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Or, as the Ethics Handbook adds, “neither the people and organizations who support NPR financially, the sources we come in contact with, our competitors nor any others outside NPR’s newsroom dictate our thinking.”
We know we live up to those words. But we took a hit last year when it appeared to critics that we might have let the Ploughshares Fund influence our coverage.
The fact is that Ploughshares, a longtime financial supporter of NPR, did not influence our reporting. That didn’t matter to some. Perception can eclipse reality — especially in the eyes of those who are looking for reasons to knock us down.
We’re taking steps to keep reality and perception in line.
As you know, well-run newsrooms put firewalls between their journalists and those who give them financial support. At the same time, news organizations such as NPR promise to be transparent about the sources of their support and to disclose such connections in news reports involving those supporters.
That creates a problem. How can journalists acknowledge financial support that a firewall keeps them from knowing about?
To address this, we’re going to put a window in our firewall. Each month, NPR journalists will get access to a list of our financial supporters – primarily, philanthropic foundations and corporations; but also individuals who have given major donations. Basically, these will be updates of information that is already in NPR’s annual reports. The general areas that the funders support will be identified.
With that information in hand, reporters and editors will have what they need to include disclosures when NPR supporters are in the news. They will be expected to include such information in almost all cases. Only if the news is far removed from the reason NPR is receiving the support will we forego such disclosures.
Knowing who is on the lists will not be allowed to influence our coverage. Financial supporters are to be treated no differently by our journalists than any other news sources — neither better nor worse, that is. That’s been our standard and will continue to be so. It’s the way journalists work.
The lists will be posted on the Intranet. Go to “Work Tools,” then scroll down to “Editorial Resources” and click on “NPR Supporters & Support Principles.” That will open up links to our “Philanthropic Support Principles,” which you should read, and three sets of lists. We’ll send out reminders each month when the lists are updated.
A team that included representatives from the Development, Legal and News departments developed the principles and this process. Our colleagues in Development are committed to helping maintain the lists. Those colleagues are also committed to raising support for NPR’s priorities and ensuring that NPR’s financial supporters understand we are not “journalists for hire.” We stick to our principles, such as this:
“No outside organizations or individuals, including those who support us financially, tell us what to report or how to do our work.”
We’ll be having meetings with desks and shows to talk more about this. Here’s the key thing to know:
No NPR journalist will have to wonder anymore whether a foundation, individual or corporation is among our major supporters. That information is going to be available to you. Everyone will be expected to check the lists and to let listeners and readers know when the news we cover involves a person or organization that supports NPR.
What did Mark annoy us about in 2015? Here are the year’s “Memmos,” divided into categories:
ANONYMITY AND SOURCING
DACS AND OTHER STANDARD PROCEDURES
LANGUAGE TO USE AND LANGUAGE NOT TO USE
- No Change In The Way We Introduce The Islamic State (later revised; see next entry in this list)
MISTAKES: HOW TO HANDLE THEM AND HOW TO AVOID THEM
NAMES AND PRONUNCIATIONS
- Reminders On Two Names (Ofeibea Quist-Arcton & Leila Fadel)
THIS IS HOW TO DO IT!
WHAT DID WE SAY IN 2014?
(“Memmos;” Dec. 22, 2015)
Because it is “essential to avoid even the appearance that fundraising in support of the Morning Edition Book Club has influenced the editorial decision-making involved in conducting the book club,” guidelines have been issued that aim to put a “strict firewall between the two activities.”
In the interest of transparency, they have been posted here.
The guidelines also been put online because they could prove useful if similar projects are launched.
(Memmos; April 14, 2015)
When stories that were hot a few weeks or months ago pop back onto our agenda, one question always comes up.
It begins like this: “What’s our policy on …?”
– “Do we still …?”
– “Didn’t you say something about …?”
– “Do I have to …?”
It’s good to ask if you’re not sure. Either Gerry, Chuck or I are usually available. But remember, you also may be able to find the latest guidance right from your own desk. Not every question can be answered by consulting our online resources, but many can. Here’s where to go:
– Wiki. If you’re inside the firewall, our Wiki has style guides that cover a lot of territory — from the language we use when reporting about abortion to the words that make up the acronym ZIP. There are links there to AP’s Style Book as well. It’s a good resource on topics that our guides don’t cover. If you’re inside the firewall, click here to go to the Wiki.
Note: We’re working on moving the style guides to public pages. Member stations have been asking for that.
– Ethics Handbook. You don’t need to be inside the firewall to get to our Ethics Handbook. It’s the go-to place for guidance on our values and for some case studies and it’s public. Click here to go to ethics.npr.org.
– Memmos. These notes are also public. Click here to go to them. Here’s a tip: Use the “find” box in the upper right hand corner to search them.
For instance, if you vaguely remember that there was a memmo about when NOT to use the word “teenager,” search on that word. The result? “Something To Think About: Was Michael Brown A ‘Teenager?’ Yes, But …”
Or maybe you’re trying to remember how we refer to the group that’s trying to take over much of Iraq and Syria. Search “ISIS” and you’ll be led to several posts, including: “Islamic State? ISIS? ISIL? Here’s Another Reminder About NPR’s Guidance.”
Not sure if you need to get a consent form signed by a minor’s parents? Search on “consent form” and you’re taken to: “Here’s Where To Find The Latest Version Of Our ‘Minor Consent Form.’ ” The post has guidance and a link to where we’ve posted a printable form.
Wondering how many times the memmos have referred to Korva? A search shows this is the third one to do that.
Speaking of Korva, right behind the work station she uses on the Newscast desk is a white wall. If you’re the old-fashioned sort who likes it when newsrooms put spellings, key facts and other important matters up on a board for all to see, swing by. Your question may be answered right there.
(Memmos; Nov. 19, 2014)
“Dee-law-REN-ta,” “day-lah-REN-ta” or “deh-lah-REN-ta?” (for de la Renta)
“Nuh–WEE-ehn,” “nuh-wihn” or “wihn?” (for Nguyen)
“OH-feh-bee-a,” “oh-FEH-bee-a” or “off-EH-bee-a?” (for Ofeibea)
There’s one question that comes up nearly every day: “How do we say so-and-so’s name?” The frequency means it makes sense to remind everyone about the resources available to find the answer if an in-house expert from the appropriate desk isn’t immediately available.
Our internal Wiki is a good place to start. (Sorry, readers outside our firewall, that link won’t work for you.) Right on its landing page there’s a link to our own “Pronunciation Guide.” Maintained by the librarians, it has the latest NPR-approved pronunciations.
But it doesn’t have every possible pronunciation. Mr. de la Renta, for example, wasn’t there.
The AP’s guide is a good place to check next. (Again, sorry to our outside readers who can’t get to that page without their own subscription.)
Still stumped? Consider trying:
The Library has other links and tips on the Wiki. The librarians are ready to help figure out the difficult cases that don’t show up on any of the lists.
Of course, it also pays to check whether we’ve ever recorded the person saying his or her own name. As the Library says, “individuals are the primary authority for the pronunciation of their own names.” In the case of someone’s death, a family member, agent or close friend could be a solid substitute. Embassies and international news sources may also be of assistance when the subject is an international figure.
A little reporting can help as well. We figured out that Broadway star Marian Seldes was a “SEL-dess,” not a “SEL-deez” after research turned up a New York Times story in which she “was quick to point out” the correct pronunciation.
Note: The bold typeface above tells you which pronunciation is correct for those three examples.
Related: Wondering how to say the name of that city, river, mountain range, etc.? The same resources can help.
(Memmos; Oct. 21, 2014)
NPR greatly appreciates the financial support it receives from individuals, from foundations and from corporations. Their support is essential. At the same time, NPR makes its own decisions about what stories to cover and how to report them. Neither the people and organizations who support NPR financially, the sources we come in contact with, our competitors nor any others outside NPR’s newsroom dictate our thinking.
Update on April 14, 2015: Morning Edition Book Club guidelines.
NPR has issued guidelines that address how the club’s editorial process will be insulated from NPR fundraising “by maintaining a strict firewall between the two activities.” The guidelines are posted here.
There’s no one better than an NPR journalist to describe the value, impact and character of our journalism. So we may be called upon to talk about our work with those who might support it, whether over the air during a pledge drive or in person during a meeting with prospective funders. But in all our interactions with potential funders, we observe this boundary: We’re there to tell our story, not to discuss the agendas of our supporters. This means we may describe the goals and ambitions of our editorial agenda, promote the value of our work and the worthiness of supporting it, or recount what we’ve experienced in our reporting.
Understand that donors may express opinions about the subjects we cover. Don’t assent to those opinions or express your own.
These are nuanced lines to tread, and no NPR journalist should feel compelled to participate in meetings with prospective donors or foundations. Again, our sponsorship and development departments are there to support us in our service to the public, not vice versa. Part of the job of these departments is making our funders aware that we will be editorially blind to their support – that we’ll conduct our journalism with no favor or slight to them or their interests. They also vet potential supporters to make sure their interests don’t present an actual or apparent conflict with our mission.
We’ve often spoken of a “firewall” that separates NPR’s journalists from our funders. Properly understood, the firewall is a useful metaphor. In engineering, a firewall isn’t an impassable boundary, but rather a barrier designed to contain the spread of a dangerous or corrupting force. Similarly, the purpose of our firewall is to hold in check the influence our funders have over our journalism.