Who Is Covered
All NPR journalists should read and follow the guidance in this handbook. Those who work for shows, podcasts and programming that are not part of the News division should understand that these principles apply to them as well. Others at NPR whose work touches our journalism and programming, or who have “outward-facing” jobs that put them in contact with the public, should be familiar with these guidelines. When in doubt about how this handbook applies to you, consult a supervisor and the standards & practices editor.
This handbook also applies to material that comes to NPR from independent producers, member station journalists, outside writers, commentators and visual journalists. In cases where such contributors make statements of fact, those statements must be as accurate as anything else broadcast or published by NPR. We expect outside contributors to be free of conflicts of interest, to be fair and to perform their work in a manner consistent with NPR’s ethical principles. When they accept an assignment or make a story pitch to NPR, outside contributors must disclose potential conflicts of interest or other issues that involve matters discussed in this handbook. At the same time, NPR editors and producers should make sure that outside contributors are familiar with the principles laid out in this handbook, and that those contributors are living up to NPR’s standards.
There may be instances when an outside contributor can do things that appear to go against the guidance in this handbook. A music critic, for example, may be able to publicly express opinions about news events — something an NPR journalist should avoid. Supervisors will judge whether such actions present problems on a case-by-case basis. Among those who may be part of such discussions: the senior vice president of News, the vice president of News, the executive editor of News and the standards & practices editor.
If it is decided that an outside contributor’s actions are in conflict with the principles in this handbook, NPR may turn down a story pitch and/or decide to cut ties with that person entirely.
The producers of stand-alone programs acquired by NPR and the staffs of those shows should study and apply the ethical principles and guidance in this handbook. Because the missions of those programs vary widely, there may be greater flexibility. Part of a program’s mission, for example, may be to have the host express his or her opinions about news events. In that case, NPR expects the show and host to be transparent — that is, to share those opinions with the audience — while also being fair and respectful of differing opinions. Another show’s mission may be more about entertaining than news reporting. In that case, the handbook’s guidance on issues such as “completeness” and “transparency” may be less relevant than the sections on “respect” and “excellence.”
While there may be flexibility, there is also a base line. The same guidance given to the staff of all NPR desks and shows applies: Hosts and other journalists on acquired news, news/talk and entertainment programs should avoid becoming participants in the stories and issues of the day. For example, it is almost never appropriate for such a host to help an advocacy organization raise money (as we discuss elsewhere, advocacy around issues “directly related to our journalistic mission” may be an exception). Also, just as with the content that NPR produces, it would not be appropriate for an acquired program to push an idea or position by airing more reports or discussions than are reasonable based on the demands of the news cycle.
NPR expects that producers of acquired programming will be aware of the guidance here and will consult with the vice president of Programming before problems arise. Senior editors (for instance, the senior vice president of News, vice president of News, the executive editor of News and the standards & practices editor) may be brought into discussions. What’s right and what’s wrong may not always be clear. But we are committed to working hard with producers of acquired programs to make the right decisions.
(This guidance was added on March 26, 2015)
March 26, 2015