Our Journalistic Standards

Journalistic Standards

The Friedman Sprout Standards of Journalistic Integrity

(Adapted from The New York Times)

Reporters, editors, photographers and all members of the staff of The Friedman Sprout share a common and essential interest in protecting the integrity of the newspaper.  At a time of growing and even justified public suspicion about the impartiality, accuracy and integrity of some journalists and some journalism, it is imperative that the Sprout and its staff maintain the highest possible standards to ensure that we do nothing that might erode readers’ faith and confidence in our paper. This means that the journalism we practice daily must be beyond reproach.  Falsifying any part of a news report cannot be tolerated and will result automatically in disciplinary action up to and including termination. But in a climate of increased scrutiny throughout the news business, these further guidelines are offered, to resolve questions that sometimes arise about specific practices:

Quotations. It is important that both readers and those who may be interviewed be able to assume that every word between quotation marks is what the speaker or writer said. While The Friedman Sprout does sometimes “clean up” quotations, this is limited to grammar or taste.  This “clean up” includes omitting extraneous syllables like “um,” deleting false starts, and removing words that fall under the George Carlin category.  The Friedman Sprout may also remove asides or off-topic information by closing the quotation, inserting new attribution and beginning another quotation.  The Friedman Sprout may also adjust spelling, punctuation, capitalization and abbreviations in quotations gathered from written correspondence.  In every case, the writer and editor must both be satisfied that the intent of the subject has been preserved.  If the meaning or tone of the quote cannot be maintained because of necessary adjustments, quotation marks are removed and the passage is paraphrased.

Other People’s Reporting. When we use facts gathered by any other organization, we attribute them. This policy applies to material from newspapers, magazines, books and broadcasts, as well as news agencies like The Associated Press.  Our preference, when time, distance, and funding permit, is to do our own reporting and verify another organization’s story; in that case, we need not attribute the facts. But even then, as a matter of courtesy and candor, we credit an exclusive to the organization that first broke the news.

Fact Checking. Writers at The Friedman Sprout are their own principal fact checkers, but never the only ones.  Concrete facts – distances, addresses, phone numbers, people’s titles – must be verified by the writer with standard references. More obscure checks may be referred to the co-editors.  It is especially important that writers verify the spelling of names by asking the source. A person who sees his or her own name, or the name of someone else in the field of nutrition science or policy, misspelled in The Sprout is likely to mistrust whatever else we print.

Corrections. The Friedman Sprout recognizes an ethical responsibility to correct all its factual errors. The paper regrets every error, but it applauds the integrity of a writer who volunteers a correction of his or her own published story.  If a correction is warranted, fairness demands that it be published on the website immediately and in the corrections section of the following issue of the newspaper. In case of reasonable doubt or disagreement about the facts, we can acknowledge that a statement was “imprecise” or “incomplete” even if we are not sure it was wrong.

Rebuttals. We will accept and publish a response from anyone criticized in our pages. But when the criticism is serious, we have a special obligation to describe the scope of the accusation and let the subject respond in detail. No subject should be taken by surprise when the paper appears, or feel that there was no chance to respond.  It is our responsibility to show both sides of every story.

Anonymity and Its Devices. The use of unidentified sources is reserved for situations in which the newspaper could not otherwise print information it considers newsworthy and reliable. When possible, reporter and editor should discuss any promise of anonymity before it is made, or before the reporting begins on a story that may result in such a commitment. We try to state briefly what kind of understanding was reached by the reporter and source, especially when we can shed light on the source’s reasons for insisting on anonymity.

Fictional Devices. No reader should find cause to suspect that the paper would knowingly alter facts. For that reason, The Friedman Sprout refrains outright from assigning fictional names, ages, places or dates.  If compassion or the unavoidable conditions of reporting require shielding an identity, the preferred solution is to omit the name and explain the omission.

Masquerading. Friedman Sprout reporters do not actively misrepresent their identity to get a story. We may sometimes remain silent on our identity and allow assumptions to be made – to observe an institution’s dealings with the public, for example, or the behavior of people at an event. But a sustained, systematic deception, even a passive one, may be employed only after consultation with the editors and the faculty advisor. (Specific exceptions exist for restaurant reviewing and similar assignments.)

Photography and Images. Images in our pages will be cited with appropriate sources.  Images in our pages that purport to depict reality must be genuine in every way. No people or objects may be added, rearranged, reversed, distorted or removed from a scene (except for the recognized practice of cropping to omit extraneous outer portions). Adjustments of color or gray scale should be limited to those minimally necessary for clear and accurate reproduction. Captions and credits should further acknowledge our intervention if the slightest doubt is possible.