Accuracy is at the heart of what we do. It is our job to get it first but it is above all our job to get it right. Accuracy, as well as balance, always takes precedence over speed.
Reuters is transparent about errors. We rectify them promptly and clearly, whether in a story, a caption, a graphic or a script. We do not disguise or bury corrections in subsequent leads or stories. Our Corrections Policy is outlined in this Handbook.
Accuracy entails honesty in sourcing. Our reputation for that accuracy, and for freedom from bias, rests on the credibility of our sources. A Reuters journalist or camera is always the best source on a witnessed event. A named source is always preferable to an unnamed source. We should never deliberately mislead in our sourcing, quote a source saying one thing on the record and something contradictory on background, or cite sources in the plural when we have only one. Anonymous sources are the weakest sources. All journalists should be familiar with the detailed guidance in The Essentials of Reuters sourcing.
Here are some handy tips:
- Use named sources wherever possible because they are responsible for the information they provide, even though we remain liable for accuracy, balance and legal dangers. Press your sources to go on the record.
- Reuters will use unnamed sources where necessary when they provide information of market or public interest that is not available on the record. We alone are responsible for the accuracy of such information.
- When talking to sources, always make sure the ground rules are clear. Take notes and record interviews.
- Cross-check information wherever possible. Two or more sources are better than one. In assessing information from unnamed sources, weigh the source’s track record, position and motive. Use your common sense. If it sounds wrong, check further.
- Talk to sources on all sides of a deal, dispute, negotiation or conflict.
- Be honest in sourcing and in obtaining information. Give as much context and detail as you can about sources, whether named or anonymous, to authenticate information they provide. Be explicit about what you don’t know.
- Reuters will publish news from a single, anonymous source in exceptional cases, when it is credible information from a trusted source with direct knowledge of the situation. Single-source stories are subject to a special authorisation procedure.
- A source’s compact is with Reuters, not with the reporter. If asked on legitimate editorial grounds, you are expected to disclose your source to your supervisor. Protecting the confidentiality of sources, by both the reporter and supervisor, is paramount.
- When doing initiative reporting, try to disprove as well as prove your story.
- Accuracy always comes first. It’s better to be late than wrong. Before pushing the button, think how you would withstand a challenge or a denial.
- Know your sources well. Consider carefully if the person you are communicating with is an imposter. Sources can provide information by whatever means available - telephone, in person, email, instant messaging, text message. But be aware that any communication can be interfered with.
- Reuters will stand by a reporter who has followed the sourcing guidelines and the proper approval procedures.
Quotes are sacrosanct. They must never be altered other than to delete a redundant word or clause, and then only if the deletion does not alter the sense of the quote in any way. Selective use of quotes can be unbalanced. Be sure that quotes you use are representative of what the speaker is saying and that you describe body language (a smile or a wink) that may affect the sense of what is being reported. When quoting an individual always give the context or circumstances of the quote.
It is not our job to make people look good by cleaning up inelegant turns of phrase, nor is it our job to expose them to ridicule by running such quotes. In most cases, this dilemma can be resolved by paraphrase and reported speech. Where it cannot, reporters should consult a more senior journalist to discuss whether the quote can be run verbatim. Correcting a grammatical error in a quote may be valid, but rewording an entire phrase is not. When translating quotes from one language into another, we should do so in an idiomatic way rather than with pedantic literalness. Care must be taken to ensure that the tone of the translation is equivalent to the tone of the original. Beware of translating quotes in newspaper pickups back into the original language of the source. If a French politician gives an interview to an American newspaper, it is almost certain that the translation back into French will be wrong and in some cases the quote could be very different. In such cases, the fewer quotes and the more reported speech, the better.
Accuracy means that our images and stories must reflect reality. It can be tempting for journalists to “hype” or sensationalise material, skewing the reality of the situation or misleading the reader or viewer into assumptions and impressions that are wrong and potentially harmful. A “flood” of immigrants, for example, may in reality be a relatively small number of people just as a “surge” in a stock price may be a quite modest rise. Stopping to think, and to discuss, how we use words leads to more precise journalism and also minimises the potential for harm. Similarly, no actions in visual journalism should be taken that add to or detract from the reality of images. In some circumstances, this may constitute fabrication and can cause serious damage to our reputation. Such actions may lead to disciplinary measures, including dismissal.
Datelines and bylines
Accuracy is paramount in our use of datelines and bylines. Readers assume that the byline shows the writer was at the dateline. We should byline stories only from datelines where the writer (or the reporter being written up on a desk) was present. We may only use datelines where we have staff or freelancers on the spot from text, photos or TV and we are getting information from them on the ground. Reporters or freelancers who have contributed to a report should be included in an additional reporting line at the end of the story, giving their name and location.
Accuracy means proper attribution to the source of material that is not ours, whether in a story, a photograph or moving images. Our customers and the public rely on us to be honest about where material has originated. It allows them to assess the reliability.
It is insufficient simply to label video or a photograph as “handout”. We should clearly identify the source – for example “Greenpeace Video” or “U.S. Army Photo”. Similarly, it is essential for transparency that material we did not gather ourselves is clearly attributed in stories to the source, including when that source is a rival organisation. Failure to do so may open us to charges of plagiarism.
Reuters aims to report the facts, not rumours. Clients rely on us to differentiate between fact and rumour and our reputation rests partly on that. There are times when rumours affect financial markets and we have a duty to tell readers why a market is moving and to try to track down the rumour – to verify it or knock it down. There may be exceptional circumstances when a market is moving so rapidly and so violently that we move a story before being able to verify or knock down the rumour. Full guidance on how to handle rumours is in The Essentials of Reuters sourcing.
Graphic images and obscenities
In the course of our work, we witness and record scenes of a violent or sexually graphic nature. As journalists, we have an obligation to convey the reality of what we report accurately, yet a duty to be aware that such material can cause distress, damage the dignity of the individuals concerned or even in some cases so overpower the viewer or reader that a rational understanding of the facts is impaired. We do not sanitise violence, bowdlerise speech or euphemise sex. We should not, however, publish graphic images and details or obscene language gratuitously or with an intention to titillate or to shock. There must be a valid news reason for running such material and it will usually require a decision by a senior editor. In all cases, we need to consider whether the material is necessary to an understanding of the reality portrayed or described. We should also be mindful that our customers in different markets often have different thresholds and needs. Graphic material which we might send to our wholesale broadcast clients may not be suitable for use online in our consumer business, just as a sexually explicit photograph may be more acceptable in one part of the world than another.
Further guidance on dealing with graphic images can be found in the Photos and Video sections of this Handbook. Writers should consult the Style Guide entry on obscenities for guidance on how to handle offensive language. Stories that contain such language must be sent ATTENTION EDITOR.
Category: Standards and Values
This page was last modified 10:19, 1 October 2008.