Search Results for: skeptical

Notes

Action Words Are Better Than Labels Such As ‘Skeptic’ And ‘Denier’ #

Instead of declaring that someone is a “climate change skeptic” or taking it a step further and using the word “denier,” use action words to explain what that person has said and done.

Basically, tell the audience what that person has said about climate change and humans’ contributions to it, and/or what that person has suggested should or shouldn’t be done. That information is much more helpful than any labels. “Says he doesn’t believe the science” says a lot more than “is a skeptic.” “Has called climate change a hoax” is better than “is a climate change denier.”

One reason action words are better is that the labels aren’t always easy to apply. Here’s what the words mean (from Webster’s):

-   A “skeptic” is “a person who habitually doubts, questions, or suspends judgment upon matters generally accepted.”

-   A “denier” refuses to accept something “as true or right.”

You have to determine what it is a person is skeptical about or denies is happening. At one end of the spectrum, someone may refuse to accept that climate change is happening. That’s complete denial. Another person might agree that climate change is happening, but doesn’t accept that humans are contributing to the change. That’s denial about one point, but not another. A third person might have doubts about climate change or questions about its severity and causes. That’s skepticism.

There are many other possible combinations.

Please note that we’re not saying you can’t use the words or must use one and not the other. The message here is that, as we’ve said before, action words are almost always better than labels. And if you do use a label somewhere in a story or piece, you have to be sure it fits and be as precise as possible.

(“Memmos;” Dec. 14, 2016)

Notes

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

The New York Times is reviewing some of its reporting about the San Bernardino terrorist couple, Washington Post media blogger Erik Wemple writes. The Times is looking back at a story that said Syed Rizwan Farook and Tashfeen Malik had “talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad.”

The Times is examining the story and the anonymous sourcing for that claim because the FBI says it has not found any public social media postings by Farook and Malik that might have “tipped off authorities to the couple’s extremist views,” as The Two-Way writes. Instead, it looks like the couple communicated via emails and private messages.

Whether the communications were public or private is important. Wemple calls it “a gigantic deal” because the Times’ story went on to say that American immigration officials failed to uncover “what Ms. Malik had made little effort to hide — that she talked openly on social media about her views on violent jihad.” That’s a damning conclusion if the couple had been communicating in the open. If they weren’t doing that, the story went too far.

But this Memmo isn’t just about what the Times did. It’s about what NPR did.

Carrie Johnson, Dina Temple-Raston, Phil Ewing, Martin Kaste, Nathan Rott, Richard Gonzalez, Matt Guilhem, the Two-Way team, the Newscast desk and everyone else who touched the story* stuck to what we were confident we could say and avoided things that weren’t solid. They were precise in their language. For example, we were careful to say federal sources were telling NPR that Malik had posted a message on Facebook “at the time of the shooting.” That information has held up.

Thanks.

Related:

– Precision Writing & Editing: 5 Timeless Tips 
– Be Judicious When Passing Along Breaking News
– Don’t Just Spread Information. Be Careful And Skeptical
– The NPR Accuracy Checklist

*This list is not meant to be exhaustive. If you’re among the “everyone else,” thank you.

Notes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(Memmos; Dec. 17, 2015)

Notes

Don’t Trust Your Mother Or The Internet #

The old newsroom adage “if your mother says she loves you, check it out,” applies to information on the Internet as well.

We all know this, but occasionally we get reminders of how important it is not to trust everything we see on the Web and to be sure to do our due diligence before passing along any information we get from there.

Case in point: On Wednesday, WAMU’s Diane Rehm said to Sen. Bernie Sanders, D-Vt., “senator, you have dual citizenship with Israel.” Sanders quickly corrected her, but Diane went on to say that his name was on a list of lawmakers with such dual citizenship. Sanders told her that was “some of the nonsense that goes on in the Internet.”

Diane later issued a statement saying she had gotten the incorrect information from “a comment on Facebook.”

Diane has apologized. She stated as fact something that wasn’t.

We didn’t learn something from this episode. This is a relearning.

We have an entry about this in the Ethics Handbook entitled “Give preference to original sources.” Here’s what it says:

 ”For years, NPR journalists have been cautioned by their editors that an all- too-common pitfall of fact checking is verifying ‘facts’ through second sources, such as other news media outlets, that do not have ‘direct’ knowledge about what they supposedly know. The problem has only gotten more serious as the Internet has made it ever easier to find what others have reported as ‘fact.’ That’s why we value primary sources for our facts and we check them before broadcast or publication. And we value the work of the NPR reference librarians in helping our journalists get to those original sources (to email them, look for ‘NPR Library’ in the NPR internal email address book).

“We value our own reporting and fact-gathering over that done by other news outlets. We strongly prefer to confirm and verify information ourselves before reporting. When reporting on events we did not witness personally, we seek multiple independent perspectives to get a sharper, more accurate understanding of what happened. And if we can’t verify what others are reporting, but still believe the news is important and needs to be reported, we tell listeners and readers that NPR has not yet independently confirmed the news. Too often, incorrect information is passed down from one news story to another because of the failure of the first outlet to get it right. We strive to never pass on errors in this way.”

In other words, check, double-check and triple-check those so-called facts you find on the Internet. Be very skeptical about the credibility of the sources. Get first-hand information. Go right to the original source.

Confirm with mom just how she feels.

(Memmos; June 11, 2015)

Notes

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

A BBC journalist tweeted Wednesday that Queen Elizabeth II had been admitted to King Edward VII’s Hospital in London, leading at least one other major news outlet — CNN — to tell its affiliates that the queen had been hospitalized and setting off speculation that she had died.

The queen is apparently fine and is not in the hospital. The backstory, according to the BBC, is that it was conducting “a technical rehearsal for an obituary” and “tweets were mistakenly sent from the account of a BBC journalist.”

The BBC has apologized. CNN, which tweeted the “news” without citing any source, subsequently told affiliates to “please disregard our previous tweet about Queen Elizabeth. It was sent in error.”

Poynter’s Benjamin Mullin has more here.

We should note that “there but for the grace of God go we.” But this is also a reminder of why, as the Ethics Handbook says, we do not “just spread information” we see on social media, even if it’s posted by usually reliable news outlets. We are “careful and skeptical.”

Here’s part of what we say in the handbook:

“When determining whether to pass along information being reported on social media sites by other news outlets or individuals, be thoughtful. When we point to what others are saying, in the eyes of many we are effectively reporting that information ourselves. …

“Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation. And the general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a ‘traditional’ NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or ‘knocking down,’ provide it.

“News moves fast on the Internet, and we know that speed and accuracy are fierce rivals, so keep your guard up. Ask questions, report and engage as you would in any public setting. But remember that everything you say or do in a social media environment is effectively a public statement from an NPR journalist, so don’t pass along inaccurate information.”

(Memmos; June 3, 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

Why We Aren’t Cynical — But Are Skeptical #

If you haven’t a chance yet, it’s worth taking the time to listen to and read about Somaly Mam and the “slippery truth” beneath her story.

Start with the conversation All Things Considered had last week with journalist Simon Marks. He discusses the cover story he wrote for Newsweek.

As he reported, Mam “is one of the world’s most compelling activists, brave and beautiful, and her list of supporters is long and formidable.” She fights against sex trafficking in Cambodia and has won praise from former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton “and actresses Meg Ryan, Susan Sarandon and Shay Mitchell, as well as New York Times Pulitzer-winning columnist Nicholas Kristof.”

But it also appears, Marks reported, that “key parts of her story aren’t true.” That, in turn, has raised questions about the pieces done by Kristof and other journalists — who reported as fact the tales Mam told of being forced into prostitution and the accounts from some of the young women she claimed to have saved.

Margaret Sullivan, the Times‘ public editor, wrote this week that Kristof “owes it to his readers to explain, to the best of his ability and at length, what happened and why.”

Kristof has said he is “reluctant to be an arbiter of her back story when I just don’t know what is true and false among the conflicting statements. I am continuing to poke around.”

The subject line on this note contrasts being cynical with being skeptical. Editors have said for years that journalists should not be cynics — distrustful, sarcastic or mocking. But journalists should be skeptics — doubters who check things out, ask more questions and try to poke holes in stories.

Or, as our guidelines suggest, we do not “just spread information.” We are “careful and skeptical.”

(Memmos, June 6, 2014)

Guideline

Don’t just spread information. Be careful and skeptical. #

When determining whether to pass along information being reported on social media sites by other news outlets or individuals, be thoughtful. When we point to what others are saying, in the eyes of many we are effectively reporting that information ourselves. This is true whether the platform is an official NPR social media webpage, a personal blog or a Twitter page that is written by an NPR journalist.

But we also know that reporting about what’s being posted on social media can give our listeners and readers valuable insights into the day’s news.

One key is to be transparent about what we’re doing. We tell readers what has and hasn’t been confirmed. We challenge those putting information out on social media to provide evidence. We raise doubts and ask questions when we have concerns — sometimes “knocking down” rumors circulating on the Web is of enormous value to our readers. And we always ask an important question: am I about to spread a thinly-sourced rumor or am I passing on valuable and credible (even if unverified) information in a transparent manner with appropriate caveats?

Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation. And the general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you’re saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or in a “traditional” NPR.org news story. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or “knocking down,” provide it.