Skip to main content

  Sign the Daily Kos petition thanking NPR for rejecting false balance in its reportage.
For years, NPR committed itself to a brand of journalism that often focused not on telling the truth, but on telling competing sides of a story.

This false journalistic balance – presenting two sides of a story even when one side is propped up by spin or compromised facts – has been a hallmark of NPR's reportage on political matters both foreign and domestic for far too long.  

However, as journalism scholar and critic Jay Rosen reports, NPR has formally disavowed this form of "he said, she said" journalism in favor of a journalism that is "fair to the truth."

As Rosen notes, NPR last week replaced its old code, The NPR Code of Ethics and Practices, with a new ethics handbook that seems to direct journalists to abandon reportage that strives for balance at the cost of accuracy.

Rosen's reaction after reading NPR's new ethics guide (emphasis mine):

NPR [now] 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.

Indeed, several sections in NPR's new ethics handbook speak to this new commitment to serve not balance but accuracy. Among those is this sparkling example:
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.
Already, some NPR journalists are grappling with this new code of ethics and how, exactly, their reportage will fit (or not) into the new guideline to be "impartial" and "fair to the truth."

And already, listeners – including myself – have noticed NPR journalists being a bit more dogged about calling out dubious facts when they are presented by advocates for a particular side of a story.

Will this new ethics handbook adopted by NPR usher in a radical shift in its reportage – a shift desperately needed and, perhaps, inspired by the rise of so-called new media? Time will tell.

Though taking the new handbook at its word – as well as NPR's ostensibly new commitment to reporting the truth of a story rather than presenting competing sides of a story – it seems the answer is a resounding yes.

And for that, I add my voice to a chorus of others and say, Bravo, NPR.


Follow me on Twitter @David_EHG

Author's Note 1:

Chris Bowers has pointed me to a Daily Kos action item: a petition to NPR thanking the institution for its new handbook's rejection of false balance.

You can sign it here.

Author's Note 2:

Rosen spoke with Matt Thompson, Editorial Product Manager at NPR and co-author of the new handbook, about the shifts seen in the new guide, and their conversation is well worth reading.

Originally posted to Writing by David Harris Gershon on Tue Feb 28, 2012 at 07:23 PM PST.

Also republished by Good News.

Your Email has been sent.
You must add at least one tag to this diary before publishing it.

Add keywords that describe this diary. Separate multiple keywords with commas.
Tagging tips - Search For Tags - Browse For Tags


More Tagging tips:

A tag is a way to search for this diary. If someone is searching for "Barack Obama," is this a diary they'd be trying to find?

Use a person's full name, without any title. Senator Obama may become President Obama, and Michelle Obama might run for office.

If your diary covers an election or elected official, use election tags, which are generally the state abbreviation followed by the office. CA-01 is the first district House seat. CA-Sen covers both senate races. NY-GOV covers the New York governor's race.

Tags do not compound: that is, "education reform" is a completely different tag from "education". A tag like "reform" alone is probably not meaningful.

Consider if one or more of these tags fits your diary: Civil Rights, Community, Congress, Culture, Economy, Education, Elections, Energy, Environment, Health Care, International, Labor, Law, Media, Meta, National Security, Science, Transportation, or White House. If your diary is specific to a state, consider adding the state (California, Texas, etc). Keep in mind, though, that there are many wonderful and important diaries that don't fit in any of these tags. Don't worry if yours doesn't.

You can add a private note to this diary when hotlisting it:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from your hotlist?
Are you sure you want to remove your recommendation? You can only recommend a diary once, so you will not be able to re-recommend it afterwards.
Rescue this diary, and add a note:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary from Rescue?
Choose where to republish this diary. The diary will be added to the queue for that group. Publish it from the queue to make it appear.

You must be a member of a group to use this feature.

Add a quick update to your diary without changing the diary itself:
Are you sure you want to remove this diary?
(The diary will be removed from the site and returned to your drafts for further editing.)
(The diary will be removed.)
Are you sure you want to save these changes to the published diary?

Comment Preferences

Meteor Blades, Sharoney, Chris Bowers, sdf, bink, JekyllnHyde, Alumbrados, davej, buffalo soldier, Sylv, JR, CJB, PrahaPartizan, Bill in Portland Maine, Radiowalla, itsbenj, Odysseus, murphy, ferg, grollen, ogre, copymark, deben, Sparhawk, Trendar, glitterscale, Caelian, native, houndcat, Geenius at Wrok, GreenSooner, Gooserock, pHunbalanced, NYmom, lost, saraswati, madmsf, RunawayRose, greenbird, Emerson, karlpk, DDinIND, Shockwave, jazzizbest, Heather in SFBay, Pescadero Bill, donna in evanston, m maddog, SanJoseLady, hyperstation, LynnS, Aspe4, uffdalib, John Campanelli, eeff, Mnemosyne, dsb, frsbdg, verasoie, HootieMcBoob, x, freelunch, frisco, floridagal, musicsleuth, exNYinTX, niemann, davelf2, Bugsby, JLFinch, Scott in NAZ, Gustogirl, sbwoodside, JSCram3254, missLotus, Babsnc, EricS, fugwb, Wee Mama, wonkydonkey, mik, whenwego, djMikulec, highacidity, KMc, joe pittsburgh, mikidee, mxwing, scamp, gayntom, mkfarkus, farmerhunt, chimpy, roses, pedrito, JuliaAnn, vmckimmey, bincbom, MazeDancer, itskevin, jalbert, egarratt, wonmug, Iberian, askyron, splashy, Cedwyn, antirove, Alna Dem, Chrisfs, Dillonfence, dksbook, lulusbackintown, menodoc, Eric Blair, psnyder, nancelot, danthrax, marko, ManhattanMan, Farugia, Dr Colossus, 2laneIA, young voter, brainwave, Lawrence, Noodles, MGH, Bulldawg, Ophelia, HeyMikey, mnguitar, NYFM, DSC on the Plateau, dwahzon, ohiolibrarian, Steven Payne, Bluehawk, defluxion10, betson08, Calidrissp, grrr, lcrp, riverlover, BlogDog, Lilith, outragedinSF, bwintx, nswalls, JayBat, peterj911, zerelda, ybruti, Sembtex, glattonfolly, Curt Matlock, shadowplayer, WisVoter, Mosquito Pilot, Columbus Lee, jcrit, xyz, Black Max, Albanius, rickeagle, Toddlerbob, slapshoe, eztempo, Sassy, rickroks, sebastianguy99, Armand451, Limelite, TexMex, Longwing, Gowrie Gal, Tirge Caps, sb, Julie Gulden, Skennet Boch, davidincleveland, molsen, fijiancat, maybeeso in michigan, bloomer 101, historys mysteries, radarlady, Tinfoil Hat, Harkov311, NoMoreLies, ichibon, deerskie, wmc418, LarisaW, greatferm, klamothe, stlawrence, tolerant, OpherGopher, PBen, JohnB47, kitchen sink think tank, Simplify, ZappoDave, citizenx, basquebob, MT Spaces, dewtx, ChemBob, juliesie, drewfromct, CinDan, Brooke In Seattle, EJP in Maine, Gary Norton, boofdah, eru, Beetwasher, cfk, marathon, majcmb1, sallyfallschurch, Dr Squid, Pam from Calif, jimstaro, LABobsterofAnaheim, jcitybone, Burned, sofia, skyounkin, Ice Blue, Phil S 33, blue jersey mom, Steve in Urbana, markdd, bjedward, Carnivorous Plantling, ord avg guy, rb608, brentut5, Geekesque, noemie maxwell, WisePiper, Anna M, FindingMyVoice, sodalis, coolbreeze, Pluto, Rogneid, Unduna, sgary, jct, mightymouse, ChuckInReno, fhcec, xaxnar, Jim R, Jim P, begone, reddbierd, Reality Bites Back, Philpm, alrdouglas, Nowhere Man, Denny in Seattle, martini, cre8fire, kovie, Showman, Shirl In Idaho, velaski, hlee1169, gwilson, BachFan, tarheelblue, Keone Michaels, Medium Head Boy, myboo, kkmd, cybersaur, 417els, Mr Bojangles, Clytemnestra, edwardssl, BlueInARedState, Themistoclea, Naranjadia, SciFiGuy, Krush, Gorette, Yellow Canary, liberalconservative, seefleur, mooshter, Dvalkure, sleipner, Loonesta, deha, Triscula, Naniboujou, Son of a Cat, claudette, raincrow, kck, Gottlieb, Lefty Coaster, blueoasis, SherriG, eglantine, aloevera, erratic, philipmerrill, Ashaman, gpoutney, gooderservice, gatorcog, Crashing Vor, LibChicAZ, happy camper, el cid, Spock36, ZombyWoof, ER Doc, dirtfarmer, doinaheckuvanutjob, middleagedhousewife, think blue, run uphill, vivian darkbloom, anninla, Turbonerd, onionjim, SingerInTheChoir, Cenobyte, IL clb, democracy is coming, CA Nana, Timothy J, BB10, suspiciousmind, fiddlingnero, means are the ends, chapel hill guy, cohenzee, Statusquomustgo, PhilW, Bernie68, bstotts, RickBoston, ms badger, AllanTBG, daeros, xenopus17, andrewj54, Quicklund, Aaa T Tudeattack, AntKat, krwheaton, DBunn, orrg1, tegrat, gtaylor, ammasdarling, clinging to hope, Tamar, One Pissed Off Liberal, Morgan in Austin, factbased, pgm 01, timewarp, asilomar, Habitat Vic, merrylib, blue armadillo, tgypsy, possum, ColoTim, offgrid, gloriana, edsbrooklyn, dotcommodity, DvCM, LillithMc, tbirchard, david mizner, HeartlandLiberal, Jimdotz, dclawyer06, deepeco, dww44, Shadowmage36, FischFry, Pengu1n, bnasley, rantsposition, rivamer, snowshoeblue, mudslide, Killer of Sacred Cows, millwood, gchaucer2, OIL GUY, CT Hank, uciguy30, GeorgeXVIII, leonard145b, fallina7, M Sullivan, Aynsley, Korkenzieher, BasharH, ThePlainThinker, trueblueliberal, the1sage, Terra Mystica, Empower Ink, gizmo59, roberta g, rmonroe, MKinTN, rogerdaddy, JayC, gundyj, hkorens, Ms Citizen, JeffW, Mr SeeMore, ChocolateChris, angry hopeful liberal, wayoutinthestix, ScottyUrb, poligirl, Sixty Something, parakinesis, Involuntary Exile, skohayes, wade norris, filby, CDH in Brooklyn, ajr111240, lineatus, Its any one guess, VL Baker, Lujane, TomFromNJ, Ocelopotamus, pamelabrown, Haplogroup V, hwmnbn, smartdemmg, Jake Williams, TokenLiberal, carver, Jeff Y, catly, home solar, alnep, envwq, brasilaaron, codairem, Gemina13, petulans, Cobbler, luckylizard, Executive Odor, sagansong, rodentrancher, palantir, ekyprogressive, SpiffPeters, dmhlt 66, watercarrier4diogenes, shortgirl, lissablack, statsone, kpbuick, lostboyjim, oldliberal, Fiddlegirl, MrsTarquinBiscuitbarrel, maggiejean, Sun dog, prettygirlxoxoxo, Bogey Bill, Bule Betawi, multilee, Rhysling, WhizKid331, Fonsia, aufklaerer, beinemac, litoralis, ceebee7, Scott Wooledge, Domestic Elf, juca, bobatkinson, lilsky, cantelow, matmak, CanyonWren, Nebraskablue, tari, Methinks They Lie, susanWAstate, Partisan Progressive, War on Error, BlueInRedCincy, CamillesDad1, Bonsai66, petral, followyourbliss, platypus60, dskoe, MKSinSA, NWTerriD, TheOpinionGuy, asym, mksutherland, jomi, papahaha, COwoman, kevinpdx, IreGyre, Ibis Exilis, stevenwag, littlenomad, maxzj05, strangedemocracy, hopeward bound, jfromga, JulieUnplugged, nancat357, jan0080, astral66, Livvy5, deviant24x, citisven, Leftcandid, Terranova0, susan in sc, Nalepoc, ruscle, Railfan, Just Bob, commonmass, coppercelt, mamamorgaine, RhymesWithUrple, FogCityJohn, p gorden lippy, flitedocnm, stegro, roadbear, Vacationland, estreya, gramofsam1, Derek Bateman, jethrock, kjoftherock, SeattleTammy, stunzeed, on board 47, Hoosier Al, Crabby Abbey, angelajean, ColoradAnne, Polly Syllabic, your neighbor, cazcee, freeport beach PA, Radical def, appledown, ATFILLINOIS, Eddie L, melpomene1, tellthestories, gulfgal98, shenderson, loveistheanswer, pixxer, ItsSimpleSimon, OnlyWords, Puddytat, albrt, melfunction, 4kedtongue, Publius2008, rja, Texnance, elengul, MsGrin, ericlewis0, annie em, Floande, USHomeopath, cocinero, Oh Mary Oh, dwayne, fiercefilms, soaglow, stevenaxelrod, slice, Mac in Maine, no way lack of brain, Onomastic, renbear, Maximilien Robespierre, redlum jak, kerflooey, Bluefin, Hill Jill, ladywithafan, Miniaussiefan, NYGrandma, I love OCD, Valerie8435, msazdem, vinny67, ban nock, bgbrad, lady blair, TallForAHobbit, sostos, jardin32, vahana, cv lurking gf, donaurora, myadestes, Susipsych, UtahLibrul, FarWestGirl, asterkitty, kiwiheart, stonedoubt, GollyMissMolly, ncarolinagirl, gravlax, CoExistNow, ca union goon, princesspat, lawyernerd, smiley7, molunkusmol, trumpeter, tkwasny, boomerchick, marleycat, Lusty, zukesgirl64, Cinnamon Rollover, IllanoyGal, thomask, Muskegon Critic, slooterdam, bitpyr8, SueM1121, floridablue, EagleOfFreedom, merrily1000, Grandma Susie, createpeace, nogo postal, gnbhull, healthy, Safina, GoBlue08, mali muso, PhilJD, sound of progress, Imhotepsings, poliwrangler, Caddis Fly, disconnect the dots, GenuineRisk, Andrew F Cockburn, bakeneko, Solarian, FininWA, Vatexia, Friendlystranger, Hayate Yagami, Jinnia, jolux, SoCalSal, thejoshuablog, Nightshade Q, googie, Regina in a Sears Kit House, aerie star, Mentatmark, BoulderStevo, caryltoo, ChiTownDenny, PrometheusUnbound, drawingporno, No one gets out alive, Mathazar, DawnN, BlueDragon, YaNevaNo, AnnetteK, bluebottles, hulibow, nominalize, anodnhajo, Catskill Julie, isabelle hayes, cwsmoke, Williston Barrett, Siri, MikeyB33, IndieGuy, James Renruojos, NJMaverick, ahumbleopinion, tb92, barkingcat, AnnieR, 2thanks, Trotskyrepublican, JGibson, congenitalefty, Horace Boothroyd III, chipmo, Tyler R, jan4insight, scarolinamom, nerve, Syoho, the Don, Arahahex, OlyPenDem, MartyM, cheesehead77, Aximill, ClutchCargo, Murphoney, pittie70, qannabbos, LouisWu, notdarkyet, tytalus, Vote4Obamain2012, avsp, DSWright, rat racer, ItsaMathJoke, thegracekelly, Glen The Plumber, Spirit of Life, George3, WestTexasLiberal, Robynhood too, CalBearMom, mythatsme, Near Miss, News Corpse, The Geogre, Canis Aureus, Captain Chaos, Blue Dream, mygreekamphora, Chaddiwicker, nomandates, doesnotworkorplaywellwithothers, ebailey, Penthesilea, Millrat, TheMeansAreTheEnd, countwebb, The grouch, Eric Twocents, JayRaye, glorificus, GenXBadger, DaDA Bum, Setsuna Mudo, mic check oakland, Neapolitan, Agent99, ladyjames, Steve in the Library, jbeck, Nautical Knots, Dewstino, Doctor Mxyzptlk, topazOR, GwenM, Yastreblyansky, Ree Zen, sweetsister, bob152

Subscribe or Donate to support Daily Kos.

Click here for the mobile view of the site