Beyond news – how commentary, criticism and essays fit into our journalism.

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.

October 17, 2011

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