The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.

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April 14, 2006

What's Behind Our 'New' Standards?

I am excited to release the second edition NewStandard Content Contributors’ Handbook. The Handbook was originally published in draft form in Fall 2003 – before we launched. Back then, we knew we wanted to publish "progressive," "public interest," "hard" news, and we knew we wanted to publish content that was "better" and more "useful" to people than the corporate news we are bombarded with daily. But before we hammered out our editorial policies, all we had was rhetoric. We had no consistent way to put our ideals into practice or to convey then to our journalists, editors or future collective members.

So back in November 2003, Simone Baribeau (the first non-founding TNS collective member), Brian Dominick and I sat down to figure out exactly what we wanted TNS journalism to look like. We came up with working definitions of accuracy and fairness and set about writing up the standards for sourcing and research that we wanted our journalists to follow.

Now, along with Catherine Komp and Michelle Chen, we have added to and improved the Handbook, drawing on our two-years-plus experience publishing TNS. None of our standards have changed, but we have clarified and strengthened the foundation we laid down back in 2003. I’ve included a few excerpts below to give you a taste:

Though many news outlets and journalists claim to be objective conveyers of the truth, The NewStandard does not claim objectivity. The NewStandard recognizes that journalists and editors of any news publication continuously make choices about which stories to pursue; which facts, quotes, and sources to include in a story; and which to exclude. In addition, reporters and editors make decisions about the placement and weight given to these facts and perspectives, the length and placement a story deserves, etc. Therefore, as a substitute for false objectivity claims, we encourage fairness, transparency and accuracy. Readers should know where the information in a story came from and should be able to trust that the writers and editors took great care to include all relevant voices and to avoid misleading or manipulating them with inaccurate or insufficient information.


Primary vs. secondary sources
When conducting research, the journalist should prioritize primary sources over secondary sources. Primary documents include interviews, written testimony, legal documents, transcripts, studies, legislative documents, public records, internal documents, personal correspondence, photographs, press releases, etc. All hard data and reprinted or facsimiled documents must be traced back to their original source if they are to be used to inform a news story. Quotes gathered by other reputable news outlets can be cited in the article with proper attribution if the journalist is unable to interview the subject directly.


Test all claims and arguments against evidence
All verifiable facts should be verified. If there is competing evidence, report this fact along with relevant information about the quality and biases of the various sources. Claims that are inconsistent with or contradict solid evidence should not be left unchallenged in the narrative or in people’s quotes. In most instances, such claims should be left out, unless one of the goals of the article is to debunk a common belief, prevent public misinformation, or expose the motivations of people making the claims. In those cases, include the dubious statement but expose it as false or unsubstantiated in the narrative by including context or placing it alongside the counter-claim or evidence that undercuts it. Similarly, do not expect that the reader will accept a true claim on face value. Back up credible statements or views with supporting evidence.


Make every effort to be culturally competent
Do not assume that the reporter’s voice can substitute for the voice of someone whose culture, class, sexual orientation, gender, age, faith or ethnicity adds another layer of complexity to the story. On the other hand, do not automatically assume that certain social differences motivate the actions or cause phenomena in the story, unless the facts and statements you have gathered indicate as much. Avoid “essentializing� people based on their group or political affiliations in order to make for a “neater� storyline.


Use sources only on areas of expertise
When determining which parts of interview transcripts to include or whose voice to use to convey each piece of information, consider the proper role in the story for each type of source and avoid allowing sources to convey information they are not in a position to be truly knowledgeable about.

Ex. You are writing a story about cuts to childcare subsidies for mothers on public assistance. In general, you will want to use interviews with people directly affected by the policy (mothers on public assistance) to convey personal stories to the reader about what life is like on public assistance. Since advocates work with hundreds of mothers likely to be affected by the policy change, they can be used to put personal stories into a broader context. Independent analysts provide another layer of context based on more objective study. You would not want to ask a mother for statistics on how much each person on public assistance stands to lose from the policy, unless that mother also happens to be a researcher. Likewise, you would not want to quote an analyst on how it feels to leave a child in substandard daycare, unless the analyst has had that experience.

Read the whole manual here.


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The NewStandard ceased publishing on April 27, 2007.