Search Results for: attribute

Notes

Guidance On Crowd Estimates Today And Saturday #

There will be claims and counterclaims from partisans this weekend about how many people came to watch the Inauguration and then how many came to Saturday’s march. Stay away from those claims. We should focus on describing the crowds – how far they stretched, how much of the Mall they covered, how many deep they were along the streets, how crowded the Metro was, etc. We should not cite the numbers coming from those partisans as if they’re real. They’re claims.

Brian Naylor is leading the effort to get non-partisan estimates from local security officials. Those will probably be disputed as well. We must attribute them to those officials if we report them. Look for “reportable” guidance from Brian and his editors.

By the way, some of the academic types who have done such estimates in the past have said they won’t be doing them this time around because of the blowback they’ve gotten in previous years. The Associated Press, meanwhile, says it is not planning to estimate the size of the crowds.

As for the widely cited 1.8 million figure for President Obama’s first inauguration, that is an estimate that has been disputed. Do not cite it as if it is a fact. Other estimates put the figure for that day several hundred thousand people, at least, lower. That needs to be noted in any mentions of the Obama crowd.

(“Memmos;” Jan. 20, 2017)

Notes

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)


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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: http://www.npr.org/corrections

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.

–  NAMES of BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS and INSTITUTIONS.

–  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.”

NPR EDITORS

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

–  Will still check: The accuracy of the reporting.

WHEN MISTAKES ARE MADE

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

–  We correct them.

THE LIST:

  • – SUPERLATIVES
  • – NAMES
  • – AGES
  • – TITLES
  • – INSTITUTIONS
  • – DAYS and DATES
  • – HISTORICAL “FACTS”
  • – LOCATIONS
  • – NUMBERS and CALCULATIONS
  • – QUOTES
  • – WEB ADDRESSES/PHONE NUMBERS
  • – GRAMMAR and SPELLING

(Memmos; Jan. 13, 2016)

Notes

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:

 

ANONYMITY AND SOURCING

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

-         Single Source Approval Process

 

BREAKING NEWS

-         When News Breaks, Keep A Couple Things In Mind

 

DACS AND OTHER STANDARD PROCEDURES

-         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

 

DIFFICULT DECISIONS

-         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

 

LANGUAGE TO USE AND LANGUAGE NOT TO USE

-         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

 

MISTAKES: HOW TO HANDLE THEM AND HOW TO AVOID THEM

-         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

 

NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS

-         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’ “

 

OFFENSIVE LANGUAGE

-         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

 

SOCIAL MEDIA

-         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

 

THIS IS HOW TO DO IT!

-         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

 

WHAT DID WE SAY IN 2014?

-         Click here to see that list

(“Memmos;” Dec. 22, 2015)

Notes

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.”

FactCheck.org 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)

Notes

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)

Notes

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 FactCheck.org 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)

Notes

The NPR Accuracy Checklist #

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

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.

–  NAMES of BUSINESSES, SCHOOLS and INSTITUTIONS.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

NPR EDITORS

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

–  Will still check: The accuracy of the reporting.

WHEN MISTAKES ARE MADE

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

–  We correct them.

THE LIST:

  • – SUPERLATIVES
  • – NAMES
  • – AGES
  • – TITLES
  • – INSTITUTIONS
  • – DAYS and DATES
  • – HISTORICAL “FACTS”
  • – LOCATIONS
  • – NUMBERS and CALCULATIONS
  • – QUOTES
  • – WEB ADDRESSES/PHONE NUMBERS
  • – GRAMMAR and SPELLING

(Memmos; Jan. 29, 2015)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Memmos; Dec. 19, 2014)

Notes

On Why We Didn’t Join The Rush To Name The Ebola Patient #

Just before 1 p.m. ET today, NPR confirmed the name of the man being treated for Ebola at a Dallas hospital. This post is about why we didn’t cite news reports of his name last night or for much of this morning.

It was 9 a.m. ET this morning — more than 15 hours after other news organizations began reporting the news — when NPR determined it could tell its audience the name of the Ebola patient being treated at a Dallas hospital.

Here’s what Chuck Holmes said in a note to editors:

“The name of the patient in Dallas — Thomas Eric Duncan — has been widely reported. NPR has not confirmed the identity, but we now feel confident enough in the reporting of others, including the AP and The New York Times, to allow mention of the name on our air and online with attribution.

“We should attribute to media reports when using his name. And when possible, we should cite the sourcing in those reports – Liberian government officials and members of the patient’s family, including his sister who was quoted by the AP.”

Other organizations made a different decision. In the first minutes after the news broke, many worked fast to craft stories that revealed the man’s name, citing the AP and Times reports.

Online and on the air we often quickly report about other news organizations’ scoops — after weighing the credibility of the outlets and the importance of the information.

As NPR correspondents tried to get independent confirmation, why did we hesitate to say what others were reporting and why did it feel to editors like that was the right call? The main reasons should help guide our thinking in other situations.

1. We never want to get anything wrong. But there are some things we really, Really, REALLY don’t want to get wrong. Naming the first person to have “brought” Ebola to the U.S. is certainly among them. That individual is going to have this news follow him the rest of his life. His family and friends will be affected as well. Yes, citing other organizations is not quite the same as saying we’re reporting something ourselves. But it’s pretty darn close.

2. Someone’s health is highly personal information. We were concerned about whether the man’s sister had his permission to release his name.

3. Names are basic facts that belong in stories. The audience expects to hear and read them. But, it’s also true in this case that the man’s name wasn’t going to mean much, if anything, to a national audience at this point of the story. Of much more interest: why was he in Liberia; what did he do while he was there; what route did he take when flying to the U.S.; whom did he come in contact with after falling ill? We could start to relay information about him, and get important details to our audience, without stating his name.

4. It did not appear, based on what officials were saying, that there was an immediate need for the public to know the man’s name so that those whom he encountered could be alerted. Officials said he would not have communicated the disease to anyone while he was traveling. They said they had identified the people he had been with since arriving in Dallas.

What led to the decision that we could mention the news?

1. As Chuck wrote, the patient’s name was being widely reported. Basically, not acknowledging the news had become pointless.

2. News organizations, including NPR, had been pressing officials. Those officials had not disputed the reports.

Recap: What types of questions did we ask in the first minutes and hours after the news broke?

1. How important to our audience is this man’s name at this moment in the story?

2. Can we confirm the news ourselves?

3. If we can’t confirm it, how confident are we in the reporting done by others?

4. How much more serious are the potential consequences from being wrong than the potential benefits from being right?

(Memmos; Oct. 2, 2014)

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

– She fears retribution from police.

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

– Her family doesn’t know about what happened.

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

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

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

Related reminders from the handbook:

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

No pseudonyms. “When we decide to withhold a source’s name from a story, we don’t invent a pseudonym for that source. Again, our job is to present factual — not fabricated — information.”

(Memmos; Aug. 28, 2014)

Notes

‘Can We Go With It?’ Maybe Not, Because ‘One And One And One’ Isn’t Always Three #

Reuters moves an alert — “Defense official: senior Taliban official killed in drone strike.”

The Associated Press says — “Pentagon official: Taliban official killed by drone strike in Pakistan.”

CBS pushes out a short story — “Top Taliban leader dies in Pakistani drone strike.”

The question arises in our newsroom.

“It’s on both wires and CBS, can we go with it?”

No. At least not based on the information we have so far. What we’re looking at, in this not unusual scenario, is likely one source who has spoken to different news outlets.

What we want, ideally, is our own on-the-record confirmation — and not from that same person who has spoken to the wires, but from others who are in a position to know.

If that’s not possible yet and the news is of such importance that we decide it needs to be reported, we still want to see multiple news reports that are based on multiple sources who are in a position to know.

Then, we “attribute, attribute and attribute some more.”

Can you come up with a scenario in which we report something that’s coming from just one source or one news outlet? I suppose. But it has to be really important news. And we don’t do that without considerable discussion involving the executive editor, the deputy managing editors, the standards & practices editor and others.

Might The Two-Way post about the report or reports before we air something? Yes. But, again, that would only happen after discussion among the top editors. And the blog would make clear to readers what we know, what we don’t know, where the information is coming from, what we’re doing to confirm it — and that if the story changes, we will update immediately. The blog has the space to do and say things that Newscast, for instance, doesn’t.

(Memmos, June 18, 2014)

Notes

Alleged, Accused, Suspected: When Can We Stop Using Those Words? #

The murders Friday night in Santa Barbara have once again raised questions about whether we need to keep using words such as “alleged” or “suspected” when reporting about a now-deceased person who has been identified by authorities as the killer.

Here’s my take:

At some point — and we reached that fairly quickly in this instance — it just makes common sense to stop inserting those words.

And as long as we properly attribute what we’re reporting, in a case such as this we don’t need to keep saying and writing things such as “alleged.”

Several constructions could be used, including:

– “The young man who went on a killing spree in Santa Barbara, identified by authorities as Elliot Rodger … ”

– “Elliot Rodger, who police say killed six people before taking his own life …”

– “The young man who investigators say murdered six people Friday in California before killing himself …”

Some questions to ask before any shift in language:

– Has the person been positively and publicly identified as the killer 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? And, as in this case, a long manifesto?

– 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.

This is not to say that it necessarily hurts to be cautious and slip in an “alleged” or “suspected.” But as we’ve discovered now several times, at some point it begins to raise more questions in listeners’ and readers’ minds if we keep using such words when it’s become obvious that the person responsible has been identified and is dead. A reasonable consumer of our news might wonder if we’re implying he didn’t do it.

What about a person who’s still alive, such as the young man who will be tried for the Boston bombings? He has not been convicted. Obviously, we can’t declare he’s guilty. That’s for a jury to do. We can keep referring to him as a suspect and report about what he’s alleged to have done. But common sense applies there as well. We might say, for example:

– “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who goes on trial today for the Boston bombings …”

– “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who federal prosecutors say conspired with his brother to …”

– “Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who could receive the death penalty if he’s convicted of …”

– “Prosecutors say Dzhokhar Tsarnaev and his brother …”

A related note: It isn’t accurate to refer to Elliot Rodger only as a “shooter.” Police say his first three victims were stabbed to death.

But editors here have also been discussing whether “shooter” is even the right word to use about those responsible for mass murders involving guns. I’d like to hear whether you think it can sometimes sound like too “light” a description for such a person or whether it’s one of several words — including “gunman,” “attacker,” and “killer” — that can work interchangeably.

(Memmos, May 27, 2014)

Notes

One Story, Several Ethical Issues #

Wednesday’s note about those free tablets that Chrysler offered to reporters generated several suggestions from folks about other recent stories I might want to share.

Here’s one from The Daily Beast’s Josh Rogin:

Damn Right I Taped Kerry’s ‘Apartheid’ Talk

Rogin explains how he came to record the secretary of state’s theoretically off-the-record speech in which Kerry warned that Israel could become “an apartheid state.”

Here’s a quick walk-through three things I spotted and what our guidelines say about such situations. Feel free to flag others that I missed.

Rogin: “I got a tip from a source that Kerry would be speaking at the Trilateral Commission meeting at the Mandarin Oriental hotel. … The State Department had disclosed Kerry’s appearance there and marked it ‘closed press’ in their daily scheduling note, but had not disclosed the location. … At about 2:30, the time of Kerry’s scheduled remarks, I walked over to the meeting room, walked straight to the front entrance of the room, nodded politely to the staffer at the door (she nodded back) and entered along with dozens of other people who were filing in. …

“Nobody ever asked me who I was. I didn’t have a name tag but many of the invited attendees weren’t wearing theirs so nobody thought anything of it. As the approximately 200 attendees got settled in for the Kerry speech, I found a seat in the corner, opened up my laptop, placed my recorder on my lap in plain sight, turned it on, and waited for the fun to begin.”

NPR guidelines: “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. … As the expression says, ‘rules are meant to be broken.’ But only highly unusual and extremely important situations would compel us to be less than open. Our foreign correspondents are most likely to confront such issues. … But rather than focusing on theoretical exceptions, the point to remember is this: We do not deceive and we do our work in the open. …

“There could conceivably be a story that’s so important we might consider the use of a hidden microphone because we exhausted all other ways to get the information. But only the rarest of circumstances might merit that decision. Some of the questions we would ask include:

“Is the story of profound importance?

“Are lives at stake?

“Can the information be obtained any other way?”

Rogin: “I finished up a story from the room, and attributed Kerry’s remarks to ‘an attendee,’ because there I was. Once I got home and had a chance to listen to the tapes, I sourced Kerry’s remarks to a recording obtained by The Daily Beast.”

NPR guidelines: “We must always give our audience a sense of how we’ve developed the stories we deliver. We never hide our reporting behind opaque evasions such as ‘NPR has learned.’ ”

Rogin: “I will admit to one ethical indiscretion in the reporting of these stories. While I was waiting for Kerry to get to the meeting, I partook of the lunch buffet and made myself a plate of pork loin, chicken, and a very nice rice pilaf. Professor Nye, my apologies. Please send me a bill.”

NPR guidelines: “In instances such as conferences and conventions where food is provided as a convenience for the press as a whole, it’s acceptable to partake.”

Rogin’s free lunch may not be that big a deal, though I do wonder if legally that might have been his most serious misstep.

He doesn’t address in his piece what he would have done if he’d been challenged at the door or asked to leave. You might also have noticed that he says he had his laptop open and his recorder in “plain sight,” which he might argue is roughly the equivalent of declaring he’s a reporter.

Meanwhile, it’s important to note that Kerry’s role in this story is a serious subject. He is, after all, a public official. Should he really expect his comments in front of hundreds would be off-the-record?

We could also debate whether any journalists — Rogin says others were there — should have agreed to the off-the-record conditions and been in attendance.

But our guidelines about openness and opaque evasions are designed to protect NPR’s credibility. We would not have done what Rogin did. Right?

Have a good weekend. Thanks for reading along and thanks for the many  questions you’ve asked and the interesting issues you’ve raised this week. Keep them coming.

(May 9, 2014)

Guideline

Social media are excellent tools when handled correctly. #

Social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter have become an integral part of everyday life for millions of people around the world. As NPR grows to serve an  audience that extends well beyond radio listeners, social media are becoming an increasingly important aspect of  how we interact with our audiences. Properly used, social networking sites can be valuable parts of our newsgathering and reporting kits because they can speed research and quickly extend a reporter’s contacts. They are also useful transparency tools — allowing us to open up our reporting and editing processes when appropriate. We encourage our journalists to take advantage of them.

But reporting in social media spaces requires the same diligence we exercise when reporting in other environments. When NPR bloggers post about breaking news, they do not cite anonymous posts on social media sites — though they may use information they find there to guide their reporting. They carefully attribute the information they cite and are clear about what NPR has and has not been able to confirm.

When NPR correspondents go on the air they may mention discussions they’ve seen on social media sites as reflecting in part the tone or mood or  general reaction to an event. But they realize that is not the same as a scientific survey of public opinion or a substitute for the kind of in-depth reporting that leads to a deep understanding of a subject.

And all NPR journalists understand that to get the most out of  social media we need to understand those communities. So we respect their cultures and treat those we encounter online with the same courtesy and understanding as anyone we deal with in the offline world. We do not impose ourselves on such sites. We are guests and behave as such.

Guideline

One exception: Wire transcripts don’t necessarily need attribution. #

There is one type of material we routinely get from our wire services (The Associated Press and Reuters) that does not necessarily need to be attributed to the wire service. That is where a wire story is about a public event — such as a press conference, a speech by a public official in a public setting, an official statement of a government agency, a congressional hearing, and the like. In those cases, we reasonably expect that the wire services are reliable conveyors of those quotes in the same way we regard the transcript services we use for these events. But we must use caution. Whenever possible, check the wire service’s work against any audio or video recordings or other wire-service renderings of the events. NPR.org readers will notice if the transcription of a quote does not match the audio — even by a little. And if there is any reason to believe that a wire service report has inaccurately quoted someone or taken the speakers’ words out of context, we must check the record before using that material.

Guideline

Attribute everything. #

Attribute, attribute and attribute some more. No material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution. This includes material from Associated Press reports. We should not, for example, produce news “spots” or other pieces that closely resemble wire service stories. 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.

When in doubt, err on the side of attributing — that is, make it very clear where we’ve gotten our information (or where the organization we give credit to has gotten its information). Every NPR reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source of any facts in our stories — and why we consider them credible. And every reader or listener should know where we got our information from.  ”Media reports” or “sources say” is not good enough. Be specific.

Also, in cases where stories are developing and the news may be changing from moment to moment, state clearly what NPR has and has not been able to confirm on its own and what key questions remain unanswered. (Source: Bruce Drake.)

Guideline

Consider the legal implications of your actions, regardless of the medium. #

Whether in an NPR newscast or a tweet, “you always have to take into consideration what you’re saying, what you know, what you don’t know, and be thoughtful about not making libelous comments whatever the medium.”1

In many cases, a journalist will be legally responsible for any statement he or she repeats, even if the statement is attributed to another source. There are a few exceptions, and one of them is Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act, which protects news organizations from defamation liability for content that’s created by a third party.  Many experts believe this protection would extend to retweets. Citizen Media Law Project co-founder David Ardia put it this way in a Poynter.org story: “So if a journalist or news organization were to retweet a defamatory statement, they would not be held accountable. If, however, they added a defamatory remark as part of the retweet, they could be.”

So, in theory NPR would be protected if someone retweets a post that says something defamatory or inaccurate about someone. But be careful about adding comments that would make the message your own and destroy immunity.

But beyond the legal implications, it is important to consider our listeners and readers and the fact that they trust that the information we’re giving them is as accurate as we can make it. This extends to the information we tweet, retweet, blog, tumble or share in any other way on social media. And that’s why we don’t simply pass along information — even via something as seemingly innocent as a retweet — if we doubt the credibility of the source or news outlet. We push for confirmation. We look for other sources. We reach out to those closer to the story. In other words, we do some reporting.

  1. Source: NPR’s Ashley Messenger, in an article on Poynter.org. []
/ 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.

Guideline

The ‘don’ts’ of anonymity. #

No attacks. In our coverage, anonymous or unnamed sources generally cannot make pejorative comments about the character, reputation, or personal qualities of another individual, or derogatory statements about an institution. We don’t use such material in our stories, with rare exceptions. (If an individual is blowing the whistle on significant misdeeds or making an allegation of sexual assault, we may decide to air the person’s claims. But we would only make such a decision after careful deliberation with senior news managers.)

No disguises. We may withhold a source’s name who talks to us on tape or on the record, if that individual might be put in danger, legal jeopardy or face some other serious threat if their name is revealed. We may refer to the person without using a last name, if he or she is comfortable with that degree of anonymity and if we decide the situation meets our criteria for granting anonymity. But we don’t use pseudonyms to replace their real name.

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

Guideline

Attribute generously, and respect fair use. #

Always be fair to your colleagues in the news media when drawing from their reports. Just as we insist that NPR be given credit for its work, we are generous in giving credit to others for their scoops and enterprise work.

When excerpting or quoting from other organizations’ work, we strive to call attention to it, not draw attention from it. Do not quote or paraphrase another organization’s material so much that you effectively make reading, watching or listening to their reports unnecessary. In its most egregious incarnations, excessive quotation is effectively plagiarism, which we take no part in. (For a longer discussion of plagiarism, see “Transparency.”)

Key questions

Consider using an accuracy checklist. #

(Update on Jan. 29, 2015: The NPR Accuracy Checklist and a “memmo” about why it’s important are now posted here.)

Before our reporting reaches the public, we check “everything that walks or talks or acts like a fact.”1 While it may seem elementary, a simple checklist can be a powerful tool to make sure we haven’t made any oversights. Here’s a set of questions to ask before you call any story complete:

  • Is every name and title correctly spelled? (And, in the case of radio, correctly pronounced according to either the subject himself or someone else with direct knowledge of how to say it?)
  • Are the quotes accurate and properly attributed?
  • Have I reviewed my spelling and grammar? (Special note: yes, it’s important for NPR journalists to spell names, places and other key facts accurately in their radio scripts because those details end up in our Web reports.)
  • Is every number and calculation correct? (Related tip: triple-check any references to millions, billions or trillions; confusing them is one of the most common mistakes made. Also: triple-check your references to percentages to ensure that you shouldn’t be saying “percentage points” instead. If you’re not sure which you should use, ask one of the reporters or editors who cover business and the economy or someone from the Planet Money team.)
  • Are all the terms being used correctly? For example, was the suspect really “arrested” or is he only being questioned?
  • Does every fact in the story match the information with any photos or graphics associated with it? (Special note: again, it’s important for NPR journalists who are primarily reporting for radio to check their pieces against such material.)
  • Do I need to check a source’s “fact” against what others are saying? Advocates can skew things in their favor.
  • Is the story fair? Read or listen one more time. Try to come to it as if you were a listener or reader, not the reporter, editor or producer.
  • Does it hang together? Our conclusions are supported by facts. We pause before broadcast or publication to ask if we have answered all the questions that can be answered. If important questions can’t be resolved, we make sure our listeners and readers know what they are.

Examples of checklists for journalists are easy to find. Craig Silverman, the man behind Regret the Error, has some links here. 

  1. Source: Margaret Low Smith. []