Vetting tips

Checking Stories for Fairness

Before You Publish: Some Thoughts

  • Follow the Trust Principles. Our stories should be balanced and free of bias.
  • Seek comment from everyone named in the story. The goal is to practice “no surprises” journalism: The people and institutions we are writing about shouldn’t be surprised when they read our story about them. Fully explain to them what we’re saying about them, and seek their response.
  • Craft a nut or significance paragraph(s) high up. It should explain why the story matters; and, if the story is a scoop of fact or analysis, it should explain what’s original about the story. Make sure the reporting delivers on the promise of the nut.
  • State explicitly why a story’s premise may be overstated. In other words, don’t shy away from acknowledging the story may be more complicated than it seems and add nuance. (“To be sure…”)
  • Disclose the holes in a story. Acknowledging the key facts or mysteries our reporting could not resolve adds to a story’s credibility.
  • When a key subject, company or institution declines to comment, provide its point of view. Preferably, this would come from a credible, on-the-record source; at the very least, provide contextual information that may put things in a more neutral light.
  • State clearly what already is already known about the subject we are writing about and what is new news.
  • Use anonymous quotes only if they are absolutely crucial. Otherwise, paraphrase or cut -- especially anonymous critics attacking other people. The goal of any story is to use only on-the-record sources.
  • Show, don’t tell. Anecdotes, examples, documentary evidence and statistics should be the meat of our stories, in most cases. Quotes should be the spice.
  • Be sure the outside “experts” we cite really know what they are talking about. If they and other sources have an agenda or axe to grind, disclose it.
  • Anticipate how an ongoing story is likely to develop and flag to readers what may be the next shoe(s) to drop.
  • Bring stories that read overly prosecutorial or conclusory into tonal balance, avoiding language that makes it look like we are taking sides. For example, “he/she says” vs. “he/she admits” is neutral – and best.
  • If this story were about a family member, would you find it fair?
  • Again, follow the Trust Principles. When in doubt, cut the copy, seek more reporting – or spike.

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