Search Results for: commentary
“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)
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)
Essays such as these exemplify all that essays are supposed to do, revealing valuable personal insights and reflections without offering opinions on issues we cover:
- Scott Simon’s rumination on the value of changing our minds, after Christopher Hitchens’ death (“Christopher Hitchens’ Legacy of Defying Labels,” 12/17/2011).
- Michel Martin on being a bystander to violence (“The Moral Dilemma in Witnessing Acts of Violence,” 1/10/2011) and on the suicide of her brother (“Maybe Someday Love Will Cure Despair,” 5/10/2010).
- Robert Siegel’s meditation on Ground Zero in the wake of 9/11 (“Sifting Tattered Artifacts of World Trade Center Lives,” 9/12/2001).
- Linda Wertheimer on the aftermath of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan (“Japan Quake Shakes Loose Memories of U.S. Disasters,” 3/12/2011).
- Yuki Noguchi’s reflection on the St. Louis Cardinals and what it means to be a fan (“Crazy Rituals: Connecting Sports Fans to the Game,” 10/28/2011).
While news reporting and analysis are at the center of our work, NPR offers its audience much that isn’t “just the facts” – such as essays reflecting on the news, commentaries on current affairs, and cultural criticism. Our audience values these offerings.
Valid news analysis flows naturally from deep, thorough reporting. Its role is to provide interpretation, explanation and context – breaking down stories to foster understanding, discerning important patterns in news events, revealing historical connections and comparisons, and articulating themes our reporting has unearthed.
For the most part, NPR journalists with a role in covering the news should stick to reporting and analysis. We should not tread beyond well-supported conclusions based on our reporting and should not present opinions as fact. Our aim is to give the public the evidence to weigh and develop their own opinions, without the intrusion of ours.
On some occasions, it may be appropriate for a journalist to deliver an essay reflecting on the news or events in our lives. Show hosts do this most regularly. These essays should be designed to cultivate a more personal bond with our audience and to add meaningful dimension to our coverage, not to inject our opinions. They should not call into question our fair and impartial reporting of the news. All our journalists – hosts, reporters and others – must work with editors and supervisors to ensure this standard is upheld in every essay we deliver.
Such essays differ in tone and substance from commentary, the expression of opinion on items of public interest. By its very definition, a commentary is intended to put the author’s opinions on display. Consequently, NPR journalists with a role in reporting and producing the news do not deliver 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.
Alongside news, essays and commentary, we also provide our audience with cultural criticism, showcasing works of art and entertainment and analyzing their qualities and merits. Criticism, of course, is inherently opinionated. We reserve our criticism for works of art and entertainment and do not opine on matters we cover in the news.
In two separate studies, we have found that balanced and unbiased reporting is what drives listeners to tune in to NPR and is also what they perceive the defining characteristic of NPR to be.
- Sarah Withrow, Senior Research Analyst in NPR’s Audience Insight and Research department
Fair, accurate, impartial reporting is the foundation of NPR news coverage. On top of that foundation, we layer factual, reporting-driven analysis – breaking down news events and providing explanation and context to aid our audience in interpreting the news. A large part of what makes our work so valuable is our effort to transcend how we feel about a subject and impart to our audience what we know about it, and what we don’t.
This is a lofty standard. The perception of bias is intensely subjective, hanging on the tiniest nuances - a gesture, a word, a slight intonation. Complicating matters is the fact that our audience doesn’t only come to us for our news reporting and analysis, but for reflection, humor, commentary, criticism and much more.1
But journalism is at the core of our enterprise. We should weigh the effect of all our actions on its credibility and integrity.