … grapefruit
4.50 … softball

Thus, it appears there is official paperwork that blesses weather-worn clichés about hail. And as you see, there’s official word confirming there is a (slight) range between grapefruits and softballs.

However, the fight against clichés will continue. Previous posts:

No, Virginia, It ‘Tisn’t The Season
Let’s Toss ‘Hat In The Ring’ Into The Cliché Round File
We Wave A Lot; Perhaps We Should Stem The Tide

Jonathan Kern’s thoughts about cliches are also worth rereading:

Cliches and shopworn phrases: “This decision comes in the wake of a ruling last week,” “the long-simmering dispute has provoked a storm of controversy,” “investors have been taken for a wild ride by the roller coaster stock market,” “public school teachers are leaving in droves” – these are just a few examples of the hundreds of modular phrases journalists use to write with a minimum of effort. It’s understandable: the reporters and news writers are under deadline pressure, and these are the phrases that spring to mind. The editor’s job is not to let them get away with it.

(“Memmos;” April 12, 2016)


Don’t Be Fooled #

The first thing to say is that it’s “April Fools’ Day,” not “April Fool’s Day.” Be careful where you put the apostrophe.

The second thing to say is “be careful.” It’s already April 1 in some places. For the next day or so news sites, blogs and social media will be trying to trick others into reporting, retweeting and posting their “reports” as if they’re true.

For tips on some of the clues to look for when trying to figure out what’s real and what’s fake, listen to the conversation that Messrs. Zwerdling, Silverman and Gordemer had on Weekend All Things Considered.

For a look at some of the media mischief in the past, check out Linton’s post from last March.

(“Memmos;” March 31, 2016)


You May Hear The Word ‘Sniveling’ More Times Today Than In All Of NPR’s Previous 46 Years #

We hadn’t heard a presidential candidate call an opponent a “sniveling coward” until yesterday. But there it was, in newscasts and on Add it to the many things we hadn’t heard before this campaign.

Language lovers may be wondering:

Has that phrase or just the word “sniveling” been heard on NPR before?

A search of our transcripts, which go back to 1990, turns up two examples of the specific phrase.

- A 1991 piece from Sylvia Poggioli in which Croatian soldiers and “Serb insurgents” are heard trading insults on their walkie-talkies. “You’re a sniveling coward,” one Croatian called his enemy. (Google Translate tells us that in Croatian it would be “sniveling kukavica.”)

- A 1995 report by John Burnett about closing arguments in the trial of 11 Branch Davidians. The U.S. attorney said one of the defendants was a “sniveling coward” for firing at law officers from a place where there were children hiding.

“Sniveling” or “snivelling” turn up in transcripts 39 times. The closest example to this week’s usage is from 1992 when Mary Matalin, political director of President George H.W. Bush’s re-election campaign, said Bill Clinton’s campaign was full of “sniveling hypocrites.” She later apologized. She also later married Clinton campaign strategist James Carville.

A search of turns up 16 examples of “sniveling” or “snivelling.”

Where does the word “snivel” come from?

- Oxford Dictionaries says “Late Old English (recorded only in the verbal noun  snyflung ‘mucus’), from snofl, in the same sense; compare with snuffle.”

- Webster’s says “[Middle English] snivlen < [Old English] snyflan < base seen in snofl, mucus.”

What does “snivel” mean?

- In the context put forward this week, it is “to fret or complain in a whining, tearful manner … to make a whining, tearful, often false display of grief, sympathy, disappointment, etc.” (Webster’s)

Did Shakespeare ever use the word?

- Shakespeare search engines indicate the answer is no. But here’s one highfalutin place it shows up: In playwright Arthur Miller’s The Crucible, Abigail Williams calls Elizabeth “Goody” Proctor “a lying, cold, sniveling woman.”

Why is this post attached to the NPR Ethics Handbook?

- As you’ve hopefully figured out the past two years, “Memmos” aren’t always about ethical issues. Sometimes we just have a few minutes to spare during lunch and start poking around.

(“Memmos;” March 25, 2016)


Guidance On Podcast ‘Back Announces’ #

Chris Turpin, V.P. for news programming and operations, writes:

As podcasts grow in number and popularity we are talking about them more often in our news programs.  We are also fielding more and more questions from news staff and Member stations about our policies for referring to podcasts on air.  To that end, we want to establish some common standards, especially for language in back announces. Our hope is to establish basic principles that are easy to understand and allow plenty of flexibility for creativity.  These guidelines apply to all podcasts, whether produced by NPR or by other entities.

– No Call to Action:We won’t tell people to actively download a podcast or where to find them. No mentions of, iTunes, Stitcher, NPR One, etc.


“That’s Linda Holmes of NPR’s Pop Culture Happy Hour podcast and our blogger on the same subject and Bob Mondello, NPR’s film critic. Thanks so much.


“OK, everyone. You can download Alt.Latino from iTunes and, of course, via the NPR One app.

– Informational, not Promotional: When referring to podcasts, and the people who host, produce, or contribute to them, we will mention the name of the podcast but not in a way that explicitly endorses it.  References should not specifically promote the content of the podcast (e.g.,  “This week, the Politics Podcast team digs into delegate math.”) If you feel a podcast title needs explaining (e.g. Hidden Brain), some additional language can be added (e.g., “That’s Shankar Vedantam, he hosts a podcast that explores the unseen patterns of human behavior. It’s called, Hidden Brain” ). Just to repeat: Be creative in how you back announce podcasts, but please avoid outright promotion.

– No NPR One: For now, NPR One will not be promoted on the air.

There will be exceptions to these rules, but when in doubt let these principles be your guide.

If you have specific practical questions the Holmes Brothers or Mark Memmott are great places to go for answers.

And, as always, I’m happy to discuss any aspect of this decision.

(“Memmos;” March 16, 2016)


This May Make You Smile: A 12-Year-Old’s Polite Note About ‘Kids’ #

We get several emails a day from folks who want to correct our grammar. Many start like this:

“Would you please inform [insert name of NPR journalist] that to say [insert mistake, often about “lie” or “lay”] is incorrect.” Then they usually question the quality of our educations.

We recently got a warmer wag of a finger. Jarrod Jackson in Audience Relations passed along an actual letter – on paper – from 12-year-old Sylvia Seay of Crozet, Va. She chided us just a bit while also being absolutely charming, at least in the eyes of many in the newsroom.

-          Page 1 is here.

-          Be sure to open Page 2 as well.

Sylvia is a fan of NPR, but she has an issue:

“I have noticed that you refer to parents as ‘mothers’ and ‘fathers,’ rather than ‘moms’ and ‘dads.’ Despite this, children are still dubbed ‘kids.’ …

“I find this improper because the definition for ‘kid’ in Webster’s 7th New Collegiate Dictionary is as follows:  ‘A young goat, or various related animals.’

“A child does not fall under this category. I myself am a child in 8th grade and of twelve years. I would suggest another term in place of ‘kid,’ such as: child, youth, younger population, teen, minor, or whippersnapper (haha).”

A search of turns up about 1,300 mentions of “kids” in the past year and 1,400 of “children.”

The numbers wouldn’t have been that close, I bet, a few decades ago. I told Sylvia in an email that I remember being admonished by an editor nearly 40 years ago. “Children are not ‘kids,’” he said.

But, I added, “over time, the word has become more accepted.”

Perhaps we can put some of the blame on Madison Avenue. Remember that Armour hot dogs commercial from the ‘60s and  ‘70s?

I also told Sylvia that:

“You’ve touched on an issue we deal with every day. We want to be careful with our words and we try not to make grammatical mistakes. But we also want to be conversational and ‘sound like America.’ English is a living language and we change with the times. That said … ‘kids’ is a word that works better in fun, or lighter, stories. A guideline might be that if you wouldn’t use the words ‘mom’ and ‘dad,’ then ‘kids’ probably isn’t appropriate either.”

Now, if only more of our language police were like Sylvia. She’s a good … person.

(“Memmos;” March 15, 2016)


Guidance On The Titles ‘Analyst’ & ‘Commentator’ #

“News reporting and analysis are at the center of our work,” The Ethics Handbook says. “Valid news analysis flows naturally from deep, thorough reporting. Its role is to provide interpretation, explanation and context.”

In other words, analytical reporting is a big part of what we do.

It isn’t commentary – “the expression of opinion on items of public interest.” We leave that to others. If we bring them on the air to explain things and offer their opinions, they are “commentators.”

Can we also call them “analysts?” No.

We want to be very clear. There’s a difference between “analysis” and “commentary.” Our journalists analyze events and issues. So do some guests. Others offer commentary.

Related note: Though they analyze, we don’t refer to our journalists as “analysts.” First, that makes it sound like they work on Wall Street or in a laboratory. Second, there is too much potential for confusion. The words “analyst” and “commentator” have become interchangeable in many listeners’ minds, even though they mean different things.

(“Memmos;” March 14, 2016)


Do Spring Forward, But Don’t Say ‘Daylight Savings’ #

Korva and her fellow Arizonans refuse to get on board with the idea of adjusting clocks, but most of the nation will spring forward an hour this weekend.

That means we need to remind everyone that it’s “daylight saving time” that’s starting again, not “daylight savingS time.”

Also, as we’ve said before:

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;” March 10, 2016)


Is That Cut From A Skype Conversation? Then You Must Tell Listeners #

If you use Skype to interview a guest and some of the conversation gets into a piece or two-way, then you need to say that you used Skype.

There are various ways to do it, including:

-          “We reached her on Skype.”

-          “She spoke to us on Skype.”

-          “He joins us on Skype.”

Give the credit once before you cut to the clip or go to the conversation. Treat this just like those mandatory credits to networks on debate nights. It’s part of the deal when you download and use Skype.

Meanwhile, check the terms of service of any similar Internet service you use. Google’s voice and video chat services, for instance, do not require these credits – and may be alternatives you’d like to explore.

(“Memmos;” March 7, 2016)


Before Super Tuesday, A Reminder About Social Media #

On Super Tuesday Eve, here’s a reminder: there’s “no cheering [or booing] in the press box.”  

This is very important, so we’re recirculating the guidance we posted last October about social media. It still applies. 

Everyone should be familiar with our thinking:

The presidential campaign … and breaking news events … 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.

Our resources:

– 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” [or "Super Tuesday"]  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;” Feb. 29, 2016)


Refused Or Declined? It Depends On The Tone #

When a company, politician or organization won’t comment on something, have they “refused” or “declined?”

“Refused” works, according to Webster’s New World, if the “no” has been “emphatic” or “blunt.” Maybe a phone has been slammed* in your ear or an email has included language we wouldn’t repeat on the air.

But “declined” is the word to go with in most cases. True, the words are close in meaning. But Webster’s notes that to decline is a polite way of refusing. If a spokesman simply says “we’re not going to comment,” that’s a polite response.


Ina Jaffe was correct this week when she reported that a nursing home had “refused” to readmit a patient. Here’s why: As the BBC notes, “to ‘refuse‘ is the opposite of to ‘accept’ ” and it is done “firmly.” In this case, the hospital said “no” even after being ordered by the state of California to accept the patient. That’s a firm decision.

*In the old days, people had phones that had to be “hung up” to end a call. If you were angry at the person on other end of the line, you might slam the handset (which was attached to a cord) down on the “cradle.” There was also a “dial” on the phone.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 26, 2016)


Refresh My Memory: When Can We Stop Saying ‘Alleged?’ #

The man under arrest in Kalamazoo is a “suspect.” He “allegedly” killed six people.

The basic procedure is that we use such qualifiers, or others such as “who police say …,” until someone is convicted or has entered a guilty plea.

Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik are not “suspects” or “alleged” killers. They are the couple who killed 14 people in San Bernardino, Calif.

They were not convicted and did not confess to authorities. Why drop the qualifiers?

Because they’re dead?

That’s a factor, but not necessarily the determining one.

As we’ve said before,  ”at some point … it just makes common sense to stop inserting” words such as “suspected” and “allegedly.”

But as we’ve also said before, here are some of the “questions to ask before any shift in language:”

– Has the person [or persons] been positively and publicly identified as the killer[s] by proper authorities?

– Have authorities ruled out the possibility of someone else being involved?

– Were there many witnesses? (In other words, did dozens or more see this unfold?)

– Is there considerable video evidence? …

– Has the inevitable confusion that comes when such events happen been resolved? Often, for example, witnesses and authorities initially get things wrong — including the name of the person responsible.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 23, 2016)


Here’s A Way To Stop Me From Nagging You #

Because some words and phrases come up often, because there are new folks on most desks and shows, because some people have shifted jobs in recent months and because many of us have lousy memories, a reminder is in order.

We have guidance on a wide variety of words and phrases that need to be handled carefully. The guidance should be used.

For instance:

– Do we say “abortion clinics?” No. We refer to “clinics that perform abortions.” Read more.

– “Illegal immigrants?” “Undocumented immigrants?” No and no. We prefer action phrases such as “people in the country illegally.” Read more.

– “Assault rifle?” Probably not. In most cases it’s “assault-style.” Read more.

– “Migrants” or “refugees?” They aren’t interchangeable. Read more.

– “Gay marriage?” No. “Same-sex marriage” is the phrase to use. Read more.

– “Islamic terrorists?” No. The word to use is “Islamist.” Read more.

There are several places to go to find such guidance. We all should read through them occasionally to see what’s there, refresh our memories and head off annoying notes from editors. The resources include two that are open to the public:

The Ethics Handbook.

The “Memmos.”

More is posted on our radio and digital style guides – which remain, for now at least, inside our Intranet. It’s not that hard to get to them. They’re just a couple clicks away. 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.” Note: There are “radio” and “digital” guides mostly because some things need to be spelled out or expressed slightly differently depending on the platform.

You’ll find our link to the AP Style Guide is there as well.

If you’re outside our Intranet, the RAD team or I can see if there’s guidance on your issue.

Other suggestions:

- Walk over and look at the white wall by Newscast. There’s quite a bit of information on it.

- Talk to the journalists here who have already thought through the issue you’ve got. The Science Desk, for example, comes to mind on subjects such as climate change and abortion.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 19, 2016)


Seven Wonderful Words About Set-Top Boxes #

Here’s the first line of a Brian Naylor spot this morning:

“The cable TV set-top box, which is actually probably under your TV, is pretty easy to ignore.”

Brilliant. Brian winks at listeners. It’s engaging. A “real” person is reporting the news and he knows that “set-top box” is one of those phrases that lives on after it no longer makes sense. What could have been a dull report pops instead.

Imagine the other words or phrases that offer such opportunities. “Glove compartment” comes to mind. I know mine has never contained a pair of gloves.

(Memmos; Feb. 18, 2016)


Be Sure To Ask ‘Experts’ About Connections To The Candidates #

This is already happening, but it’s important not to forget that as we line up experts for two-ways and interviews about public policy issues, we need to know if they’re connected to or publicly support one of the presidential campaigns. A standard question these days should be something like “are you advising any of the campaigns?” Or, “have you been called by any of the campaigns or candidates?” Or, “are you publicly supporting one of the candidates?”

Check with them about connections to public policy groups and advocacy organizations as well.

We look for expertise on a wide variety of subjects that are campaign issues. They include climate change, criminal justice, economics, foreign affairs, immigration, national security and tax policy. The list could go on.

A “yes” response to one of our questions doesn’t automatically disqualify someone, but it is information we need to know, weigh and tell our listeners and readers if it’s decided that person should be part of our report.

Meanwhile, our responsibility doesn’t end with a “no” response from the expert. Trust, but verify. Do some searches to be sure that person hasn’t shown up in stories about “economists who support Smith” or “historians who are advising Jones.” The expert may have an explanation. After all, campaigns sometimes exaggerate their support and academics sometimes sign on to things without quite realizing what they’ve done.

It’s also important to know whether someone has advised candidates or groups in the past. That information may help put the expert’s thinking in context.

How far down the ballot do we need to go? It’s wise to ask whether they’re connected to any House, Senate or statewide races. We would also want to know if an expert in a particular field has gotten involved in a specific story — the Flint water crisis, for example.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 11, 2016)


In Our Latest Edition Of ‘Don’t Do What They Did’: A Deal We Wouldn’t Want To Make #

It’s clearly stated in the Ethics Handbook that “we don’t allow sources to dictate how a topic will be covered.”

That’s a pretty basic rule.

We’re bringing it up now because of reports about 2009 email exchanges between then-Atlantic contributing editor Marc Ambinder and Philippe Reines, spokesman for then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton:

- “This Is How Hillary Clinton Gets the Coverage She Wants” (Gawker)

- “Corrupt journalism doesn’t pay. Nor does abetting it.”(The Washington Post)

According to those reports, Ambinder got a scoop about a Clinton speech by agreeing to Reines’ “conditions.” One: that the address be described as “muscular.” Two: That he report that Clinton’s high-profile deputies would be there to show their support for the secretary.

Ambinder tells Gawker that the transaction “made me uncomfortable then, and it makes me uncomfortable today.”

“Unacceptable” is the word that comes to our mind.

Other “don’t do what they did” posts:

Unlike A ‘Rolling Stone,’ We Don’t Change Names Or Share Stories With Sources

Don’t Trust, Do Verify: The Vaping Hoax

Don’t Trust Your Mother Or The Internet

Free Laptops, Big Shrimp And #Ethicsschmetics

Plagiarism: The Offense That Keeps On Repeating

Don’t Always Believe What You Remember

(“Memmos;” Feb. 10, 2016)


Laugh Break: Interviewing Tips From Bob & Ray #

Be sure to listen to All Things Considered’s look back at the work of radio comedian Bob Elliott. Just what we can all use: Tips that make us smile!

Also, check out Here & Now’s remembrance, including a 2007 interview with Bob Elliott:

(“Memmos’: Feb. 5, 2016)


There’s No Need To Run Through Some People’s Résumés On First Reference #

It’s been drilled into our heads that we should include at least a bit of a person’s biography on first reference. So this guidance is a break from tradition. Here goes:

If someone is well-known, it will often feel and sound more natural to move that bio material to later in a Newscast spot, blog post or show piece. In some cases it may not even be necessary to include all the biographical information you’re tempted to fold in.

For instance, rather than beginning with a reference to “2008 Republican vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin” or “former Alaska Gov. Sarah Palin” or “former Alaska governor and 2008 GOP vice presidential nominee Sarah Palin,” simply slip one of those reminders in later.

In most cases, there’s no need to remind the audience on first reference that Hillary Clinton is a “former secretary of state,” “former senator” or “former first lady.” You may need to say “Democratic presidential contender Hillary Clinton,” but there are more conversational ways to get that information across as well. For instance, by talking about “Hillary Clinton’s campaign for the White House” and getting the word “Democratic” in at another point.

It’s unlikely you would start a conversation with a friend by saying “Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.” You would say “Bernie Sanders.” In many cases, we can do the same and let the references to his run for the Democratic nomination, the senate and Vermont come in naturally.

This guidance is mostly about politicians, but can apply to others as well. “Former Beatle” doesn’t always have to go in front of “Paul McCartney.” Oprah Winfrey can stand on her own for a line or two. “Boxer Muhammad Ali” may not be necessary on first reference.

Here’s the takeaway: We don’t have to be bound to the notion that first references must be mini résumés. Use your judgment.

Related notes:

– This does not change the way we refer to sitting presidents, vice presidents and other world leaders. We’re sticking with formalities on first references to them.

– Party IDs are key information in stories about policy makers and politicians. If you don’t include an “R,” a “D,” a “Democrat” or a “Republican,” you will hear from readers and listeners who say you’re trying to hide someone’s affiliation.

– If the news is about legislation that’s being introduced, a hearing that’s being held, results of an investigation that are being released or other official business, we stick with tradition. It would be “Sen. Jane Doe” or “Attorney Gen. John Doe” on first reference.

– It should always be “Conqueror of the Unpronounceable Word Korva Coleman” on first reference.

(“Memmos;” Feb. 1, 2016)


Guidance: Don’t Use ‘Ride-Sharing’ #

“Ride-sharing” doesn’t accurately describe the service that Uber and others offer. As Webster’s says, “share … generally connotes a giving or receiving a part of something.” With these services, nothing’s being given away.

The AP suggests “ride-hailing” or “ride-booking.” Other suggestions are welcome.

People we interview may say “ride-sharing.” That’s perfectly fine. We should not.

(“Memmos;” Jan. 21, 2016)


Let’s Bury These Winter Clichés Before They Pile Up Like … #

Unless their tongue is firmly in their frozen cheek, the first person who uses any of these words or phrases this week has to shovel Korva’s long driveway:

-          Big chill

-          Brave the elements

-          Hunker down

-          White stuff

-          Old man winter (or Ol’ Man Winter)

-          Jack Frost

-          Deep freeze

-          Nipping at our noses (or anything else)

-          Enough is enough

-          First flakes

-          Bone-chilling

-          Snowpocalypse

-          Snowmageddon

-          Winter wonderland

Feel free to ban any other winter-related clichés that I missed.

Let’s not overdo some sounds, either. Snow shovels. Snow plows. Sleds. Etc.

Stay warm.

(“Memmos;” Jan. 20, 2016)


Flint Water Crisis: Say ‘Government Officials’ #

When referring to the decision to switch Flint’s water supply, unless you’re going to go into a long explanation please say the decision was made by “government officials.” As Michigan Radio’s timeline shows, there were many players. To call them simply “city officials” is problematic because state-appointed emergency managers were also involved.

For further guidance, consult Ken Barcus or the editor sitting in for him this week (Russell Lewis). Luis Clemens is also up to speed on the situation.

(“Memmos;” Jan. 19, 2016)

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The NPR Accuracy Checklist: It’s A Must-Read & A Must-Use #

This list went out last January. A year later, we’re still making too many of the same mistakes. See for yourself on the corrections page:

As we said last year:

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? Is that really the capital?

–  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. 13, 2016)


Unlike A ‘Rolling Stone,’ We Don’t Change Names Or Share Stories With Sources #

Give Rolling Stone some credit for transparency. Sean Penn’s account of his trip to meet Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzmán is topped with this editor’s note:

“Disclosure: Some names have had to be changed, locations not named, and an understanding was brokered with the subject that this piece would be submitted for the subject’s approval before publication. The subject did not ask for any changes.”

There’s a good discussion to be had about the line between activism and journalism and how far across it the “El Chapo Speaks” piece goes. Let’s set that aside for now.

This post is about two simpler issues.

First, NPR does not create pseudonyms for sources. Doing so gives the audience a reason to ask what else might have been made up. If we need to protect someone’s identity, we most often use real first names, sometimes real middle names, sometimes real “street” or nicknames that the source is known by and sometimes descriptions (the “husband,” the “sister,” the “officer,” etc.). Whatever we do, we explain it in our reports. We include the reason why the person needs anonymity.

We also pay attention to “the ‘don’ts’ of anonymity.” That is, no attacks, no disguises and no offers. The Ethics Handbook’s guidance on anonymous sourcing is collected here. Of particular importance is this guideline: “Describe Anonymous Sources As Clearly As You Can Without Identifying Them.”

Second, NPR does not show its stories to sources before broadcast or posting. Here is our guidance:

“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.”

(“Memmos;” Jan. 11, 2016)


Language To Use And Not Use When Reporting About The Occupation In Oregon #

As of Monday, Jan. 4 a.m. 10 a.m. ET:

– We are not using the words “militia” or “militiamen” on their own. A “militia” is organized to “resemble an army” (Webster’s New World College Dictionary, Fifth Edition). At most, this group may be called a “self-described” or “self-styled” militia. It doesn’t “resemble an army.” Note: Reporting indicates there may only be a dozen or so men doing the occupying.

– We are not calling this a “standoff.” A standoff requires two sides. Right now, one group is occupying some lands and buildings while the other (the government) is considering what to do. There’s an “occupation” and it may become a “standoff,” but it’s not there yet.

– We have been using the words “protesters” and “armed protesters.” But the word “protesters” is not entirely adequate. These are armed individuals who have occupied government property. They are not simply citizens peacefully expressing their opinions, which is how the word “protesters” is more often used. This is an “armed occupation.” They are “armed occupiers.” They are “armed men” or “armed individuals.”

“Militants” is a better word than “protesters.” A militant is “ready and willing to fight,” according to Webster’s. These men say they are. The dictionary also says a militant is “vigorous or aggressive in supporting or promoting a cause.”

– As we’ve previously discussed, it’s best to avoid labels if possible. Use action words to describe who these people are and what they want. They are an armed group. They want an end to federal management of public land in the west. They are armed anti-federalists who want the states to control public lands in the west (referring to them simply as “anti-government” is not quite right).

Addition at 1:30 p.m. ET: 

When referring to the dispute that Cliven Bundy and others have with the federal government, don’t say it’s over “grazing rights.” Instead, say “grazing fees,” “grazing privileges,” “grazing permits” or some combination of those words — such as “grazing permits and fees.”

 (“Memmos;” Jan. 4, 2016)


Keep KISSing In 2016 #

Much of the best work we did this year had this in common: direct, evocative writing. Editors have long said it’s best to “keep it simple, stupid.” That’s not as easy as it sounds. But, we’ve often done it well. Here are six examples, in no particular order. Many more could be listed. Thanks go out to correspondents and editors who craft lines such as these every day:

– Julie McCarthy describing an earthquake survivor in Nepal: “A physician from Doctors Without Borders hovers over Aitimaya, inspecting her head injury while an IV drains into her bony arm. Stretched out on a dirty mattress, the only motion she can muster is a limp swat at the flies.”

– Gene Demby on the disturbing reason he and two friends (“black journos,” as Gene wrote) were having dinner in St. Louis: “We weren’t gathered for a birthday, or happy hour, but because a young black man’s body had lain out for four hours on a sweltering street.”

– Robert Siegel reflecting on the Nov. 13 terror attacks in Paris: “No one ever summed up the French Enlightenment by saying: ‘I disapprove of what you order at the cafe, but I will defend to the death your right to order it.’ But what happened here shows there is a real connection between big ideas about freedom and small, casual acts of friendship and recreation. One person publishing a biting satire and another reacting to it over a bite at the bistro are two sides of the same coin. The gunmen and suicide bombers who came here claiming divine authority understood that. The guns that were aimed at the few in January were fired without distinction in November. Everyone was a target. The French are Charlie. And in their grief, they need no reminding of it.”

– Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, Tyler Fisher, Kainaz Amaria, Lauren Migaki, Claire O’Neill, Wes Lindamood and Becky Lettenberger on a fascinating “Look At This” digital trip to the Amazon. It begins with two simple sentences that draw visitors right in: “You were taught in school that the rain forest is like the lungs of our planet. It’s not that simple.” The lines that follow on the other images are all examples of spare, compelling storytelling.

Jasmine Garsd on why it’s significant that Ruben Blades’ character in Fear The Walking Dead isn’t another Latin American stereotype and is revealing the scars many Latin Americans bear: “Here’s what’s important about discussing our historical wounds and our cultural fears: rather than divide us, they bring us closer to one another. Sometimes, they highlight the fact that we all have the capacity to be monsters.”

– Wade Goodwyn, summing up a performance by opera singer Frederica von Stade and a choir of homeless people: “It was an evening they said they’d remember the rest of their lives. For a night, two dozen of Dallas’s homeless were lifted from the city’s cold streets and sidewalks to bask in the warm glow of spotlights. For the usual hostility and indifference to their fate, they were traded love, respect and goodwill — one performance only.

Jonathan Kern advised in Sound Recording that “the goal is to write the way you wish you could speak — or the way you speak on your best day, when you’ve had just the right amount of caffeine and sleep.” He recommended “short, repetitive sentences.”

It looks like we’re still heeding Jonathan’s advice.


– Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips 

(Memmos; Dec. 29, 2015)


What Did We Say About That? A Guide To The 2015 ‘Memmos’ #

What did Mark annoy us about in 2015? Here are the year’s “Memmos,” divided into categories:



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

-         Single Source Approval Process



-         When News Breaks, Keep A Couple Things In Mind



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

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

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

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


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

-         On Gender Identity

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

-         Guidance on: Coverage of books written by NPR staffers

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


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

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

-         DACS Lines Are Journalism

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

-         Online News Commentaries


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

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

-         Guidance On Music In Broadcast Pieces

-         Reminder: If The Facts Don’t Support Someone’s Claim, Say That



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

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

-         On The Plagiarism Case And How It Was Handled



-         Repetitive Acronyms

-         Reminder: References To War Camps Must Be Precise

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

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

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


-         Some So-called Guidance

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

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

-         On The Word ‘Suicide’

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


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

-         Guidance: ‘Same-Sex Marriage

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

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

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


-         Save Yourself A Word And Make The Latin Teachers Happy

-         No Change In The Way We Introduce The Islamic State (later revised; see next entry in this list)

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

-         On ‘Migrants’ And ‘Refugees’

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

-         Take Care When Describing Weapons


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

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

-         “Let’s Reduce Our ‘Buts’ “

-         Words We Get Wrong: The List

-         New Guidance On References To Myanmar


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

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

-         Keep Your Enemies Close And Your Antecedents Closer

-         No, Virginia, It ‘Tisn’t The Season



-         We’re Making More Than A Few

-         Serious Mistakes Need To Be Flagged Immediately

-         The NPR Accuracy Checklist

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

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


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

-         Don’t Trust Your Mother Or The Internet

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

-         Put On-Air Corrections With The Original Stories



-         Guidance On The Name Of Argentina’s President

-         Reminders On Two Names (Ofeibea Quist-Arcton & Leila Fadel)

-         Reminders: Say ‘MURZ’ & ‘STEHF-in’

-         “It’s ‘Argentine,’ Not ‘Argentinian’ “



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

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

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

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

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



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

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

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

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



-         Encore! Encore!

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

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

-         A Thanks And Two Reminders On Describing Weapons And Adding Sources To ‘Reportable’ Notes

-         Kudos For Some Solid Reporting, Careful Writing & Smart Blogging



-         Click here to see that list

(“Memmos;” Dec. 22, 2015)


Reminder: If The Facts Don’t Support Someone’s Claim, Say That #

We wrote about this last month. The New York Times’ public editor weighed in this week. It’s worth repeating:

When politicians and public officials (or anyone, for that matter) say things that don’t fit the facts, we should point it out – and we are, as the “Break It Down” fact-checks show.

Our earlier post suggested several ways to say and write that what Candidate A or City Official B just said doesn’t stand up to scrutiny. The Times’ Margaret Sullivan pointed to other approaches, such as noting that they spoke “without citing any evidence” or that the statement “has no basis in fact.”

If the evidence shows that a claim clearly doesn’t add up, we don’t need to qualify with a “critics contend” or a “some say.” State what is known and how we’ve reached that conclusion (for example, “an NPR search of news accounts and police records found no evidence to support the claim”).

Sullivan also noted something we agree with: that as much as possible, the fact-checking should be done “in real time.” That is, as soon as possible after a claim is made. We’ve been doing that very effectively after the presidential debates and notable claims by candidates.

Obviously, politicians and public officials aren’t the only people who make claims that can’t be substantiated. Keep in mind that, as the Ethics Handbook says, “our purpose is to pursue the truth. Diligent verification is critical. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context.” Also, we shouldn’t “just spread information. Be careful and skeptical.”

(Memmos; Dec. 17, 2015)


A Thanks And Two Reminders On Describing Weapons And Adding Sources To ‘Reportable’ Notes #

Many thanks to everyone for the care that’s been taken with the information coming in from San Bernardino. Our language has been precise, we’ve added important context and we’ve been clear about what’s known and what isn’t.

The “reportable” and “guidance” notes from editors and reporters have been extremely helpful. One thing: Please remember to include language about the sources of that information. It’s very important that we be able to tell listeners and readers where we’re getting our information.

Also, please continue to be careful about descriptions of the weapons. To many in the audience, “assault rifles” are fully automatic weapons that cannot be legally purchased. At this point, it’s better to refer to the rifles used in San Bernardino as “assault-style.”

But again, thanks. We’ve gotten many messages such as this one posted on Facebook:

“Thank you for reporting only the facts while others in the media build a frenzy just to be the first with ‘new information’, credible or not.”

From October:Take Care When Describing Weapons.”

(“Memmos;” Dec. 3, 2015)


No, Virginia, It ‘Tisn’t The Season #

It’s that time of year again, so here’s a reminder:

If you feel a holiday cliché trying to tiptoe into your copy, please resist.

From last year’s post on this topic:

– “ ‘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.

As we also said last year, you may be able to play around with these holiday evergreens. You might stand one on its head, so to speak.

But the guidance we’ve given about adjectives applies in most cases to clichés as well: if you see one, kill it.

In other words, say “no, no, no,” not “ho, ho, ho.”

(Memmos; Dec. 1, 2015)



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)