NPR recently updated its journalistic standards. This includes new wording on NPR’s mission and core principles. You can read every word here, though most of it is pretty basic stuff.
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.
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.
The two passages above are pulled from NPR’s new standards by Jay Rosen, professor of journalism at NYU. And here’s a snippet of his take on them:
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.
Maintaining the “appearance of balance” isn’t good enough, NPR says. “If the balance of evidence in a matter of controversy weighs heavily on one side…” we have to say so. When we are spun, we don’t just report it. “We tell our audience…” This is spin!
There was nothing like that in the old Code of Ethics and Practices, which dates from 2003.
Rosen goes on in his piece (which is a good, quick read) to ask why this change is happening now. And he gets answers, too, from NPR editorial product manager, Matt Thompson.
Go ahead, read it. And let us know what you think.