Completeness Principle: Completeness


We do our best to report thoroughly and tell stories comprehensively. We won't always have enough time or space in one story to say everything we would like or quote everyone we would wish to include. But errors of omission and partial truths can inflict great damage on our credibility, and stories delivered without the context to fully understand them are incomplete. Our journalism includes diverse voices that reflect our society and divergent views that contribute to informed debate. When we find that we can't deliver all the answers to important questions, we explain what we don't yet know and work to fill any gaps in our reporting.

Telling the full story

There's always more news than we can report on any platform. So we aim to produce well-rounded news coverage that reflects the most important information the public needs to know, and gives our audience a varied sense of what's happening in our society and around the world.

Guideline: Our coverage should reflect the true complexity of the world we live in.

To present a complete picture of the world, NPR needs to cover a broad range of stories that will interest all sorts of people. So while it's natural to notice news that relates to events or issues you're personally interested in, it's also crucial to ask yourself what other people – people who would disagree with you, who live in other parts of the country, who have had vastly different life experiences from yours – would consider news. This is especially critical if you and your colleagues share similar backgrounds and points of view; a lack of diversity among employees will lead to less varied story lineups. For our coverage to be truly diverse, it needs to reflect the views of many different groups. We talk to people from different political, socioeconomic and racial groups, and from different parts of the country and world. And factor the prominence we give certain stories into your thinking; regularly ask yourself which themes we might be overplaying and which we might be overlooking.

For example, in a city where traffic and pollution are big problems, reporters, editors and producers who daily drive in that traffic may want to pursue a story about whether a higher national gas tax would encourage people to buy smaller cars. But an equally valid option might be to look at whether a higher national gas tax would unfairly punish drivers in rural areas who have to drive a long distance for work and to go shopping for food, or those who need pickup trucks to do their daily work.

So you not only need to look at all the different angles of a story, but at all the different possible stories that help to fill in the picture of what's taking place across the country or around the world.

Guideline: Be thoughtful in adding information online.

(Editor's note on July 27, 2017: Click here to go to an updated special section about the do's and don't's of social media.)

Our digital destinations can be a terrific resource for adding background material and additional information that we think will be valuable for our users. But the Web isn't a dumping ground for the material that got cut. When choosing what should accompany our stories online, be thoughtful. Include material that adds to a fuller understanding rather than crowding out the important information we mean to impart.

Guideline: Timeliness is a dimension of completeness.

Valuing completeness means that we have a responsibility to report on important matters in a timely fashion. Our audience should be able to expect that our coverage include the best information we can deliver about the most important stories unfolding at any particular time. When news is breaking, we should be on top of it.

But our responsibility to be timely doesn't lessen our need to be accurate and fair. We don't, for example, report rumors. When an unverified story spreads far enough that the rumor is itself news, we should use it as a trigger for reporting. And in breaking news situations, we have a heightened responsibility to tell our audience exactly what we know and how we know it, as well as to emphasize what's still unknown or unverified. Judicious transparency can help to mitigate some of the challenges posed by our need to be timely.

Completeness in reporting

When we say our reporting is complete, it means we understand the bigger picture of a story – which facts are most important and how they relate to one another. It's unrealistic to expect that every story should represent every perspective on an issue. But in our reporting, we must do our best to be aware of all perspectives, the facts supporting or opposing each, and the different groups of stakeholders affected by the issue. Only then can we determine what's best to include in the time and space we have.

Hearing from a variety of people makes our journalism stronger and more complete. In our reporting, we seek various perspectives on an issue, as well as the evidence supporting or countering each one. We try to understand minority viewpoints as well as those of recognized authorities; we don't ignore perspectives merely because they are less popular.

Those individuals whose roles give them an outsized influence in how events play out will necessarily receive more attention in our news coverage. But it's important for our audience to hear from a variety of stakeholders on any issue, including those who are often marginalized.

Guideline: Be able to hold your own with sources.

As journalists, we strive to master broad domains of information. We often seek the expertise of specialists who might have a greater grasp of facts within their specialty. Our challenge is not to be dependent on what any particular source tells us, but to have enough mastery of our subject that we can accurately situate each source's knowledge and perspective within a broader context. This means we strive to know enough about a subject that we can tell when a source is advocating a disputed position, advancing a vested interest or making a faulty claim.

Daily reporting might require a different threshold of knowledge than long-term investigative reporting, but the general principle holds true in that context as well: we strive to know enough to hold our own with those we talk to.