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Guideline

Guidance For Bylines On NPR.org #

March 1, 2017

By Sara Goo
Deputy Managing Editor, Digital News
@sarakgoo

At NPR, we believe deeply in some core principles. Those include accountability and transparency.

We must apply those principles to our bylines.

Our goal is to ensure that NPR bylines make clear to readers who created the work, whether it’s a news article, video or photo essay. That’s transparency.

Transparency fosters accountability – for any errors we make and for the praise that follows when we get a scoop.

We haven’t been applying the principles as well as we should. Sometimes, a script written by a reporter for a broadcast piece serves as the starting point for the story’s digital version but is then reworked and rewritten (with additional reporting) by another NPR journalist. Who gets the byline? Many times, it’s been only the originating reporter. The other journalist has gone unacknowledged.

This is our starting point: Bylines should go to the journalists who contributed the bulk of the work we publish. They recognize and include a wide variety of people: correspondents, station reporters, hosts, researchers, digital producers, audio producers, data journalists, photojournalists, developers and others.

With that in mind, we say:

All stories published on NPR.org should have a byline. Stories don’t write themselves. With few exceptions, perhaps in the case of security to protect a reporter who is on assignment in a dangerous place, we should always include a byline. There should be few reasons to have an “NPR Staff” byline.

The person who writes the story gets the byline or comes first. Readers assume a byline reflects the name of the person who wrote the story. That’s a simple fact.

While many stories are reported and written only for our digital audience, there are still some stories that begin as radio pieces. But the reporters heard in broadcast pieces aren’t always the same reporters who write the stories that appear online. There are many ways our reporting gets published on NPR.org, and many times there’s a lot of collaboration among our journalists.

Readers should know who wrote a story, and that writer’s name should come first. That fairly reflects the careful work of framing a story and selecting the parts of the story that are most appealing to readers. In practice that means:

-  If a correspondent or producer reports and writes a broadcast piece and then turns in a written version that is edited for readers online, that correspondent or producer gets the byline.

-  Sometimes a correspondent or producer reports and writes a broadcast piece, and the script serves as a starting point for other platforms – but that work is substantially rewritten and supplemented with other material by another NPR journalist. In that scenario, the journalist who did that substantial work should get the first byline. (Who decides? In most cases, it’s a collegial decision by those journalists. More on that process below.)

- When a writer takes a host’s radio interview and selects the best questions and answers or decides to write a story about the interview, there are two ways to handle the byline issue. If the host is heavily involved in the process, there could be a dual byline – the journalists and their editor can work out whose name goes first. If the host is not heavily involved, the piece should always reference that host and the program high in the story (“Jane Doe told Morning Edition host David Greene that …”).

- There is always room for judgment. There are cases when a correspondent or producer has a scoop or other critical information but does not have time to write for all platforms. That person still deserves a co-byline. Also, it may be important for other reasons (source building, for example) that an NPR journalist’s name be in the byline field.

NPR journalists should be generous about bylines. The guiding principle here is that we give credit where credit is due to one another. We recognize that on-air work isn’t the only work that matters. That’s why we encourage discussion among all of those involved in our reports about who should get a byline, and that should become part of the workflow for the stories we publish. Those discussions should be collegial.

Byline bios. All bylines should be linked to a short bio of the journalist. That reinforces our commitment to transparency.

Contributors. Non-NPR staffers who create content we publish should have bylines, and we should be consistent in explaining who they are and their background as relevant to the content that we are publishing. Contributors should not have byline bios.

Member station bylines. If we can’t link from a byline to a bio of a reporter from a member station, we will add an editor’s note to the end of the report. That note should explain who the reporter is and link to any bio of that reporter on the station’s website or to the reporter’s Twitter page. Example: Martin DiCaro, @MartinDiCaro, is a transportation reporter with NPR member station WAMU in Washington, D.C. He reported from Bethesda, Md.

Contributor lines. In some cases, journalists who contribute original reporting and writing deserve to be recognized, but the contributions are not substantial enough to warrant a byline. We should give credit to these journalists. If a journalist’s work is not cited in the text of the story, the story should include a contributor line. Example: Science reporter Alison Kodjak and All Things Considered producer Mallory Yu contributed to this report.

For stories reported by multiple reporters in different locations, their locations should be noted at the end of the story. This provides transparency to the reader about where our reporters are gathering information. Example: Eleanor Beardsley contributed to this report from Paris; John Burnett contributed from Austin, Texas.

Who decides who gets a byline? NPR journalists should be generous with one another’s contributions to a story and discuss bylines among themselves. If there is a question or a conflict, the editor of the story should decide. If need be, the standards and practices editor and deputy managing editor, digital should be consulted.

Standards & Practices Editor Mark Memmott contributed to this post.

Notes

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)

Notes

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)

Notes

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)

Notes

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)

Notes

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

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

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

There are two other things worth noting:

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

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

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

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

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

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

It was a simple request that produced an excellent story.

(Memmos; May 4, 2015)

Notes

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

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

ATTENDING RALLIES AND POLITICKING

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

“We don’t participate.”

CORRECTIONS

How we make them and display them, Part I.

How we make them and display them, Part II.

Poynter’s “most notable errors.”

They’re at the bottom of our pages.

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

GOOD WORK

A well-done poll.

John Burnett’s completeness.

David Folkenflik’s transparency.

Panda triplets!

The Bill Cosby interview.

The Eric Holder scoop.

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

LABELS AND WHY IT’S WISE TO AVOID THEM

Immigrants.

Medical conditions.

Teenager.

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

LANGUAGE TO USE AND LANGUAGE NOT TO USE

Adjectives and why we kill them.

“Alleged,” “accused” and “suspected.”

“Ambush” and “assassinate.”

“Begs the question.”

Being conversational.

Cliches in general.

“Crash.”

Ebola; infectious or contagious?

“Execute.”

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

“Garnish” vs. “garnishee.”

Holiday cliches.

“Imagined Elegance.”

– “Immigration” (and related terms).

“Islamic State,” then ISIS.

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

“Kurdistan.”

“Lay” vs. “lie.”

“Persian Gulf.”

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

“So.”

“Taps” and why not to talk over it.

Teenager, I.

Teenager II.

Torture I.

Torture II.

Torture III.

“The” vs. “thee.”

The word “war.”

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

Washington’s football team.

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

It’s not an English-only thing.

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

SOCIAL MEDIA

AP goes short.

AP’s unfortunate “crash lands” tweet.

Guidance for Election Day.

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

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

STYLE & STANDARDS

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

First names on second reference.

More on first names on second reference.

Why we didn’t name the Ebola patient.

Pronunciations.

Elvis.

‘TAKING DOWN’ STORIES

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

How to explain why we don’t do that.

THINGS THAT SHOULD NOT BE FORGOTTEN

Attribution I.

Attribution II.

An “abundance of caution” can save us sometimes.

Call “the other side” of the story.

Check things out, even our own reporting.

#Ethicsschmetics.

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

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

Good grammar.

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

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

Naming minors.

Never assume.

Never show stories to sources.

Online credits.

Objectivity.

Plagiarism is “the offense that keeps on repeating.”

Precision writing and editing.

You can’t always believe what you remember.

We work in plain sight.

We’re cynical, not skeptical.

WHERE TO FIND GUIDANCE

We’ve got your guidance right here.

(Memmos; Dec. 29, 2014)

Notes

We Get So Many Things Right; Why Do We Get Some Things Wrong? #

More than 13,000 words were heard during All Things Considered‘s broadcast on Friday.

As of 1 p.m. this afternoon, The Two-Way blog had published nearly 3,300 words today.

Monday’s 9 a.m. newscast — one of 37 produced each day — clocked in at more than 1,000 words.

Those are three slices. Just think about all the information coming each day from Morning Edition, Here & Now, Monkey See, Shots, Goats and Soda, NPR Music, NPR Books, the various digital teams and other parts of this operation. Pick your cliche: mountain, tsunami, avalanche, etc.

Then consider that over the past month we’ve posted about 2 corrections a day. Compare that to the amount of reporting we did.
Pick your cliche: trickle, pint-sized, wee, etc.

Of course, as another cliche goes, one mistake is one too many. A way to avoid them is to study those we’ve made. A run through the corrections page reveals some common mistakes:

– Names. In the past month we posted 7 corrections about names. A couple were misspelled, one was mispronounced, some were just wrong. It always pays to get the person you’re interviewing to say and spell his name. In other cases, it’s wise to check public records. It’s always a good idea to give a script or Web story an extra read with particular attention to the subjects’ names.

– Assumptions. We think we know something, but we don’t. It was IBM’s Watson computer that defeated a world chess champion, right? Wrong. Remember what assuming can make you.

– Locations. This is a cousin of “names” and “assumptions.” Minneapolis and Milwaukee — we confuse them. We recently mixed up Maine and Minnesota. The same goes for Albany, N.Y., and Albany, Ore. Ask yourself: Do I have the right place?

– Numbers. Million, billion, trillion –if a word has “illion” in it, triple-check the first letter. Using the word “percent?” Please be sure you shouldn’t be saying “percentage point.” If there’s a decimal point in that figure, be sure it’s in the right place. In other words, do your math and then do it again.

– Dates. A subset of “numbers” and a close kin of “assumptions.” When was the movie Around the World in 80 Days released? It was 1956, not 1965. (Side note: Data are plural.)

– Ages. Get a person’s birth date and do the math. You may be surprised to find that someone’s miscalcuated their own age.

You’ll discover other common errors if you look through the corrections pages. The point of the exercise isn’t to make the case that we should expect to be perfect. The point is that we get so much so right every day, that it’s a shame for great stories to be tagged with corrections — especially for mistakes that we likely could catch with one more read or one more double-check.

Related:

– “Consider using an accuracy checklist.”

– “How We Make Corrections.”

(Memmos; Nov. 20, 2014)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

H/T to Brian Naylor.

(Memmos; Sept. 8, 2014)

Case studies

Why We Decided NOT To Name Two 12-year-old Suspects #

The story was chilling:

Two 12-year-old girls in Wisconsin were arrested for the near-fatal stabbing of another young girl. Authorities quickly identified the suspects and announced that they would be charged — as adults — with attempted first-degree murder.

The suspects’ names were reported by local and national news outlets. At first, our Two-Way news blog also published the names. The thinking: The girls were to be prosecuted as adults and their names were now known because authorities had made them public. We did not report the victim’s name.

Then we rethought things, and concluded that we agree with the AP:

“AP does not name juveniles accused of crimes unless there are overriding needs, such as warning
the public about dangerous situations, e.g., a manhunt. In exceptional cases, juveniles charged
as adults for particularly serious crimes may be named in news stories, but only after clearance
by senior AP editors.”

We removed the names from the blog post and added this editor’s note:

“The two girls charged in the attack have been named in some news reports, including an earlier
version of this post. However, after careful consideration of the information’s news value, NPR
is no longer naming the girls because of their ages.”

Names are facts that are standard parts of crime stories. Not reporting them creates holes that listeners and readers would expect to have been filled. So why did we take them out?

– There was discussion in Wisconsin that the case might be moved into a juvenile court. The names of juvenile defendants are rarely made public. We decided to let the legal process play out a bit longer. We knew that if ultimately the girls were tried as adults, we could revisit the decision.

– The story may have been of national interest, but the girls’ names were not critical, at least at that early stage, to a national audience’s understanding of what happened.

– This was an instance where there clearly was a need to “take special care with minors.” We didn’t know how the case would turn out, but we did know it would follow these girls — and the victim — for the rest of their lives. We did not see the need to, at the initial stage at least, add to the reports that will trail them.

Additional points:

– Minors are generally defined as those under the age of 18. If the suspects are 16 or 17 and there’s a track record in their cities or states of such defendants being dealt with as adults, that might tip the scales TOWARD reporting their names. Still, talk with your editor, the Standards & Practices editor, a deputy managing editor and if necessary other senior newsroom managers before doing so.

– It will be rare for us to ever report the names of suspects younger than 16. Again, consider whether doing so meets the “overriding needs” standard established by AP.

– Don’t, however, assume anything. While we recognize it will be rare to report the names of young suspects, we do ask in each case whether we should. Questions to pose include: How serious was the crime? Has the name been widely reported? Is the defendant going to be tried as an adult?

– As always, the NPR legal team (email “LegalAlert”) is available to advise.

(This case study was added to the handbook on June 20, 2014.)

Guideline

Respect NPR’s copyright. #

While we strongly encourage linking to NPR.org, you may not repost NPR copyrighted material to social networks without prior permission. For example, it is o.k. to link from your blog or Facebook profile to a story of yours on the NPR site, but you should not copy the full text or audio onto a personal site or Web page. You may accomplish this through the NPR API or widgets that NPR provides to the public. Assume the terms of use that apply to the public also apply to your usage in these situations.

Case studies

The evolution of our guidance on marches, rallies and public events. #

In 2010, the NPR News Code of Ethics included a concise, seemingly straightforward rule concerning marches and rallies. It read, in its entirety: “NPR journalists may not participate in marches and rallies involving causes or issues that NPR covers, nor should they sign petitions or otherwise lend their name to such causes, or contribute money to them.”

When satirical newscasters Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert announced they were going to hold a rally on the Mall in Washington, D.C., in October 2010, many employees wondered how the ethics policy applied to the event. The gathering – a mashup of Stewart’s “Rally to Restore Sanity” and Colbert’s “March to Keep Fear Alive” – was clearly satirical. But it wasn’t an apolitical comedy show, either. The comedians would use the occasion to extend critiques they often make on their shows, criticisms of our political system, media, and culture. Certainly these are “issues that NPR covers.” And a bystander who spotted an NPR journalist cheering along with the comedians’ barbs at various news subjects could fairly assume that the journalist shared the comedians’ views, undermining our impartiality.

So memos went out reminding staff of the ethics policy, and clarifying that it did apply to the Stewart/Colbert event. The memos and the decisions they reflected offered plenty of fodder for the ensuing news cycle, and touched off a flurry of sharp, wide-ranging questions, including:

  • Why weren’t employees reminded of the policy prior to previous events such as the ones Glenn Beck and Al Sharpton had held earlier that fall?
  • How do we distinguish between “observing” and “participating”? (The Washington City Paper’s Michael Schaffer offered a notable tongue-in-cheek poke at the distinction.)
  • If being a witness to world events is one of the essential components of journalism, should journalists be prevented from observing an event of significant public interest, even if the event has no direct bearing on their beat or coverage?

The evolution of the News Code of Ethics into this Ethics Handbook offered an opportunity to review our decision-making on the Stewart/Colbert event and to add helpful nuance to the guidance on making similar decisions in the future. This handbook’s guidance on attending marches, rallies and other political events is different from its predecessor in several ways that won’t be enumerated here. But we highlight the shift to underscore two broader themes that should play into all our thinking:

  • First, the guideline – like many in this handbook – is intended not only to answer or preempt questions, but also to raise them. There’s no easy one-size-fits-all answer to the question of how “participating” and “observing” differ, for example, but there’s value in considering where our actions sit along that spectrum.
  • Second, our thinking will evolve – as it has here – and should. We not only make decisions, we review them, we consider their effects and we learn from them. This too is characteristic of a healthy ethical newsroom guided by sound ethical principles.
Guideline

How we respond to outside requests (appearances, interviews, etc.). #

NPR journalists are in high demand. We get many requests for media appearances, interviews and other outside work. To manage these requests, we collaborate with our colleagues in NPR’s Marketing and Communications Division. We value their judgment and support.

NPR seeks out opportunities for public appearances for NPR journalists, and also receives many requests for our journalists to make speeches or otherwise appear at events. These requests come from member stations, academic institutions, professional organizations and many others. NPR generally views these as opportunities to extend our work and foster valuable connections outside of our company.

In order to get the go-ahead for an appearance, you should seek approval from your supervisor. Supervisors, in turn, should consult with Talent Relations, the unit within Marketing and Communications that is charged with managing this entire process (look for “TalentRelations” in the internal email address book). They’ll assist with everything from event vetting, to negotiating honorariums, arranging travel, and preparing journalists for appearances. Many requests, whether for a specific journalist or not, come first to Talent Relations. They gauge the appropriateness of each request, and then clear it with the journalist and his or her supervisor to ensure that it doesn’t present ethical concerns or coverage conflicts. Then they invite the journalist to participate.

If an opportunity presents a new, complex or difficult ethical question, or if a supervisor and a journalist disagree about an event’s ethical merit, it should be discussed with the Standards and Practices Editor.

  • Agents and event appearances: Several NPR journalists are represented by agents who book their appearances. These appearances also need to be approved by the journalist’s supervisor and vetted through Talent Relations prior to confirming and publicizing the booking.
  • Work on NPR’s behalf: Occasionally NPR will ask our journalists to make appearances to outside organizations because such appearances are valuable to NPR. In these cases, our journalists will not need to take time off.
  • Media requests: The role of NPR’s Media Relations team is to field requests from outside media for interviews or media appearances with NPR journalists. In addition, Media Relations proactively pitches and places NPR journalists. When Media Relations receives an outside request, the team assesses the merits of the request and consults the relevant journalist and his or her supervisor for approval before clearing the request and setting up the opportunity.  When Media Relations asks you to do an interview or make an appearance, you can assume that this has already been cleared with your supervisor.

    Media requests of any kind that don’t come from Media Relations – including off-the-record background interviews – must be approved by Media Relations in advance (look for “MediaRelations” in the NPR email address book). In most cases, Media Relations will clear, arrange and sometimes sit in on the interview.

NPR supervisors and the communications team will respond to requests as quickly as possible and in accordance with the union contract. We understand that they won’t say “yes” to everything. And we know that NPR can revoke its permission if senior management decides that an appearance (or in some cases, recurring appearances) could harm either the organization’s or the journalist’s reputation.

Our goal is to encourage NPR journalists to be visible as ambassadors of NPR journalism, and to build their reputations as professionals while assuring that all appearances are consistent with NPR’s ethical standards and our priorities.

/ Guideline

When you cite the sources of others, attribute clearly. #

When we attribute information to anonymous sources, it is assumed that these are our sources and that we have obtained the information firsthand from them. If this is not the case, and we are referring to reports in other news outlets based on anonymous sources of theirs, we are meticulous about attributing the information to those other outlets and we describe as fully as possible who those sources are.

Overview

Overview: Honesty in reporting and interviewing. #

Journalism should be done in plain sight, and our standards are clear. When we are working, we identify ourselves as NPR journalists to those we interview and interact with. We do not conceal our identities, pose as someone or something we are not, use hidden microphones or cameras to collect information, or record phone calls without the permission of all parties on the line, except in the very rarest of circumstances, outlined below.

Do we need to announce ourselves every time we’re in a line at the supermarket and overhear what people are saying about the news of the day? Of course not. But if we want to quote what one of those people said, we need to introduce ourselves as NPR journalists and assume our “working journalist” role.

Do we need to wear our IDs around our necks at all times? No. We are allowed to be “off-duty.”