We devote our resources and our skills to presenting the fullest version of the truth possible. In this mission, we seek and include a diversity of voices, experiences and points of view. We are rigorous in our reporting and diligent in our verification. We take great care to ensure that statements of fact in our journalism are both correct and in context. We strive for precision and seek to be comprehensive and inclusive. We place the greatest value on information we have gathered and verified ourselves. We challenge the claims we encounter and we test the assumptions we bring.
Accuracy in reporting and interviewing
Accuracy is at the core of our journalism. Neither time pressure nor the complexity of a story excuse errors. We do our best to ensure that everything we report faithfully depicts reality – from the tiniest detail to the big-picture context that helps put the news into perspective.
We diligently seek subjects of news coverage to understand their perspective and to allow them to respond to criticism or allegations of wrongdoing. We systematically review and edit our work before making our reporting public. We prosecute our assumptions and we address any conflicts of interest that could undermine the integrity of our reporting, in reality or perception.
During live coverage, whether on air or online, when robust editing isn’t possible, it is incumbent upon us to rely on the facts that are known to us and to safeguard against opinion or speculation.
We identify sources clearly and we explain to our audience why, in rare instances, anonymity or confidentiality was granted to sources.
Guideline: Correct errors quickly and transparently.
When we make errors of substance, we are accountable and transparent. We acknowledge mistakes and correct them promptly. We do not hide or cover up our mistakes.
We explain corrections and clarifications on those platforms where the corrections and clarifications best serve our listeners and readers. Consider where else the error could be repeated, and, if possible, averted — e.g. on social media, in newsletters, on podcasts or other on-demand platforms. Often the digital version of a story serves as the lasting archive (and searchable) version of a story and so is the appropriate place to correct the record.
Example: If we misidentify a subject’s age in a report, a correction appended to the digital version of the story would suffice without the need for an on-air correction. If we erroneously report someone being accused of a crime, we should correct the record on air and anywhere else the incorrect information was reported.
Guideline: Edit like a prosecutor.
Excellent and ethical journalism comes in part from the collaborative efforts of hosts, reporters, editors, producers and photographers who all play a key role in ensuring accuracy. Good journalists must be good prosecutors. So, we test, probe and challenge, always with the goal of making WBUR’s stories as accurate and precise as possible.
Guideline: Identify the source of each fact you report.
Identify sources clearly. The public is entitled to as much information as possible to judge the reliability and motivations of sources. When making a general assertion of fact in a story, the reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source and explain why that person or organization is credible and authoritative.
This is essential to the editing process and it also enables us to stand by our reporting in a clear and convincing way if a story comes under question. We should never be in the position of looking for corroboration after a report has been published or broadcast.
Guideline: Guard against subjective errors.
Ensuring we have our factual details correct is only part of the accuracy equation. It's just as important to make sure we've correctly interpreted those facts in our reporting. The burden is on us to ensure that the way we use the material we collect is true to its intended meaning and context. When quoting or paraphrasing anyone, consider whether the source would agree with the interpretation, keeping in mind that sources may sometimes parse their words even though we accurately capture their meaning. An actuality from someone we interview or a speaker at an event should reflect accurately what that person was asked, was responding to or was addressing.
Guideline: Include a diversity of perspectives to enhance accuracy in stories.
We tell stronger, better-informed stories when we include a variety of perspectives on what we're covering. The best reporting draws on experts, influential figures and laypeople from across the demographic and experience spectrum.
For example, a story about the impact of unemployment on the greater Boston area might accurately state percentages of the overall population who are unemployed, underemployed or who have left the workforce. However those macro statistics might not ring true for certain groups based on race, gender, age or socio-economics.
Different vantage points and different populations could produce very different information that would provide a more nuanced and accurate news report. True insight and accurate coverage comes from our efforts to include a diversity of experience and voices.
Guideline: We give preference to WBUR original sources.
We value our own reporting and fact gathering over that done by other news outlets. We strongly prefer to confirm and verify information ourselves. When reporting on events we did not witness personally, we seek multiple independent perspectives to get a sharper, more accurate understanding of what happened.
If we can't verify what others are reporting, but still believe the news is important and needs to be reported, we tell listeners and readers that WBUR has not yet independently confirmed the news.
Too often, incorrect information is passed down from one news report and sources to another because of the failure of the first outlet to get it right. We strive to scrutinize and avoid passing on inaccurate information.
We must be aware of the reporting pitfall of verifying "facts" through other news outlets that do not have direct knowledge about the information they’re reporting.
Guideline: Attribute everything.
Be very clear where we've gotten our information, or where the organization we give credit to has gotten its information. Every WBUR reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source of any facts in our stories — and why we consider them credible. And every reader or listener should know where we got our information. "Media reports" or "sources say" is not good enough. Be specific.
Also, in cases where stories are developing and the news may be changing from moment to moment, state clearly what WBUR has and has not been able to confirm on its own and what key questions remain unanswered.
Guideline: Anonymous sources diminish accuracy.
Occasionally in the course of our reporting, sources will agree to share information only if it's not attributed to them. WBUR journalists should use their good judgment to determine whether the information merits such a decision. However, we do not begin our quest for interviews by promising to keep a source anonymous or off the record. Our goal is to get as much information as possible on the record.
In rare cases where we protect a source’s identity, we must describe that source as clearly as we can without identifying them, as well as the reason for protecting their identity.
Guideline: Determine if the source is credible, reliable, and knowledgeable.
In rare cases, we use information from anonymous sources to tell important stories that otherwise would go unreported. This is not a solo decision – the editors and producers of these stories must be satisfied that the source is credible and reliable, and that there is a substantial journalistic justification for using information from the source without attribution. This requires both deciding whether it is editorially justified to let the person speak anonymously, and being satisfied that this person is who they claim to be and that they are credibly in a position to have the information they are revealing. We should never be in the position of having to verify these things after a story has been broadcast or published.
Guideline: Consult with senior news leaders to determine if anonymity is warranted.
Individual WBUR journalists — reporters, producers and others — do not on their own have the authority to assure any source that information they give us anonymously will be reported. Approval must come from a senior news leader. As the level of importance regarding the information rises, so should the level of editor who is pulled into the conversation. There is no hard-and-fast rule. When in doubt, editors should always err on the side of caution and run issues up the next step in the chain of command. If a reporter and editor know ahead of time that a key interview can only be done if the source is granted anonymity, they must seek the approval of the executive editor for news or the executive producer for the national shows and podcasts.
Guideline: No disguises.
We may withhold a source's name who talks to us on tape or on the record, if that individual might be put in danger, legal jeopardy or face some other serious threat if their name is revealed. Instead, we use pronouns and descriptions to make clear who is speaking or whom we're referring to. We may refer to the person without using a last name, if he or she is comfortable with that degree of anonymity and if we decide the situation meets our criteria for granting anonymity. But we don't use pseudonyms to replace their real name. Our job is to present factual – not fabricated – information. See here for more on anonymity guidelines.
On rare occasions, we may need to further protect sources by concealing their voices, either through audio manipulation or by having an actor read the direct quotes. These decisions need to be made in consultation with the executive editor for news or the executive producers for the national shows and podcasts.
Guideline: Accuracy comes first when reporting breaking news.
In breaking news situations, timeliness and accuracy can be in conflict. We must be judicious, for the stakes can be great. It is always wise to ask: What does our audience need to know? Why do they need to know? When do they need to know?
In some situations, the information is exceptionally important and the audience needs that information immediately. We do our best to give clear, cogent and correct reporting, even before we've had a chance to thoroughly vet the information. We must be transparent and state what we're certain of, what we don't yet know and how our information was acquired.
In other situations, the timeliness and the importance of the information are trumped by accuracy concerns. Wrong information could be much more harmful than delayed reporting. We should always be willing to hold back momentarily to gather more information and verify key facts. If we do present inaccurate information in a breaking story, we not only damage our reputation but we can cause harm to those who are affected by the event or who might act upon our erroneous information.
And, if we have information that might cause significant grief (to a victim's family, for example) or might potentially put someone in harm's way, we do not report it until it's been thoroughly verified and senior news leaders have given their approval.
When news is breaking, we ideally rely on our own reporting. However, we may need to pass along information reported by others because the public should know about it immediately. This is particularly true when safety is an issue. In all cases, take special care in using information from wire service stories, reports by other news organizations, or online content that may not be coming from a reputable source. And of course always cite where the information is coming from.
Guideline: Live and real-time reporting must measure up to the same accuracy standards.
The public deserves the same rigor and commitment to accuracy when we are reporting information “live” - whether that is on air, online or on any other real-time platform.
Preparation for these situations is key, and journalists should be knowledgeable about their subjects in order to vet information and provide context in real time to the best of our abilities. In cases where accuracy would be sacrificed for the sake of speed, it is wise to slow down. A brief delay is better than an erroneous report. It is a red herring defense to suggest we can incrementally get the story correct with continuous updates; the harm will have already occurred if inaccurate information is broadcast or published as part of incremental updated coverage even when corrected in followup reports.
Guideline: Confront interviewees who lie or bend the truth.
It is an obligation of journalists to hold the powerful accountable. When an interviewee fails to tell the truth or conveys misinformation, it is our responsibility to challenge the statements. There is legitimate news value in respectfully and precisely contesting questionable or outright false information as it occurs.
Hosts and reporters should be prepared in knowledge and skill to probe and push, particularly when it comes to live interviews. In some cases where we have good reason to believe an interviewee will not be honest, it’s wise to thoroughly research the subject and previous statements, in order to appropriately challenge the interviewee.
In some situations it may be best to pre-tape interviews to enable appropriate editing and fact-checking to protect the accuracy of our reporting and to ensure we are not manipulated by those who seek to mislead or deceive our audience.
There can be editorial value in interviewing those individuals who may be known for stretching or defying the truth in order to hold them accountable for their views. These are high-stakes environments and extra precaution is warranted. These are special circumstances, and we should think carefully about interviewing individuals with a pattern of lying or otherwise operating in bad faith.
Guideline: Take special care with news that might cause grief or damage reputations.
Any falsehoods in our news reports can cause harm. But errors that may damage reputations or bring about grief are especially fraught, and extra precautions should be taken to avoid them. We don't report an individual's death, for example, until it has been confirmed by authoritative sources and we're certain the family is aware. In those cases (whether on air or on social media) err on the side of caution and when unsure get clearance from the appropriate senior news leader.
Guideline for accuracy on social media: Be a journalist. Don't spread unverified information. Be careful and skeptical.
When determining whether to pass along information reported on social media sites by other news outlets or individuals, be thoughtful and judicious. When we point to what others are reporting, in the eyes of many we are effectively reporting that information ourselves.
But we also know that reporting about what's being posted on social media can provide our listeners and readers valuable insights into what is unfolding in the news.
One key is to be transparent about what we're doing. We tell readers what has and hasn't been confirmed. Our same standards for anonymous sources apply in social media, and we must be diligent about citation, particularly in breaking news environments. We challenge those putting information out on social media to provide evidence before we are comfortable reporting the information ourselves. We raise doubts and ask questions when we have concerns — sometimes "knocking down" rumors circulating on social media is of enormous value to our audience. Always ask an important question: am I about to spread an unverified rumor or am I passing on valuable and credible information in a transparent manner with appropriate caveats?
Above all, proceed with caution, especially when news is breaking and accounts vary widely about what is happening. Reach out to other sources for confirmation. And the general standard is simple: Tweet and retweet as if what you're saying or passing along is information that you would put on the air or online. If it needs context, attribution, clarification or "knocking down," provide it.
Always make clear to listeners and readers what has been obtained from our original reporting and what we've found posted in social media outlets. And to the greatest practical extent, spell out how the information was checked and why we consider the sources credible.
And when in doubt, consult with your supervisor and a senior news leader.
Guideline: Verify the authenticity of your source.
It's often easier to falsify one's identity online than it is offline. And tonal or contextual nuances can be lost in online exchanges. So when appropriate, clarify and confirm information collected online through phone or in-person interviews. For example, when a social media posting is itself news, try to contact the source to confirm the origin of the information and attain a better understanding of its meaning.
Accuracy in visual journalism
The images and graphics we use to tell our stories assist us in our pursuit of the truth. Some guidelines are simple: Captions and labels must accurately describe the details and the events in the images they accompany. The same is true of the information we present online in graphics.
Some visual content is more subjective and requires more judgment: Be fair to the people in photos and honest with our viewers. Use images to convey information and tell stories, not to make the subjects look better or worse than the facts warrant. Be cautious when using archive or file photography to ensure the photographs are in proper context and that the captions are accurate.
Likewise, our graphics present information in ways that educate and illuminate. We do not skew data to mislead viewers about an issue or event.
Guideline: Take care in using images that have been posted online.
Increasingly, individuals who are not journalists are posting photos and videos online. Some of these may hold news value and would be relevant to our audience.
But images can be manipulated. Old video can be reposted and made to appear as if it's new. Photos or video taken in one part of the world can be repackaged and portrayed as being from somewhere else. It is our duty to determine the accuracy and authenticity of any image before publishing it, never more so than when it is a photo or video taken by someone who is not a WBUR journalist. There are legal and copyright issues to consider in addition to the ethical issues. Always consult with a digital news manager before publishing these images, and when in doubt about an image, don’t use it.