New NPR Ethics Handbook Gets It Right

Jay Rosen on NPR’s new ethics handbook:

In my view the most important changes are these passages:

In all our stories, especially matters of controversy, we strive to consider the strongest arguments we can find on all sides, seeking to deliver both nuance and clarity. Our goal is not to please those whom we report on or to produce stories that create the appearance of balance, but to seek the truth.

and….

At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources. So our primary consideration when presenting the news is that we are fair to the truth. If our sources try to mislead us or put a false spin on the information they give us, we tell our audience. If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports. We strive to give our audience confidence that all sides have been considered and represented fairly.

With these words, NPR commits itself as an organization to avoid the worst excesses of “he said, she said” journalism. It says to itself that a report characterized by false balance is a false report. It introduces a new and potentially powerful concept of fairness: being “fair to the truth,” which as we know is not always evenly distributed among the sides in a public dispute.

Craig Silverman at Regret the Error:

I’m happy to say there is meat on the bones of the new NPR Ethics Handbook. It points to useful tips and tools for accuracy and verification, offers two mini case studies of previous NPR reporting, and delivers clear guidance on how NPR journalists should report errors and help correct them.

Much of what’s in the document is universal, making the Ethics Handbook a useful resource for any journalist.

Jeff Sonderman at Media Notes:

What impresses me most about NPR’s policy is that it doesn’t treat the Internet as a land of savages to be colonized and civilized. Instead it explains the New World of social media so staff may join it fruitfully and safely. I’ve not seen a passage like this before in a news organization’s social media policy:

To get the most out of social media we need to understand those communities. So we respect their cultures and treat those we encounter online with the same courtesy and understanding as anyone we deal with in the offline world. We do not impose ourselves on such sites. We are guests and behave as such.

Do we agree?

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  • dduck

    NPR is great, I love the less reported stories.

  • zephyr

    Agreed. NPR is great. It’s the station for people who are interested in useful and valid information – news as well as interesting and entertaining programming. No axe-grinding, no phony claims, or low standards dressed up to pass. When it comes to radio, NPR is an oasis of reason, maturity and responsibility in a sea of glitz, BS and distraction.

  • merkin

    I always hate to rain on a parade but Fox News could adopt the exact same code of ethics and not miss a beat, nothing would change, they would still be the cesspool of bias that they are today.

    In fact people would probably criticize them for parts of the ethics, especially,

    At all times, we report for our readers and listeners, not our sources.

    Pandering to their audience. Or,

    If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side, we acknowledge it in our reports.

    Injecting their own opinion

    Of course I trust that NPR will take this code to heart and implement it correctly in their reporting. But I trusted their reporting before the code and would trust their reporting without it.

  • merkin

    I miss the old cays when the mere mention of NPR would result in scores of vitriolic comments ranting about the state supported liberal media poisoning the airwaves.

    Is it just me or have we completely lost the daily outrage from Hot Air or Red States or Fox News.com folks?

    Time was that you could make a point about the right wing and almost immediately get a half dozen comments from them denying the point while inadvertently proving it. Fun times for we lovers of irony.

  • dduck

    Merkin, do you have a pinup of Rachel Maddow from MSNBC in your home.

  • Dr. J

    Is it just me or have we completely lost the daily outrage from Hot Air or Red States or Fox News.com folks?

    Obviously daily outrage is still in good supply, but I would say you’ve lost a lot of meaningful engagement from people who aren’t hard-left.

    And the reason isn’t hard to spot in this post. In fact there were two basic objections to NPR. First, many conservatives found it biased and didn’t want to pay for it. Second, with NPR itself saying it didn’t need the money, the case for making those people pay for it anyway was difficult to sustain. If you’re going to summarize these as “vitriolic comments ranting about the state supported liberal media poisoning the airwaves,” you’re going to discourage meaningful debate and drive people elsewhere.

  • zephyr

    I miss em too merkin. I don’t miss reading wrongheaded views so much, it’s more about the opportunities to impart valid information and debunk invalid info. That said, I don’t have illusions about the likelyhood of people changing their views once they have their heels dug in – regardless of whether said heels are dug into reality or not. As for the complaints about NPR being biased? Agreed, they are biased toward truthful representations of people, positions, and events. That’s never been enough to please everyone

  • JDave

    “to seek the truth”

    Wow. I love that. Appeals to the professional scientist in me – and to my interest in theology (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Non-overlapping_magisteria).

    I’ve always loved NPR, still do. Long before it was a favorite whipping boy of the right, I thought there was a left bias to it. Even so, I love their style.

  • JDave

    And yes, I’ve sensed a slight leftward drift at TMV in the last year or so. I’d like to see some more reasoned, calm discussion from the right even at the expense at being slightly less comfortable here.

  • dduck

    a slight leftward drift at TMV in the last year or so
    True, and you are kind.

  • SteveK

    I’ve sensed a slight leftward drift at TMV in the last year or so.

    Those paying attention have sensed a slight leftward drift in all aspects of American life* in the last year or so.

    * Except for Fox News, Limbaugh, Mikey R and the other drama-queens of the right… And, of course, those who use them as their primary source of misinformation.

  • zephyr

    Given the barrage of extreme rightwing views that dominated the comments section at TMV for such a long time (we all remember this eh?) a “slight leftward drift” would have barely been noticable. I think it’s relatively moderate here now.

  • DaGoat

    TMV isn’t any further to the left than when Kathy Kattenburg was here. I don’t agree that the site should be judged by the comments sections, rather it should be judged by the contributions of the columnists and editors that determine the main content.

  • JDave

    Good point, DG. I might like to see more moderate right stuff from columnists. Hmmm

    SteveK: My sense among the people I know started in the 80s and has not changed much since. I sense an overall drift toward FauxNews and the like. The Tea Party may not have been a aberration. Maybe it’s an indication that decades of steady drift have shifted the median enough to make the TP possible. Just a guess…