Guideline: Attribute everything.
Attribute, attribute and attribute some more. No material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution. This includes material from Associated Press reports. We should not, for example, produce news "spots" or other pieces that closely resemble wire service stories. Our writing should be our own. There is no excuse for writing that repeats the wire stories that we use word-for-word, or nearly so.
When in doubt, err on the side of attributing — that is, make it very clear where we've gotten our information (or where the organization we give credit to has gotten its information). Every NPR reporter and editor should be able to immediately identify the source of any facts in our stories — and why we consider them credible. And every reader or listener should know where we got our information from. "Media reports" or "sources say" is not good enough. Be specific.
Also, in cases where stories are developing and the news may be changing from moment to moment, state clearly what NPR has and has not been able to confirm on its own and what key questions remain unanswered. (Source: Bruce Drake.)
Guideline: One exception: Wire transcripts don't necessarily need attribution.
There is one type of material we routinely get from our wire services (The Associated Press and Reuters) that does not necessarily need to be attributed to the wire service. That is where a wire story is about a public event — such as a press conference, a speech by a public official in a public setting, an official statement of a government agency, a congressional hearing, and the like. In those cases, we reasonably expect that the wire services are reliable conveyors of those quotes in the same way we regard the transcript services we use for these events. But we must use caution. Whenever possible, check the wire service's work against any audio or video recordings or other wire-service renderings of the events. NPR.org readers will notice if the transcription of a quote does not match the audio — even by a little. And if there is any reason to believe that a wire service report has inaccurately quoted someone or taken the speakers' words out of context, we must check the record before using that material.
Guideline: Attribute generously, and respect fair use.
Always be fair to your colleagues in the news media when drawing from their reports. Just as we insist that NPR be given credit for its work, we are generous in giving credit to others for their scoops and enterprise work.
When excerpting or quoting from other organizations' work, we strive to call attention to it, not draw attention from it. Do not quote or paraphrase another organization's material so much that you effectively make reading, watching or listening to their reports unnecessary. In its most egregious incarnations, excessive quotation is effectively plagiarism, which we take no part in. (For a longer discussion of plagiarism, see "Transparency.")
Guideline: Our audience should always know which information comes from what source.
Plagiarism – taking someone else's work and intentionally presenting it as if it is your own – is theft. At NPR it's an unforgivable offense. But it's not enough that we don't intend to deceive our audience. Our standard is to make clear to our audience where the information we bring them comes from.
That means no material from another source should ever be included verbatim, or substantially so, without attribution. This includes material from Associated Press reports. We do not, for example, produce news "spots" or other pieces that closely resemble wire service stories. NPR's standard is that our writing should be our own. There is no excuse for writing that repeats the wire stories that we use word-for-word, or nearly so.
It also means that whenever we present someone's words verbatim in text, we encase them within quotes or, in an audio report, make it clear that we are using the source's wording. If we paraphrase for space or clarity, we transparently credit the source of the ideas. And we don't lightly edit quotes just to avoid putting them in quotes; we use brackets, ellipses and other signals to make clear we've changed what someone said.
Guideline: Describe anonymous sources as clearly as you can without identifying them.
When a decision is made to use information that we have obtained from a source that must remain anonymous, we describe in as much detail as we can (without revealing so much that we effectively identify that person) how they know this information, their motivations (if any) and any other biographical details that will help a listener or reader evaluate the source's credibility.
It is never enough to say "NPR has learned" something. It is not enough to report that "officials say" something, or that some detail is "reportedly" true. If it is important for listeners or readers to know, for example, what political party the source is from, we report that information. If it is important to know what agency the source is from, we report that. If it is important to know which side of an issue the source represents, we report that. We push to get as much detail as we can about how the source knows this information, and to get the source's agreement to report as much of that detail as possible. Was she in the room when the meeting happened? Does he have a copy of the report? Did he participate in the investigation?
Guideline: When you cite the sources of others, attribute clearly.
When we attribute information to anonymous sources, it is assumed that these are our sources and that we have obtained the information firsthand from them. If this is not the case, and we are referring to reports in other news outlets based on anonymous sources of theirs, we are meticulous about attributing the information to those other outlets and we describe as fully as possible who those sources are.