Not in the clamor of the crowded street, not in the shouts and plaudits of the throng, but in ourselves, are triumph and defeat.--Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

REDIRECT ALERT! (Scroll down past this mess if you're trying to read an archived post. Thanks. No, really, thanks.)

Due to my inability to control my temper and complacently accept continued silliness with not-quite-as-reliable-as-it-ought-to-be Blogger/Blogspot, your beloved Possumblog will now waddle across the Information Dirt Road and park its prehensile tail at http://possumblog.mu.nu.

This site will remain in place as a backup in case Munuvia gets hit by a bus or something, but I don't think they have as much trouble with this as some places do. ::cough::blogspot::cough:: So click here and adjust your links. I apologize for the inconvenience, but it's one of those things.

Friday, February 20, 2004

'Wash. Post' Issues New Rules for Sources, Quotes

NEW YORK The Washington Post issued new updated guidelines for reporters and editors that clarify the use of confidential sources, datelines and quotations, Executive Editor Leonard Downie Jr. said Thursday.

Following months of discussion by a group of Post editors, who decided to examine the paper's policies in light of the 2003 Jayson Blair scandal at The New York Times, Downie and other editors unveiled the new guidelines in a staff memo distributed to employees at a Wednesday meeting.

"We decided that in the wake of some of the things that have happened elsewhere, we ought to put together a more detailed guide for our policies, update some of them, and make them clear," Downie told E&P. "There were two overriding objectives -- one is to be fair and accurate in our reporting; the other is to be more transparent with our readers."

Among the most significant changes is the policy on quotes, which requires that all quotes appearing in the paper reflect exactly what the person said. [...]

WOW! Now THIS is news! Quotes from people will no longer be "quotes"! The article goes on at some length about other changes--editorial knowledge of the identity of confidential sources, revised guidelines for source attribution and datelines, and a revision on how corrections are made:

[...] The style for corrections received a slight alteration in the new rules. From now on, blame will not be assessed in a correction upon any staff members for mistakes, Downie said. For example, corrections will no longer state, "due to an editing error" or "based on a reporting mistake."

Peter Perl, a 23-year Post reporter and a Washington Baltimore Newspaper Guild official, said the corrections policy is the only one that drew criticism from some staffers, who complained that it would make it seem that a reporter made the error if a clear explanation is not printed. "A couple of people raised questions, saying it may make it look like they made the mistake," Perl said.

But Downie stressed that the idea was to approach the paper as a collective effort, pointing out that editors who often catch reporter mistakes are never given public credit, so should not have blame attributed to them in such a public way. "That has generally been our policy, with some exceptions, but now it will be the policy for all."

Rather than merely stating "we collectively screwed up", in the interest of full disclosure, it might be better to give the public some idea of how the error was made. It seems that an awful lot of trouble is being gone to to insulate the organization from the consequences of the errors committed by only one or two people. This would be fine if a similar editorial stance was taken toward the subjects being covered--the press, and the WaPo in particular, go into a feeding frenzy whenever there is a failure in any sort of process--the Space Shuttle crash, WMD intelligence, corporate fraud--and seem to have a pathological desire to root out individuals to blame and excoriate. Again, if that's the game you want to play, fine, but don't hold yourself to a less stringent standard when reporting your own failings.

People might not trust you that way.

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