Tuesday, September 16, 2003

This Financial Times memo is intended for reporters, but it's a great refresher for editors, too. The rules laid out here on sourcing say a lot about what it takes to be credible. And we are the protectors of that credibility. Some highlights:
* Seek to disprove what you have been told, even if that takes time: at the FT we do let the truth get in the way of a good story and when we run it.
* Be explicit about what you do not know. At the very least, this can help readers - and editors - to avoid misinterpreting stories.
* Always give people or companies the chance to answer the charges being levelled at them. Remember that cross-checking builds respect with sources.
* Test yourself to find out how comfortable you would be with a challenge to your story's veracity the following morning.
* When you cite "analysts" or "experts", this means you have spoken to a handful of such people and that a consensus exists. If your claim is controversial, "analysts say" is a poor attribution. If you have not spoken to anyone in particular, it is mendacious.
I especially like the "test yourself" advice. How often are we expected to find errors in stories about topics we're clueless about?

This is the main reason we need to be given more than 15 minutes to edit a story and slap on a headline. Sure, I'll fix the grammar, run a spell-check, and parrot the lede in the headline. But how can I double-check phone numbers and addresses, confirm the names of officials and Joe Schmoe, check the math, or read a quick primer on credit ratings to understand what I'm editing?


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